Thursday, August 15, 2013

I like this top ... in theory

The Sewing Lawyer hasn't purchased many patterns from the new* independent pattern companies that have flourished on the internet in the past few years.  There are several reasons for this.  One is that there are So. Many. Patterns. already in her collection, waiting to be made.  Another is cost (a minor quibble).  The third and most significant reason is doubt - that the patterns are good quality, reliable, and will produce the stylish outcome promised by the blogs and websites.

This doubt was fuelled by an unfortunate experience with one of the first of these independent pattern producers.  The Sewing Lawyer forked out $20(US) per pattern for two designs that looked so great, so wearable, so fashion-forward (dreaded phrase), so "just like RTW".

And then found an (obvious) printing error on the pattern tissue, and spent far too many hours sewing a muslin that could not be made to look anything like the so-called technical drawings on the pattern envelope and fit badly, to boot, before spending far too many additional hours cloning the look of these drawings through much laborious work.  (If you want to read more and you are a paid-up member of Pattern Review, you can do so here.)  This experience led to a decision not to throw any more time away on the second expensive pattern (also satisfactorily cloned - read about it here).  It also led The Sewing Lawyer to be convinced that when an individual woman designs patterns for mass distribution, she could be mentally designing for herself (her body type and size), and grading more-or-less successfully for people who are not her body type and size, and that if one is not like her, one should perhaps beware.

Now, Stephanie the Consulting Dressmaker who started Cake Patterns ("sewable, wearable basics for busy women - always with pockets!") is a designer whose body type and size are not like mine, but a variety of sewers had made her first dress pattern and everyone seemed to love it.  Some of them were shaped like me, so I bought the pattern.  (I have yet to tackle making it, but promise to do so ... sometime.)  The pattern that really got me interested, however, was her second offering, #0169, aka "Pavlova".  It's a pattern for a wrap top and skirt, and it was the wrap top that captivated me.

I liked the uncomplicated shape, the high and reportedly 100% secure wrap neck, and the intriguing idea of a waist-length front with a longer back that you could tuck in to avoid gaposis.

The skirt, meh.  It's a full circle, and therefore a fabric hog.  Too much for The Sewing Lawyer (as previously reported).

To make a long story short, I cut the top out of some (cheap and cheerful) rayon/lycra print jersey that was rediscovered in the recent excavation of the sewing room.    With my white linen skirt, it looks frighteningly like the pattern envelope, don't you think?

So ... how does this pattern stack up?

First the good.  The pattern produces a garment that looks just like the pattern illustration.  It is very comfortable and as promised, the front wrap is very secure, and the back "tail" stayed tucked in.  I love the way it fits over my shoulders.  The top has cut-on sleeves, but it fits neatly under the arm - no sloppiness there.  I will make this again (I have some red wool jersey in mind).

But, it's not totally perfect.  On the technical side, there are a couple of glitches on the pattern tissue.  When I looked at the skirt pattern, I realized after flat pattern measuring that the waist would be far too loose; you'd have to gather it into the waistband to get the intended fit at your natural waist.  It is acknowledged somewhere on the Cake website that extra seam allowances were added to the pieces (4 seams x 1/2" = 2" too big).

Re the top, I found it odd that the darts (at shoulder) were marked only with dots (see photo at left, I pencilled in the dart).

Then there are those numbers in blue circles, the significance of which is not obvious.  One of four of the instruction pages seems to correspond as it has a large diagram labelled with these same circled numbers, but it's not explained in words anywhere (that I could find) what this is actually for.  I ignored it.  I'd prefer more conventional markings on the tissue and fewer unconventional ones.

The size I used (30 for full bust measurement of 30-34" or 76-86cm) is printed separately on the pattern tissue and for some reason (that I think is a mistake) the lengthen/shorten line on the front piece is not in the same place or (more importantly) at the same angle as the same line on the other sizes (35, 40 and 45) which are nested together.

The separate tie piece is printed in many more sizes than the body piece.  The numbers correspond to the waist sizes (11 of them, starting at 25" and going up to 50") but there is no explanation of the use of the waist measurement in choosing a size for the top anywhere I could find on the pattern itself or in the instructions.  I cut size 30 which is bigger than my waist, and the ties are a good length.  I think they would have been too short if I had paid any attention to the other numbers.

The main pattern piece (the front, back and sleeves are a single piece) and construction of this top are sufficiently off-beat that I paid particular attention to the rest of the instructions, and the top came together without incident.  I even bought and used Steam-A-Seam (lite) tape, which made cover-stitching the very long edges of the ties and back hem a snap. Stephanie sings the praises of this product on her website, and recommends the use of "fusible webbing" right in the pattern instructions.

Things I did that were not instructed were to interface the shoulder dart area, the collar piece, and the facing/front wrap edge with a very light fusible.  I did this to stabilize the lightweight and very stretch fabric I used.  I won't need to do this when I make the top from a more stable knit, but I'm glad I did for this version.

Side seam gap?
The side front seam is designed to be a lot shorter than the side back seam, which extends to the tuck-in tail.  The front and back part company well above the level of the natural waist, as you can see at right.  This is intentional.  It allows the left front/tie to sneak out from underneath and wrap around the back (most wrap and tie tops rely on an opening in the right side seam but this one doesn't need that).  I was worried that this configuration could lead to exposed skin, but it doesn't.  I'm glad I didn't try to lengthen the front piece.

Putting the top on is a little tricky.  In the main this is because of the angle of the ties.

As you can see, they are a continuation of the front and point distinctly downward.  However, to wear this top the ties have to be wrapped horizontally around the body.  When their orientation is changed, suddenly the upper edge is too long and one has to be careful to prevent that edge from flopping over.  At right you can see what I mean.  This might not happen on someone with a bigger bust than me, since the upper edge of the tie would have to travel further to get over the bust.

I am going to try to fix this by taking a wedge off the tie extension at the seam where it attaches to the front. The seam is visible in the above photo - it's a vertical line where the stripe pattern is disrupted. I like the top enough that I may make another wearable muslin to test my theory before cutting into the wool jersey.  I'll report my findings here when I do that.

The only other thing to change is that the sleeves are a slightly awkward length - they hit *right* at my elbow - and they are a little too snug which will be a problem in a less stretchy knit.

To wrap up (get it?) this already long post, here are some more pictures.  The stripe directions are pretty amusing, I think!

* The Sewing Lawyer adores Jalie patterns, which are independently created by a Quebec company.  Jalie isn't new.  It has been around for decades and its patterns are thoroughly reliable.


  1. I've been avoiding most of the independent companies too because they are mostly people who have been sewing either for a little or a long time who decided to make their own patterns but don't actually have any technical expertise or experience in pattern drafting. Being able to sew for yourself and make patterns or your own body doesn't necessarily mean you can make patterns for others (and charge top dollar!). That said, I do like your top and I think your suggestion of taking a wedge shape out of the ties to make then wrap around the body better is a brilliant idea.

  2. I haven't heard many good things about this pattern company. A lot of the independents haven't actually sewn much for themselves. Despite all your troubles, I really like your top. It works perfectly with your linen skirt. Well done!

  3. I love Jalie patterns, too. I just made their new shorts/pants pattern for wovens or stretch wovens and it is fab!

    I've been burned by some of the indie pattern lines by young hipsters designing only for their own body type. Moreover, IMHO, I know easier and better ways to sew than they give in their pattern instructions.

    Life's too short to waste my time on them.

  4. You just can't go wrong with a Jalie pattern, I love them too!. They always work out for me and they have such minor fitting issues.
    Your time and effort in this pattern has worked out because it does look nice on you, and if it feels comfortable the work put in is worth it.

  5. OMG that top is gorgeous on you!!! I love it. I am so glad to see it made because I too just ordered this pattern and have a similar shape to you :) I love your post because I was planning to make this top and now I have so much information to work with. Thank you, thank you, thank you :)

  6. This is an Excellent review Kay. To much playing around is not fun. I agree with you. Jalie do make excellent pattern. Burda magazine stys my favourite.

  7. this is a great overview of the pattern- I love this look, especially the way that the wrap is built so that it's not too low cut.
    Have you tried the grainline patterns yet? She has a nice button front shirt that I'm working on; the downside is that the patterns are only available as download-print-and-tape, which takes approximately forever to put together.

  8. Excellent review, and I hope the designer sees it.

    I didn't know you were a PMB ninja! :) I bought the program and am playing around with it, but I'm no where near the "clone a garment" level.

  9. It's wonderful with the full skirt. I like the proportions and it looks better on you than the illustration.

  10. Oh. I had a very similar experience with that certain indy pattern company and have not really gotten over it. So, I applaud your bravery. It is a nice looking top on you!

  11. I haven't tried any of the independent pattern companies yet. For me it is a matter of cost, I'm a student and only buy patterns when they are on sale or if I absolutely love a pattern I will buy it full price. Unfortunately none of the independent companies have made any patterns that I really adore, not saying there is anything wrong the patterns though. Glad to see your top came out good though!

  12. I agree with you about your motivation for not purchasing patterns from the small independent companies. I stick with the tried and true - I know how they work, and how they fit my body. I steer clear of young designers who just put two pieces of fabric together and call it "fashion". But having said that, I think your skirt is wonderful - and I may venture into the realm of independents, now I am more experienced, with an open mind and a wether eye.

  13. This looks wonderful on you and thanks so much for the great review. In this age where anyone can post/print/sell anything on the internet there does seem to be a proliferation of pattern selling that is below standard. It is far worse in children's wear. Sometimes I wonder how a new sewist is supposed succeed when using these poor quality patterns and pdfs. I guess in time it will weed itself out. I am all for tried and true.

  14. you made it work and the top is nice for casual wear. I agree regarding the indy pattern companies. I am such a Vogue pattern loyalist, their sizing is reliable and their is any style available to make whatever I want. Yes I am an advanced sewer so I can mix and match pieces to get a style I want but I often make the Vogue designer patterns because they are so interesting. For indy patterns I find most just too simple to bother, and if the fit was fantastic I would try but I see a lot of issues with the fit. I have had very good luck with Sewaholic, her patterns are very professional and the fit and style are great. As Bunny said above, anyone can make a pattern these days with little expertise, probably to the frustration of many a beginning sewist.

  15. great post - thank you for all the detail

  16. Lovely top and a great print. I can imagine a too-die-for wrap dress in it.

    I like indie patterns (especially one ;-) )as their styles are more like the clothes I want to wear, whereas the major pattern companies just seem to churn out what I call 'M&S' clothes.

    On the other hand, considering how much they charge, those indie girls could do with a bit of quality control. Technical mistakes are in my view unforgivable and if I have them in my tutorials, let me know and I'll eat my hat!

    I'd love to design patterns myself and have several ideas in mind but like many commenters have pointed out, sewing for people with a different shape to one's own is not a trick that everyone can pull off. I wonder where one can go to learn such a thing? My pattern-cutting teacher once told me she learnt very little in her years at a fashion college: that came later through work.

  17. I love this top, Kay! The fabric was a brilliant choice for it. I recently made up Cake's Tiramisu dress, which was quite straight forward. I love the way the top is drafted for zero gaposis, too. I've forked out for a few indie patterns, mostly out of curiosity, but have only made up the Cake Tira and Sewaholic's Cambie dress (which was totally amazingly brilliant, imho - I've purchased a other Sewaholic patterns because I was so impressed with the fit).

    1. I bought her Minoru jacket but have yet to make it. Maybe soon...

  18. Ya. I like Jalie too. They just work. Every time. Thanks for the detailed review-I have a request-could you please duplicate your PR review on your blog as well? I.e. doesn't have to be the whole thing just a summary. I don't use PR and I'd like to see other reviews of yours if possible.

  19. I read this when you first wrote it, but hit here again somehow and realized that this top is extremely similar to an EvaDress pattern that I made several years ago. It's a copy of a vintage pattern, and it's for woven fabric. I may try it in knit now.