McCalls 6658 and another Birgitte Basic Tee

With the start of the semester and some ongoing thing about how I need to find a job and finish my dissertation or something like that, I haven’t done any sewing for about a month now. But I still have  a couple of projects from this summer that I haven’t got around to posting yet.

McCalls 6658

The first project is a simple tank top I made using McCalls 6658, view A. The fabric I used is a medium-weight printed cotton-spandex blend from Girl Charlee. I started with L for the straps and neckline, blending out to the XL under the arm, and the blending to the XXL between the underarm and the waist. I ended up pinching out a 1” dart at each armscye, as well as taking each side seam in a bit under the arm to get a close fit around the arm.

M6658 Back View

My blending method wasn’t the best fit approach, and the next time I make this view, I’ll start with the L and do a full bust adjustment. (I need a full-bust adjustment anyway. It might not be apparent in the pictures, but I do have some pull lines across the bust.)  Next time, I’ll also experiment with binding the neckline and armholes rather than using a band to finish them. I think a binding will result in a better finish, especially around the top of the shoulder.

McCalls 6658 with cardigan

I haven’t been happy with the results of my twin needle hems. They look okay, but they really don’t have much give at all and seem very prone to snapping and unraveling. So I’ve been experimenting with alternate hemming methods. I hemmed the tank using a narrow zig-zag and a triple zig-zag for the t-shirt shown below. The narrow zig-zag seems to be working out the best since the triple zig-zag has started to pucker with wear. I’ve read all the standard advice about how to get a twin needle hem looking good (no tunneling, no skipped stitches, etc.), but it’s more the strength and stretchiness of the twin needle, or rather the lack thereof, that I’m struggling with. I’ve tried wooly nylon in the bobbin–my machine wasn’t having it. I might try stretch thread in the future, but for now, I’ll probably just keep exploring my relationship with the zig-zag stitch.

The second piece is another Birgitte Basic Tee from MariaDenmark, which I’ve made four times now. I can tell you that this pattern works best with more fluid, drapey knits with some spandex content for recovery. I’ve had the best luck with cotton, rayon, spandex blends like the one I used here (also from Girl Charlee), but I can’t imagine using something like the heavier cotton spandex blend I used for the tank top. I’ve found that unless the fabric is pretty eager to stretch and drape, the shirt fits too tight across the shoulders.

black and magenta birgitte tee

Based on the fit of my first three versions, I ended up doing a substantial forward shoulder adjustment on this version. I also added a bit of width to the armscye on the front pattern piece since I was finding that the sleeve cap was having to stretch too much to fit and wanted to ride up my shoulder. You can see some of the adjustments I made to the pattern below. I based the adjustment on the fit of my first gray version of this shirt, and although I started to doubt myself in the process, worrying that I had adjusted too much on the pattern, the adjustments worked out well. The forward shoulder adjustment helps the shirt sit nicely and has prevented the back neckline from bunching like some of my previous versions do. And the extra width at the armscye keeps the sleeve from riding up my shoulder.

Altered Birgitte Tee pieces

If I make this pattern again, there are still some more adjustments I’ll make, like adding some width to the shoulder at the neck opening and raising the neckline a bit. But honestly, I don’t know how much I enjoy wearing the kinds of fabrics that are best suited for this pattern, especially as a casual t-shirt. I prefer the heavier weight and slightly firmer body of a cotton interlock or a cotton-spandex blend. Since my tank top worked out so well, I’m planning try out the t-shirt pattern included with McCalls 6658.

I’ve got lots of other big sewing plans. Now I just have to find the time and the willpower to step away from my knitting for a bit to get myself in front of the sewing machine again.

Catching Up

I went on vacation, had a great time, and came back with absolutely no desire to blog. So now I’ve got a lot of projects, both finished and in progress, to catch you all up on.

Things Recently Finished:

Before we left for our vacation, I made up two more Birgitte tees, including this black and white striped one. I used rayon blend jerseys for both, and while the fabric is stretchy enough for the pattern, it’s less stretchy than the spandex-rayon blend I used for my long-sleeved gray tee. The less stretchy fabric has revealed some fit issues at the shoulder and armscye. I think I’ve figured out how to fix the problem, and I’m planning to post about it more detail once I’ve made up a modified version.

As part of our vacation preparations, I also stopped at JoAnn’s and picked up some sock yarn for some basically brainless leisure knitting. I haven’t really felt like knitting, but once I got going on these, the urge to knit came rushing back—and just in time for the summer humidity. The yarn is Patons Kroy FX in the Celestial colorway. I didn’t use a pattern. These days, 95% of the socks I make are improvised based on lots of sock-knitting experience and what I can remember from the basic top-down sock recipe in Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s book Knitting Rules.

Horse Pajama Shorts

Post-vacation, I went on a little pajama bender, starting with two pairs of PJ shorts made for my youngest sisters, who are 12 and 14. The horse fabric was the inspiration for this project—when I saw it, I immediately thought of my 14 year old sister who is creative, artsy, goofy, and a die-hard horse lover. I knew I had to make her something with this fabric, and I decided that PJ shorts would be easy, economical in terms of fabric yardage, and easy to fit from afar (my sisters live in Wisconsin). The horse fabric is a light-weight cotton jersey I bought from Girl Charlee. This fabric would be fine for a t-shirt, but I thought it was too light for shorts so I sacrificed two of Aidan’s older undershirts to use as an underlining. With the underlining, they are a perfect weight and should be really comfortable.

Lightening Bolt Pajamas

For the 12 year old, I used a medium-weight cotton-lycra blend, also from Girl Charlee, with some hot pink lightening bolts that remind me of the new Ms. Marvel. For both pairs of shorts, I used this free pattern from Liesl Made. The pattern is intended for wovens (and includes a nice tutorial for making them up with french seams if that is of interest to you). But since some have complained that the sizes run a bit small, I figured it would probably work out all right with stretchy fabrics. Based purely on the size sweatpants they were wearing when I called my dad on Easter, I used the size L for the horse pjs and the size M for the lightening bolts. I added a fake drawstring to each, mostly so they can easily differentiate the front from the back.

I also made a pair of pajama shorts for Aidan, but I’ll probably write up a dedicated blog post on those. As a spoiler, I can tell you that they were made with this awesome fabric.

Chambray Izzy Top - Front View

Izzy Top - Back View

After making all those PJs, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to make next. When I saw the free pattern for the Izzy Top pop up on Pinterest, I decided on a complete dissertation-procrastinating whim to make one up in the fabric leftover from my failed chambray shirt project. The gathering is uneven, especially in the back—the pattern uses a 3/8” seam allowance, which wasn’t wide enough to sew two rows of gathering stitches, and it was hard to gather the fabric with a single line of gathering stitches given how light the fabric is. Regardless, it was a quick project that turned out to be really cute. I made up the 18 mos size, which is as small as the pattern goes. The only thing is that I don’t actually know any girl children who would fit into this little shirt. Luckily, kids have a way of continually appearing in the world, so I think it’s safe to that I’ll eventually find someone to gift this to.

Things Currently In Progress:


When I read Amy Herzog’s blog post about the Custom Fit Summer Sweater Knit Along, I got inspired to knit up a lightweight sweater. So I ordered some Valley Yarns Charlemont in Dusk and started making up the Apres Surf Hoodie pattern from the 2008 Summer issue of Interweave Knits. I’m not actually participating in the CustomFit KAL—I thought about giving CustomFit a go, but instead decided to just do my own math. We’ll see how all of my modifications work out. So far I’ve finished the back and about 75% of the front.

McCalls 6035 and Soft White Cotton Couture Broadcloth

On the sewing front, I’m working on fitting McCall’s 6035. It’s going to be a multi-muslin affair, but I’m optimistic, and the time put into fitting makes sense to me given that this is a pattern I could see myself making several times. Once I’ve got the fitting worked out, I’m planning to sew up View C (with the rolled 3/4 sleeves) in some white Michael Miller Cotton Couture Broadcloth. Even though it’s the end of the month, I’m still claiming this as my June Make A Garment A Month project. I can’t imagine I’ll finish it by the end of the month, but I like to interpret the end of the month as more of a soft deadline.

So that’s my big project update. I hope your summer is off to a great start!

Chevron Camisole: A Birgitte Basic Tee Pattern Hack

Awhile ago, I ordered a small piece of fabric intending to make underwear but the seller contacted me after I placed the order to say they were actually out of stock. She asked me if I wanted to substitute something else, so I impulsively picked another jersey print, which I started to regret after it had been shipped because it didn’t really seem like me. But once I got the fabric, I actually liked it—just not for underwear. It’s a cotton/rayon/spandex blend that is very stretchy and drapey. Out of curiosity (and probably a bit of mid-day procrastination and general weirdness), I draped it around my body and started toying with the idea of turning it into a tank top for layering under cardigans.

Proof of my weirdness.

 The fabric was a half yard cut from Girl Charlee—they sell what are basically remnants that they promise are somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 a yard for ~$3. This particular piece was closer to 2/3 of a yard, which was not quite long enough for an actual tank top but more than enough for a camisole. Rather than seek out an actual camisole pattern, I decided to hack the Birgitte Tee pattern since I already knew from making my gray long-sleeved tee that I liked the fit through the body. For the back, I just traced the back Brigitte pattern piece and drew a straight line right across the back from armhole to armhole. For the front, I used a French curve to extend the lines of the armhole and neckline until the intersected at a slight, curved point. There was no real science to modifying the front. I just played around with the lines until I had a shape that pleased me. I also added 3/8” to the front neckline because I didn’t want the neckline to be too low and since there would’t be a neckband to add any height to the pattern.

Camisole pattern hack via

The actual sewing was quick and easy. I’m not a fast sewist by any means and only use a standard machine (I don’t have a serger) and this took me about an hour and a half to sew up. I sewed up the side seams, attached the elastic to the top, and then turned the bottom up 1” and hemmed with a stretch twin needle. To apply the elastic, I followed the basic construction method outlined by Zoe in her free vest/singlet/camisole pattern, by attaching the elastic around the back and sides first and then attaching it to the front, with extra length for the straps. (The pattern itself doesn’t come in my size or I would have saved myself a bit of trouble and used it, but the instructions were still really useful.) However, I prefer to attach my fold-over elastic in two steps (as outlined here) rather than one step like Zoe does. It might mean a bit more time at the machine, but I feel like it gives me more control over the stretch and positioning of the elastic.

In her instructions, Zoe recommends gently stretching as you sew, but I wanted to be a bit more precise to make sure I was stretching the elastic evenly. So I measured the back and the sides and cut my elastic 10% shorter than the back measurement. I used a few pins to equally distribute the elastic around the back and sides and to give me a guideline for stretching the elastic as I sewed. After that, I tried the camisole on and threw a tape measure over my shoulder to get a sense of how long the straps would need to be. The tape measure told me I’d need 15” straps, and I added an inch of discretionary length, so I calculated each strap as 16” long. I then measured across the front of the camisole, and again subtracted 10% from this measurement to get the correct length of elastic needed across the front. I added this measurement to the 32” needed for the straps to figure out the total amount needed for the front and straps combined. I pinned the elastic to the front so that I had 16” of excess elastic hanging off of each side for the straps and then stretched the remaining elastic in the middle evenly across the front. I then pinned the straps to the back to double check the fit, and tacked them in place with a satin stitch so they are very secure. In the end, I used about 2.25 yards of 5/8″ fold-over elastic to make this camisole.

The resulting fit is just what I wanted. The body is fitted but comfortable, and the elastic keeps the back and neckline snug against my body without binding. Since I will only wear this under a cardigan, I didn’t bother trying to match the pattern at the side seams. The pattern would have been a major pain to match, and I didn’t have enough fabric to attempt it. However, I did make sure to balance/center the print at both the front and the back—obviously, I learned something from watching The Great British Sewing Bee.

I wasn’t going to post a picture of myself in this without a cardigan over it, largely because it would reveal so much of my shimmering vampire skin. But then I remembered that I’m a body-positive feminist teacher/researcher writing a dissertation that’s essentially about power and body shaming. So here you go—my non-academic exercise in body positivity and proof that I managed a good fit, all wrapped in one!

By the way, have you seen this interview with Dixie from Dixie DIY? Her answer to the last question about the way feminism influences her approach to sewing is brilliant, and made me proud to be a crafty feminist. If you haven’t checked the interview out yet, you should. And feel free to share your favorite body positive/feminist crafting resources in the comments!

Birgitte Basic Tee

I’ve been looking for a good, basic T-shirt pattern since I finished my version of Kwik Sew 3766 earlier this year. The Kwik Sew pattern is perfectly fine, but I wasn’t thrilled with the way that it fit me or with some of it’s design details. There are a couple of basic tee patterns from independent pattern companies like the Sewaholic Renfrew and the Doe and Deer Plantain that are pretty beloved by sewing bloggers, but they don’t come in size Busty Fat Lady. After the success of my Day to Night Drape Top, I decided to try the MariaDenmark’s Birgitte Basic Tee pattern, assuming that the sizing, drafting, and fit would be similar.

I’m happy to report that the Birgitte Tee worked out just as well as the Day to Night Drape Top, and I’m totally sold on this pattern as a really solid, well-drafted basic. I love that it’s drafted to fit up to a 4x (a 49.5″ bust, according to the MariaDenmark size chart), and I love that it’s designed for stretchier (rather than stable) knits. And as a connoisseur of deep necklines, the depth and width of this scoop neck are perfectly suited to my tastes. The pattern makes a great basic t-shirt on it’s own, with the option of a scoop or V-neck and a choice of full, short, or 3/4 sleeves. But it’s also a perfect canvas for all kinds of pattern hacks—I’ve already done one pattern hack that I’ll write more about later this week. The instructions are straight-forward and would be easy to follow even if you haven’t made a t-shirt before. It’s a pdf pattern so you have to print out the pattern (which is 24 pages) and tape the sheets together, but the pattern pages come together easily and it doesn’t take too long given that it’s a relatively simple pattern. You also have to add your own seam allowances.

Just like my Day to Night Drape Top, I started with the XL at the shoulder, graded out to the 2X size at the armscye, and then graded to the 3X for the waist and hip. I cut the 2X size for the sleeves. Also did a small FBA to add just a bit of extra width and length to the front of the shirt, once again using this tutorial from VickiKateMakes to do an FBA without adding a dart. After those relatively quick adjustments, I’m really happy with the way this fits. The fit through the shoulders is especially nice. However, the sleeves are drafted to be quite long. I didn’t add a hem allowance to the pattern piece and still ended up cutting off 1.5” of length before turning the hem up 1.” Just something to keep in mind if you’re looking at making this pattern.

I was a bit nervous about sewing the neckband since that’s the step that gave me the most trouble the last time around. With my Kwik Sew Tee, I ended up sewing the neckband in flat, but I’m not a huge fan of the way this looks. So with this tee, I quartered and stretched the neckband per the pattern instructions. I did, however, machine baste the neckband first so I could check the fit. It laid flat everywhere but at the front of the scoop where it wanted to flip out a bit. So I unpicked the neck band and shortened it by 3/4”. I quartered the neck band again, but then moved the pins marking the quarters at the shoulder (in other words, the pins that didn’t mark the center front or center back) 3/8” closer to the the center front. This kept the neckband the same length around the back of the neck as the first version and only shortened the neckband around the front of the scoop. I repeated the basting process and the neckband looked good, so I sewed it in with the lightening stitch I use to sew all of my seams and then top-stitched the neckline with a narrow zig-zag.

I hemmed the bottom and the sleeves with a stretch twin needle. It looks nice, but I’m not sure how I feel about the twin needle. While the twin needle looks like a hem on a RTW shirt and has some stretch, it isn’t as stretchy as a cover-stitched hem. I think that will be fine for this tee, but we’ll see how it wears in the long run.

The fabric I used makes this shirt even more enjoyable to wear. It’s a cotton/rayon/spandex blend from Girl Charlee that is stretchy, drapey, and super soft.  (I bought it awhile ago but I think it’s this fabric, which they still have quite a bit of.)  With my last two knit projects, I had a bit of a time trying to cut the pattern out on the fold, less so because the fabric wanted to shift and more so because it was difficult to got both layers completely smoothed out. With both projects, I ended up with some slightly wonky pieces that I had to trim down a bit. Not ideal. So this time around, I sucked it up and re-traced the pattern pieces meant to be cut on the fold so that I could cut everything out in a single layer. The tracing was an extra step and meant a bit more pinning and cutting, but it’s one of those situations where doing what seems like extra work actually saves you a lot of time and energy in the long run.

I’ve got a couple other pieces of jersey fabric that I’m planning to turn into t-shirts. I’m finding it hugely satisfying to sew my own basics, probably because I’m a no-frills person who really only wears basics. But also because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find basic items in actual brick-and-mortar stores since what little plus-size shit was in stores seems to be rapidly disappearing. (I’m looking at you Target and JC Penny.) How quickly do you think I can manage to make my own jeans?

Day-to-Night Drape Top

Despite a busy month where I didn’t do much sewing, I still managed to finish my March Make a Garment a Month project on time. This is the MariaDenmark Day-to-Night Drape top, which is a very straight-forward PDF pattern. The pattern is for a sleeveless top, but I added sleeves by using the short sleeve pattern piece from the MariaDenmark Brigitte Tee, which is another PDF pattern. I just picked the sleeve size that gave me the upper arm circumference I wanted and was able to set it into the Day-to-Night pattern without a problem.

This is a dead-simple sew. The pattern includes instructions for finishing the back neckline with either fold-over elastic or clear elastic. I had both on hand, but went with a black fold-over elastic for the neckline and I think it makes for a really clean finish. The pattern piece for the front includes a facing that you simply fold over at the shoulder so you don’t have to to do any finishing to the front neckline. After attaching the elastic to the back neckline and then sewing the shoulders together, I attached the sleeves flat, sewed the side seams together, and then finished the sleeves and the hem. Done and done. I did everything except for the bottom hem in a single evening, which is saying  a lot since I am a sewing n00b and rather slow.

I haven’t been totally happy with the hems on my last two knit garment projects, so I decided to try finishing the sleeves with bands, and I’m really happy with the way that it looks. It gives a very clean finish with very little effort. For the sleeve bands, I just cut out a strip of fabric that was 2” tall and just slightly less wide (by about .5”) than the finished circumference of the sleeve. For the bottom hem, I considered using a twin needle, but couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to do so on my new machine. It’s weird because the machine came with a second thread spool but I can’t find any place in the manual where it explains where to actually attach the second spool. So in lieu of using a twin needle, I created a faux-band hem finish like SarahLiz describes in one of her recent blog posts. I’m pleased with the way that it looks and, quite honestly, I think a band finish might become my go-to for simple knit projects like this.

I didn’t make any major fit changes to this pattern, aside from grading from an XL at the shoulder to a 2X at the bust to a 3X at the hip. I have some strain lines at the bust so I probably should have done an full-adjustment (the pattern even links to a tutorial that shows you how to do one on this particular pattern), but I didn’t. I’ll probably give it a try the next time I make this pattern. The only other change I made was to add .5” at the shoulder. Since this is drafted as a sleeveless top, the shoulders are more narrow than you’d want for something with sleeves. Even with the added shoulder width, the shoulders are still sitting too far in, although I think this might be an effect of the way that the elastic is currently pulling the back neckline in. The pattern tells you to cut the elastic 10% shorter than the length of the neckline, but I think that next time I might cut the elastic just a smidge longer.

The fabric is a cotton-rayon slub knit from Girl Charlee. The fabric color is described as burgundy, but it’s closer to purple than red, and the slub knit effect gives it some black texture throughout. (It’s been very gray in Syracuse so none of these pictures do a great job of capturing the color. The very first picture is probably the most accurate as far as capturing the color.) The fabric has good stretch and drapes well, so it was a good match for this project. It’s lightweight but not sheer and it feels very cool. This will be a good shirt to wear in the thick of summer—good news for me since I’ll be teaching during July and August. They have this slub knit fabric in a few other colors and I’m thinking pretty seriously about stocking up. Since I don’t really like wearing prints, it’s nice to have solid colors that have a bit of texture to them.

All in all, I’m really happy with the way that this project turned out—it’s comfortable, it fits well, and I think I’ll get a lot of wear out of it. I can definitely see myself making this pattern again. I’d love to try making this in a lightweight sweater knit with long sleeves. I’m also so pleased with the fit of this top, that I’m planning to try the Brigitte Tee, which is by the same designer, in hopes that it fits a bit better than the Kwik Sew pattern I tried earlier this year. But for the purposes of MAGAM, I’m going to set the knits aside for a bit and try to develop my skills fitting and sewing wovens. Onward!