achievement unlocked: sleeveless Anderson blouse

on

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Let’s get into this. Despite my smile for the camera (I do like my finished blouse), I am less than thrilled by this pattern.

I bought it as part of one of the pattern bundles the Monthly Stitch was selling in conjunction with Indie Pattern Month last month. I purchased the basic “Nine to Five” pattern bundle, & made all three garments. The weird part is that I don’t work. I’m a stay-at-home mom. But I felt the patterns could be incorporated into my busy schedule of library storytime, preschool drop-off, & wading pool playdates, right? It’s strange that this was the bundle I was drawn to, given that I was utterly convinced that none of the three would flatter my busty, apple-shaped figure in the least. But that’s motivation for trying them at a discount. Plus, sewing for yourself gives you an opportunity to find fitting solutions & incorporate new shapes & styles into your wardrobe.

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While experimenting with new shapes & styles is all well & good, I just could not with the sleeves on this pattern. They look okay on other people (Heather B in particular really rocks that 40s bombshell look), but I was getting major Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl” vibes. Since the pattern specifies lightweight fabrics with a fluid drape, I decided to experiment with making it sleeveless & even more appropriate for summer.

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I was very concerned that this would end up being a Boob Hanger blouse—you know, where the fabric just drapes off of your breasts like a waterfall, obscuring any waist you may have & making you look at least twenty pounds heavier. I suspected that it was a style that a slim, relatively small-chested woman could work, but I expected the worst for my shape.

 

I made a quick muslin & lo! I didn’t hate it! Like…at all! & this brings me to my first problem with this pattern & my suggestions for making it work for you: the sizing chart is all wrong. Based on the sizing chart, I should have cut the largest size, done an FBA, & graded up in the waist. Thankfully, I know to consider finished garment measurements before I commit to a size.

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This blouse has enormous amounts of ease in the waist & hips. I’m talking 12+ inches. It is meant to be flowy (some could say billowy if they wanted to be a bit less charitable). All that really matters with this pattern is that you get the shoulders right. That’s the only place that is really fitted, & it’s where all the details (shoulder gathers) are. If you pick too large a size…let’s just say the blouse can easily have an “embiggening” effect. You need the armscye to hit right at your shoulder point & not a fraction beyond. Sew Over It includes some boilerplate fit tips with the pattern, explaining that their patterns are more “closely fitting” than the average home sewing pattern. That is not relevant to this particular pattern, so don’t size or grade up if you’re on the larger side of their sizing chart.

I wound up cutting a size 16 after mulling the sizes & considering things like bust ease & the relative narrowness of my shoulders. I probably could have sized down even further, but I’m happy with my blouse. Had I sized up, this would have been a wadder for sure (though I easily could have repurposed the fabric to make a circus tent or build a hot air balloon).

One complaint about the PDF: one entire page was blank, save for borders. What a waste. The fabric requirements for this pattern may also be overstating the case a bit. The suggested fabric layout is laughably wasteful. (Literally. I laughed when I saw it.) I did eliminate the sleeve, which saved some fabric, but even with the bonkers ease through the waist & hips, I probably used less than 1.5 yards of fabric for this blouse.

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I made my own bias tape to finish my back neckline & armscyes. I hand-stitched, per the pattern instructions, but it’s really not necessary. I say hand-stitch if you like to hand-stitch (I do—I quilted an queen-sized quilt by hand last fall), machine stitch if you prefer.

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The neck binding.

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Hand stitches around the armscye.

Let’s talk construction. The instructions for this pattern are very detailed, & quite well-illustrated, but…not great. A few things are just head-scratchers, like being instructed to hand-stitch the bias facings when machine stitching isn’t going to make your garment spontaneously combust. Similarly, the instructions say to finish the cut-on blouse front facings with a zigzag stitch or serger. There’s no reason you couldn’t give them a proper hem if you prefer. This garment is so loosely-fitting, you don’t need to worry about hem ridges.

But the instructions for the drawstring hem are downright troubling. I know some people have left the drawstring off altogether, saying they don’t want to add “bulk”. Read again what I said about 12+” of ease at the waist & hips. When you’re trying to tuck that much fabric into your waistband, a drawstring is not going to be the dealbreaker.

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The instructions say to just use a ribbon for the drawstring. Instead, I sewed lengths of ribbon to either side of a strip of 1/4” elastic. Only the ribbon shows, tied into a nice bow at the side, but elastic is much more comfortable & helps keep the shirt where I want it to be. I imagine I’d constantly be adjusting, retying, & jostling the hem if I was just using a ribbon.

Here’s the exact wording for adding the drawstring: “With wrong sides together, press the hem over by 1.5cm. Pin and edgestitch in place leaving a 2cm gap where the folded edge of the front blouse hem meets the right side seam for the ribbon to be threaded through. Using a safety pin to help, thread a ribbon through the channel at the hem and tie a bow to fit.”

That’s it. Do you see something missing? Like instructions on how to finish the casing? These are like instructions for threading elastic into a casing for pajama pants. It works in with pajamas because the elastic is entirely enclosed within the casing, which is sthen stitched closed. A drawstring is different. Both ends of the ribbon need to be accessible for tying, & these instructions seem to indicate that they should just be hanging out the unfinished hole in the casing, which is INSIDE the garment. It simply doesn’t make sense!

& here is where I’m gonna go deep. I made two sewing samples to show the differences between the Sew Over It directions & the method I employed, both to show how a drawstring ought to be made, & to illustrate the differences in the finished product. Just to warn you in advance: I didn’t knock myself out trying to do my all-time best sewing on these samples. But hopefully they get the point across.

So, the Sew Over It instructions say to sew up each side seam & finish (I serged the raw edges together & pressed to the back of the garment), like so:

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I chose to finish one side this way. On the other side, I marked the side seam 1″ up from the bottom.

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I sewed the side seam up to the mark & then clipped into the seam allowance at the mark, making sure not to actually clip into any stitching.

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I finished the side seam like the other, save for the clipped part. I finished either side separately & pressed open.

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I topstitched either side down.

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From the front.

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From the inside.

Now the Sew Over It instructions say to serge/zigzag around the entire bottom of the garment to finish. Like so:

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& this is how the version with the folded in bits looks:

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Not a huge difference there. Just make sure the serging doesn’t connect the two sides of the clipped seam.

Now Sew Over It says to press up the bottom to the inside the width of the casing. I used a 1/2″ for this, because my ribbon was 3/8″ wide. That’s why I clipped into my seam allowance at 1″. If you want a casing of a different width, you’d have to plan & measure accordingly at the clipping stage. You could also give your garment a proper small hem instead of serging, but you’d have to decide if you wanted to add length to the all-over garment before committing to that.

After pressing, Sew Over it says to edgestitch the casing in place, leaving a gap to feed the drawstring through.

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Like so.

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& here’s how it looks from the front. Again, definitely not my best sewing. & if this was a real garment, I’d be using matching thread.

But using my technique, you can edgestitch the casing all the way around, starting at one turned in side & ending at the other. Ta da!

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This is where the difference in construction really starts paying dividends.

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& from the outside. (Just imagine it, you know, sewn nicely.)

Feed your drawstring into the casing. Here’s the Sew Over it version:

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& this is my version:

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& then tie your drawstring into a bow to fit. The Sew Over It version exterior:

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& inside:

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Do you see how the bow just kind droops sadly from beneath the hem because the drawstring opening (if you can really call it that) is INSIDE the garment? You also can’t sew up the hole in the casing without stitching the ribbon in place, making it impossible to ever tighten or loosen it again. That is what I consider an unfinished garment.

Here’s my version:

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Isn’t that so much better? The casing is actually finished all around, & the bow is on the exterior of the garment, where it is both functional for being tied, untied, & adjusted to fit, & decorative, in case you want to wear the blouse untucked.

Finishing the shirt this way is perhaps slightly more involved than doing it the way the directions are written, but it’s not some sophisticated couture touch. It’s a logical finish for a drawstring. This was my first Sew Over It pattern, & these instructions did not leave me with a positive impression. I’m the first to go ahead & alter construction order, install a different kind of zipper, finish a seam a different way, etc. But this wasn’t a simple matter of preference. This was fundamentally changing the instructions because the instructions as written would have left me with an unfinished garment!

I also found it a bit shocking that the pattern makes no mention of any kind of closure options. It just says that you can add a few hand stitches at the bust point if you’re worried about the wrap falling open. If you Google the pattern, you will find that most people who are wearing it have chosen to wear a tank underneath for modesty. Because the wrap WILL fall open. Unless you are a living statue busking at a street fair, you need some kind of a closure, & I guarantee that “a couple of hand stitches at the bust point” will distort the drape of the facings.

I fixed this problem by adding a few tiny sew-in snaps. I put the shirt on, pinned the wrap in place, & sewed in my snaps accordingly. They’re secure, they’re invisible from the outside, & they don’t warp the drape of the facings. It’s an obvious solution, employed not just by me, but also by designers making tops like this & selling them for hundreds of dollars. This pattern was inspired by the wrap blouses that Gillian Anderson wears on “The Fall”. Those blouses? HAVE CLOSURES. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there. A pattern designer should take an inspiration image & translate it into not just an aesthetic copy, but also a functional one. A blouse that one cannot move in for fear of exposing herself is not a functional garment.

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I circled my snaps in red, because they otherwise kind of blend in with the print. They are all sewn to the interior facing & underwrap of the blouse, & thus, invisible when the garment is being worn.

I do really like my finished blouse, & I’ve been wearing it constantly since I finished it. But I clearly have many caveats that preface any recommendation for the pattern. I think a person who considers what I’ve written here & approaches size selection & finishes accordingly can create a very successful garment, but in a perfect world, Sew Over It will revisit & rewrite the instructions. (I did drop them a line about all this already.)

Also, just for fun, I brainstormed some other, non-office-y ways this blouse can be worn. & will be worn by me, since I don’t work in an office. No sense making clothes that don’t fit into your existing wardrobe, right? So here are three completely handmade looks for this blouse:

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It can work with full skirts! & it can be teamed with a sweater to be multi-seasonal!

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Wear it with pants! They don’t even have to be high-waisted!

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Go super-casual with shorty overalls! This is a great summertime playground look. Cute, cool, & practical.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. hoperoth says:

    I loooove that fabric! I think it would have been a little overwhelming with sleeves, so I think you made the right choice. Besides, it’s gonna be too hot for sleeves until, like, October.

    The blouse looks great! I’d wear the hell out of it if I still went to an office every day.

    I did just buy a pattern to make myself some new shirts. I haven’t sewed clothes in forever, but you’ve inspired me to make something I can wear.

    1. Ciara says:

      Oh yeah, this print for sure would have been bonkers with sleeves. It’s a lot of look! I’ve definitely been wearing it a lot. I do like the finished blouse a lot, thanks to the changes I made.

      I’m glad to have inspired anyone to make clothes! It’s such a great feeling to get dressed in the morning (or maybe the afternoon, in my case, haha) & be able to use something you made yourself. I made it a goal for my 37th (or is this my 38th?) year to wear something I made myself everyday.

  2. I love that blouse on you! I haven’t bought that pattern even though I love it because I just didn’t think it would work with my shape and size. Perhaps I’ll try it… and use your finishing! Or perhaps I could just adjust an existing pattern. Their instructions seem a bit weird to me, also. I have the 40s shirtdress and had a quick look at the instructions – seem fine except they have you staystitch the skirt but not the neckline.

    1. Ciara says:

      Oh yeah, I saw Meg’s post where she tried the pattern & it did her zero favors. After I saw that, I was like, “Oh boy, this is going to be a disaster.” But I think the problem is less the shape than the size chart. If you wrap anyone, even someone slim, in twice as much yardage as they require, & you blouse it up around the waist & hips, it’s not going to be a flattering look. When the blouse was first released, there were some promo photos of the designer (I forget her name) modeling it untucked. She is a pretty small woman & she looked like a drowned rat in it. That’s not a bash against her body in any way. It’s a fact of the excess of yardage. That’s why now the only promos show the blouse tucked in, thereby hiding a full 2/3 of the yardage. If you cut a size appropriate to your shoulder measurements, you should be able to wear the blouse tucked or untucked. (Mine is untucked in all these photos.)

      I now totally want to audit all Sew Over It’s instructions. I think I have their trouser pattern, which was part of a bundle I bought a few years ago. I’m going to take a look at it & see if there’s anything weird in there. Frankly, the instructions for this blouse are so terrible, I have a hard time believing it’s an unfortunate outlier.

      1. Yup. And I think a thin person can ‘get away with that’ ie it can maybe look deliberate whereas a larger person just looks like they are trying to hide and/or doesn’t know how to dress. Which is a whole thing in itself and I will defend my right to swathe myself in as much fabric as I want!!! But I don’t want to do it accidentally, you know?

        I thought the Shirtdress instructions were fine, but I wasn’t following them and also I know how to put a shirtdress together already so it might not jump out out me if there was something off. It’s quite hard to write good instructions, I think many people think they can do it no problems! But it’s much harder than it looks. I’d be interested to see if the trouser instructions had similar problems.

        I do really like all the makes I’ve seen where it’s tucked in. I better work on sewing neater waistbands if I want to do that, though! XD

        1. Ciara says:

          Well, definitely one weird thing about the trouser pattern instructions is that it has a waistband with a facing, but you are instructed to sew in such a way that there’s still an exposed seam at the interior waist. It’s finished (which is to say, serged/zigzagged), but…still. Seems like half the point of a faced waistband is that it enables you to enclose that entire waistline seam, right? So why wouldn’t you do that?

          It is harder to write instructions than people think, for sure. It’s one the challenging parts of blogging about patterns, even. When I talk construction, I don’t want to just repeat the instructions verbatim, but once you start rephrasing, things can spin out of control pretty quickly. & it can be difficult to explain a technique that maybe you have done a trillion times in such a way that it’s obvious to someone with plenty of experience, & also to a complete novice.

          The first garment I ever sewed was a lined skirt, & I was supposed to understitch the lining. I forget if the instructions specifically used the word “understitch,” but in any case, I didn’t know what that was, & I didn’t really understand what the directions were telling me to do. Stitch the seam & then press something up & stitch again, but only the lining? Huh? What is happening? Needless to say, I did it all wrong without ever realizing I was doing it wrong, & my linings rode up & flipped out of place in the wash & annoyed me, but I was like, “Oh well, this is just what happens when you make your own clothes.”

          A few years later, I made a shorts pattern that involved understitching at the pocket bags. The directions were crystal clear & I got it right on the first try & when I saw how nicely that pocket bag turned under, I was like, “HOLY HELL I SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING THIS ALL ALONG!” A light bulb went off & I realized how that skirt lining was supposed to have been sewn.

          Now I understitch everything I can find. The point is, writing clear directions is a challenge. I get that. That communication between the pattern writer & the home sewer is already difficult. Add to that the directions just being wrong & you have a real mess on your hands!

          1. You know, I was just now in the tearoom and there was a lady in there who was wearing a crossover blouse like the anderson, and it looked GREAT – with drastically less volume. And it definitely had a press stud or similar… as far as I could tell without straight up oggling her. I’m tempted to try to draft one because I really like the crossover look but the surplice patterns I have all add a lot of stomach bulk which I do not need help with…

            I do sometimes leave a waistband like that exposed but only if the make is already going kind of pearshaped and I can’t be bothered grading the seams. I would not EVERY put it in a pattern instruction to suggest that it was a good and polished way to do it! Yikes.

            One of the first blog comments I ever made was, basically, ‘how do you get your seams not to unravel?’ because no one had ever taught me to backstitch. I think about that a lot. All that knowledge that I take for granted now, and how inaccessible it seems at first. I don’t resent the ‘basic how to’s’ at the start of every dang sewing book because that’s always SOMEONE’S first sewing book… and sometimes there’s a new trick in there!

            I remember making the Jasmine pants and just having my mind blown by how careful and detailed the instructions were, and how they contained a lot of those little tips in a way that was useful and not overwhelming. I guess the colette patterns are a bit more expensive, but considerably worth it I’d say. That kind of quality instruction is a good way to learn new techniques. Even bare-bones Big 4 ones have taught me some neat tricks. If the instructions amount to ‘sew all the bits together’ then… well. I don’t think that’s professional.

            1. Ciara says:

              I just double-checked because I didn’t want to be telling tales out of school, & yeah, you’re just supposed to leave that facing edge on the Ultimate Trousers hanging out in there, putting all your serging/zigzagging on display. A bit shocking. Clearly turning the edge under & securing it is a bit more work, but if you topstitch instead of hand-sewing, it can go pretty quickly. & it’s not like you can’t put a zipper into a fully enclosed, faced waistband. I mean, look at all jeans.

              So it seems like Sew Over It instructions may have some issues with proper finishes. I wonder what’s behind that, if they are trying to simplify things for beginners (by teaching them the wrong way to do things…) or if they just don’t know an alternative for better finishing or what?

              Colette instructions are nicely detailed & explained, for sure. I no longer require that level of hand-holding, & their overall drafting is a bit questionable at times, but yeah. Their instructions are pretty good.

              The pattern that taught me understitching was actually a Kwik Sew pattern. I now have a lot of affection for Kwik Sew.

              1. I guess Sew Over it patterns are pretty cheap, really. So maybe you get what you pay for?

                Yeah I have issues with Colette in some ways but I certainly can’t fault their instructions! They really did help me as a novice sewer, although tbh I didn’t get a single wearable garment out of it!

                I made a Kwik Sew men’s shirt that had some of the best instructions I’ve ever seen. Very clear on the burrito method of doing the yoke. I definitely join in your affection for Kwik Sew – and they often have really good basic patterns that are well drafted and would be easy to adapt to lots of things, as opposed to say, simplicity which has lots of fancy versions of the same princess line dress but with different sleeves so now it’s a different dress apparently!

  3. This looks great, I’m half way through mine and glad it’s not just me that gig confused with the hem instructions. also great to see how it looks without sleeves as planning a second one in my head already like that!

    1. Ciara says:

      Yeah, the hem instructions…It’s a stretch to call them instructions. There are free online tutorials that would net better results.

      I was also surprised that it called for finishing everything with a serger or zigzag. I have never actually sewn with silk before (too rich for my blood), but I imagine I’d want a more luxurious finish. Maybe a rolled hem for the facings? Maybe I’m being overly precious about a textile, but I can’t imagine being like, “Okay, I’ll just run this $20/yard (minimum) fabric through my serger, la la la.”

      1. I finished my top last night, I used a cheap crepe de chine so just overlocked the hem and turned it up and fed my ribbon in like yours. I don’t understand why they show to leave it inside the top. Love the finished article though.

        1. Ciara says:

          Well, I just got another email from Rosie & the only conclusion I can draw from it is that they literally don’t understand how drawstrings are made. My mind is blown. I am so glad I didn’t pay full price for this pattern.

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