The posts in this second group are about making a test garment, and improving the fit and look by trying it on and checking several features.
The original post on fit became too long, so has been divided into 3 sections.
The first section is about the reasons for making a test garment.
This second section is about making a test garment, so you can check the fit, and improve the garment to meet your style preferences, including :
– how to make a test garment.
– check the :
– – neckline.
– – size – how wide it is.
– – shoulder slope.
– – lengths.
The third section covers :
– an example of making changes.
– revising the pattern to include the changes.
The post after these is about sewing your top.
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FIT a test garment, and choose your favourite STYLE proportions
Make a test garment from your cut-on sleeve pattern
I like Pattern Ease for an initial test garment, as you can trace the pattern and sew it up, which leaves out one stage of most test garment making methods. Though it is a little stiff, not for testing garments which need to be made from soft drapey fabric.
Or use medium weight interfacing, muslin US/ calico UK, any cheap fabric such as a sheet from a charity shop, or some ‘why on earth did I buy that’ fabric from your stash.
If you’re using woven fabric for your test, much of the neckline edge is on the bias so it can easily stretch out of shape. Best to stay-stitch the edge to give it support. Or handle with care.
Baste the shoulder and side seams, and check for fit and favourites – suggested sequence below. Even on such a simple garment there can be many little decisions which may make a garment more or less what you enjoy wearing.
Try on the test garment with the other clothes you will wear it with.
My test garment (photo in first post, and below) would work well as a dress.
But I plan to wear it as a winter pullover layering top, and it was nowhere near big enough to be comfortable with several other layers underneath !
Though try not to obsess about fitting. Every little step can make an improvement, which is the most realistic fitting goal. Living bodies change shape with every breath (and meal !), perfection of fit is impossible. But better fit is possible, try for it a step at a time.
And you may not yet know what is your personal style, so try out the options to find what you like best.
You may find you loathe cut-on sleeve tops 😀 If so, take what you find helpful here and move on. . .
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Suggested testing sequence
Start with just sewing the shoulder seams, so you can check :
– you can get your head through the neck hole (if not – trim out 1/8″-3mm at a time, a small amount can make a surprising difference),
– the neckline isn’t too wide (add more material to fill it in), e.g. it covers your bra straps.
– the front neckline is a comfortable depth : it doesn’t dig into your neck, or reveal too much or too little cleavage, See the ‘Depth and balance’ section in this post for advice about neckline depths to go with your head measures. Anything below the lower balance point, and no-one will be able to stop looking at your cleavage !
– the neckline is a flattering shape, width and size for you.
Some style-advisor-suppliers sell test necklines made from fabric. It’s cheaper to cut neckline shapes out of kitchen paper. That will stick to your clothes, so you can lay the ‘neckline’ down on your top and look at how well the shape goes with your jaw shape, facial features, body proportions.
Not to worry if you don’t know the ‘rules’ for doing this. There’s no clear advice on this. Some advisors tell you to match the neckline shape with your jaw shape, while others tell you to do the opposite – angular neckline with curved jaw and vice versa. Straight sided V or softened line V?
Try some alternatives and choose which you like best.
Sew the side seams, so you can check :
– you can get into your test top,
– it has enough ease (the difference in size between body and garment) for comfortable wearing and movement, at bust and hip levels, neckline, armholes.
People differ in how much ease they like. Though when you have a garment that fits you well, you may be able to wear it tighter than a bought ‘average’ garment – which has to be big enough to go over your largest area so may be huge elsewhere !
– the armholes and sleeves are wide enough for your arms, they feel comfortable not tight,
– and movement is easy, if that is important for you : try sitting down, waving your arms around and reaching forward.
On these very simple patterns the back and front are exactly the same, except for the neckline. Perhaps that is not true for your body. Does your test garment feel tighter across the front, or tighter across the back? Would it be more comfortable if the front was wider than the back, or the back wider than the front?
If so, widen pattern between neck and armhole (vertical green lines).
I baste one side of a strip which is wider than necessary. Then pin the other side of the strip, try on, and adjust the pins until the strip width is what is needed. (You can do this with fabric strips too.) If you add the same amount to both front and back, both left and right sides, the final garment will be 4x bigger than the width of your inset strip.
If you add strips to make front and back different widths, the front and back shoulder edges will then be different lengths. When sewing the shoulder seams, either gather the longer edge or add a pleat or dart, to make the front and back shoulder seam lengths the same.
Alternatively, it’s possible to add a vertical strip lower in the pattern, without changing the shoulder seam length. Sonya Philip shows how to do it on a cut-on sleeve top, in her The Act of Sewing book, p.72.
– check the garment is not too big for your taste.
If it is, pin out fabric and re-stitch along the side and/or sleeve seams.
Once you get to very-loose-fitting styles (more than 8″-20cm ease on tops, 12″-30cm on coats), the range of possible ease levels can be huge, so it’s a good idea to measure some favourite over-sized styles and find if you have a preferred level of ease. I like over-sized clothes, and my preferred ease is about 12″ on layering tops, possibly 20″ or 30″ on duster coats.
If there are strain or sag lines towards your outer shoulder points, changing the shoulder slope is an added refinement.
– Strain lines indicate square shoulders : add in strips along the shoulder seams.
– Sagging indicates sloping shoulders : pin up along the shoulder seams.
Best to have a full-length mirror – so you can see your top in relation to your body proportions.
Things to check :
– the relative length of front and back (related to fit),
– the overall length of body and sleeve (this is a style and comfort decision).
Check – the shoulder seam lies along the top of your shoulder.
For many people it pulls to the back.
If so, you may need to add length to upper back only, see the green insert line on upper body in above diagram in Size section. (This will also affect the sleeve width needed. I don’t test a sleeve pattern until the body pattern is finalised.)
Or of course if the shoulder seam pulls to the front, add length to the upper front.
Allowing for a larger bust
If you prefer you could add length to the front below the armhole, though it is more work. You have to add a dart, so your style is no longer a ‘box’ top !
Unpick the side seam, except for 1-2″/3-5cm below the armhole curve.
Pinch a dart (post here on how to sew them) which looks about the amount needed (you may need to make several test garments with different dart amounts until you find the look you like). Angle the dart towards the most protruding area of your bust, and end the dart about 1.5″/4cm away from that area.
Add fabric across the entire bottom of the front so the front and back side seams are the same length.
For a comfortable armhole
Do you have an average size armhole ? Try pinning the top of the side seam closed so the armhole is deeper or shallower. Does one of them feel more comfortable ?
The trouble with this change is you will need to change the sleeve width to match.
Hopefully you have a pattern with many sleeve sizes together.
Easy enough if the armhole shape and sleeve cap are straight lines. Simply measure the depth of your new armhole, and choose a sleeve size which :
– for a full width sleeve pattern – has twice the armhole depth + 2 seam allowances,
– for a half width sleeve pattern (cut on a fold) has a width of (armhole depth + 1 seam-allowance).
Best to try the new sleeve in a test garment, to check you can bend your arms and move around as you want to.
Check – you are happy with the sleeve and body lengths: they are comfortable, ‘your style’ and flattering.
Do you look good in an above-waist crop top, a high-hip length top, or crotch length, mid-thigh tunic length ?
Do you like full length sleeves, full length sleeves you wear pushed up (so they may need to be wider at the hem), 3/4 sleeves ?
Hems are change points which attract attention. So it’s best not to have the main hem of a top at your widest point, unless of course that length is a look that you love 😀
Also avoid having your sleeve hem at a level where your body is wide (when your arm is hanging loose at your side).
If you want your hem at a not-recommended point, try minimising the contrast either side of the hem line. Lower contrast attracts less attention.
Or of course, flaunt it if you want to – combine some wildly contrasting prints and colours 😀 or add strongly contrasting hem bands.
Add on or fold out strips of pattern material to change the pattern length.
Some stylists suggest the 1/3 rule : have the main horizontal lines of your outfit at 1/3 and 2/3 the distance between shoulders and ground. On me that hits my widest points, so is best avoided 😀
If you’re making something longer than down to mid-thigh, you’ll need to check the width is okay. Test it by taking long paces and lifting your knees. Do you need to widen the pattern at hem level, or add a side seam split, so it is easier to move in?
Even with such a minimal pattern as a cut-on sleeve top, there can be many adaptations to make, to get it to the best for you. Celebrate that you have learned much about your body special features and your length, ease and shape preferences, which you can apply to choosing or adapting other patterns 👍 😀
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The posts in this group on cut-on sleeve tops are :
1. The pattern.
The third post initially included a section making variations. Then that section was separated off. That too became very long so has now been divided in three sections. And the suggestions are no longer limited just to changing cut-on sleeve tops.
Variations A. Change style elements.
Variations B. Pullover top to jacket/ shirt.
Variations C. Using textile skills.
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