Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Story of 3 Tank Tops —or— Why I need my camera for fitting.

When the “Dog Days of Summer” arrive, I live in tank tops, short shorts or less in the way of clothing. It’s a little early for Dog Days, but we’re already feeling the climbing temps and I suddenly became aware that I needed, truly needed to be sure my tank top pattern fit. It didn’t, of course. My rear which expanded unnoticed  last winter has guaranteed that few if any of my clothes and none of my patterns fit. I turned to Otto and quickly found a modest tank top pattern in issue  2/2007 Style #1.

Otto specifies a “single knit jersey” for the fabric.  Here’s one place that I think the Big 4 pattern companies are very right. Even amongst single knit jerseys, the amount of stretch can vary.  I do much better at choosing an equivalent fabric and producing a satisfactory garment, if the pattern specifies how much stretch is needed rather than the fabric structure.  I chose my fabric from the stack of knit remnants I have. I find that 2/3 and 3/4 yard of knit fabric is enough for tank tops. My first fabric is a 4×4 rib knit of 100% cotton in a dark periwinkle blue.  It has a 75% stretch ratio i.e. I measured 4″ and was able to stretch it to 7″. This is the last of a 4 yard cut purchased from Walmart eons ago. While I love the color, it has faded unevenly.  The inside is much better than the exterior but my real concern is that this fabric, even though a knit, doesn’t have a good recovery rate.  It tends to look worse for wear as the day goes along.

I also chose to use a crystal embellishment that’s been in the stash 3 or 4 years.


Purchased from Hobby Lobby because it is pretty and on sale. Generally for such a small design, I prefer embroidery but I had this and decided now was the time.  Unfortunately the glue has deteriorated as it aged. I followed the instructions but had to use E6000 glue to secure several crystals. I’m hoping they all survive the first wash.  I do have equivalents to replace any that go missing, but I’d rather not.

For Otto patterns, I have been tracing 38 neck and shoulders, 40 armscye, 42 bust, 44 waist 46 hip. I decided to change that slightly because that’s a lot of size changes and I’m noticing that I need more ease across the back and possibly for the bust.  So this time I traced 40 neck, shoulders and armscye, 44 bust and waist; 46 hip.  I put away the master pattern, looked at the tissue and said “this is never going to be big enough”.  I rummaged in my closet and found a tank top in similar fabric. The tissues were larger than the existing tank top so I proceeded to cut fabric.

For many years I’ve been basting my ribbing into place, checking that it lays flat and then serging permanently.  Although basting is an extra step, I find that it’s the only way I can be sure to adapt for each fabric and produce a nice neckline and body hugging armscye. I’ve yet to work with my binders for the cover stitch machine but did decide to cover stitch plain instead of  serging.  So in the pic above, you’ll notice the extra lines of stitching. At the time I made the decision to CS those bindings I didn’t realize I would be fixing another issue. My serged bindings tend to curl towards the narrowest edge. After each trip though the washing  machine I need to spend time at the ironing board carefully steaming bindings back into place so they sit smoothly during wear.  Cover stitching nails them into the correct position — forever.

Once the bindings were in place, I serged the sides and then tried on the garment for the first time to check the fit. To my surprise I had way too much ease across the bust.  I took out 1.5″ at the armscye decreasing to nothing at the waist.   During wear it felt like I should have taken at least 1/4″ away at the waist and hip, but the fit pictures tell a different story.

I could possibly be seeing fabric issues. After all the fabric must be 15 plus years just in my stash — no telling how old it was when Walmart got a hold of it for resale.  From the pic, my tank top now looks too tight under the arms as well as snug across the tummy and back with a surprising excess of ease at the hem. The hem was cover stitched and IRL does not look stretched. OK, IRL, my mirror, none of these issues are visible which is why I wish I had looked at the above pics before proceeding to the next version.

Version 2 is an ITY knit with about 25% stretch.  It easily stretched from 4 to 5″ and I could have pulled it tightly to stretch it even more. There was only 2/3 yard in the remnant.  The fabric was purchased from about 2 years ago and made into a long sleeve top which works nicely in my winter clothes.  It’s a busy print with a number of circles.  I worked hard trying to avoid the bull’s-eye effect from falling on the boobs or roundest parts of my rear. Once I tried the garment on, I realized I had failed and had probably been doomed from the beginning.  Oh the circles didn’t fall on my boobs, but one particularly large design fell right on my tummy –another place I prefer not to highlight.

I had changed the pattern only slightly. I trimmed 1/4″ from beneath the armscye. I couldn’t be sure until I tried on the garment but I did think that I had the right stretch factor and that the garment would fit perfectly. Wrong again.

As soon as I saw that motif falling directly on my tummy, I knew I wouldn’t keep the garment. It was finished in the same manner -sans crystal embellishment — as the first, folded and placed immediately into the Good Will box.  It’s lovely but between the awkward design placement and the tight fit, I can’t wear this. I was astonished at the tight fit. I really thought there was way too much ease with the previous fabric and that this fabric being the correct stretch and the pattern traced with more generous ease, would fit perfectly.

Did you notice the side views?  My arms are up in the air which should be distorting the hems but they have remained fairly level.  That’s because Otto chose to draft with an eased front dart.  The front pattern side seam is longer than the back side seam.  Knits easily stretch to accomodate this difference. The end result is a garment that could be constructed in a hour by using the serger and cover stitch machines. Errrr, if I wasn’t fighting the ease issue.

I’m more likely to use fabric with 20-30 percent stretch, So for the 3rd iteration, I added the 1/4″ trimmed at the armscye for version 2, plus 5/8″ at the hip on both front and back pattern pieces. My 3rd version is constructed from a polyester or nylon, single jersey knit.  It has a good 25% stretch and again could be stretched further.  I don’t like to pull tightly to calculate stretch unless I’m making leggings. I prefer for my garments to skim my curves.  A fabric stretched tightly will fit tightly. At least that’s my experience. While the first fabric was deep stash and the 2nd a recent addition to the remnants pile, the 3rd fabric was purchased especially for tank tops this year.  It’s another Fabricmart fabric in beautiful red-orange hues. Perfect coloring for me. Unfortunately fit is yet again a defeating issue.

The first tank top was worn and sent to the laundry.  The 2nd tried on and finished. This was tried on, finished and worn for about 3 minutes. It is far too tight under the arms. The armscye is too small as well as being too tight and the back pictures just makes me sigh.   It too is going into the Good Will box.

Sigh, but I’m coming closer to my goal.  My goal is a basic tank top pattern which can be adapted to fit by increasing the side seams.  I am troubled that the 75% stretch garment also fit nicely in the armscyes and felt too large while clearly in the pictures not having sufficient ease.

I’ve placed the pattern on hold temporarily. I’ve been contemplating another pattern and a 3rd project both of which have gelled in my mind and need working on before they un-gell. For this pattern I’m going to mark the existing tissue for 75% stretch fabrics and trim away the ease just added for version 3.  I will then trace the tissue and add 1/2″ length to the armscye back and front, 1/2″ ease on the back pattern piece and 1/4″ ease to the front pattern piece.  That adds a total of 1.5″ ease and is probably more of a size 56 than a size 46. Besides wanting to be able to easily fit the pattern for various stretch factors,  I’ve noticed that I like more ease than the European companies add. I won’t be bragging about the larger sizing you understand, only about being able to easily fit the garment.