Thursday, July 30, 2015

Works in Progress: Wiksten tank muslin

I've been thinking recently about making some of my own clothes. This isn't really a new thing for me; it's an interest I've circled back to periodically although I have to admit that I've never gotten very far with the actual making*.

This current burst of interest is, unsurprisingly, connected to all the thinking that I've been doing in recent months about the size and structure of my wardrobe. I have a better sense now not only of exactly what I want to wear, but also of what items would make my closet work better. Cue impatience when I can't find the items from my mind's eye in stores, either secondhand or retail.

The idea of what to make first is connected to this souvenir from our London trip:

Two meters of Liberty cotton lawn from the glorious Shaukat Fabrics.

My mind's eye sees a bit like this: Liberty tank + cardi in a related color + cropped jeans + clog sandals = summer is sorted.

So I've been working on making muslins of three different tank patterns. First up is the Wiksten tank.

(Why not just buy one pattern and tweak it if necessary until I like the result? Well, I've been curious about whether and how the cut, proportions, and fit of a garment might vary across patterns, even for a very basic thing like a tank top. And I wanted to develop a better understanding of the details of how a flat pattern translates into a shape on the body. In other words, because science.)

The Wiksten tank is very popular, and deservedly so -- there are a lot of great-looking versions out there. But looking at my muslin I can see why people say that "simple isn't easy." From the front the top looks blocky, and from the side it looks tent-y. The Wiksten tank doesn't have bust darts -- I'm pretty flat-chested so that shouldn't "matter," but I think the result just flattens me out more.

I realize that part of the issue here is fabric choice: I'm using an old bedsheet for my muslins, and I could have predicted that a crisp cotton-poly poplin would be exactly the wrong thing for this pattern. If I were to make this tank "for reals," I'd only use a VERY drapey silk or maybe a rayon challis. But really my conclusion is that while I don't need bust darts to accommodate my shape, I do need them to keep my shape from getting totally lost.

I'm a bit more befuddled by the fit at the shoulders. See the way the back neckline rises up away from my body? The general shoulder/underarm region feels pretty tight, too (this isn't much of a surprise, I have broad shoulders and a wide ribcage, and often find ready-to-wear shirts difficult to fit in this area -- though sleeveless tops usually aren't as challenging).

Let's back up for a minute. So the armholes and neck of the Wiksten tank are finished with bias binding. But I didn't want to fuss with all that for a muslin -- I didn't need a finished garment, I just needed to be able to gauge fit and proportion. So I decided to just turn under the neckline and armhole edges (by prescribed seam allowance plus a smidgen more to account for the turn-of-cloth) and baste them down.

The first time I did this I ended up with a pretty wavy, puckery finish at the neckline and armholes. I remembered seeing a tutorial on the Coletterie for sewing a curved hem so I decided to try that. (Yes, I ripped out the stitching and did it again -- on a muslin that I "didn't want to fuss with." But at this point I was curious, because remember, SCIENCE.)

This version was even jankier than the last! Also, the fabric did not want to behave, to the point that multiple f-bombs had to be dropped in order to get through sewing the neckline and just one of the armholes.

Of course. The curved hem method is for convex curves, like you would find on the hem of a circle skirt. Not for tight concave curves, as exist at armscyes and necklines. What I should have done was clip the curves and then turn the fabric under. (Like this, of course.) I mean, I know about clipping curves, I have sewn curved seams before, see:

Funny that I failed to transfer this knowledge from craft sewing to garment sewing. Well, I've learned now is all I can say.

Anyway, I couldn't face finishing the second armhole so I just cut off the seam allowance instead. And look, the right side of the tank sits much better than the left.

Left shoulder - hell to the no.
Right shoulder - not so bad.

So what's going on with that left shoulder area?
(a) It's the janky armhole finish that's causing the problem.
(b) I need to add width across the shoulders/upper back.
(c) I need to lower the armhole.
(d) Combination of (b) and (c).
(e) ???

I'm curious whether any garment sewists out there can tell me what might be going on. I admit that this is a question of mostly academic interest at this point -- I've moved on to sewing up a muslin of a different pattern that looks like it is going to be a better match for me -- but like I said, I'd love to understand this stuff better.

*Why do I think this time will be any different? Time will tell, of course, but I have hit on one new strategy that seems to be helping: instead of waiting for a time when I have a couple hours to sew up a whole garment, I'm applying the "sewalong" approach and just trying to sew one or two seams each day. For something simple like a tank top, this means that I can finish an item in about a week, rather than waiting until forever to even start it.


  1. This is one of those times I wish we still lived in the same city as my mother (that, or that she would have a computer and the internet and I could just send her the link to your post) --- she used to teach pattern design and clothing construction at a technical college and would be able to easily diagnose the left shoulder problem. (And I distinctly remember her raving about Liberty cotton!) I'm no expert, but I'm wondering if you were to angle the shoulder seam allowance in more at the neckline? Or perhaps the problem is that the back is just slightly too wide? (Maybe take a bit out of the back width by running a fold up the middle of the back to see if that solves the problem?). With regards to hemming the neckline and armholes --- maybe in future, instead of struggling with that, you could do what I would always do when I was sewing clothes for my kids: get rid of the seam allowance, cut bias strips out of the same fabric (or a contrasting fabric) and trim the edges with this bias fabric to finish the edges. Because there's no folding of the main body of the fabric itself, the edge tends to end up laying very nicely. (I hope this makes sense; if not, I can try to explain better in a follow-up comment).

    I'm glad you've moved onto a pattern that's going to be a better fit, though! At the risk of sounding really weird, I have to say this post makes me think we're twins separated at birth (and by 10 or 15 years...), because this spring I decided I was going to try to get back into sewing some of my own clothes again, too. I used to sew a LOT of my own clothes, but this was back in the 90s when we were all wearing oversized tents (which is a pretty easy style to fit!). I spent a lot of time sewing when the kids were young (clothing for them as well as me), and I was pretty creative about changing patterns, but slowly the sewing fell by the wayside. This spring I needed an outfit for a special occasion and I managed to find a top that was perfect (in a peasant blouse style I never would have imagined would look flattering on me; I'm very slim, small-busted with square shoulders and struggle to find clothing that looks good) but then when I tried to find more of the same style (but in a more casual look) I was unable ... so, like you, I decided to take the bull by the horns and sew my own. I ended up modifying (of all things) a Halloween clown top pattern I had used to make a costume for my daughter (I tried on the top and figured with some adjustments it would work), and although it ended up taking a LOT of re-working (and more f-bombs than I should admit to) I did end up with a top that I think looks quite nice (although best under a cardigan, because alone, it was looking distinctly like maternity wear, according to my kids!). Spurred on by this success, I tried to make another top (but in a slightly different, less maternity-ish style, once again - like you - trying to figure out the science of the pattern, and using some light cottony fabric I had initially slated for curtains), but this one is NOT going well. In fact, I just gave up (for now, at least; put the machine away and stowed the fabric), partly because I wasn't taking advantage of snatches of time to get a seam done here and a seam done there (as I used to do so well when the kids were little (is this what you mean by the "sewalong" approach?)), and partly because I was tired of the dining room looking like a disaster (I need a designated sewing space of my own that ISN'T the dining room, and this is a subject for a post on my own blog, someday...).

    Anyway, sorry for such a long-winded comment! I hope you show us the muslin/tank top that ends up being a success :)

    1. Ha, I think we very well could be twinsies (I'm not that much younger than you, either, I must just act immature! :-) I turn 42 later this year). It sounds like we have a similar body type too. So we should definitely keep in touch about patterns and styles that work for us. I'm sorry that your second top isn't going well! I know what you mean about needing a designated sewing space. Our office/atelier helps in that regard as there is enough floor space that I can tolerate just leaving the ironing board up for weeks at a time (it's fairly out of the way against one wall, though it does block the door to the office supply closet). But I do have to shove my computer and work papers aside to make room on my desk for my sewing machine when I get it out. Still, it's simple enough that it does seem to be working for the get a seam done here-and-there approach. I would love to see both of the tops you made -- the successful one and the one you're struggling with. Who knows, maybe writing about it will lead to a breakthrough!

      And I can picture just what you mean about bias binding the outside of the neckline/armholes. I think that technique is used in the third pattern I'm planning to muslin (Colette Sorbetto tank). That has been an unexpected but definite benefit of trying out multiple patterns, too -- I'm getting exposure to more techniques for construction and finishing, which I can then mix and match at will in the future.

      I did a little more poking around and I have a new theory about what's going wrong with the shoulder/armholes in this tank -- I'll definitely write more about it in a future post!

  2. It is so often the science of a project that keeps me in it--much more than whatever it was I was going to make. I have no idea what you need to do to fix that arm-hole problem (garments are way beyond my pay-grade), but I really enjoyed reading about your process!

    1. Thanks, Rita. Yes, the unexpected science of home and DIY projects is a big part of their pleasure, isn't it? I'm glad that you enjoyed reading the post even if the project wasn't in a genre you are likely to play with. I have so many different types of pursuits that I'd like to write about in this space (like, it's not exactly a crafting blog or a home blog or a cooking blog, though I touch on all those things) so I've been hoping to be able to write in a way that is still engaging even for a person who's not particularly interested in the topic of the post.

    2. Well, that's why I lump all my stuff under the umbrella "creative stuff." :-) I found your post interesting because what I'm mostly interested in is process, and I think we can learn a lot about creative processes from any kind of creative project.