Well, it’s been a wee while since my last post! I’ve been working away on various bits and pieces, and they’ve all pretty much been multi-part projects where I’m trying to nail the fit of a wardrobe staple. This post is about my little journey with the knit tank. During this project I had one of those rare golden moments of affirmation that one is not actually bleedin’ crazy, but instead that one has made a very reasonable guesstimate and deduction in the style of, say, Sherlock Holmes perhaps. It doesn’t happen very often.
Alright, I’ve definitely oversold that, but what happened was that I worked out what has been going wrong for me in my attempts to find the perfect summer knit tank. The tank really is one of those holy grail kind of garments. It should be simple – the basic pattern is simple, but the point is that you have to get the fit absolutely spot on or it just looks homemade and droopy and sad. In addition, I decided I wanted to try out a few different neck finishes to see if any appealed to me, so I’ve added some details about those too – namely, binding with several different methods, as well as the traditional banded approach.
Fitting the tank
I had spotted the Seamwork Julia tank when looking for patterns for my loungewear capsule and decided to sew a Large for the shoulders, graded out to an XL from the bust down. But then… I realised the particular pattern version I had printed only went up to L.
To be clear, I have a 44-inch bust and the Large body measurement is a 40-42 inch bust with a finished circumference of 41 inches, so potentially very tight on me. The waist and hips of the Large are also smaller than mine in terms of body measurements, but have quite a bit of positive ease – particularly the waist. I thought about it for a while and, I won’t lie, really couldn’t be bothered printing and sticking another pattern together either, so decided just to throw caution to the wind and go with the L and see what happened!
This is what happened. Oh dear. First the good things: I really love the neckline and the length of this tank, plus the ease at the side seams was quite nice. Not too tight, not too loose. As it turns out, the negative ease appears to be fine even when sizing down one size. But you can see the problem at the armholes. They are mahoossive on me -both too low and too long, causing that crazy gaping. The straps are too long as well. I’m glad I didn’t make the XL.
There are two things to say about this: 1) I used an organic cotton knit, which has crappy recovery, so that definitely didn’t help the situation. 2) I do often have an issue with armholes, as you will know if you’ve read many of my posts. Mine are proportionally high for some pattern designers, although not all by any means. It’s been a while since I made my previous tanks, but when I wracked my brain and read back on my previous posts, it became obvious that these issues were present to a greater or lesser extent on those makes as well, so it’s definitely a my-body thing.
Now, former beginner Claire would have gone, “Screw this” and moved on to a different project. But I really want a well-fitting tank to add to my basics wardrobe, so instead, current intermediate-level Claire said, “Let’s DO THIS” and decided to keep at it. First, I needed a comparison.
I recently made the Seamwork Clarke, which was a perfect fit on me, so I compared pattern pieces. Wow – look at the difference. Having said that, this is a knit pattern and the Clarke is a woven; they’re different styles and you’d expect a knit tank armhole to be a little lower. Nevertheless, this made me feel like I was on the right track.
Next, I pulled out the original Julia pattern and compared my Clarke piece to see if it matched any of the other sizes more closely. Hmm… not really. Maybe the XS? But that would be ridiculous and my head was spinning a bit thinking how I would grade out to my waist and boobs from there.
So then (and this is the Sherlock Holmes part), I thought I’d get a RTW tank I had that fit me very well and compare that to the Julia. And lookie here! This made me feel much better. It was a good comparison as it’s a very similar-style knit tank, and the Julia armhole is both much wider and deeper. The neckline, however, is a perfect match! This made me feel all sensical as described in the first paragraph, because it sort of confirmed I had achieved some modicum of awareness of my body in relation to patterns. Yay!
So I decided to use the armhole of my RTW tank, plus binding allowance, grading out to the original Julia side seams. And that’s what I did! Here is the result of the second tank, made in the same fabric with the above adjustments and slightly narrowed straps. It’s much, much better. I picked this photo as you can see that one of my armholes is still a little stretched out. The other was perfectly fine though – which led me to think more about fabric choices and I decided to try some other substrates.
As a side note, I’m wearing a new pair of Seamwork Mel joggers here and in the first photo. I tapered these according to the Seamwork magazine pattern hack and left off the bottom cuffs and waist tie. I love them even more than the first pair and plan to make many more, perhaps even further tapered at the hip and thigh. Perfect loungewear! The fabric is from Lillestoff.
Fabric choices and two more Julias
So, speaking of fabric, I wondered how much of the issue was related to my organic knit. A 100% organic cotton knit is beautifully soft, but has zero recovery and stretches out of shape easily. I wanted to make a repeat tank in that fabric first (The Julia 2, above), because I figured if I cracked the fit with that, I should be able to get a good fit with anything. Then I tried something else…
I made two more tanks and both were with fabrics that had some spandex in them. The first, with stars, was a 95% cotton, 5% elastane mix, of the sort that most kids knits are composed of. I used exactly the same pattern pieces for both tanks as for Julia 2 and you can see the difference immediately.
In fact, in this knit, although it fits very well and is totally comfortable, half an inch lower on the armhole wouldn’t have mattered.
The final Julia was in a remnant of Japanese knit I had – and I think it’s probably 98% cotton, 2% spandex. It’s much fluffier, like the organic cotton, but has much better recovery, thanks to the spandex.
Again, it fits very well. So I guess it’s something to bear in mind with a tank, as just the tiniest bit of spandex can make quite a lot of difference to fit and adjustments. I’m glad I didn’t adjust the armholes any more, based on the results of the organic knit, as they’d have been too small then.
Knit tank finishes
Finally, and as mentioned at the top, I also wanted to try finishing the necklines in different ways. I almost always finish a knit neckline with bands and I mostly wanted to try binding. The Seamwork Julia instructions have both binding and fold-over elastic instructions and I went for the former, using the same fabric as the body.
First, I bound the neckline and edge-stitched it with a narrow zigzag. It was too narrow and I didn’t manage to sew it very evenly, so I thought it looked ugly. I found the organic knit to be too thick to be folded like woven bias tape. I decided to attach the armhole tape as a band instead and topstitch the regular way. This was definitely more even (as I’m used to this method), but when I saw photos of the finished tank I actually quite liked the look of the binding, faults and all, and decided to pursue this technique further.
For the second tank I decided to use my coverstitch machine and looked up some videos on coverstitching binding. I found a couple on Youtube, but made a mistake with choosing where to coverstitch. I didn’t pin the binding properly and tried to coverstitch half on, half off the binding as I would with bands. What a mess! It really didn’t work. It looks fine from a distance as you can see in the mountain photos, but eech. (I just pulled the tank out of the dryer to take this pic, so it’s a little worse than in real life, but you get the idea). I should have coverstitched completely off the band and will try this again another time. Probably.
I was feeling a little despondent at this point, so decided to use my faithful old serged bands to get a good finish, plus I thought the fabric pattern suited this more sporty look.
I used a plain black cotton spandex at 80% of the circumference of the knit neckline, but I should probably have used 85%, since the black fabric didn’t have a huge amount of stretch. it worked though! I just measured the neckline and armholes to work it out – that simple.
I coverstitched outside the band for a clean look and it worked well. How to bind the neckline well was still bugging me though… I really wanted to give it a last go, so I checked out my Bluprint/Craftsy subscription and found the course Sewing on the Edge: Finishing techniques with Lynda Maynard. What a great course! The majority of the finishes are for woven garments, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been looking for to up my sewing game with. I really recommend it.
Now, this technique is a little more work-intensive than putting bands on, but it gives such a beautiful clean finish it’s totally worth it. I’m not sure I’ll be using it for my kids pajamas anytime soon, but I do think it is a really feminine, classy look, so is perfect for this delicate knit. It would be even more beautiful if I’d used a matching serger stitch or zig-zag of course, but here’s the idea.
You first stabilise the neckline with interfacing (I used regular knit fusible). You then staystitch the neckline on the seamline – in my case at 3/8″. Next, you attach your binding by lining it up with and sewing it along the staystitching line you just created. You cut off the seam allowance, including the staystitching line and finally roll over the binding to the wrong side, and stitch in the ditch from the right side. You can use a straight stitch for everything because you’ve stabilised the neckline already and can of course do the whole thing on the sewing machine, which is nice.
My stitch in the ditch-ing needs a little work, but I’m really pleased with this result and will definitely use it again on knit tops that I think will benefit from the extra effort.
So there we are! A few iterations of the Seamwork Julia and I’m really happy to have a final blueprint pattern that I can whip up in an hour or so for endless useful tanks.
Hopefully this wasn’t too dull and technical, but I found it quite interesting to try a few new things and feel like I’ve picked up a little technique! I’ll leave you with a couple of extra photos, including a cheeky photobomb… bye for now!