I’ve been working on the Seamwork Clarke for some weeks now. So far, I’ve made two tops and two dresses, one of them a fail, which I’ll go into below. There’s a fair bit to talk about: working on the bias vs. cutting on the straight grain, extending to a dress and quite a bit of trial and error, to be honest, so I’m going to split this into two posts. Today, I’m going to write about my first Clarke tank and my two dresses, with a few lessons I learnt about working on the bias. Next week I’ll post my other tank and a bias skirt I’m working on – the Seamwork Dezi – which will hopefully make for a nice duo. Fingers crossed!
Pattern and sizing
Anyway, the Seamwork Clarke is, by all appearances, a very simple woven tank top – but appearances can be deceiving, as they say. Sometimes these “simple” garments are the trickiest to perfect. The Clarke can actually be made as either a woven or a knit, and my ears really started to prick up when I saw it was intended to be made either on the straight grain or on the bias. As you might know, I’m experimenting with bias cut garments this year and this seemed like a good opportunity to go further on my journey. It has a centre front seam for this purpose, as it’s often desirable to cut bias garment pieces as mirror images. The Clarke has V-shaped necklines and a slightly curved hem, with an all-in-one facing to finish the inside, which is rather elegant.
It was a little tricky to pick a starting size. Technically, I’m almost exactly a size 16 when going by the body measurements chart. Normally I would size down one or two sizes, make a full bust adjustment (FBA) and/or grade out at the waist and hip. The latter two weren’t a concern here as they have tons of ease. Actually, they have a little too much sway for my tastes, so going down a size was not an issue. I didn’t really want to add a dart unless I had to (although I was beginning to think it was inevitable after previous attempts). Looking at the charts again, the finished bust measurement of the 14 is 45″ – just 1″ of ease on my bust. Bit tight? Probably. Did I decided to go for it anyway? You betcha.
And you know what? It was almost perfect! I’ve made a few different woven tanks now – and enough of them to conclusively say that the Ogden Cami is not drafted for my shape; at least not without a shedload of adjustments. The Victory tank needed a few small adjustments, but was much, much better. This tank, however, gave me the best initial fit at the neckline, shoulders and armscye of all of them. Which is doubly surprising since that’s exactly where I had issues with the Seamwork Gretta, which fit me terribly. You can’t win them all!
I want to repeat something I touched on earlier up: this is a dartless top. I had all but given up on finding a dartless top for my big boobs and really figured a dart was the best way to go. The Victory tank went well (it has darts for the fuller-busted sizes) and the other potential patterns I was eyeing up also had darts. But this top might actually have swayed me back in the other direction for a woven tank. There’s definitely nothing wrong with darts. I like darts. Love them, in fact. But occasionally I don’t want them.
“Ah”, I hear you say, “but that must be because of the bias, draping around you”. Well, you’d be right, except that I didn’t cut this first tank on the bias! Haha! I entirely meant to, and then ploughed ahead to cut it out and completely forgot to lay the pieces on the bias. Whoops! But that really shows you that it’s a nice draft. The fabric is a beautiful crepe I got from LA Finch Fabrics an eon ago and it washed up so soft; it’s beautiful to wear. It needed a little lowering of tension to sew: I turned down tension on sewing machine to 3 (from 4) and all serging knobs to 3 (from 4) to handle the crepe without puckering.
In fact, there is only one problem with this top and it’s a very good illustration of the fitting pitfalls of choosing a smaller size with larger boobs. The problem is obvious if you compare my pictures to the line drawing. The front is blatantly way too short. The line drawing shows a hem than curves in an “u” shape, but mine is more of an “n”, which shows how short it really is!
There are two reasons for this: The first is that I needed a forward shoulder adjustment. The shoulder seam is one of the first things to check when fitting, since the whole garment hangs from the shoulder and that must be bang on to accurately review the rest. I don’t always have to make a forward shoulder adjustment, but I definitely did this time. As you can see, the seam has slipped back about an inch from where it should be, in the centre of my shoulder.
Luckily, this is a very easy adjustment. Simply figure out how much you need to take away to get it to hit that centre line and then literally cut it off the front strap and tape it onto the back. Yep, it’s that easy.
However, it still rises in the centre front. The reason is that there just isn’t enough fabric to go over my boobs lengthwise, because I’m making a 14 and my boobs need the length of a 16 or 18. Normally, it would be tight width-wise too and I would do an FBA, but the ease means that I’m very happy with the width. Therefore, all I need to do is add length to the centre front itself rather than a full FBA. I did this for my next tank, and I’ll show you how I did it in my next post, but it’s also very easy and you’ll see the difference. For now, I want to move onto the next thing I made, which was a dress version.
The Clarke Dresses
There are three dress versions as part of the Seamwork magazine hacking section for the month featuring Clarke. I did what the basic hack advised, but kept the hem level and more boring than their versions. I lengthened the original pieces by 19 inches after doing the forward shoulder adjustment. I thought about taking width out, but decided not to in the end and to add a belt instead.
I intended all along to make the dress version with a beautiful pink Italian silky I picked up at a sale. It’s gossamer thin, with gorgeous drape and I was excited to use it. I wasn’t entirely sure of the composition, but I did a burn test and it was definitely not terribly natural. It pretty much melted into a fabric cup. Oh well, it felt nice anyway, and the airy pattern shape offset any negative aspects of the polyester in terms of wearability.
But – my God – it was a royal pain in the ass to work with. It shifted like crazy and it was horrible to sew, especially in one layer. I fiddled around and tested for ages, and eventually had to turn my tension down to the minimum, use a stitch length of 2mm and switch out my bobbin holder for my alternate one, used for twin needle work, that has the tension turned wayyyy down. Even then, I still got a ripple, but it was manageable.
Even with all that being said, I learnt my first big lesson about how the bias doesn’t mess around and that is when I managed to somehow cut one of the pieces quite off the true bias grain. I sewed the two pieces together, but they were warped as heck. Like, non-useable. And I didn’t have any more fabric either! Argh. Gutted, but I had to scrap the project. You can see the difference between the “good one” which flows beautifully and the “warped one” above.
So… what to do? Well, I was determined not to give up, so I decided to try one more time, with a rayon crepe I’d recently picked up in this vibrant grass green colour. I made sure I cut out the pieces very, very carefully and this time all went well… mostly.
Before I even talk about any construction issues, I just want to highlight the beauty that is the bias drape. This is exactly what I was trying to achieve when I decided to have a go at this technique. Remember, there are no gathers or pleats or any sort of shaping at all, other than the cut of the bias. You can see how much fullness and ease I actually have in the picture below, yet it falls into the most elegant sweeping gathers in the skirt and skims the figure in a really flattering way. Swoon!
Alright, enough mooning.
The Clarke is quite a fast sew. You staystitch the pieces and sew together the front and back halves of both outer fabric and lining. You then attach the lining to the outer and stitch the neckline, followed by the armholes. It’s really important to understitch both areas, so that your lining doesn’t roll out, and I have to say that understitching has become one of my most loved techniques – the effect is very satisfying.
Having said that, this is where I made my other big mistake. I guess I was tired, but I didn’t notice that I was sewing the second armhole wrong sides together, rather than the usual right sides together. Even worse, I didn’t notice until I’d already trimmed, clipped, graded and understitched it. Argh! I unpicked it, but it was very difficult to sew such a thin seam in the right place, especially since it was graded. I did my best, but ended up with straps that were a little twisted, which was a bit annoying since I’d gotten such a nice finish on the tank.
My general rule of thumb is if I think it’s really going to bug me, I’ll redo it. And it bugged me. But I just couldn’t bear to do it again this time. So I decided to think of another solution and what I came up with was to make some short shoulder ties, along with my thin belt. And I rather like the effect! I’m not sure if it’s a tiny bit girly for me, but I dig it. I’m also not sure if I prefer the belt on or off. I thought for sure I’d prefer it on, but actually you can see the beautiful bias draping effect better with it off, which pleases my technical eye.
The last thing I did was to hang the dress for 36hrs. Because bias is so lovely and stretchy, the hem can change shape quite significantly before it “settles”. To combat this, you hang it up and then trim and hem it 24-48hrs after sewing it. This gave me a lovely straight hem and it really did stretch out of shape!
I think at some point, I’ll write a specific bias-techniques post, but, for now, here are a few tips I’ve learnt so far that work for me, in terms of cutting and handling:
- Cut bias pieces on one layer.
- Order extra fabric! Cutting on the bias creates quite a bit more wastage, so you will probably need an extra 1/2 yd to 1yd, depending on the garment.
- I’ve found tracing round the pattern piece and then cutting with scissors to be the most successful method for consistent piece shapes.
- Try to handle your pieces as little as possible and store them/lay them out flat
- Staystitch as directed as soon as possible
And that’s about it for today! Look out for my second post on Clarke with a matching Dezi skirt soon.