Monday, August 31, 2015

Corset Style Top

I made a little top. Long time readers (hugs all round!) have heard me complain incessantly about the travails of looking stylish and feeling comfortable in temperatures above 90F. Follow this link to my second post ever on exactly this topic. Living on the border between the San Francisco Bay Area and the Great Valley, temperatures this hot may show up a good six months of the year.

Around the time I started The Dashing Eccentric I started to make a few little 'cami tops'. Sleeveless, cotton or linen, with styling bringing to mind the corset covers of the Victorian and Edwardian era, my cami tops made up using little fabric and time whilst broadcasting my own personal style no matter how high the mercury climbed.

I've never been without these style essentials since. However, this spring I had to admit that this part of my wardrobe needed a serious overhaul. My remaining cami-tops were threadbare in places where an artful applique or embroidered fillip would only be appropriate in certain Vegas venues. What's more, I hankered for a more modern, sophisticated take on this garment.

Designing a wardrobe workhorse garment which one hopes to become a TNT can be a long process. First, I had to determine my criteria - what functional and stylistic characteristics would I prioritize?

I settled on sleeveless, moderate neckline/armscye, style lines/decorative possibilities hearkening back to the corset-cover inspiration, seamlines offering exacting fit around the bust and shoulders, and clean finish of interior and edges. Based on this list I decided to go with princess seams and a yoke.

I liked the idea of a yoke for three reasons. It allowed seaming which mocked the top of a corset and allowed for closer fitting through the high bust and shoulders. This seaming could be done traditionally, seam allowances turned to the inside and very subtle, or could be accented with tone-on-tone or contrasting trims. In this instance i used self made bias binding in a low-contrast print.

Interior view
The third reason I chose to go with a yoke was so I could encase all of the yoke's edges and seam allowances. Above you can see that i sewed the necklines and armscyes of the yoke to a facing, then turned it inside. On the inside of the garment, I pressed up the facing's seam allowances along the bottom edge of the yoke and hand stitched it to the interior seam allowances to finish. You can see it makes for a very clean interior - comfortable as well.

Given this decision, I looked at the commercial patterns available to see if I could find one from a well-reviewed designer with similar lines. I chose Lisette's 6183 design for Butterick. The fit was nice and the pieces went together well, and the pattern includes separate pieces for A-D cup sizes - a very nice feature in any bodice. The design lines weren't so far away from my vision so as to make drafting onerous, though I did make substantial changes. I developed completely different construction methods.

For this garment I chose to use silk organza for the yoke facing. This linen is a bit sheer, so two layers of the linen would have made the yoke appear more opaque than the 'corset' area of the top. This seemed opposite of the effect I wanted of a more substantial 'corset' with flimsier 'yoke'. Since the organza didn't add any visual weight I went with that instead of the linen.

As much as I love silk organza, it is a pest to work with! Long, strong threads grabbing everything, everywhere! Fortunately my choice worked very well for the visual effect and it is nice on the skin as well. The end product was worth the effort. If I'd done all that fussing and it hadn't turned out well, I am sure you would have heard my cussing around the world!

Using bias bindings along the seamlines had more than a decorative purpose. I stitched the vertical seams wrong sides together, pressed and trimmed the seam allowances to about 1/4". I then applied the bias strips on the right side of the garment, topstitching on both edges of the bias strips, thus encasing the raw edges.

Figuring out the order of construction on this garment, and then working with the silk organza facing was certainly fiddly!   However, the end effect is wonderful. I will be looking for more opportunities to use the technique for seam finishes in future. I am scheming another make of this top in black with a white with black cotton ribbon instead of the bias binding (the curves are gentle enough that it should work without the flexibility of the bias). Using the same color but with a different texture - say, satin bias on linen - would yield a subtle, luxe result.

In order to break up the neckline a bit and allow increased ventilation, I put a split in the yoke at the top center front instead of continuing buttons all the way up. I used a combination of dark grey and clear buttons from the stash. Inside, I used one at the center back of the yoke instead of a label, with a bit of the bias binding underneath clipped like a ribbon.

I put a lot of thinking, scheming, testing, and flat out futzing into developing this top - and it was worth it! I look forward to making up more of these tops in neutrals as well as one floral which is drawing my attention in this direction...and I am excited to lengthen this top into a dress as well. Making this design in a dark, clear blue with ivory polka dots in a swingy silk crepe de chine, hitting a bit below mid calf would create a dress embodying easy French chic.

How did you come to your own TNTs? Did it involve lots of planning and experimenting or did it fall into your lap? Let us know!


  1. mrs. e--i like your camisole top very much--and i'll bet it's divine to wear! what could be better for a summer's day than cotton? your changes to lisette's design make good sense and add a unique look to the garment.--anne

  2. I like your style and all the thought and effort you put into your TNTs!

  3. Very Nice! - it's cute and the fit is Perfect! I appreciate how you describe your criteria/process for coming up with your TNT for this kind of top.

    I came up with (a much simpler, lazy-sewing) TNT that I sew over and over and wear daily. It's basically a dolman-type sleeve top - except the armscye area doesn't hang way down low. It's just ONE pattern piece with a boatneck collar, all comfortably fitted to my measurements. The back and the front are the same. Super easy to knock out on my serger.

    Who knows, maybe when the winter (el Nino) rains come, I'l attempt some slightly more detailed projects. Yours are certainly inspiring...!
    :-) Chris

  4. Thank you Anne! So nice when all that plotting pays off - there's no guarantee ;)

    Thank you sewingkm for taking the time to drop on by and comment!

    SewTypical how wonderful to hear i've done some inspiring! You TNT sounds great - and you are encouraging me to keep thinking about something similar for myself. A top which took less fussing would be super useful, especially as i sew slowly anyways...maybe a Tina Givens style tunic?

    You're giving me food for thought! Here's hoping the El Nino brings water - we need it! And great sewing weather, too!

    Happy Day!!! stephQ

  5. Another meaty post with lots to chew on! Thank you for so many thought provoking ideas and directions.
    Plus, it's gorgeous! Did you cut your hair? Looks nice!

  6. You look so fresh and cool in your lovely labor-intensive top!! We are midway through a week of rain and wind. And it is perfect sewing weather, you're right!!! Plus it sounds nice when rain hits the roof.
    I am envious of your total look! The skirt! The shoes! The socks!!! Wonderful.

  7. I love your summery look with the mixture of denim, lace, and lightweight cotton! When I read what you are doing, it fills me with the desire to get back to my sewing room. Your careful and lovely finishing details on the camisole top are sort of what I try and do when it all works out right in my metalworking, to have the hidden sides be just as lovely as the visible parts. I think you get a blue ribbon on this one, with all the subtle details, particularly the buttons and the bindings (p.s. if I was your size, I would so want to steal this top... )

    I have a select group of TNT patterns, and they all involved lots of effort to get to that point, multiple fittings and adjustments. I often think that had I a me-shaped dress form, at least some of the effort would be somewhat simpler, as I could probably change more than one area at a time... (Am getting together with a local friend to try making duct tape doubles of ourselves, we'll see how well that turns out...)

  8. Gayle i am glad to hear that! And thank you for the kind comments on my person...actually i'm growing my hair out and putting it up - easier than keeping it short ;)

    "lovely labor-intensive top'! Claire you have the best way with words, and you sew so well on top of it! thank you for commenting and let's do our best to encourage the rain.

    Alison, hearing i'm inspiring someone to get in the studio is the best! Yes, your metalwork always looks so beautiful and complete from every angle - something about that way of doing things is so satisfying.

    You know i was thinking about your TNT patterns and the process by which you developed them while coming up with this one. You've really shown me how a few designs can truly express so much when they are well thought out and speak to the style of the wearer. Thank you (big hug).

    oh - so thrilling about the dress forms! i'm keeping my fingers crossed and very curious to see how it goes!

    Happy Day! stpeh

  9. Hope you are doing well my blogging friend. You have not posted in a while. I know you are still sewing. We miss you.

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  12. Your post on corset-style tops is both stylish and informative. It's always fun to explore different fashion trends and find ways to incorporate them into our wardrobe.
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