Monday, May 20, 2013

The Summer Series: Five in Five, Take 3 (aka the knit top that warrants a muslin)

Ooh la la. Let's talk about V8790, shall we?

Get a coffee. It's gonna take a while but I promise to make this the most thorough and exposé-like of all the reviews of this top that you might ever read.

It's hard to know where to start. I kind of love this top (at least on others!), despite how badly my muslin turned out. I kind of think it might not be for me (or those having large breasts - despite how the surplice design leads one to think the opposite). I kind of think the pattern may be flawed. I kind of adjusted the crap out of the pattern so, I suppose, that's what could be flawed. (Note to reader: I don't think so. I was very careful and considered while altering. And the knits are my spiritual people. When it comes to stretch-fabric, I have intuition on my side.) I definitely think the instructions are mediocre.

But let's go back to the second sentence of the last paragraph, the one wherein I tell you that I deliberately made a muslin of this top. Um, in what world is that "quick summer knits-ish"? Do I just like making things difficult?

Actually, I think it was the best idea I've had in a long time. And this is why:
  • The instructions are crap. I mean, the written portion is ok, but the photos are SO cryptic that you oughtn't bother.
  • I didn't know how the gathers were going to work - or the sizing (I cut a size 10 and it was definitely on the snug side) - or the facing (I freakin' hate facing) and, really, I spent a lot of time learning about them in the course of the muslin construction.
  • It's nice not to care about ruining something as you're trying to figure it out. Furthermore, I had this yellow tencel that was never gonna be used for anything else - it's 100 per cent see-through - but it's the same fabric I have in my stash in two other colours (that, I really hope, are less see-through). This was a chance to know I'd be able to a) get rid of unwearable stash while b) making something that I'll be able to remake in a fabric having the same properties. Sweet.
  • I altered this pattern quite a bit (the topic of another section of this post, below) so I wanted to see if I'd maintained its integrity. I believe I have.
First let me tell you some neutral observations about V8790:
  • This is not a pattern for a beginner! Or even for an experienced sewist who really doesn't dig working with knits. I can't believe the Vogue people have put it in the very easy category. That's high on drugs, IMO.
  • It's cut for an Amazon princess with a waist that's 4-feet long.  OK, I'm exaggerating slightly, but if you're short of waist, you should know you'll need to alter it or you're gonna have a tunic on your hands. I removed 3.5 inches and I stand by it.
  • This top is all about the fabric. The instructions advise a 2-way stretch knit only (I've seen other reviews that say it requires 4-way but it's not the case.) I think that Vogue peeps are worried about excessive vertical drape stretching the surplice neckline all to hell. In truth, unless you're working with a very stretchy fabric (like rayon jersey) and you make a size that's on the large end of your normal size (i.e. the exact opposite of how I like to wear my knits), excessive drag is unlikely to occur.
  • That's because this thing is constructed such that the surplice attaches under the arm at the top of the side seam (where your underarm starts). The net result is that this thing is apt to strangle you with its insanely high cut. I say, go crazy with the stretch-factor. Note: On me this was unwearable - as well as tremendously uncomfortable. I had to alter it. (See below) Egad: I just had another look at the technical drawing and, either I totally misinterpreted the instructions (possible) or the photo is inaccurate?! It shows the front surplice panel attaching at the waist, not under the arm. I've so got to go back and see whether they suck or I'm an idiot! Yet another reason why making a muslin was a good idea.
  • It won't work with a thick fabric. The front is two layers thick (as both sides of the surplice attach under each underarm). If you have a thick fabric, not only will it get bulky fast, but it will be ridiculously hot. Even the sleeveless version. The thinner the jersey, the better.
What I Changed:
  • I cut 3.5 inches of length from the lengthen/shorten line at the waist. Given the complexity of the front piece, this made it quite difficult to true at the neckline-side of the front (the part with the facing). It took a long time and, in the end, I compared the curve against the original and just did my best to recreate it. Let's call this a workable change.
  • I interfaced the facing. I thought it would be too baggy, particularly at the back neck. As it happens, my instinct at the neck-edge is probably sound (as it was in applying interfacing where the neck unit of this top is sewn to the shoulder unit - it's a bit weird, but you'd know what I mean if you were making this). It was not a good idea to interface the facing because that part really needs optimal opportunity to drape. Let's call this a mistake.
  • How the surplice attaches to the side seams at the underarm (See above for the part where I might have read the instructions wrong.) Is it shocking that I can't even be bothered to go look at them right now so that I might clear this all up before I press Publish on this post? Hmmm...
  • The length of the facing. I found it too long at the side seam (even as the neck was too high). I know - whack. This is possibly because the interfacing altered the drape of the fabric and altered the way it eases over the bust. As I fit and sewed, I ended up removing 2 inches of its length, where it meets the side-seams. I suspect the need to do this will depend on the fabric used so I won't alter the facing length out of the pattern.
What's flat out dubious about this pattern:
  • The way the back piece attaches to the neck unit is totally weird and it's as if the pieces aren't meant to go together. Instead of being curves that attach, the attachment is with a series of right angles. Hard to explain. And just as hard to sew.
  • I was gonna say, the way the surplice piece attaches at the underarm seam but that could backfire on me. :-) What I do know is that at least one side of the surplice (the one that goes underneath) is supposed to attach at the underarm - that much I'm sure of. I didn't like this. It was very bulky over the thickest part of my chest. So I lowered it - as I did the surplice panel at the other side seam. 
  • The facing?! Did I say I hate facing? The only reason why I'll let it go here is that, presumably - were I to have left off the fusible interfacing on the facing, it would have draped better and looked less like a facing and more like an extension of the front side of the neckline.
Why I utterly love my serger and would suggest you give this pattern a miss if you don't have one:
  • I finally decided to figure out some of the more fancy features of my serger. In this instance, ruching/gathering. Seriously, it is SO not hard. Essentially, using 4-spools of thread and a longish stitch length, you crank up the differential feed to the highest number (2) and the thing takes care of itself. It took me about half an hour of experimenting with my fabric to determine how I wanted to proceed (with clear elastic to hold the gather, rather than without). Without clear elastic, potentially, one must pull on threads to redistribute the gather - like one does with a regular machine. Note: should you decide to avoid clear elastic, the serger still makes it easier to use the thread-pull gathering method, than a regular machine, and and it maintains the initial gathers better, those created without thread pulling and by the differential feed action). I now realize that, with the serger, I could have done all of my gathering at the last stage of the project, when sewing up the three-layers of side seam fabric, by switching from regular serging to gather-setting serging (at which point I'd feed my clear elastic into the little groove), and then back to regular serging all on the same seam. It's a bit finicky and it takes courage, but it's totally possible. Keep in mind, I serged the side seams after basting them together! Don't just start hacking away at your fabric with a serger before establishing that the seams align.
  • If you intend to work with clear elastic (which, admittedly, is not what the pattern calls for but which is the best material to a) gather the sides and b) stabilize the armholes, especially if you're doing the sleeveless version, then doing it with a regular machine is a nightmare.
  • This is one of those patterns that really is bound to look homemade on the wrong side, without a serger. There are lots of layers atop one another. There are facings. There are strings for gathering (or else clear elastic). I mean, it'll look nice from the front, but the inside runs the risk of being untidy. And, without a serger, the likelihood is that your straight stitches might skip or inadequately hold the fabric. There's a lot of stress on a lot of seams and I think a serger will contain everything much more securely.
Is anyone still reading??

Will I make this again? Yes, next weekend, likely. If it works, great. If not, I gave it a good try and learned a lot about my serger, sewing with knits, surplice tops and clear elastic.

So, today's questions: Have you made V8790? Did you find the instructions challenging? Did the top fit you nicely? Did you alter it in any way? Let's talk!


  1. I haven't made this and I'm not sure I could be a***d having read this review. I swear you have the patience of a saint. And I'm convinced the Vogue illustrators are smoking something hinkey because their illustrations rarely resemble the finished article, or vice versa, in my experience.

  2. You win a prize for getting through this post! :-) I don't know that I can be assed giving it more than one more chance. I did exercise an unusual kind of patience with this project. I think having finished the skirt took the edge off my compulsiveness. And OMG, when I have the slightest amount of brainpower restored, I'm totally off to look at those instructions against the tech drawing.

  3. I tried it once. Had the same experience. I use the salvaged scraps as dust cloths now.

    I don't think the side attaches at the underarm, I think it's gathered and attaches at the side. That being said that's the part of the construction that made me give up on it.

    1. Egad! :-) I double checked and one side attaches at the underarm, the other at the side. Instructions shouldn't be that difficult!

  4. Yes, I made was huge and tunic-like as I am short waisted. I can't remember what I thought of the instructions but I was able to complete it. It lives in wadder land at this time and I don't think I will revisit it - as a matter of fact, I gave the pattern away.

    1. Ah, wadderland - a marginal, liminal place. I hope I avoid that fate but I'm prepared, at this point :-)

  5. i made a mccalls version of basically the same top, but due to a thicker fabric choice it's more of a wear around the house top that i never bothered to blog. i can only imagine that the surplice part should attach at the sides. i know what you mean about the neck parts and the right angles... even though i grasp exactly what you are supposed to do, i can never seem to do it very well!

    1. Ha! This style of pattern is getting rave reviews so far... (not) And what is going on with those right angles? There must be a reason but I haven't figured it out.

  6. I haven't made it as I don't have the goods to fill out a surplice top. Nor have I ever used a Vogue pattern, and you're making me afraid to try!

    1. You know, I think this would be quite flattering on a long-waisted, slender torso. Just sayin'... I SO don't mean to make you afraid of Vogue patterns. Many of them are quite nice. But I cannot believe you've never tried one! I mean, they're everywhere and you sew constantly!

  7. OK, the positive take away from this is that you've learned to gather on your serger and have inspired me to figure out how to do this on mine.

    I haven't sewn this but I have a RTW top in this same style except that it's a stretch woven. I like how it looks once I've styled it. And that is a cautionary statement in and of itself. I always have to fuss with accessories and either wear a cami under it or pin in closed to get the look I want (and not flash people.)

    1. It's so true about the serger learning. I've tried tops like this in the past and, really, they were odd (at least the underlayer was) but I'm convinced I can make it work. At least, I hope.

  8. I was a little unsure of the pattern art from the outset. It seems like the art makes the models look 6' tall and about 2/3 of their height coming from their torso. I hope the next version works well, you've certainly learned about the pattern the hard way.

  9. I'm making this top right now and walked out of my sewing room in frustration yesterday afternoon - that back to neck attachment is straight out weird, the written instructions are bland, and the illustration is just horrendus. Working with slippery fabric doesn't help. I wish I'd thought to search for reviews before I purchased the pattern; I had been so encouraged by earlier success with other Vogue patterns.

    I'm thinking I'll hand baste this in this morning. Wish me luck..... And I haven't even gotten to attaching the sides yet.