Drafting an Off-the-Shoulder Top

I work in the fashion industry and it seems like every woman at the office is wearing some version of the off-the-shoulder top. So I decided to draft my own version and add straps so I can still wear a bra with it.  I wasn’t sure exactly how the top would be constructed or how low the armhole shaping needed to be, so I made a half-scale mock up as a test run (without the straps for now). 

Many of you may have never seen a half-scale dressform. They are especially handy when trying to figure out how a garment will work, without having to cut/waste a bunch of fabric doing it. It looks much smaller that 1/2-scale, but all of its measurements are exactly half of a standard dressform ( approx half of an industry size 8). If I were really serious about my mini dressform I’d pad it to have a bigger bust ( ha ha), but this will do for my off-the-shoulder mock-up. (I have a full size dressform too, for real sized fitting.)

Here’s the finished mock-up, because I know you are dying to see what it looks like. . . 

It’s a bit stiff, because of the muslin, but I think when I cut the real fabric I’ll be using a much softer, drapey fabric that won’t stand away from the body so much.

Here are my drafting notes for the real (full-scale) version. . .you’ll see that I’m toying with a facing for the top edge instead of the fold-back facing. I’m only considering that if my fabric yardage isn’t enough to allow me the turn-back height. 

I’m thinking to decrease the elastic width to only 1″, instead of 2″, since most of my stash of elastics are 1″ wide. (Tip: Try to use items already in your stash, instead of buying something new, if you can.)

It took me about 10 min to cut out the muslin fabric for the mock-up, and only about 15 min to sew up the mock-up. Granted, it was a quickie job without any pressing or attention to detail, but it got the job done. 

After making the mock-up, I’ve decided to re-design the sleeve opening to be wider. Compare my initial sleeve shape from the sketch above to this new one below…a bigger opening. I think it will look cuter with a wider, looser opening. I may also shorten the sleeve length from my “pattern”. (Because there is so little shape or detail to the this style of top, I won’t actually make a full pattern, I’ll just use my measurements and the above diagram and cut directly into the fabric, to make the armhole shapes and each of the pieces.

I’ll cut out the real fabric soon, probably tomorrow night so, stay tuned. . . I’ll post the pics of the cutting and assembling as I go.


My 5 Favorite Sewing Tips

When I was thinking about how long I’ve been sewing and all the cool stuff I’m able to make, I remembered all the great advice I’ve received or things I’ve learned along the way.

Here’s my first list, in no particular order! I say “first” because I’m sure more tips will come to me after I post this. 🙂

  1. Never buy fabric you don’t love.
    Because you’ll end up with a garment you won’t want to wear.
  2. Always do to the fabric what you expect to do to the garment . . washing-wise, that is!
    I throw ALL of my fabric in the washer and the dryer before I cut anything out. Since I don’t dry clean anything if I can help it — in NYC it’s too expensive — everything I create needs to be able to make it through the washing machine and, usually, the dryer.
  3. Make a muslin (a proto sample) of your garment first so you can make any corrections to the pattern before cutting into the “real” fabric. Unless you know the pattern you are using already fits you great, or the style is so loose and forgiving it doesn’t matter how it fits — in those cases, just go for it!
  4. Your iron should be your best friend! Press. . . frequently!
    This is the KEY to a professional looking garment. You’ll be absolutely amazed at how much better a garment (or any fabric project) looks if you press the seams (and any other parts that need it) after each major step.
  5. Figure out how to fit your personal body shape.  If you are busty, learn the Full-Bust-Adjustment technique. If you are petite, learn how to shorten the body and sleeve lengths of patterns. If you are tall, learn how to increase sleeves and body lengths in the right place on the patterns.  Go search out fitting techniques that will improve the fit of garments you like to make. There are some great books on fitting out there and lots of websites and blogs that will walk you through the steps. (** See note below.)  Just remember…A great fit will always improve the look of your garment.

** Note: I didn’t learn to sew until I was in college (my first project was curtains for my dorm room), even though I’d been watching my Mom sew when I was growing up.  While I originally learned to sew from books (this was before the internet! ha ha), I learned how to “fit” years later when I was a pattern maker and draper at Anna Sui and a Technical Designer at Tommy Hilfiger and Banana Republic. There’s nothing like fitting garments on a fit model and on a dress form, correcting patterns and describing how to improve the fit of a garment to a factory to improve your “eye” at fitting!



The dress is done!

I finished the polka-dot dress tonight and I’m pleased with the final results. Instead  of a normal hem, I decided that I’d add a bias trim along the curved hem, in the same binding that I used on the armholes and neckline.

The bodice has both a bust dart and a French dart (that starts in the side seam and angles up toward the bust. (That was needed both because of the big boobs and because I originally made the width of the dress too wide and had to take everything in for a better fit. That’s what happens when you don’t make a muslin! Ha ha)

This is the first time I’ve made a V-neck anything, which is odd since I own a lot of v-neck styles and like them and I make a LOT of my own tops and dresses, but they are always crew-neck shapes or cowl necklines.

This fabric is from my favorite store here in NYC, MOOD FABRICS. Love them!! If you don’t live in NYC you can still access their amazing collection of fabrics through their website. I only bought 2 yards of the polka-dot fabric and I had more than enough for this dress and all of the bias trim I made. Fabric was $16/yd, in case anyone was interested, so the dress cost me $32 in materials. (I didn’t end up needing a zipper in the center back seam since the v-neck made the dress easy to slip on over my head.)

I enjoyed making this dress and now that I have corrected my pattern (based on my adjustments made while Constructing and fitting it), I’ll probably make another one. I might even widen the shoulders and add a cute sleeve for an alternate style. 🙂

— Jenny

Creating your own bias binding

While you can find lots of tutorials on creating your own bias binding, I’ll go ahead and give a little tutorial of how I created mine for use as trim detail on the armholes and neckline of the polka-dotted dress.

First, I cut a piece of fabric 16″x16″. (You may think this won’t create much bias trim but you would be wrong! Ha ha. It created at least a couple of yards for me. I used it for the armhole trims and neckline trims of my dress, and I still have lots left over.)

The top and btm edges should be noted in some way –I used blue pins on the top and bottom– and then the two sides should be noted differently — I used yellow pins. Cut the square piece of fabric diagonally in half. (Step 1 below)


Continue reading

Next step…armhole trim

Lots of pics today of the application of my bias trim to make armhole finishings. There’s some great tutorials on Pinterest on how to make your own bias binding. I seemed to always forget how to do it, so a little refresher is a good.

Here’s the bias binding prepped and wound around my pressing tube, just so it doesn’t get wrinkled until I use it.

Note that this is the same fabric as the dress. I’ve made the bias so that the black is the “right” side and the white will be the wrong side.

I stitched the ends of one bias strip so that its circumference fits into the armhole. Then I stitched that bias strip along the armhole (AH) edges, right-sides together of the dress and bias trim, about 3/8″ from the edge all around. On the left side here you can see the bias attached to the AH of the dress.

Then it’s time to PRESS!! Yes, if you want a professional looking garment when you are done, pressing is the magic step. You need to press at EVERY stage, not just at the end. I press my bias trim away from the body of the dress, so that its sticking out from the AH curve.

Okay…I’ve decided to cheat on this AH trim. Instead of turning under the edge of the trim on the inside of the dress (for a clean, beautiful finish), I’m taking a shortcut. No one except me is going to notice the inside, so I’m saving time.

Instead, I’m just folding and pressing the bias trim to the wrong side (the inside) of the dress, and leaving the bias edge unfinished and exposed. But because the trim is cut on the bias, it shouldn’t unravel or fray! (So my cheating is sort of okay!)

Once it’s pressed to the inside, I can run a stitch “in the ditch”. From the front side of the dress, I stitch EXACTLY in the seam where the bias binding attached to the dress. The stitches will sort of fall into the “ditch”, becoming almost invisible.

Check out the AH with the finished trim…

And back onto the dress form until this weekend when I add the neck trim detail.

The edges of the shoulders may look like they stick up at the AH trims, but that’s just because my dress form has more slope in the shoulders than I do! They should fall smoothly once the dress is on my shoulders. 🙂

Next time. . . I’ll walk through the neck trim.