Brooklyn, a tank top: repurposing

Killa Zilla

My daughter seems to love the little knit camisoles and tanks I’ve made her.  The Brooklyn tank top was the next project as listed in my Farbenmix sew-up project, and yet the weather is not really tank-top weather. I chose to make a double-layer tank, providing more warmth than it might first appear.  Yesterday Sophie layered it under a close-fitting jean jacket. She survived outdoor walks in the wind and indoor frolics in the dance studio equally well.

Sophie / Dance Studio Mirror

Good quality knits hold up well during their usage, do not pill, and have intelligible grainlines to work with.  Purchasing good-quality knits isn’t exactly easy unless you live in a city and know where to find them.  You can order online but then, since you are not able to feel and see the fabric, you are at a slight disadvantage.  I do order fabrics online, but when I am matching something I prefer to see them in the flesh.  Case in point: nine yards of silk velvet burnout are on their way to my house for a bellydancing skirt.  I won’t purchase fabric to make a coordinating top until I can carry a swatch of the skirt fabric around in my hand.

Back to this tank top: fortunately, finding very nice-quality t-shirts is an option where I live because we have a few wonderful thrift stores.  These shirts are from Thrift City here in Aberdeen and are high-end brands in Pima cotton.

At first I’d thought to dress this top up a bit.  I’ve been sewing a bit of Alabama Chanin projects – making an armchair pincushion for a practice run – and I thought to decorate the bodice with reverse applique.  After experimenting with both hand- and machine-sewn versions, I decided to just keep the shirt simple.  It wasn’t working out for me.  To put it politely.

Instead I added a couple subtle tucks at the hem of the outer jersey fabric to expose the dusty rose of the underlayer. The double-layer makes for a sturdy garment; the soft hand makes for a very cozy shirt for my girl.

Pink / Pink / Pink

This top was very easy to sew.  If you are a beginner sewing with jerseys, I might suggest using strips of stabilizer or a stabilizing spray when you are sewing directly on the jersey (my mother-in-law tells me you can dissolve scraps of stabilizer in water and use it as a DIY spray or paint to stabilize. I am sure this works, and it is cheaper than buying a stabilizing spray). Your aim in using these products will be to stabilize the edges of the jersey.  Such persnickety handling is not needed for the entire project; for instance, after you’ve attached the trim and are topstitching it things go easily without stabilizing (the woven fabrics are against the feed dogs).

This brings me to my favorite aspect of this project.  The notable thing about this top was the construction of the trim.  I chose to use a woven fabric on the bias, as opposed to a knit.  For any novice stitchers reading here, bias trim is made from long strips cut on the bias of the fabric and used at hemlines and seamlines or as detail. These bias strips serve as ties and trim both.  Using the bias is important, as only then will a woven perform a bit of stretch and can easily go around a curve; a strip cut on the straight-of-grain would not work well at all.

In this version, you attach the 1 1/4″ strip’s long edge to the right-side of the garment edge, flip the trim to the backside, and triple zig-zag topstitch all layers:

New Bias Trick For Knits
A triple zig-zag is a thready stitch, but such a great one with knits. You can pretty much use it with impunity. The results are a firm, slightly stretchy, and very sturdy trim application.  Given I have a very small stash of fabric, a project like this is perfect for using scraps to trim the top.

Tie Close-Up, Brooklyn Tank Top
¡Que bonita!

You can read a few more details in my Flickr tagset.

Riviera, leggings: construction and fit in simple knit garments

Perfectamundo!

Leggings are, to quote Mugatu, “so hot right now”!  Even if they go out of vogue for the adult fashion set, they’ll always be practical for children.  You can use them for play wear, costumes, or pajamas, and they’re smart in the Northwest where layering clothes is de rigueur for our capricious weather swings.

Leggings come in about three fits (your terminology may vary): loose, fitted, and footless tight (or negative fit).  The Riviera leggings in the Farbenmix book are pretty much just what you might understand by the book’s photos – that is, a legging in between loose and fitted.  This makes perfect sense for children’s garments when you want them to last more than one season.  If you were sewing these leggings for an adult, he/she might not like such a relaxed silhouette.

Knit fabrics that work well for fitted or footless tight style will have a sufficient bit of “spring” to them.  This isn’t rocket science, and you can test it in the fabric store.  Simply pull aross the stretchy grain and release: you want to see a bit of “snap”.  You can certainly sew leggings up in something with less elasticity but they may bag slightly during wear – and if sufficiently un-springy (like a 100% cotton), they may retain a knee-shape (this reason is why I hate stretch jeans – even with a tiny bit of spandex in them, they are significantly looser at stress points by the end of one wearing).

Leggings are usually made with one pattern piece, roughly a six-sided kite-shape.  The top and bottom represent half the waist and the full leg hem, resp.  There is a front and back crotch curve at the top of each piece, and the long “kite” leg sides of the piece represent the inseam.

Here is my general methodology for leggings: reinforcing all construction seams, I finish each leg first (hems and all), then turn one leg inside out, slip a right-side out legging into it, and sew them together at the crotch.  I then construct the waistband, which is the trickiest part.  I will detail in the following paragraph but – don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed, as a method will likely be detailed (with pictures) in any pattern worth its salt.

Reinforcing seams:

Reinforce Seams

To construct the waistband.  I first make a tag in the back of the leggings (otherwise simple pants, without a fly or pockets to guide you, can be tricky to tell front from back).  I cut elastic to the comfortable waist measurement (either using my intended, or taking a waist measurement minus an inch or two), stitch the elastic together at the short ends, and mark both the elastic and the pants hems in quarters.  I slip the elastic “loop” into the pants and pin at the quarter marks, pinning the stitched-together elastic at the back seam of the leggings (below photo, tag included).  Then I stitch the top of the elastic to the raw edge of the leggings with the legging fabric against the feed dogs, stretching the elastic as I go (I first take a few stitches before stretching to secure the seam).  You can use a simple zig zag or a three-step zig zag for the waistband stitches.  After the elastic is secured at the top edge I simply fold the whole business down to the inside of the pants, then stitch again, stretching the legging fabric again.  Easy – especially after you’ve practiced a bit.

Preparing To Attach Waistband

My methodology is more or less the methodology outlined in the Farbenmix book.  The waistband recommended for the Riviera leggings is sport elastic.  I used the 1 1/4″ channeled sport elastic I use for sewing the kids’ boxer shorts.  It’s very soft and supple and easy to work with.

Sewing elastic to knits is easy and, once you get the hang of it, very fun.  For instance, the dress Sophie is wearing in the finished-garment photos is a GAP size 0 rayon number we purchased for $5 at Pure Clothing in Hoquiam.  The dress, being an adult size, was too large in the chest and strap length.  I sewed the straps shorter, cut off the excess, and added some 1/4″ elastic to the top of the dress.  These alterations took about fifteen minutes together and now Sophie has a stylish playdress (if you want to watch a tutorial on sewing elastic to stretchy knits, Brian Remlinger, my favorite sewist to stalk, has an excellent tutorial of a fast, effective method).

I made only one ruche (pronounced “roosh”) on the leggings.  This is because I still do not have a rolled hem plate for my serger (my local vendor keeps forgetting to order me one) so it’s not all that fun to finish edges of fabrics that require slender hems.  I simply did a zig-zag; the fabric isn’t going to ravel or anything.  The busy pattern of the fabric also hides any less-than-professional stitch-business:

Attaching A ROOOOOOSH

My daughter loved the leggings – once she saw they were ready she changed into them.  They fit her perfectly both in size and in attitude.

You can read more details of construction at my Riviera Flickr tagset.


Tough.
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