Shirtwaist: Part 4- buttons and done

So I have to admit, the last few weeks haven’t been easy.  After my previous post about this dress, I decided on button placement, and put in all the buttonholes and buttonholes.  The next day while I was slicing potatoes on a mandolin, my hand slipped and I sliced my pinky instead.  Thanks to the help of an angel of a neighbor rushing in at my text message, dressing my kids, and taking us all to the doctor, it’s well on it’s way to healing.

I know it’s just a finger.  But I didn’t realize how deeply this cut would hurt and affect my day to day life.  I couldn’t move my hand much the first week without feeling like it was being pried back apart.  I couldn’t stretch my arm without causing the muscles pain.  I couldn’t get it wet, which meant limited showering with it wrapped in cellophane, teaching my kids to wash their own hair, no hand washing dishes, no cleaning my house with a rag or sponge, anything with water or where I could bump my hand.  And no sewing or knitting.

shirtdress collage

I tried one day and remade a shirt from the library reading program into a dress for my daughter, as we’d accidentally been given an adult medium instead of the child size she needed (shown above laid underneath the shirt we’d gotten in the proper size for Gumball).  But my hand hurt the next few days deep in the muscles from lifting my heavy iron, and I had to splint it to the next finger and sling it to remind myself not to try to use that hand.  When a friend heard about my injury, she thought of how this would affect my work, calling it my “life’s blood,” which is so true.  What I do, I do with my whole heart.  This is how I express who I am and what I’m thinking and feeling to the world.  I feel like part of me is literally missing when I don’t have a bag of knitting on the couch next to me, or three projects in various stages of cutting and making up on my sewing table.  At a full and complete halt, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

So I planned.  I looked at the fabric and yarn I have, the patterns I have, and went looking for new inspiration.  I’m jumping in on my first Mystery Knit Along with Andrea Mowry of Drea Renee Knits on her latest fade shawl, What the Fade?!, and am so excited to have something new and fresh to work on after the last year’s string of Un-Finished Objects.  The first clue doesn’t drop until August 31, if anyone else feels like jumping on board.

What the Fade yarn

And then one day last week, I didn’t have those sharp stinging needle pricks of pain or those deep muscle strains, and I got out my tripod and took pictures of the finished shirtwaist dress.  It wasn’t as effortless as usual, and I wasn’t as graceful about hiding my remote clicker (or the giant bandage I was still sporting while the stitches were in), but it made me feel like me again.

Butterick 6333 front

I ended up doing buttons and buttonholes on top of the pink polka dots, so the buttons almost blend in.  I added them all the way to the bottom of the dress for as much versatility as possible when wearing.

sleeve pleatsI adore how all the tiny sleeve pleats echo the pleats in the skirt.  I debated taking out the pleat stitching in the skirt, as they were just supposed to be a baste to hold them in place, but I like the detail.


skirt pleats

The collar stands so nicely and crisp, I’m crossing all my good fingers that it stays this way after a wash and press again.

Butterick 6333 collar and sleeves

And the sash!  Just a simple tube with angled ends, no interfacing to keep it light, and topstitching to keep it crisp.  And pockets, as always.

Butterick 6333 sash

This is the dress I wish I’d had at the beginning of the summer for graduations and weddings and parties.  Easy enough to wear, light enough in the heat, practical, and washable.  Next year I’m sure it’ll be out on the town a lot more.  Til then, I’m ready for knitting season.  Bring it on.

Butterick 6333 sitting

Love from Wisconsin,


For more posts in this series:

Shirtwaist: Part 3- Sleeves

Shirtwaist: Part 2- shoulders, neck, collar

Make it Fit: Bust points

Learn to sew.  Love your body.


Shirtwaist: Part 3- Sleeves

If I’m being honest, the sleeves on this dress, Butterick 6333, were one of the big reasons it sat in the closet for most of the winter.  This would have, should have, been an easy piece to pick up and finish when I wanted to blast through a UFO for a sense of accomplishment.  But I could not figure out what I wanted to do with the sleeves.  The pattern came drafted with a traditional fitted sleeve in short and long lengths, as well as binding for a sleeveless option.  I simply couldn’t decide if it would get more wear sleeveless; if fitted sleeves, however lofty the fabric, would be annoying in the heat yet more flattering to wear; or if a longer elbow length or 3/4 length would make it a more transitional piece seasonally.  I couldn’t figure it out.  And I had plenty of fabric, which makes the decision harder because I could do whatever I wanted.

Then the spring catalogs rolled around with all their ridiculous ruffles and the shirtiest shirts that ever shirted.  And while I’m not one to add a design element just for the sake of it, I do like a well placed bit of fun.  So I decided on a baby pleated flutter sleeve.  Fun and full enough to mirror the trends, but paired with an otherwise well tailored dress so as not to be over the top.  A little fullness to balance the otherwise straight and fitted, without becoming a lady pirate.


I wanted the fullness to be at just under double, so I measured the armsceye of the dress to find my finished width.  I traced the original curve for the underarm at the sleeve, and blocked off basic height and widths by squaring lines.  I connected them with my curve rulers, so the height will gradually taper off in a traditional sleeve shape.  I kept the bottom edge straight, so it would easily feed through my roll hem foot on my machine and to keep the polka dot print looking intentional.  I cut two on the fold, keeping the dots centered and a line of dots along the lower edge.

Back seam and hem

I sewed the back seam and serged off the excess.  In preparation to hem, I pressed the seams to one side and pressed in place the hem roll over the seam allowance.  If a roll hem foot is ever going to fail you, it will be over the seam allowance bulk points, so I always like to pre-press those in place and the fabric will follow.

Under the foot, I start using a roll hem foot by first stitching a few straight stitches without the fabric feeding through the roll.  This gives a nice anchor point, and makes sure you’re not starting off with the fabric pulled out of grain.  After a few stitches, you can pop the fabric into the roll of the foot and sew the rest of the hem.  On a straight edge like this, particularly if you’ve cut with a rotary cutter and have a good clean cut, it should feed right through perfectly.


Since the waist of the skirt was pleated instead of gathered, I loved the idea of echoing that in the sleeves.  My trusty Singer Featherweight came with a pleating attachment foot, and makes the most perfect baby pleats.  I swoon every time I use it.  It adjusts with a lever to make a pleat every stitch, every third, sixth, or twelfth.  You can also adjust by changing the stitch length, so there are a ton of variables with how much fabric it takes up.  I usually test by marking regular intervals of 5″ with a contrast thread on a scrap, and run it through at a few settings.

When I figured out the settings that fit the sleeve I drafted, I just fed it through, leaving a couple inches on either side of the seam flat, so the lower curve will match up with the dress.  (You also don’t really need that much fullness on the underside of your arm in a flutter.)

When fitting the dress, I discovered that the shoulder length was too long, meaning that the seam stuck out farther than my arm did.  I had marked in the spot where you can feel the top of your bone in your arm socket, which is where a typical armsceye should sit.  With the sleeve pleated, I laid it over the dress on a dress form, aligning the seam with my mark and the lower armsceyes matching, and found a new curve line for the sleeve placement by eye.  I pinned into place, making sure both sides were the same, and stitched.


Ladies and gents.  No one is perfect, and not everything works the first time you try it.  This stuck out so far from my body it was comical.  Sometimes its a matter of pressing, but this was clearly a fail.  What I needed to do was change the shape of the upper cap, as I pinned out some of the curve.

Turns out it didn’t need a cap shape at all, but a gentle curve, leaving probably around the center third of the piece flat at the largest height.  I took off the lower edge, and traced off the amount I’d pinned off.  In retrospect, I probably could have also used less width, but I didn’t feel like recutting.  I just fixed, repleated, and reattached.


I tried serging the edge and leaving it be, but I really didn’t want to take the chance that the sleeve might flip up and cause a clown-tastrophe again.  Plus I didn’t like the serged edge showing.  So I decided to make a self bias binding.  I cut and folded in half, and aligned the raw edges to sew.  I flipped the folded edge to the inside of the dress, and hand pick stitched it through to the outside.  It left a nice clean edge on the inside, and I love how just a bit of decorative stitching shows on the outside.

Voila, sleeves!  I do like the bit of frivolousness it gives an otherwise pretty conservative dress, which is kind of how I like my style.  It ended up being the perfect choice to lend a bit of femininity.

flutter sleeves crop

I pinned the button placket placement down the front and have been staring at it for a week now, trying to decide if that’s actually where I want the buttons to be, and cannot decide.  Since I picked pink half ball buttons, and the placket has centered pink polka dots, I can’t figure out if they should sit on top of each other, in the spaces between dots, or just (gasp!) at regular intervals, polka dots not even taken into account.  Any thoughts?  Send them my way before I finish it up for next week!

button placket placement

Love from Wisconsin,


For more posts in this series:

Shirtwaist:  Part 2- shoulders, neck, collar

Make it fit:  Bust points

Learn to sew.   Love your body.


Shirtwaist: Part 2- shoulders, neck, collar

So on Amazon Prime Day last week, I casually mention to my adoring husband that I’ve been keeping my eye out for deals on coverstitch machines. I’ve been thinking about one for a decade, and desperately in need of one for about 5 years. Later that evening, he tells me that he ordered the one he knew I wanted, and it will be here by the end of the week. I was so shocked, I couldn’t even cry about it. It’s here, and I still don’t believe it’s real. Get ready for a ton more knitwear and some tutorials while I play around.

I pulled out all my knit fabric and patterns and spent a good 2 hours trying to figure out what to make next, and had such severe design block given what I had, I just gave up. I even tried phoning-a-friend or two to talk through potential. Whenever I hit a roadblock like this, it means I need to take a step back and mull things over while I work on something else. So I pulled out the cute shirtwaist dress I started last fall, and decided to finish it up and think. And there were so many small details to talk about, I thought I’d post another play-by-play while I finish it.

Catching up

cutting polka dots

I didn’t document the whole process of starting this dress, so here’s a quick recap.  The pattern I’m using is Butterick 6333, if you want to grab a copy and read or sew along.  Its a polka dot cotton lawn from the Gertie collection at JoAnn Fabrics that I bought last summer.  I initially bought SO MUCH YARDAGE from her collection, it was just so sweet and fun and perfectly summer and retro all rolled up together.  Taking the polka dot placement into account, I tried to cut everything with placement and centering in mind like I usually do.  I stitched the princess seams, side seams, pleated the skirt, installed the pockets, and sewed on the front button plackets before I put it away last year.  I decided to topstitch most of the dress, as it’s so lightweight I wanted the seams to all stay in place when laundering.  I was just about to sew the collar on when the weather took a cold snap, and it went to the back of the closet in October.  Which brings us up to…..

pinning skirt pleats


I don’t know if it’s because it’s been hanging in the closet for nine-ish months, or because it’s a lightweight lawn that can move and stretch easily, but my glass slipper fit was no longer true. It was too long in the torso now, which meant I needed to either reset the skirt (and the front plackets, which were already done), or raise the shoulders. To decide, I made sure the bust point sat in the correct place and checked. The waist was actually fine, so I pinned the excess out at the shoulder seam while trying to not stab myself in the neck. Word to the wise, this is a good time to put to use your phone-a-friend.

pinning a shoulder alteration
I measured off the amounts at the neck edge and shoulder edge, made sure they were the same on both shoulders, drew a line with a ruler, and restitched. Because I took so much out of the seam at the neck edge, the curve of the neckline would no longer match the collar stand piece. I dug out the pieces for the front and back and lined up where they would be on the shoulder seam (mark off the seam allowance line on the pattern piece to do this). The amount I took up at the shoulder equals the amount the new neckline needed to drop, so I marked this to align as well. Drew the new line and cut.

correcting neckline

I fused both stand pieces and collar pieces with a fusible interfacing, since the fabric is so lightweight. To ensure nice sharp collar points, I took a tip from a friend and sewed the short sides first, then folded on the seamline before sewing the long edge. It makes the seam allowances pop perfectly into place when turned right side out, instead of pulled out of shape when you try to poke them out. I trimmed all seam allowances down to 1/4″ with a rotary cutter, since you may see them through the sheer.

There’s a little thing called “turn of the cloth,” which refers to the amount of fabric that’s eaten up or used when it folds around. It’s minuscule sometimes, and makes a huge difference other times. In a collar, you want the piece to turn and roll effortlessly, which means the undercollar piece needs to be a hair smaller than the top piece. If you don’t account for this, your collar can stand out strangely from the body. If you hold your working pieces over your hand in the way they’ll be on your garment, you can see how much to accommodate for this in anything you do.

In my case, it was a scant 1/8″, so I pinned it this way and basted the edge together.

Collar stand

Placing the long basted edge of the collar between the stand pieces and matching all notches, I sewed the seam, trimmed to 1/4″, and notched the curve so it would lie straight.

At this point, there is a definite right and wrong side to the collar. I checked seventeen times before pinning it to the neck edge of the dress and sewing in place. I didn’t photograph, but stitching a staystitch line on the dress at just inside the final stitch line helps a lot. And clipping into the curve so the pieces fit together better.

I basted a line along the long edge of the inside collar stand which is left free during the first round of stitching, so that I had a nice line to turn against. I topstitched this in place from the inside, as I hate stitching in the ditch and the rest of the dress is edge stitched anyways.

From the outside, I edge stitched the rest of the collar stand and collar edges to keep them nice and crisp.


Tried it on, just for good measure, and to make sure I’d put on the collar the right side out just one more time.

And that’s it! It rolls perfectly to the outside and the points are nice and sharp. Next time I’ll share how I did the sleeves! Because sleeves always seem to need their own post, and I got to use some fun gadgets.  ‘Til then happy sewing! Go try a collar or turn a point and see how much this helps!

Love from Wisconsin,


For more posts about this dress:

Make it fit: Bust points

Learn to sew.  Love your body.

Your basic T: Part 4- Cutting and Sewing

Ready to sew up a test shirt from your block?  I was so excited to finally have my block drafted, I’m hoping this will be the base for all my new favorite shirts from now on.  First, a test shirt!  I picked a white cotton lycra blend, which is nice and sturdy with good stretch and recovery for a fitted shell.  I prewashed and dried the fabric to account upfront for any changes.  Let’s get started!


cutting a block pattern
The layout for my test shirt is pretty straightforward, and fit in just a yard of 60″ wide fabric. The sleeve pattern actually barely fit on the fold; if I’d used narrower fabric I would have had to take some of the fullness out to make it fit the width. Front and backs were cut on the fold, by folding in just as much as needed. I like to rotary cut knits to keep the fabric distortion to a minimum. cutting front on the fold

I went back and marked all notches that I cut in the pattern with an invisible ink marker. I have balance marks on the side seams, on the shoulder seam, at the armsceye where the curve changes and to show front and back, and a single notch at the waist so I can double check correct fitting.

marking notches

I stitched the side and shoulder seams first, starting with a small zig zag so I could make adjustments as necessary. With just these two done, you can try it on and test your fit.  I tied a narrow spare bit of cording around my natural waist, and made sure it lined up with the waist markings I transferred. The fit of the shirt was pretty spot on as far as circumference.

I was feeling just a bit of sag in the length above the waist however, probably due to the 4 way stretch of the fabric. This can be fixed two ways: 1. On the pattern by raising the waist point (and on this version would mean changing the sewing to move the smallest part higher), or 2. By taking up the shoulder seams a scant bit. I opted for 2, as I had extra room in the armsceye and it wouldn’t bother any adjoining pieces (like a fitted sleeve).

Took it to the serger and ran through the side and shoulder seams, cutting off the extra seam allowance and making sure the stitch ran just over the original zig zag.

I serged the back sleeve seam together, and also the lower edges of the sleeves and shirt body to clean finish them. Took everything to the iron, and pressed up 1″ hems on the body and 5/8″ on the lower edge of the sleeves to make a casing for the elastic.

pressing hems
For some rare straight stitching, I sewed the elastic casing at 3/8″, leaving a 1″ opening for the elastic to feed. Dialed up the stitch length to 5, and stitched two gathering lines across the cap to set in.

I fed 1/4″ elastic through the lower edge and pinned it together to try on and adjust. Then pulling up the bobbin threads, I gathered the sleeve caps and pinned in place on the shirt. Gathers are varied in fullness by being completely flat in the very lower scoop at the underarm, a small to medium amount of fullness up the sides of the cap,  and the fullest over the uppermost part of the sleeve cap across the shoulder seam.

I pinned the sleeve in place in the shirt’s armsceye, and basted with a zigzag first to test the gather placement. After trying on, I needed to move more of the gathers towards the center of the sleeve so the sides didn’t appear to droop. After rearranging and basting again, I went to the serger and cut off the excess as before. Always sew with the gather side down against the throat plate, as it will feed better through the machine.

Stitched the elastic ends together, and closed up the casing.


I opted for a double needle finish. To do this, you use a second spool of thread and a double needle that fits right in like a single would. I always lighten up my bobbin tension so it will appropriately zig zag back and forth between the upper threads. The set screw is either in the bobbin area of a drop in machine like mine below, or on the side of the bobbin case like in my featherweight.

Do a few tests on a scrap to make sure it isn’t tunneling up inbetween the rows of stitching, and adjust the tension until it looks nice and flat on the front, with a perfect zig zag on the back.


Last up is the neckband! I cut this one at 80% of the finished edge to account for the inside curve, so it will sit flat at the inner edge. Use a tape measure to run around the pieces where the seam will be on the pattern. Cut at 2″ by your desired length, sew a backseam, and press in half. This will make a finished 1/2″ band and leave 1/2″ for seam allowance.

measuring and cutting a neck band
To pin in place, start at the center back and front.  Using the measurements from the front and back at 80%, you can also measure off where the shoulder seam should sit as well. pinning a neckband

To ease in the shirt, follow the general guideline that flatter areas need the band to be set in a straighter ratio, and highly curved areas should have the most shirt per band length to ease the curve.

adjusting ease on a neckband
To the machine!  I sew with the band on top, and the shirt on the bottom against the throat plate again, as the feed dogs will help ease in the extra fabric of the shirt.  When sewing knits, I always first pull the fabric so both pieces are even, and then relax the fabric. The band will grip the shirt and ease it into place for you. Sew the seam unstretched like this. If you stretch as you sew, the thread will be set in a stretched out position, and the seam will not able to spring back.  Check your work from the outside, and if everything looks good, once again take it to the serger for finishing.

Press over a ham if you have one to help set the easing, pressing the seam allowance towards the body of the shirt.  I topstitch my bands down to keep them in place with a straight stitch, which surprisingly still gives enough stretch.

The finished garment

And that’s it! I know this got super long, but it was a relatively fast sew, probably only an hour. I was able to make one with a flounce sleeve the next day during nap time and it fit perfectly right off the bat!

basic T block pattern test
So happy with how these sleeves turned out, they’re almost identical to my favorite puffs from the original shirt.

basic T block pattern back
I love a moderate scoop neckline.  They’re so hard to find right now in stores, it makes me giddy to have one patterned.

basic T block pattern neckline
I’m so excited to have a block pattern drafted and tested. Any basic pattern extrapolations can be done now in any design I want, and I know it will fit correctly every time. Now I just need a little more fabric, and a little more time to make pretty things! I hope this was a helpful series, please let me know if you try it out and make one for yourself!

block pattern T

Love from Wisconsin,


Bonus polka dot shirt with scallop hem detail on flounce sleeves!

For the rest of this series:

Part 1- Design

Part 2- Drafting

Part 3- Sleeves

Your basic T: Part 3- Sleeves

Everyone enjoying a nice long holiday weekend? I’ve been doing some sewing for clients while running some movies in the background where I appreciate the costume design. It almost feels like getting new ideas and inspiration by osmosis, and I’m really excited to try out a few new things with this block.

If you missed the first couple entries in the series, check out Part 1- Design and Part 2- Drafting, which help cover the basics about starting to draft your own T shirt block pattern.  Today, we’re talking all about sleeves! I wanted to get a pattern that had a basic sleeve already, just because it’s easier to work with an existing sleeve pattern than it is to try and draft a new one making sure it fits correctly into the drafted armsceye you have. Sleeve drafting is just plain more challenging than almost anything else, making sure it fits into the existing puzzle pieces, fits your arm well, and also lets you move how you want. I have a preference for a shorter wider cap than standard, which allows for my bicep and a bit more movement, and is also easier to set in with a touch less ease.

I could tell by looking at this pattern that it’s suited to my personal preference, and honestly I’m just assuming it’ll fit fine if I ever wanted to use it as is. But what I want for this shirt is a puff. My favorite shirt right now adds just a bit of femininity by having a small puff sleeve, so I’m going to manipulate this pattern to do that. First I traced off my size.

The sleeve I’m attempting to emulate.

Next you need to understand a bit of geometry as it applies to fullness. A puff is not just extra fabric width wise, which creates the gathers. If you look at the sleeve above in silhouette, it’s also taller. Puffed sleeves can have puff at the cap, creating a lifted line, and sometimes can also billow a bit below (thinking of the rounded shape of a 1980’s style puff for example). This particular sleeve has mostly lift from the top, gathers top and bottom edges, and not a ton of puff at the lower edge. To mimic this shape, I needed to add height mostly at the cap, a bit of length to stand away from the arm, and width at both the upper and lower edges.

First I added the height by rounding the cap height higher by 1.5″, and adding .5″ to the lower edge.

Puff sleeve pattern.jpg
To add width, you utilize the slash and spread method. I wanted about double fullness, so I measured slash lines 1″ apart, keeping the grainline parallel.

Slash and spread lines.jpg
I numbered them to keep track of which was which, and marked a crossgrain line to be able to have a fixed point to relate to each other.

puff sleeve drafting.jpg
Once cut apart, I spread them onto new paper putting a 1″ space between the pieces.

slash and spread sleeve.jpg
Then I drew my new lines. The back of a cap should always be a little fuller than the front, so I followed the upper pattern lines for the back, and the lower lines in the front.

Add a grainline, cut along the new pattern lines, and done! You can fold in half if you’d like to check that the lower edge and side seams are the same, and that your cap has the slight difference front to back.

Since I’m just going to turn under the lower edge and use .25″ elastic, I left a normal .5″ for seam allowance. You could draft a straight plain bicep band if you wanted, or even use the original sleeve piece as an inner stay sleeve to hold the gathers in place. I love how the elastic edge works on my original shirt, so that’s what I’m going to try first. Next time I’ll walk through how I made my first shirt from this pattern and show you the finished first shirt from the block!  For now, here’s a sneak peek at how the sleeve turned out.

puff sleeve
Have a happy and safe 4th!  And if you have a chance, just pop in 1776 and watch William Daniels sing “Is Anybody There.”  Gets me every time.

Love from Wisconsin,


Your basic T: Part 2- Drafting

I don’t understand this weather we’re having, and why the week my kids start swim classes it’s 60 and raining.  I’m officially over all the mood swings of Mother Nature and trying to finish clothes to wear “in season.”  Fine.  Uncle.  I’ll keep my knitting out.  Just please heat back up enough to give me some tomatoes.


Drafting supplies.jpg

On to the order of the day, which is spelling out how I drafted my perfect T last week.  You’ll need a few supplies, the most basic of which would be something to measure with, a pencil, and some paper.  I’ve used white craft paper from the art supply store, drafting paper from supply places like PGM, but you can also go with that gridded tissue at the fabric store (which is awesome for helping you keep straight lines and make sure you’re staying square), or as bare bones as a cut open grocery bag.  Whatever floats your boat!  An 18″ ruler and a tape measure are handy basics to have; I also have a French curve, a hip curve, and an armsceye curve ruler.  I draft on a gridded mat table top or a rotary mat to help me keep track of square lines through the paper, which is helpful but not necessary.


I used a few key measurements for this project, both my own and those of my favorite fitting shirt currently.  For a complete set if you want to take your own, I have more diagrams and explanations on this post about fitting knitwear.  Since T shirts and fitted stretch shirts utilize the same kind of negative ease most of the time, its a good place to start.

full bust measurement

For circumference:  Full bust (at your fullest part, or the widest part of your shirt right where the sleeve joins), Waist (your smallest point, or the smallest part of your shirt), High hip (take this where you want the hem of your shirt to lie, or the lower hem edge of your shirt).

full length measurement
For length:  The full front and back lengths, which start right at the shoulder line and neck intersection, or at the base of your neck on your body.  Take note of the lengths where this crosses your full bust line, your waist line, and the final hem.


Preparing to draft. Like my found object pattern weights? 😉

Bust and tracing:  Lay out your pattern on your paper and align the front edge and back edge with straight lines on your paper, extending where necessary.  You’ll want to pick a size to start with by finding the finished bust circumference crosshair on the tissue.  Since my favorite fitting shirts have a bit of negative ease, meaning they’re an inch or two smaller than my body measurement, that’s the size I’ll pick.  Trace around all the lines for that size.

Waist:  Remembering to subtract the seam allowance, how does the waist compare to yours and that of your shirt?  In this case the pattern was bigger, and I opted to make the waist my actual waist measurement, and not utilize negative ease.  Most Ts don’t have negative ease through the waist for more room to skim over your bottoms, and at your exact measurement, it will be fitted enough.  Divide whatever measurement you want to use in half, add seam allowance, and mark that point on the side.

Plotting waist, hip, and hem length

Length:  It’s hard to simultaneously adjust the lengths and widths at the same time, so I do them one at a time and move things around as needed.  Measure down the full length from the neck, and double check that your bust point and waist line are where they were on your body or shirt.  (For more info about fiddling with the bust point, I wrote a bit more here.)  Depending on the fabric you’re using, the length may have some stretch or not.  Typically a shirt doesn’t strain in this direction when you’re wearing it, so I don’t subtract anything for stretch.  If you need to adjust the bust point to shoulder to allow for extra length or shorter length, make sure you do this now, and use the original pattern to help you redraw the curves for the armsceye, shoulder line, and neck.  Mark the length you want your shirt to end, adding in a hem allowance (I’m adding 1″).

Hips:  Since my pattern only went to the waist, I’m drafting the lower body portion myself.  I took the width of the hem allowance of the shirt I liked, divided in half, added seam allowance, and plotted that point along my hemline.  Draw a straight line to the waist.  Here’s where you want to take a look at your body in silhouette:  do you have a relatively straight line from your waist to your hip?  Do you have a high and abrupt curve?  Most people have a bit of curve at least where their hip bones start, so I like to use a hip curve ruler to add some shape.  Whatever your body does, imitate that line on your pattern here.  You’ll also want to blend in the waist line with a curve ruler so it gently slopes in, and doesn’t come to a sharp point.

Shoulder and neck lines:  Now you can adjust for whatever you want your basic neckline to be.  Measure in from the sleeve point on your shirt, or on your body, to where you want your neckline to start.  I want a slightly open curved neckline, so I’m going to make the shoulder seam a bit shorter than my pattern.  Measuring down the center front from the base of your neck, estimate how low or high you want your neck edges to be.  Square a line at this point, and either use your ruler or freehand what you want the neckline to be until it joins up with the point you plotted at the shoulder seam.

Rough draft all done!


Trueing is the term for making sure everything you’ve done is symmetrical and will fit together. You’ll want to cut out your pattern pieces at this point, roughly, so you can align them. Make sure the side seams are the same shape, the armsceyes align, and give yourself some notches at the waist to aid in sewing and fitting.

You can bend back the shoulder seam allowance and line up the actual seam. Check that the shoulder lengths are the same, and the neckline blends into a nice line from front to back.

Once you make sure every seam aligns and blends nicely, you’re ready to cut!  Double check that you’ve added seam allowances everywhere, and notate what you used on your pattern so you don’t forget when you go to pull it out in a year.  And I know what you’re about to ask, what about sleeves?  Since I ended up fiddling with the sleeves and making a few adjustments, I’m gonna break that out into a separate post.  Til next time!  Grab some patterns and make yourself a block!


Love from Wisconsin,


Your basic T: Part 1- Design

Hey guys!  So I realize I’ve been doing lots of the actual work stuff lately, and not as much of the how-I-do-it type posts.  I started drafting myself a T shirt block pattern last week and thought this might be a good one if you want to follow along.  WARNING:  It’s gonna be long with lots of pictures.  This is gonna be few parts.  But its a good solid base pattern if you’ve been struggling to find things that fit, or just want to be able to design your own and deviate from the pattern books.

Which was exactly my starting point.  Bored out of my mind when I went to change over my dresser for summer, staring at plain old clothes, or things worn out because they predate my kids.  Shopping online and in magazines wasn’t turning up the cuts and patterns that I want, mainly because a clean classic cut with a hint of style isn’t what’s en vogue right now.  Plenty of boho chic, athleisure, oversized drapey shirts, Ts with words about how much you coffee, plus the actual infamous bizarre fashions coming out of Nordstrom that make me think designers are legitimately trolling us this season.

What I’m looking to add to my wardrobe are casual tops that I can actually mom in and throw in the wash, that still have nice design details.  Not a plain T shirt from Target, nor something fancy from a store that will need pressing and handwashing.  (I have enough of that from my pre-kids wardrobe staring at me from my closet.)  Because heaven help me if my kids launch themselves at me after lunch with peanut butter and jelly hands.  There are days when I’m a walking mac and cheese dishrag, and most of my everyday clothes need to be able to roll with that.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to sacrifice my style for it.

T sketches
Playing with designs- some based on patterns I already have, some things I’ve seen and tweaked for my own style.  I always rough sketch a million things before picking final details.

Which brings me back to my sketch pad.  Having a basic block pattern as a starting point, I can design whatever details I want that I know will fit me.  I can control the fabrics I like and the colors I want to wear.  I can alter the fit for my short torso and cut of the sleeves to be something interesting.  Draft different necklines.  Add collars.  Whatever I actually want in clothes instead of finding something nearly perfect and thinking “If only this was shorter/softer/stretchier/whatever instead.”

Basic T block
Working with my block pattern basic measurements

I’m going to start with the most basic fitted T shape, which will become my block, and let me manipulate the pattern from there to do whatever I want.  Block patterns are different from traditional dressmaking slopers, in that they’re a basic building block pattern for you to use in this way, not the standard darts on a shell we all know from pattern drafting textbooks.  If you want to read up more about blocks, I highly recommend reading this from Kathleen Fasanella’s insightful blog.  Her knowledge and experience always blows me away when I want to really fine tune whatever I’m drafting or making.

If you want to follow along at home, I am going to be starting with a pattern that I know and have worked with before, and make tweaks to get myself to a block:  McCall’s 7021, which I used for the peplum tunic shirts I made last fall.  Sure, you can draft one from scratch, but the point is to not have to make countless iterations to get to where you want to go.  Since I have a pattern that I’ve used and worn for awhile, I know how this one fits me and and can easily go forward with it as a starting point.  If you’d like, go to the store and grab a basic T pattern close to the block you want to have.  And here’s where the personal style element comes in:  your block can be anything that YOU want as a base pattern.  If that means raglan sleeves, a swing body shape, something with a peplum, anything.  The only element I’d make sure it has is a sleeve, and not a drafted tank or a sleeveless garment, as having a sleeve draft to start from will give you more opportunities for iterations.  Round up a few of your favorite shirts from your wardrobe that have elements you want in your block- the perfect length, the perfect bust measurment, a fabric that you like the stretch and recovery of.  We’ll take everything into account next week.  Til then, get out and enjoy this beautiful summer weekend! So much is in bloom right now, I can hardly stop to appreciate all the gorgeousness.  Hoping you find hidden roses in your side yard too.

baby pink roses

Love from Wisconsin,


Stitching with knits

If you come from a traditional woven fabric background like I do, the thought of sewing stretchy things might send you running for the hills.  I’ve been stitching a lot of knits lately, since they’re just so easy to wear- comfortable and breezy in the summer heat, and thicker sweater knits keep you snuggly warm in the winter.  After digging into my mom style a bit more too, I want things that are easy to wash and wear but still have some semblance of style.  Plus, you know I like to customize my fit, and I’m just sick of shopping for the perfect *insert favorite type of garment* out there.  If you’ve been thinking about diving into the world of stretchy fabric, here’s a primer for you!

Needles and pins

With any project, the right needles are key.  For knits, you usually want to use either a stretch needle, or a jersey/ballpoint needle.  You can read more about the anatomy and different needle types on the schmetz website.  These are made with ball point tips, which allow the needle to slide between the threads of the fabric instead of puncturing the threads like a universal does.  A jersey/ballpoint is made specifically for knit fabrics, while a stretch needle has an eye (the hole) and scarf (that notch in the back of the needle) to help prevent skipped stitches when working with elastic and other elastic fabrics, like swimwear.  You can try both kinds on a swatch of your fabric for your project and see which works best.  Every machine and fabric combination will react just a bit differently, so play around and find which is best for you!

stretch needles.jpg
The different types of needles I keep on hand for various knit fabrics.

You also want to adjust your methods for cutting and working with the fabric, which might mean ditching your standard quilting pins.  Try switching out to ball point pins as well, which will funcion similarly as needles and not perforate your fabric.  For cutting, you can also use fabric weights instead, and there are a ton of options available for purchase or diy.  I tend to just use found objects, like my scissors, my emory filled pincushions, and whatever mug is on the table at the time.  (Shhhhhh don’t tell.  You really shouldn’t risk your beverage on top of your work, but for my own personal projects, I live dangerously. 😉 ) I also find a rotary cutter works well for highly elastic fabrics instead of a scissor.  For the actual sewing, you can also utilize fabric clips at the edge instead of pins; I have and like these from clover.  They also come in handy when you’re working with anything bulky, so they make a good addition to your toolkit even when you’re back to wovens.

notions for knits
Clips, needles, and heavy emory filled pincushions I use as pattern weights.

Sewing machine stitching

A regular straight stitch doesn’t stretch, and if you’ve ever tried to sew with it, you’ll probably have heard that characteristic popping when your stitches break and pull out.  If you’re going to be using your regular sewing machine, there are several stitches you can use.  Most machines (other than a vintage or industrial straight stitch only) will have a zig zag.  On my machine, I sew most often with it set to a width and length between 2-3.  Sometimes with a width of a 5, if I’m using it for an overcast.  The zig zag stitch actually stretches out into a straight line when tugged in a knit, which is what allows for a bit of stretch.  I use this a lot for seams, hems, and also topstitching things like elastic.

stitches for knits
My machine, using a wide zig zag, narrow zig zag, triple zig zag, and a triple stretch stitch.

Some machines like mine have a triple zig zag, which is a broken line.  Some people like using this in heavier weight fabrics.  I was taught to use this to topstitch elastic in a bra making master class, and its a lovely stitch for exactly that purpose.  I keep it dialed up wide when in use.

Others have a triple stretch stitch on their machine, which means the machine stitches backwards a stitch before going forwards, which allows for stretch while keeping the stitch line straight.  A lot of people recommend it for heavier weight knits, like scuba which is popular right now, and also to keep your stitching line straight instead of having to revert to the skipped stitch look of a zig zag from the outside.  I personally haven’t been a fan of this stitch, finding that it puts a ton of thread in the seam, making it bulky.  It also seems to make the seam really hard for me, which is the opposite of a soft, supple stretch that I like in knits.   But like all things sewing, if you have it, give it a go with your chosen fabric and see if you like it!

presser foot adjustment lever
The dial next to the numbers moves up and down to change the amount of pressure the foot is using to press down on fabrics as they feed through the machine.

There are also just a couple of adjustments you may need to make to your machine to help it work better.  If you have a way to adjust your presser foot tension, that is the actual amount of pressure your foot is exerting on your machine, it may help to lighten it up a bit.  Usually found on the side of the machine or on top, try to loosen or take it to a lower number and see if this helps.  When using too much pressure, your stretchy fabric may distort out of shape and stay permanently stretched out.  With just a light amount of pressure your fabric can glide effortlessly through the machine.

Top- presser foot tension has been lightened, no fabric distortion; Bottom- sewn at the typical presser foot setting, and pulling on the fabric instead of letting it feed itself

The last bit I should mention is the twin needle.  It’s used when you want to make two parallel lines of topstitching, using the bottom thread to zig zag back and forth between them for stretch and to catch both top threads.  Emulating a coverstitch, which is a special stitch and separate machine used to hem knits, a twin needle is a great option for your regular home machine with a few adjustments.  Most often, the bobbin thread is too tight and will pull up, making a bit of a tunnel between your lines of straight stitching.  If you take out the bobbin case of your machine and loosen it with a screwdriver just a bit, this should help the problem.  I’ve also had problems with the stitching itself pulling out over time and not locking with a backstitch, so I’ve started pulling all threads to the backside, tying them together in knots, clipping and dotting with Fray Check.

Serging, or overlocking

If you have a serger or overlocker, this is my favorite way to work with knits.  The stitch automatically stretches, cuts and encases the edge cleanly, much like you see in commercially made garments.  As with sewing machine presser foot tension, you may need to adjust the rate at which the machine is feeding your fabric, called the differential feed.  On most sergers you can adjust this easily to stretch or gather.  Play around with samples and see which feeds through nicely and leaves you with nice flat work, stretching and making sure your fabric snaps back and recovers the way you like before sewing your garment.

differential feed adjustments
Top- a well adjusted, balanced serge with good feed; Bottom- cutting width too narrow, and differential feed too stretched out making the fabric wavy

Sergers also have an awesome edge finish option called a rolled edge, which rolls the fabric and encases it as you sew.  You can use it to finish knits, but also a ton of other finishes in wovens- it works special magic on sheers when you don’t want to try to hem something slippery.  In knits, sometimes people utilize the differential feed to stretch the fabric out on purpose while using the rolled edge, which makes a ruffly looking “lettuce edge.” Super cute for little girls clothes, flutter sleeves, and ruffles of any kind.

rolled hem serger
Rolled hem; you can adjust the amount of thread used by using the stitch length dial and tension to get your desired effect.

Ready to dive into sewing knits?  I’m about to launch into making a ton of new things- jersey tops, maybe some playground shorts for Miss Cakes, and some stretch denim shorts.  Having the ability to customize your knits just makes them that much better and more personal than the standard T shirt bar at your favorite well known local retailer.  I’ll be doing a step by step next on sewing up a pretty standard T shirt with just a few changes- follow along and make one with me!  Hope you’re enjoying this finally warm weather– my garden is just exploding these days!  My peonies seem to be the signal that the heat is here to stay.

pink peonies.jpg

Happy summer!

Love from Wisconsin,



Rosa, a short sleeved ruffly sweater

So.  It’s been awhile.  I know.  I’ve been done with this sweater for an embarrassingly long time without writing about it.  Due in part to our terrible rainy spring weather, which makes it difficult to photograph properly; and due in part to the current stage of life Gumball is in.  He’s reached THAT point of toddlerhood, where anything is a hill to be climbed in the house, a button to be pushed, a tone of defiance and a bolt in the opposite direction any time he’s asked to do something.  He asks “What’s thiiiiiiis??” several times a minute.  He’s refusing naps.  In short, he’s taking every spare moment I think I might have and filling it with tiredness or heart attacks.  And I love him so dearly, he melts my heart with the smiles as big as his face.


With all this toddler chasing and never sleeping, my minutes to spare have been sparse.  And with that has gone my time to make pretty garments and write about them.  I’m trying my best, as I have a great amount of fabric waiting in the wings for new spring things (or is it almost summer already?!).  They just might be fewer and farther between for this season of life, which is okay.


So this sweater.  This is one of those projects that I just slowly chip away at leisurely, without a time frame in mind for finishing.  I actually like to have a sweater like this on the needles at any given time.  It makes for a relaxing project on nights when the kids are in bed, and I want to work on something fun, but don’t have it in me to figure out the logistics of a new project.  Something I can work on for a few rows, mark my place, and turn in.  Something I can carry to the park, or on a family car trip, or bring along to a get together.  With long mundane knitting, I actually have less patience if I’m focusing on it, bored to tears with endless stockinette or seed stitch or whatever the pattern.  Turning it into a project with no end date, and just enjoying the work when I have a few moments, makes it a pleasurable marathon.

I bought the yarn for this, Madelinetosh Sock, at the Sow’s Ear during a particularly trying time during our last move.  I was stressed to the brim, and my loving husband kicked me out of the house, handed me the stockpile of gift cards I’d been hoarding, and told me to go treat myself to a coffee and a new pile of yarn.  I couldn’t decide between this gorgeous dusky purple pink or a robin’s egg freckled blue in Rowan Felted Tweed, so in the end bought both.


Kim Hargreaves patterns always send me.  They have little feminine twists on seemingly plain garments that make for the unexpected in knitting and wearing.  I love the reliable fitting, the straightforward writing, and the detailed schematics that let you redo the shaping for yourself as needed.  Really just lovely solid patterns.

Rosa stock photography

I’d been drooling over the Rosa sweater in her book Thrown Together, which is knit almost like a henley, for a long time.  I love a well fitted shell, and this has such nice feminine details.  Worked from the bottom up, it has short row shaping along the hem to give the center front and back just a slight curve down.  The lower edge rib is also worked sideways before picking up stitches and knitting the body up.  This makes for a really strong and elastic rib, while making it just slightly more interesting than your usual.  I would normally have preferred to work this in the round instead of in a front and a back piece, but due to the atypical rib and the short rows, I followed instructions.  I also like knitting such fitted garments in pieces just in case I want to do any tweaking before seaming; it allows you just a bit of wiggle room to make a last minute change without ripping out an entire garment as you would have to do for something seamless.

I did get bored along the back and started timing my stitches per minute in knit and purl, and was happy to see I’ve picked up speed over the last few years.  The fronts went quickly, as did the sleeves.  The real pill in this project was the ruffles.

I have no earthly idea why the ruffle instructions are written as they are.  You cast on in the main color for a million stitches, the same yarn with which you’ve been knitting the sweater.  And I mean a million stitches.  Actually between 344-384 depending on which ruffle, but that’s a ton when you’re using long tail cast on and you pick the wrong length of yarn and have just spent an entire episode of Sherlock casting on.  You then switch to kidsilk haze, a soft lovely silk/mohair blend yarn that’s incredibly sticky, has no stretch, and will not rip out at all.  Don’t make any mistakes now, because they’re permanent.  Decrease, decrease, decrease, and cast off.  And then you only have 4 ends to weave in per ruffle, plus the sewing to the actual sweater.  Sounds like a ball, right?  Oh, and if you choose to utilize the inside and outside yarns for a faux long tail cast on, just add a few more ends to weave in.  Fun times.

IMG_5275  The purl ridge really was a nice aid though.

Instead:  Knit the sweater first, which includes a purl bump ridge for where to set the ruffles.  Using the kidsilk haze, pick up the appropriate number of stitches and work increases instead of decreases.  Cast off the bajillion stitches and weave in your ends.  If I ever decide to embark on the cardigan variation of this sweater, this is how I plan to save myself from headaches and twisty yarn.

Rosa sweater front

After a year and a half of on and off knitting, and a couple months of on and off seaming, I finally finished it this spring.  Just in time for our bizarre weather, which has been half cold and half raining, with an hour of warmth and sunshine every two weeks or so.  (Raining even the day I took these pictures, hence the differing backgrounds when I was suddenly forced indoors midshoot.  Eek!)  A snuggly short sleeved sweater has been a nice wardrobe addition for our changing seasons, and the color should transition easily to fall.  The fit is excellent, and the finishing around the neckline and the placket are well done.  She really does write a smart pattern.

I adore how the neckline is worked on this.  Picking up after the shoulder seams are sewn, you knit in reverse stockinette a few rows before casting off.  It curls and sits nicely to the inside edge, and provides a strong yet stretchy finish.  No worries about it stretching too far out of shape, or it being too inelastic to go over your head.  Just another perfect thoughtful detail.  I’m also in love with the clear aurora borealis finish buttons I found at The Sow’s Ear.  They had a few different designs all the same size, and the mix-matched look is subtle and charming.


I started the Felted Tweed sweater soon after casting off the last stitches on Rosa; another pattern from the same book, named Beatrix.  I’ve finished the back and am moving up one of the fronts, but with summer encroaching, it’ll probably sit on a shelf until cooler times are upon us again in the fall.  It’ll be a fun project to sit with under blankets sipping cocoa when I feel like curling up with some yarn again.  Until then, on to some summer sewing, if it ever stays warm out there!  Wishing you all good weather!

back in progress

Love from Wisconsin,


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