Do you have clothes that, as soon as you’ve worn them, they go straight in the wash to be worn again as soon as possible? A few years ago I bought a top from Oasis and since then it’s been washed so many times the gold coating on the buttons is properly wearing off. It’s a really simple top – it has a button back, four tucks across the bust and a bias-bound neckline and armholes, and the front bodice is lined so your bra doesn’t show through. It suits most occasions throughout the seasons – smart for the office but also looks good with jeans and it sits nicely under a cardigan. In short, it’s exactly the kind of basic I need in my wardrobe.
I signed myself up for one of those ‘clone your clothes’ classes at Ray Stitch in Islington so I could make more of my favourite RTW top. It’s an interesting technique – you pin your garment out on a large sheet of foamex board and transfer your markings to pattern paper. Mine was easily the simplest garment of the lot, but the tucks, button back and the darts made it slightly more challenging to copy. For example, to get the tucks to sit properly in the curve of the armscye, you end up with a zig zag effect on the pattern. It looks weird but it works! I left the class with a pattern ready to use and a few ideas of how to tweak it – the teacher suggested folding down the tucks and replacing them with a lace insert, or just making a plain top instead.
It’s a year since I did the class and I shamefully haven’t used the technique again, but if you want to find out more, Caroline of CJ Made also took the class (before me) and did a comprehensive write up here.
I got the pattern home and immediately set to work making up my first version. And it didn’t fit! My first attempt was too tight across the back – I had forgotten to add a seam allowance down the side seams. The darts looked like they were sitting too high as well, so I redrew the pattern, making my alterations. After that I was happy with the pattern and I’ve made a few versions since.
My latest version is a little bit special. Around the same time that I took the class, Chris’ mum gave me some fabric she’d found in her sewing box. Turns out that it was about 2.25 metres of cream silk that she bought in Hong Kong when she lived out there (Chris and his brothers and sister were all born there), so it must be about 30 years old. It even came in its original packaging! The piece was really slim – about 36 inches selvedge to selvedge – so I wasn’t going to get much out of it, but my copied top was a perfect candidate. I just had to build myself up to cutting into this special fabric. It only took a year.
I was very careful with the fabric – I made sure to pin within the seam allowances, and I used tailors’ chalk rather than my usual Frixion pens to transfer the markings (even though the ink disappears under an iron, you can still see where it has been). I was also careful to handwash it with mild liquid detergent, and I blotted the excess water out by rolling it up in a towel rather than squeezing it out by hand. Finally, I was a bit apprehensive about doing buttonholes on this one – although the button back doesn’t need to be functional as I can pull it on over my head, I tend to do them anyway for the sake of completeness. This time I didn’t want to risk the machine having a hissy fit, so I just sewed the buttons on the placket as a decorative feature anyway. And I made my own bias tape for a clean finish.
I’m really pleased with the results. This version had its first outing at the latest wedding I attended, tucked into my red swishy skirt. It’s a top you can dress up or down, and as long as I’m happy to keep hand washing it, it’ll be on regular rotation. Just like the original.