Last week, I requested help testing the fun-but-odd Sea Star Tunic, part of the upcoming Tidepool Collection. Thanks so much for your response! Our testing in the FB group sort of broke out into a Sewalong this week, and it’s been really good to explore the design with everyone! It’s still in progress and I’m still on the fence about whether she’s a good addition to the Cake catalog, but it’s been really lovely to share the sewing through the group. More on that later!
Meanwhile, I have another pattern ready to test! This is the Pipi Shell- the first of a series of Shell patterns. While Sea Star is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it design, the Shells are more like ordinary clothes. I like that, making clothes. I learned to sew to make costumes, pretty dresses, weird stuff I couldn’t find anywhere outside my imagination. Somewhere along the line, I accidentally fell into sewing knits and realized how satisfying it is to stitch up little tops and things I could wear over and over and over again.
It can be really challenging to create clothing that doesn’t scream “home made” to non-sewists. I find the simpler the garment, the harder this can be. Part of this is due to the industrial machines/practices used to make mass-produced clothing, and part of this is the techniques and fabrics used by the sewist/pattern. Earlier this year, I started obsessing over creating the perfect knit sleeveless top. I spent weeks playing with different arm shapes and techniques, working to make a tank top in my sewing room that looked like clothes- but better.
Ready-To-Wear (RTW) tank tops can be problematic. In my experience, they’re often too long or too short, the material is too thin, or the top leaves me feeling exposed. That’s not to mention the fact that most “fast fashion” of the tank-top variety is made under questionable ethics and labor practices. Where I live, the temperature doesn’t dip below freezing, and most of the year is pretty balmy (or gasping hot). I researched RTW tanks for a while in scores of local shops, at all price points. There’s no shortage of tanks around here! I took note of necklines, arms, finishes and problem spots. I realized that the vast majority across the brands were made from a handful of boring bases, with the variety in design coming from fabric choice and embellishments rather than interesting cuts.
Slowly, I developed the Shell concept, a set of design specs for some knit tank top patterns:
- No bra showing- I don’t have words to express how much I hate it when my bra shows. That means bra straps, underarm bra, any of it. I also wanted to work on covering underarm squidge, which so often overflows RTW tanks.
- Breezy- Like I said, it’s usually hot here, so I wanted the Shells to balance “no bra” with as much breeziness as possible. That means low-ish backs, open necklines, and sometimes a shorter length.
- Option for Coverage- I thought the Shells should have a plain back option, if not also a plain boat front.
- Back Detail- I’ve always, always been a fan of nifty back details! I wanted details that were both eye-catching and integral to maintaining the structure of a low-back.
- All the Neckline Shapes- Pipi is a curved-front v-neck, the back is steeper. Other Shells have Queen Anne, Square, Scoop and other shapes, neatly bound with self-fabric.
- Length Options- Shells are built on Cake’s Grid Guide concept, which allows for very easy customization of length and width.
- Easy Fitting- There’s an intuitive, particular way to adjust the base Shell to mold the armscye nicely around the arm, and it’s laid out clearly in the pattern. I wanted this to work really well for all sizes, so Susan and I spent a few weeks batting arm-shapes back and forth.
- Standalone/Layering- I thought the shapes should be tested and work on a variety of fabrics, from sweater knits for layering vests to cotton-spandex casual tops, to lightweight base layers.
- Excellent Finishing- The arm holes use a very neat, easy to apply interior binding that leaves no seam bits exposed.
- Hack Friendly- I made the Shells so it’s easy to lay one down on top of The Tee pattern to make a Tee with all the necklines!
Tall order, right? Yes! It was like a puzzle I couldn’t put down. Pipi and her sisters are part of the reason I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been working to fit all those things into a little sleeveless top pattern! I’m really delighted that Pipi (and others) are nearly complete now as patterns, and it’s time to test her on a wider variety of bodyshapes. She’s been pre-tested quite a bit (we really obsessed over the arm shape and pulled in others to play!), but I want another solid round of testing before we release this new shape.
If you’re interested in testing Pipi with me and Susan, leave a comment on our FB page and/or message me with your FB-connected email address. I’d like to have a dozen or so testers to work out any last kinks. We’ll ship you a paper Pipi next week, and I’ll add you to the private Cake Testing Group where we can chat, discuss the sewing, and see what everyone is working on.
What criteria would you add to the list for your perfect sleeveless top? What is the thing you look for and never find, your sleeveless “holy grail”?