Tuesday, February 24, 2009

$15 remakes your wardrobe: hip-tie blouse

Every girl can use a versatile silk top. One excellent choice is the Betsy Ross Pattern's Hip-Tie Blouse. This blouse rocks worn with skinny pants and ballet flats. It's equally darling with wide linen slacks and sandals or with a straight skirt and heels. You can take it uptown by wearing it under a suit. The neckline is high, so this top looks groovy and hip, silky but not overtly sexual: it's the perfect date-night or casual dinner party top.

Betsy Ross Hip-Tie Blouse in a blue animal print

If you've never sewn with silk, this blouse is a good place to begin, because construction is simple - there are no zips, no buttonholes and no facings, not even interfacing. Be brave and try couture fabric, or go cheapie by using just about any silky synthetic, jersey, cotton, or knit that takes your fancy. It helps if you choose something lightweight and/or with a bit of drape.

Super-sweet bow at the hip

And the Hip-Tie Blouse in silk qualifies for the $15 wardrobe. You can buy silk crepe de chine on sale now right now at Denver Fabrics for $6 per yard (reduced from $22 per yard - quite a deal). 

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Play with fabrics: Be brave and try expensive printed couture silk charmeuse - you're not going to end up hospitalized with buttonhole-related anxiety: no buttonholes. You can also choose crepe-back satin: use the crepe side for the body and the satin side for the bindings and waist sash. Another option is georgette for the body (double or interline it), combined with matching silk satin for the sash and bindings. Try black, bordeaux or cream to create a designer look-a-like. 

Choose the best size: My experience is that Betsy Ross Patterns, cute as they are, have a funny range of sizes. These patterns are always too big for me, even following the sizing chart. I recommend that you measure yourself accurately to start, plus take that extra minute to measure a blouse or top that fits you well. Compare these two measurements to the pattern. 

Check the depth of the arm opening:  You can easily adjust the depth of the armhole. Trace the pattern onto Swedish tracing paper or similar, raising the armhole depth if needed. You'll want enough depth for comfort and ease - but not so much that everyone can see the side of your bra under your arm.   

Check the bust size ranges: This pattern is sized from XS to XXL. The range of bust measurement varies from one inch for XS to a whopping five inches for XL. Possibly, preferably make a muslin before you cut into that $110 a yard Roberto Cavalli fabric, because you may need to draft an in-between size for yourself by redrawing the cutting lines to create a width equal to your bust measurement plus an inch/inch and a half of ease. You want a soft, drapey fit. You don't want to find yourself sailing in a parachute's worth of silk. Unfortunately this sizing problem can annoyingly take the Hip-Tie Blouse from a rating of ultra-easy to the more complicated, why-don't-you-just-draft-your-own-pattern level of competence. 

Here is the mistake I made: I have a 40" bust but I didn't want something too tight, so I elected to make the XL.  Oops. Looking over that size range with a critical eye might have saved me some trouble, as I ended up with a blouse that is 6" too wide all over. The armholes are also too deep for me: the top doesn't cover my bra at the sides, and - although it doesn't much matter given the other problems - the body is also too long.  Sometimes with independent pattern companies, it pays to analyze the size chart, not just read it.

Bust measurement across the front, 
before I took it in

Handle silk with care: If you're using silks or slippery fabrics, follow the cutting-out instructions and sewing tips in my previous post on the Decades of Style Butterfly Blouse.

Add a little handstitching: This pattern calls for topstitching the bias tape in place at the neck and arm openings. Hmmm. I wouldn't do that. It's worth slip-stitching by hand to get an immaculate result.

Top with a sweet button: The pattern also calls for a hook-and-eye closure at the neckline. Betsy warns you not to attach the hook by machine, "or you'll put out your eye." This describes some awfully rough-and-ready sewing. We can probably do better. I think this top looks its most appealing with a tiny, refined button at the back of the neck. Make a loop of self-fabric or a thread loop to hold it. Look for a lovely button in your stash or buy just one that is special.

 Shell button makes a lovely detail

Just follow the instructions (once you've dealt with the size): Betsy Ross talks to us in a quirky, girlfriend-to-girlfriend way, but it's all perfectly understandable. Once you've got the size figured out, this top assembles in a snap. If you're an advanced beginner (or above), use your skills to construct something just that bit more refined that will add value to your wardrobe for a long time: it's worth it. 

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