Bèa’s Sewing Adventures Stylish Shell Top

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Up till now, all us Simple Sew Bloggers have each made different patterns each month but this time we are all having a go at the same one to show how many variations the pattern has… this is the Simple Sew Stylish Shell Top Challenge!!


I came to this pattern with a bit of a plan. I never seem to have enough sleeved tops for the Autumn/Winter/Early spring, so I was determined to use this pattern challenge to make a sleeved top, but make the sleeves a bit longer. Because Winter.

First off was the pattern tweaking. The brilliant thing about this top is that the pattern goes up to a 22 – fantastic for the more ample of us! So this top wasn’t going to need an awful lot of adjusting. I was working with view B, which has the yoke part of the bodice on the same piece as the main body, but has a separate lower hem band. I’d decided I wasn’t going to be doing any colour blocking, so I just added 6cms to the bottom of my front and back pattern pieces. However, my main alteration was to get a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) done. I added an inch of extra bust room to the front pattern (so that’s two inches all together) using the usual method. And I added half an inch of additional width to the front and back pattern pieces, which I put under the arm, so that it wouldn’t mess too much with the armhole shaping, and the sleeve head shaping.

Having added that width to the underarm, I also had to make sure I added the same half inches to the sleeve underarm section.

Finally, as I said, I wanted to make the sleeves a bit longer. I like a three-quarter length or bracelet length sleeve, because I don’t like my wrists to feel constricted. I’m afraid I cheated and added the extra length by drawing it onto the fabric when I cut it out! I tapered the sides in, like so:

I’ve shown the sleeve pattern piece over the fabric, to show how the taper changed from the original shape of the sleeve pattern (including the changes that I’ve mentioned as a result of the pattern tweaking).

I was using a burgundy viscose that I’d acquired at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, from SewSew Fabrics (http://sewsewfabrics.co.uk). The photos are showing it as red, but it’s much deeper wine colour.

I followed the instructions, as to construction order.

I found the sleeve insertion instructions were a little cursory. Looks Like I Made It gave some excellent tips on sleeve insertion in her Stylish Shell Top post: https://simplesewblog.com/looks-like-i-made-its-stylish-shell-top-challenge. I found that mine needed a little bit of easing in on the back curve of the sleeve head so I photographed what I did to illustrate how I did the pinning for the small bit of easing in that I found necessary.

I’ve got a couple of contributions to the sleeve insertion tips. Tip #1 is to tack the sleeves in by hand once you’ve pinned them. It allows you to control the fabric and make sure it’s properly in place before you sew the sleeves in by machine, and it allows you to remove the pins and not have them bother you when you’re machining the sleeves in. I do appreciate that it adds to the time you’re spending on this top, but the aggravation that it saves is definitely worth it. In fact I did a second row of tacking along the eased in section to make sure it would lie properly flat!

Sleeve hint #2 would be, remember it’s only a 1cm seam allowance.

Sleeve hint #3 would be, sew a second seam, by way of reinforcement, about one millimetre into the seam allowance, parallel to the main stitching line. The back of the sleeve seam, in particular, is subject to a lot of strain in our normal movement, so a bit of reinforcement there won’t go amiss.

I used shop bought satin bias binding for the neckline finish. I wasn’t going to faff about making my own – life’s too short, and besides, I’ve got plenty of it in the Stash. I picked a contrasting chartreuse colour, which is leading me towards the name “the Unfortunate Cocktail Blouse” for this top (as wine and chartreuse doesn’t sound like a good mix to me!). I will confess I didn’t top stitch, because I was working with Stash and I didn’t have a thread that was an exact colour match. So I’ve slip stitched the neckline down by hand.

I’m very pleased with how this has worked out and I think I could make another couple of these very happily. If I was being pernickety, I would try and work out a sway back adjustment for the lower back, as I seem to have a bit of fabric pooling there. But really it’s not enough for me to worry unduly about.

This pattern is a great wardrobe builder, that can work for the winter as well as the summer. The joy of a plain pattern is that it’s very inviting to different kinds of hacking. The neckline here, for example, makes me think of adding a funnel collar, or a Peter Pan collar, or keyhole shaping. Those simple short sleeves could also be adapted to add length, or fullness.

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