Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Tale of Three Tee Shirts

It seems like every year when the weather begins to turn warmish, I start making knit tops. Generally, I use PMB, even though it is not designed for knit fabrics nor for dartless styles. But ever hopeful, I try again and again to modify the measurements and settings within the program, trying to produce the perfect knit top pattern.

Fast Forward: Earlier this Spring, Wild Ginger came out with a new pattern drafting program for knit fabrics, Pattern Master Knits. Well, duh…of course I had to get it!

I read the WG forum for a few weeks before I actually started using the knit program and learned which setting choices were being used by those who were having success with the new program. Eager for success, I drafted and printed a pattern.

For my first test top, I used some purple cotton interlock from my stash. I cut it out and quickly sewed the shoulders and sideseams, then tried it on. The shoulder angle seemed fine; the shoulder placement seemed fine; but I had the shoulders too wide and the CBL too long, AND, I felt like the sleeve cap was WAY too low...the sleeves were 'winging' out! (I had used +.75 for the cap height).

So I drafted a new pattern and recut the garment and tried again... reducing the shoulder width by .5” and the center back length by 0.5”; plus, I increased the cap height to 1.25”. Well, it was better…but then I thought that the underarm must be too high…the bodice was folding over, forming a pleat under my arms! Because the armhole was out on my arm...the bodice was encroaching on the sleeve's territory...I decided that I needed to reshape the F-ah by clicking downward about 10 clicks to scoop the lower front ah. So I made those changes within the drafter and reprinted and recut my top again. I continued to use the original fabric.

After sewing this new pattern, I began to think I should restore the wider shoulder I had originally started with!

Plus, in order to get enough front-length, I had to increase the CBL again…after reducing it before!...then move the shoulder-seam BACKWARDS (using the shoulder and neck-point settings) to put all the extra length into the front. There had been several updates to the program in the days/weeks between when I started on this top and when each iteration was done, and this made it hard to determine WHICH settings to use after each update! I was hopeful that, once Lisa (the programmer) got the bust-cup problem worked out, I would be able to get more front length without first adding to the back length (and eventually that WAS the case).

For all these patterns, I had used the NO DART option.

During the course of these trials, I also decided that the original shoulder angle was actually NOT fine as it drafted; even for a knit, the shoulder angle was way too steep for me. This seemed to be a common problem among the users, so in a subsequent update, Lisa added a shoulder height setting to allow the user to raise the shoulder tip on the front and back patterns. It's a good thing!

She also added a setting to allow forward-backward movement of the shoulder tip, to change the angle of the shoulder seam without moving the neck end. Another good thing!

Oh! The sleeves... As I said, I had read MANY posts on the forum to see what settings were working for the various people, and I read a post from tech support that said she was using a 2" cap height because she likes a higher cap. Well, the PM-KNITS program DOES draft with a really LOW cap height to start with, so I had also increased my cap height after that first iteration (where I had used +.75"...which, even at that, was 'raised' over the default cap height of 'zero'). I was using 2" cap height on my sleeves. Note: this is a clue to the eventual solution! :)

I was also aware that the back of the sleeve seemed to lay on my arm (a problem I have had before). I wondered if scooping the back armhole lower might be the key to getting a fuller back-half on the sleeve...?

By now, I was running out of this purple fabric...I only had enough scraps left to try ONE more set of short sleeves, still using the same bodice pieces which were getting shorter and shorter as I pulled them up at the shoulder to recut each time.

So, I decided to pull out a new fabric and try starting over! Based on my evaluation of the previous iteration of the purple top, I made various changes to my numbers and settings and set about drafting the new pattern for use with a pink floral fabric (which, BTW, I HAVE used before!).

On the purple top, the armhole seam was farther out on the arm than it should be, and the top felt kinda tight-ish across the high bust area. So, for this new pattern, in an attempt to reposition the armhole seam to get it OFF my arm, I had scooped the front armhole inward/ downward (using the armhole shape tool) and this made the length of the front armhole seam longer. When I added the sleeve, it was obviously wrong. The hem of this short sleeve was NOT level when viewed from the side. And like the others, arm movement pulled at the bodice.


Rotating and pinching and repinning and evaluating that sleeve, I could see that if I trimmed off 0.75" at the front of the sleeve, it would be more level.

But then I'd have to EASE the lower front armhole to the sleeve to control the size of that large front armhole.

I decide to look into using the DARTED style, instead of the no-dart one I had been using.

Here is the deal:
I had decided I needed more height in the front bodice, above armhole level, to eliminate that ‘armhole encroachment’ on the arm. So I ended up lengthening my CBL, (which lengthens both front and back, just as cup-size change does)...but then I used the tools to move the shoulder seam BACKWARDS. This put all the extra length into the front armhole.

But who wants a giant front armhole? Not me.
But I needed the height in the front pattern. Hmmm.

My solution for the giant armhole was to (manually) remove 0.75" off the front sleeve and then ease the front armhole to the lower front sleeve. It seemed to be the solution to the larger cup-size/big armhole issue, and it worked ok.

But that got me to thinking…If the sleeve I need should be .75" smaller in front, then the front armhole should also be .75" smaller…which just happens to be exactly what happens when I choose the DARTED version instead of the no-dart one!

So, rather than ease that extra fabric in the 'no-dart' style's front armhole to a modified sleeve, I decided that it would be better to use the DARTED STYLE and ease the fabric from the bust dart into the sideseam!

So I went back to the drawing board...drafting another new pattern.

I had been using the C-cup in my no-dart tops. For the darted top, I decided to use the D-cup draft, which produced a smaller front armhole than the C cup draft (bigger dart but smaller armhole).

*(Remember, this was early in the program's release, and the drafting bugs were still being worked out..however, 'we' the users, never know what will change in the future and what will stay as-is within the program, so I always assume that this is the way it will work and go from there. But since then, the cup/armhole issues HAVE been addressed/ changed since these patterns were drafted.)*

Ok, so I drafted with a D-cup and used the side bust dart. Better, but not perfect. There was still this weirdness at the front armhole. It didn't feel quite as tight across the high bust as the purple one did, but it still pulled with arm movement. For this one, I used a cap height of 1.25" and a D cup/darted. I also used the wider shoulders again...16.25" BSW.

To change from the no-darted bodice to the darted bodice required me to align the new pattern at the front armhole of the originally-cut bodice, since it was lower. This meant the top would end up shorter than originally cut out. This happened many times when I made changes...the overall length was variable according to what was originally cut out.

Determined to get these armholes and sleeves worked out, I decided to do some comparing…to see what numbers I would have to change to duplicate the fit of my last PMK top (the pink floral) but with a reduced dart size. I wanted the armholes to remain the same height as on that one, but I was willing to lose a little front length in order to make the bust dart smaller, as the gathers at sideseam seemed too apparent to me.

WELL, LO AND BEHOLD…after that April update was installed, all I had to do was change the bust-cup letter to get the desired changes! Apparently, going from C- to D-cup will no longer increase the back length! Yay!!! Only the front length was affected!!! This was gonna make drafting so much easier!

After the April meeting of the Memphis Sewing Guild, I came home motivated to sew! I removed the less-than-perfect sleeves from my very first PMK test top (purple cotton interlock) and recut the shoulders and armholes a little, cut new sleeves, and re-sewed. Better, but still, there was this 'pulling' at the front armhole. I have tried a higher ah, a lower ah, scooping and not scooping! Yet still, the bodice wants to encroach on the arm's territory, there in front where I move my arm. Rats!

I decided to do another top...not just new sleeves, but starting over! I created a pattern that 'scoops' the front armhole LOWER, not inward...then I cut and sewed that one from some periwinkle cotton interlock.

Again, the f-ah bugged me.

FINALLY, it hit me...perhaps the cap height of these sleeves is the problem!!!(?)

Because I had read on the forum that WG's tech support person was raising her cap height up to 2", I had been raising the cap height of all my sleeves to 1.5"...this made my sleeve's bicep line 'level' when viewed from the front (no 'winging' out), so I assumed that cap height was 'correct' for me.

But then I got to thinking...
Perhaps that bicep line NEEDS to be unlevel in a pattern where some of the bust dart is in the front armhole? Perhaps this armhole NEEDS a sleeve with a lowered cap height? Perhaps these sleeves were just too narrow across the sleeve cap, and THAT is why the bodice is out on the is being pulled there!

So, I cut and inserted some new sleeves into the periwinkle top, using a cap height of 'zero'.
Yuk...they looked awful and had lots of folds of excess fabric!

But the 'pulling' at the front armhole was gone!!! Yay!!!
So I removed those sleeves and cut/inserted more new sleeves, this time with a cap height of .75". Better!

These new sleeves still had some excess folds, but I had chosen the STRAIGHT underarm seam. If I use the tapered seam to make the hem more narrow, it did help control the excess and made the sleeve look better...but I knew I was going to make these short sleeves even shorter, manually curving the hem upwards in the middle...kinda cap-like. Doing that removed any traces of the excess folds! Hooray!

At this point I was thinking that some of that scooping that I did to the front armhole might NOT have been necessary! Sigh. But that couldn't be undone.

I made the shoulder width narrower than my usual for these...15.5". Even though it started out wider (16.25" ), all the various alterations I did to that first (purple) one caused it to get narrower across the shoulders (due to cutting off the top of the shoulder to lower it) I had to go with what I had when drafting new sleeves to fit that armhole.

Because I had run out of the purple fabric, I couldn't make a new set of sleeves with the proper (lower) cap height for that top. I was hoping I could perhaps cut up some of the rejected sleeves to create a set of petal sleeves, but alas...there just wasn't enough fabric there to be used. But I decided to go ahead and finish up this top and wear it, despite the fact that the armholes and sleeves aren't just what I'd like them to be. Knits are very forgiving!

I pulled some polka-dotted rayon challis from my stash and cut a bias strip to trim the neckline. I did a twisted binding on the scooped neck...I quite like it! My first time to try this.

Because the top had gotten shorter and shorter with each iteration, I sewed a band with ties to the lower edge instead of hemming it. I used the coverstitch machine to hem the sleeves.

Even though I wasn't thrilled with the pink floral, I decided to finish it and wear it, rather than take it apart and try to make improvements...I could improve on the next one! I cover-stitched the sleeves and hem, as well as the turned-under neck edge.

The periwinkle top was finished with a band of self-fabric at the neck, with cover-stitching at the sleeve and hem. But it looked so sporty. And it had gotten kinda short, too. There was nothing I could do about the short length, but to combat the plain-jane sporty look, I added folded flowers made from ovals of the cotton interlock along with some same-colored beads (both round and cubes). I like it a lot better now!

What did I learn?

  • Well, although the front armhole does need some reshaping, I did way too much. I can see (now) that lowering the sleeve cap height to +0.75" adds about the same amount of fabric to the front of my sleeve as I was scooping off the bodice at f-ah...and having that extra fabric on the sleeve would prevent the sleeve from pulling the bodice up there!

  • Also, when I overlay my F and B shoulder seams as if they were sewn (so that you can see the whole armhole shape), the armholes form a 'V' at the shoulder. I need to manually extend the shoulder seam to smooth the armhole curve. [I explored increasing the shoulder width measurement (which would extend the length of the shoulder seam) and reshaping the armhole with the tools, but I can see that I am better off leaving the BSW at 15.5" and manually redrawing the shoulder to add .375" at the tip (front and back), because the ah shape is just not right otherwise. This is easy to do, if I can only remember to do it! And actually, 15.5 is what my BSW *actually* measures if I measure as directed in the guide...straight across at the top of the back shoulder. That doesn't account for my shoulder blades, but it is a 'real' measurement!]

  • Over and over, I have increased the cap height to correct the hang of my sleeves, both in PMB and in PMK. But if I just extend the shoulder tip (manually) to eliminate that little V that forms, the sleeve won't have to reach up so far and I won't need a taller cap! If only I could go back to the very first iteration, where I actually started with a cap height of 0.75"!!! Sigh. Although, that one had other issues...

  • I think I like the waist higher than usual on my knit tops, which means using a reduced CBL.

  • And finally, I have learned that it is really hard to remember what I did when I wait so long to blog about it!

Although these tops were really 'lemons', I made lemonade of them all and do wear them in public!

And if you made it to the end of this very long post, then THANK YOU very much!

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