Crushed Bateau-neck Top, fait accompli

It’s all over but the shoutin’ as they say, but first, the big reveal:
I would have gotten a picture up sooner, but it took days for me to get in the mood to put on makeup.

When we last left Julie, the project was in this state: (for details on how I made this muslin from a three-part frankenpattern, check out this post.)

I was extremely nervous about cutting this beautiful wool from Janssens et Janssens in Paris. It is soft and light like cashmere, and stretchy like a knit, even though it’s woven.

I eventually got up the guts, and did a layout like this to suit the one-sided, one-way print. It may look wasteful, but actually it leaves a big swath at the fold on the right to make a scarf.

The construction went smoothly, and I thought I was going to be revealing this wonderful way to insert sleeves by stretching a bias strip of fabric over the sleeve cap to shape it before you insert the sleeve. I learned about it on this tutorial:

(When I saw how fast that woman sews, I knew I had a lot to learn…)
The sleeve cap turned out like this, but when I went to put it in the sleeve, the cap wasn’t tight enough and the gathering was uneven, so I had to put in a row of basting to tighten it anyway. I tried it for both sleeves in the exterior and the lining, and really didn’t get the hang of it. I think I’ll go back to Susan Khalje’s method of putting three rows of basting in the seam allowance and then gathering, which gives you a nice even cap to insert.

At this point, my project looked like this:


Boy, did I want to just finish those seams and forget about making the lining. But I knew it was a mistake, because the lining would elevate it from home-sewing to haute couture(ish). Then this happened:
And I did not want to cut that lining. So I started blogging about every little thing I could think of. I went to two events where I had planned to wear the top, wearing Chanel jacket #2 by default instead. (The Boston Symphony playing Ravel on a Friday afternoon, the perfect antidote to the snow. And Brian Stokes Mitchell absolutely nailing about 30 Broadway show-stoppers in a row at Harvard’s legendary Sanders Theater. Here’s a link to Mitchell’s new album: (Brian Stokes Mitchell’s “Simply Broadway” album). Get it, and you can belt out “The Impossible Dream” during your next frustrating sewing project.

But I finally got over it, and cut and assembled the lining out of black silk crepe de chine, which is the way to go if you can swing it. Actually I found this fabric for maybe $4/yard on the silk table of “Sew-fisticated” in Cambridge, one of those old-school sewing shops with really good prices and nice, knowledgeable staff.
I put together the lining, and finished the seams with my super-sharp Kai pinking shears. I’ve been looking at vintage retail garments, and have seen that on many of them the only finish on the seams is pinking, like this, and sometimes a line of straight stitching on the seam allowance as well. It made me remember that instead of having a lining in our clothing in the 50s and 60s, we always wore full slips like this:
Liz Taylor
Unfortunately, none of us looked like Elizabeth Taylor in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” But the slips kept the scratchy seams off of our bodies and made the dresses more opaque.

My mom also had to wear a girdle, stockings, pointy bra and heels as she stood in front of a blackboard teaching high school English all day long. I think her happiest time was when she embraced feminism, put on a pantsuit with low heels, and chopped off her high-maintenance hair-do.

Where was I? I had catch-stitched down the neckline, sleeve edges and hem of the exterior fabric, so I attached the lining to those edges using small fell-stitches. It was so worth taking the time to do that part by hand.
Here’s a look at the back, where I used shoulder darts and back darts to give it some shape. Even though I wanted a loose 60s-style fit, I didn’t want it to look like a box. The muslin process helped me fit it for my short waist and sway back. There are French darts in the front and two darts in each sleeve, which really help when you work with a woven. And lastly, I like the smaller armscye from this pattern. I think that the large armscye has ruined the fit of modern American fashion, and it’s a pet peeve of mine.
This is a close up of the little tuck that’s in each shoulder seam. It gives the neckline some drape, but doesn’t make it hang down like a cowl-neck top. You could probably fake this by taking a bateau-neck pattern, extending the front shoulder seam, and then making a tuck.
When I finished, I had spent 35-40 hours on the project, and probably close to $200 on the fabric and patterns. But where would I find something as high-end as this in a store, that fit me? Max Mara boxy bateau tops made from Italian wool are more than $600. Loro Piana sweaters are $1,800. It was definitely worth investing the time and money into this top, as I will probably wear it for 10 years at least, then hand it down to someone else. And I’ll reuse the pattern a lot, too.
What are you working on? Clothes for spring? (Or fall, if you’re “Down Under”?). I’ll be heading to Southern California next week, where I hope to take you all on a trip through the L.A. Mood Fabrics mega-store! (And wear my new top, finally, out to dinner with friends.)

34 thoughts on “Crushed Bateau-neck Top, fait accompli

    • Thanks so much, Patricia! I started out wanting to learn how to make that neckline, and accomplished my mission. It’s pretty easy to do–keep the shoulder seams short, and near the sleeve, leave room for the tuck, and then make the neckline straight across. I hope that makes sense.

  1. Love It! Great use of the fabric. I remember seeing it in your pile at Janssens. Nice workmanship in recovering from the shortcuts. I agree with you that fabric like this doesn’t tolerate quick and easy. I have also discovered Kai scissors; pricey but they cut like nothing else. You will enjoy this for years and it looks fabulous on you. I’ll be watching for your trip to Mood.

    • Thanks Mary! Everything I’ve made from Janssens fabric has just been a joy. Good thing we don’t live closer, or we could really do some damage there! (As if we didn’t already over the holidays…)

    • Hi Lizzie, that sleeve technique is trickier than it looks, but I think if you master it, it can work well. It also adds a little “sleevehead” to the seam. I may try it again with more stable fabric.

  2. C’est tres jolie! You are going to reach for that top over and over. I received something you sent me, by the way. Thank you so so much!

  3. Absolutely beautiful fabric and what a wonderful top! Totally worth the time and money spent! Even though we don’t sew to save money, isn’t it nice when it happens like that?! 🙂

    • Nice to hear from you, Carrie. I wasn’t as speedy as you were, but all’s well that ends well. Sewing is definitely a satisfying way to spend time, and now it’s nice to have some “made-to-measure” thing to wear out in Boston!

  4. Your frankenpatterning worked out beautifully, I must say. I may try the hack you mentioned at the end of extending the front shoulder seam and giving it a tuck–if I do I will let you know!

  5. Very stylish. And thanks for including that tutorial video on using the bias strip along the cap to ease the sleeve – ahead of time – before inserting it. What a great technique, one of those why-didn’t-I-ever-think-of-that moments.
    PS: Green with envy over Janssens. (I’m strictly in the “coupons de Saint Pierre” category – and even that takes the winter sale to bring out the big shopping bags.) And don’t tell anyone, but as a closet pinker (what they can’t see can’t hurt them), I would do unnatural things to get a really sharp pair of pinking shears.

    • Nice to hear from you, Ben! Hope to master that sleevecap technique at some point… in the meantime, I’ve found that using three rows of basting (rather than two) does give the sleevecap a nice smooth shape.
      I’ve experienced the winter sales in Paris myself, and I’m envious of that!
      The Kai pinking shears are really fantastic, as are their regular shears. They’re extremely sharp and precise. Definitely worth doing what you have to do to get them. I found them here: I’ve been using their “lefty” shears from the lower-priced line and they’re great. The pinking shears are a little more, but well worth it.

      • I just picked up a pair of the Kai pinks last week, and they are all that and a cup of coffee. I’d noticed the pinking finish on a lot of the vintage I own, and can attest to how well it’s held up as a finish. Now what I need is a drop handle pair with a short (2″) blade for those tight places to trim bulk.

  6. This top looks wonderful. You mention that the fabric had a bit of stretch. How did you get that to work out with your lining? I usually find myself with a baggy or odd fit when I try to line something with stretch.

    • Hi Jen, thanks for stopping by. The fabric itself is a woven, but when you’re working with it, tends to be stretchy. I used the haute couture technique of hand-sewing on the lining right at the neck, sleeve and hem edges, using a lot of pins to line it up and small fell-stitches to control the connection between the exterior and the lining. It’s worth the extra time. Now the lining supports the exterior fabric and keeps it from stretching out.

  7. Pingback: #ThrowbackFashion Cossack, 1952 by Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978) | DUC C. NGUYÊN BLOG

    • I have worn it so much! All of the darts make a difference. My guess is that darts went out of style because they’re harder to manufacture, but you can really feel the fit. It feels like it’s floating when I wear it.

  8. I am very late to the party here, but I am trying to do a high boatneck like this–this is the most perfect example I’ve seen. I want that height you have in your collar, but I don’t want it to drape much if at all. I’ll be using ponte lined with thin stretch silk.

    The big question: do I need to interface? I don’t see you mention it, but your fabric seems to have quite a bit of body, as does ponte. I made a muslim in cotton jersey, which, predictably, is floppy as can be, and though the collar is not high enough for my liking, the fit was encouraging–for once.

    So, if you were using ponte, would you interface? If so, would basic, fairly thin knit interfacing do the trick, such as Pellon Easy Knit or ProTricot Knit do the trick?

    Even if you don’t get a chance to answer, thanks so much for your wonderfully inspiring blog!

    • Hi Jennifer! Boy, this is a make from a long time ago. The neckline goes straight across as I recall, and has little pleats in the tiny shoulder seam to give it drape. To get the look you want, my advice is to have the neckline and shoulder seams pretty much straight across, with no pleats and no dip for the neckline. I think a little knit interfacing along the neckline edge couldn’t hurt. Good luck!

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