Hello Sailor! Breton Top patterns shove off…


Okay, I’ll admit it; I’m a Breton top abuser. Right now in my drawers and closet there are at least 10 shirts in this classic style in various colors and fabrics. Walking around the grocery store, I see that I’m not alone. You put one on, and it’s not like you’re wearing a T-shirt, right? You’re not a slob–you’re Audrey!

So it’s no surprise that patterns for boatneck tops like this have been among the most popular releases this year.

The latest is this pattern from Tessuti for the “Brigitte” Top, which I like because it has a high boatneck line, and four options for sleeve lengths:

Tessuti Brigitte pattern

I’m assuming the Brigitte it’s named after is Bardot:


(Love it with the red pants, red shoes, red car…)

Another pattern released this spring is the “Coco” pattern from “Tilly and the Buttons,” for both a Breton top and dress:

Tilly Coco pattern

She always manages to get her dimple lit just right.

And I’m assuming that the “Coco” this pattern is named after is Mademoiselle Chanel, who stole this look from the boys in the 30s, and basically started the “girl in a jersey shirt” thing.


(At the end of the post, you’ll find a pinterest page with links to all of the patterns shown in this post, saving me hours of cut and paste…)

Those of you hanging out at Jet Set Sewing over the winter already know that I have a thing for this style, as I wrangled with making a 60s “crushed boatneck” pattern for about six weeks. The resulting knit version, with matching Chanel-style bag, looks like this:

Crushed boatneck top and 2.55 bag (Details of how I made it are here.)

I recently saw a Burberry version of this style, with the boatneck folded out:


For $250! I wouldn’t say that stripe matching is very impressive, either.

What is the enduring appeal of this style?

Well, here’s the original inspiration:

French Sailor

Bonjour sailor, new in town? My sewing pal Carmen (of the CarmencitaB blog), who lives in Breton, France, told me that the original inspiration was the French Navy’s uniform, which included a striped jersey shirt and the traditional red pom pom on the hat. Then Carmen, as I recall, you told me that nowadays French women wouldn’t be caught dead in a bourgeois Breton shirt, unless she was a rich Parisian, right? We Americans are nuts for the look, though, because secretly we want to be as haughty cool as the French.

But like the tunics I wrote about last time, this look has woven (or should I say knit) itself into western culture during the past 100 years, going from a working-man’s uniform, to a modernists’ casual-wear:

Picasso (Picasso)

Morphing to 50s film, both mainstream and new wave:

AudreyJean Seberg (Audrey Hepburn and Jean Seburg)

Going rock ‘n’ roll and pop:

MickMadonna (Mick and Madonna)

And then inspiring designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier to riff on the classic design for years.

GaulthierPrincess Caroline in Gaultier (Princess Caroline of Monaco in Gaultier)

And the look is still a modern girl’s best friend:

Sofia CoppolaDuchess of Cambridge (Sophia Coppola and the Duchess of Cambridge)

Over stateside, this look has become a wardrobe staple, (or default, in my case) so let’s all save roughly $225 and make our own, shall we?

In addition to the “Brigitte” and “Coco” patterns, there are a number of patterns that can be used to create this style. Once you’ve found a favorite, and have it properly fitted, these tops can be easy to crank out (if you have the patience to match those stripes). If you’re not accustomed to sewing with knits, Colette Patterns has just released a new book, The Colette Guide to Sewing Knits, with a lot of up-to-date information.

Here are some other Breton shirt patterns that are out now:

These two are from BurdaStyle. The one on the left has a chic Audrey-like band detail across the top, and the one on the right is fitted for larger sizes, and can be color-blocked:

Burda Jersey Tunic patternBurda Tunic pattern

I’ve tried this pattern from New Look, and it’s authentic and easy:

New Look 6838

This Sandra Betzina pattern, Vogue 1363, can be made with or without darts, making for better fit options if you’re busty. I would bring up and straighten out that ballerina neckline a bit to make it a true boatneck. This pattern goes up to a 55″ bust.

Vogue 1363


And here’s a recently re-released Simplicity vintage pattern, which can be made with a woven:

Simplicity 1364 boatneck pattern re-release

I really like the French darts and dropped shoulders on that one.

Here’s where you can find the links to all of these patterns, as well as pictures of the zillions of celebrities who’ve used this look to pretend they’re not wearing a T-shirt.

In my last post, I found I touched a nerve writing about the history of the tunic, as many readers confessed to having tunic moments in their past.

Some of you are making tunics this summer, and I’d love it if you would send photos to me so I can post them. Lynn, Lizzie and Mary, I’ll be looking for photos from you! If anyone else is making a tunic or vintage-style beach cover-up, please send it my way. My email address is under the “about” tab above.

As for me, seconds before I was going to cut that modern Vogue tunic pattern:

Vogue patterns 8897

to make a Tory Burch “homage” out of striped linen, I had a change of heart, and decided to try to recreate this 40s beach robe instead:


Unfortunately, even though the pattern is a vintage size medium (which usually runs small), it turned out to be enormously wide under the arms. So I’ll be posting pictures when I’ve gotten it fitted and it stops looking like Gertrude Stein’s bathrobe.

In the meantime, I’m waiting for a new arrival in my summer sewing Batcave. (No, not THAT kind of new arrival…good grief, it was bad enough that I had my baby at 44…) I’ll let you in on my new bundle of joy when it arrives next week. Actually, it’s more like dreamy personal assistant that never talks back.

I hope your summer sewing is going well!

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.)