If you asked me to describe my style I would probably tell you something along the lines of: classic, kinda preppy, with a vintage twist. I have a tendency to make some very loud statement pieces that step outside of that description, but on the daily I tend to feel most comfortable and confident in neutral colours and classic cuts. You’ll find me often in skinny jeans and cardigan, or if I’m feeling fancy, a high-waisted skirt and a comfy sweater.
But for the longest time a crucial staple in the classic-preppy-vintage style profile was glaringly missing from my wardrobe selection: a Breton top. (Or as most people know it, a striped shirt, or sailor shirt. Tilly rounded up a wonderful history of it here)
I’ve always loved the ease and style that was exuded from a Breton. So effortless, so chic. This admiration, of course, made me unwittingly picky about what it should be. Not too sheer or draped, has to have the classic wide neckline, long sleeves, preferably colour blocked, with smaller, unbalanced stripes.
How could any shirt possibly meet those standards? Turns out, they couldn’t. It seemed the more I looked for the perfect shirt, the more elusive it became.
So I turned to the wise muse that is Dr. Seuss in one of his all-time classics.
Did that stop the old Grinch? No! The Grinch simply said,
“If I can’t find a Breton top, I’ll make one instead!”
(That’s totally how it goes.)
Though, as you sewing folk will know, simply deciding to make the perfect Breton top isn’t as easy as waltzing in to the nearest Fabricland to get started. Finding a halfway decent striped knit can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Even when I did manage to find a fabric that was soft, had good stretch recovery and weight…it was always in the weirdest colour. You’d think black and white would be far more in demand.
Thankfully, this Christmas I received the most wonderful gift. I opened the box and inside was a beautiful black and white striped ponte knit from Girl Charlee. The heavens opened, angels sang, and many projects were planned.
I unquestionably chose Tilly & The Buttons Coco for the pattern because it perfectly encapsulates the vintage and modern vibes I love. (I plan on making many 60s funnel neck versions soon too! I think I can safely say this is one of my first TNT patterns)
I wanted to soften the look of the stripes for this top and opted to colour block the shoulders. Ideally it would have been in white, but the ponte I had was a slightly cream colour and didn’t match. Luckily, black goes with everything.
I looked into some colour blocking pattern hacks in bloggerland and it seemed like a pretty simple adjustment. The Grainline Lark tutorial was the easiest way I found to line up your blocked seams. I did start to notice, however, that the shoulder curves on the Coco sleeves were quite shallow. I feared this would mean that if I blocked my pattern straight across from the armpit seam it wouldn’t cut straight across my body as I wore it. I didn’t want to lower the blocking either (it would look strange if it cut across the bust), so I would need to do some crafty drafting.
Using a highly professional (made-up) method, I had to determine the shape of the sleeve cap so it would appear straight as I wore it. I put on my first Coco I made and took an elastic band and wrapped it on my arm. I moved it up until it was touching the underarm seam and arranged it to look straight. I then got Rory to take a measurement of the elastic to the shoulder seam. This distance was about 12 cm. (If I cut straight across the pattern piece, this distance was closer to 10cm, meaning it definitely would have angled upwards when I wore it).
To make my pattern pieces, I traced the sleeve onto some paper and measured 12 cm (+the seam allowance) down from the center of the sleeve. Using a dressmaker’s curve, I met the center line with the underarm seam points, so it would match my blocking point on the bodice. I then cut along this curve, added seam allowances, and had my new pattern pieces!
It was stressful cutting out the pattern pieces, not knowing if this would actually work or not (yet not stressful enough to make a muslin it seems…). The stress must have impeded my attention to cutting detail and I totally miss-cut one of my sleeves (it was the bottom layer and I didn’t notice I hadn’t enough fabric in that spot). I hate that feeling of wasting fabric on silly mistakes.
Then for some strange reason after I re-cut my second sleeve and compared it to the first, even though they start on the same stripe and measure to the same length…they end on different stripes? I tried to even it out when hemming but I didn’t want to make one sleeve much longer than the other. Can’t really explain how that was accomplished…but hey I bet you didn’t even notice.
I cut a straight size 2, but added my usual 6cm length to the bodice and sleeves, and took down the flare of the pattern a bit at the hips.
The sewing was a breeze, as this wasn’t my first Coco rodeo. Tilly’s instructions are beautiful and simple with helpful tips thrown in. I just love this pattern so much.
And wouldn’t ya know, my pattern hacking totally worked out! It can be harder to see in the photos because the stripes and fabric movement, but the line of the colour blocking is DARN NEAR PERFECT! Aha. Victory. Pattern drafting and I have a nice streak going.
I am so pleased to welcome this classic staple into my wardrobe FINALLY. The ponte is soft, stretchy and quite thick, making it a wonderful winter top. Come summer though, I might want to make a lighter weight version.
I guess the search for stripes continues.