Learning about Stretch Fabric with The Gable Top

Let it be known that I am now a convert to the wonders of stretch fabric! I had honestly avoided stretch fabric in the past as learning the ins and outs of certain fabrics isn’t at all intuitive for me, and I thought it would be best to attend some online classes on the topic first before I dove in. But at the time I first started working on this pattern, I had been thinking quite a lot about the gaps in my wardrobe, and how to continue this passion for sewing without making things for the sake of simply having something to make. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I didn’t have a lot of winter tops, despite the fact that I live somewhere with long-lasting cold seasons. So after researching patterns for vintage inspired stretch fabric tops, I at last settled on a PDF version of the Gable Top, by Jennifer Lauren Handmade, which had a plethora of positive reviews.

The Gable top is quite popular online as a beginner stretch fabric top, with several different sleeve options to make it versatile for both colder and hotter weather. But what intrigued me was the neckline. I had seen similar slash-neck tops in fashion magazines from the nineteen-fifties and I was delighted to see a modern pattern match those designs so well! The author also gave lots of advice about fabric choice, which helped me quite a lot, and based on that I picked up some cotton-elastane blend fabric on a super sale from Spotlight to give it a go. Although now I have wrapped my head around stretch fabric far more I feel confident in sourcing it secondhand.

Now, to be fair to the pattern my first muslin of View 2 being such a disaster was entirely my own fault. I got several of the instructions confused, used the wrong seam allowances out of habit and didn’t have the right weight needle. At this point in time I didn’t often sew with fabrics that required a needle change, let alone requiring a change to something of a specific kind and weight. So when I popped to the shops to get some stretch needles it never even occurred to me to ask the staff what weight needle I should be using. As a result the needle punched dramatic holes through the fabric. Then I couldn’t work out how to balance the zigzag stitches, so the fabric warped and wrinkled! I also didn’t like how simple it was to pull the seams apart when I sewed them solely on the overlocker, as I can be a bit rough with clothes.

Sadly while I was muddling through the libraries were still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I was no closer on the reservation list to getting my hands on Tilly and the Button’s Stretch book, which I hoped would solve my troubles. So I at last decided to purchase my own copy. I was so nervous because it seemed like such a big investment but when the book arrived wow, did it change things. Tilly’s preferred settings for her zigzag stitch – width of 1.5mm and length of 2.2-2.5mm, happened to be what my machine liked as well! Furthermore, her explanation about the weight of the stretch needle and how it related to what kinds of fabric helped enormously! I swapped to a 70/10 needle as that was the lightest I could get, and used her tips about tracing your pattern out as a full-sized piece rather than one that then gets cut on the fold. This made a substantial difference in how easy it was to cut out.

Still not realising I’d gotten the seam allowances so wrong on my first muslin I decided to size up to a 14 for the final version. I used another cotton-elastane blend of fabric that I got in the same sale as the muslin fabric, and this time shortened the waist 1/2″ in order to stop it being quite so long. I also swapped back and forth between the sewing machine and the overlocker in order to finish all the seams as I went, loving the look and added strength of the additional seam finishes. I did find, however, this version was too loose. In particular around the bust. So I brought the bust seams in quite a bit and then ran over the edges with the overlocker to smooth it all out. I also ended up hemming quite a bit at the bottom, so thought next time it would be better to shorten the bodice another 2″!

As I hadn’t been able to order lengths of less than a meter, I still had a sizeable chunk of fabric leftover. But I didn’t want to use this fabric for further muslins. Instead I decided to make some changes to the pattern and see if I could squeeze out another top, View 1 in a size 12, with short sleeves. This time I shortened the waist even more, taking out another 2″ – making it a total of 2 1/2″ shorter, and I also lowered the neckline even more on this version too. Although it did make easing out the fullness trickier I like how the lower neckline sits! As with the first version I finished all the seams and edges with the overlocker.

It’s hard to decide which of these two tops is my favourite. View 1 has been on constant rotation ever since it was made, despite the fact that it’s a little bit loose. However, I think the pattern of the fabric works much better on View 2 – the shorter sleeve version. So for future makes I might look at less intense patterns if I’m going for the long sleeves, but go wild if I’m looking at the short sleeves. But in terms of pattern critiques, the one thing – the only thing, I think that needs to be addressed is the length of the bodice. It’s startling! Even for someone with as short a torso as I have to need to take out 2 1/2″ and to end up with a top that is still quite long, tells me that this pattern was drafted for someone who is all torso. But that is a small criticism in what is otherwise an amazing pattern which has converted me to stretch fabric sewing!

Pattern: The Gable Top, by Jennifer Lauren Handmade 

Views Made: Views 1 and 2

Pros: Construction is extremely quick and straight forward, and the style lends itself very well to all kinds of fun prints. It’s also good for both cold weather and warm weather due to the sleeve variations.

Cons: Bodice is quite long.

Would I recommend it for beginners: I absolutely would. I had never made anything out of stretch fabric before attempting this top, and while I did use the Tilly and the Buttons Stretch book to help me work out settings on my machine, etc, the construction itself was very straightforward.

Would I make it again: Yes, I can definitely see this becoming a staple!

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