My mum always used to tell me I would be the ideal Victorian woman. I was in fact, partially named after Queen Vic herself. Apparently when I was born, I looked ‘not amused’. But this was not why I was the ideal Victorian woman. No, that was because I had the shoulders of a goddess, according to the mores of the late 1800s. I don’t really have shoulders: my neck kind of just slopes into my arms. Straps do not stay on these non-shoulders: I am forever hefting bra and vest straps up and using willpower to try and keep them there. In essence, my shoulders are too small. My mum tried to make me feel better about my endless strappy top woes by telling me a gently curving, small ladylike shoulder was a sign of Victorian gentility, that it meant I had not been toiling in the fields all day. I’m not sure why she thought Victorian gentility was what I would be pleased by: as yet another strap fell down by my elbows, I seriously considered a career as a farm labourer. If it was possible, I would become an olympian swimmer, so I could get firm broad shoulders that would keep my bloody straps up all day.
The type of Victorian Shoulders I possess
But I digress. Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because I made a top that was very pretty, but which did not cater at all for my non-shoulders. But I am so glad I did, because, as with all these things I am making at the moment, they aren’t so much wearable items as educational projects, and with each new thing I make, I learn one or two more skills, or I identify skills that I need to learn for later projects. (I wear what I make anyway, even if it is a bit weird because bloody hell, I’ve put enough blood sweat and tears into it!).
So what is this project, and what did I learn?
The Colette Sorbetto, as made by Colette for a person with Shoulders
A few weeks back I made myself the (FREEEEEEE!) Colette Sorbetto top. If you haven’t discovered Colette yet, you need to, and a good place to start is by downloading their free PDF pattern for the Sorbetto. Colette patterns are wonderful, as unlike standard sewing patterns, they are written in normal English, with clear, educational instructions and lots of pictures. They are also beautifully packaged and presented, offer and wide range of really fashionable, flattering styles, and are modelled by women of all sizes. Some patterns go up to size 3XL (which for Britishers like me is about a size 26-28). The website is super cool, and has regular sewalongs, lots of advice and a great newsletter full of top tips. So, I love Colette.
Enough gushing. What did I learn?
1: PDF patterns are an arse. This was free, so I can’t complain, but cutting out and assembling 8 pieces of A4 paper, matching lines exactly, was tedious, and the finished pattern pieces are rigid, opaque and likely to fall apart when your sellotape dries out. You also need a lot of space to put the pieces together. The Sorbetto is pretty much one of the easiest and simplest patterns in the whole world, and I still found assembling the pattern from a digital file tiresome. I would not want to do this with a more complicated pattern. I personally think it is well worth splashing out for tissue patterns (though of course they are also extremely annoying and take up space: they at least do not need to be assembled and sellotape is not involved), unless of course it would cost loads to import a pattern from abroad. Colette is an American company, but I have found at least one company that sells her tissue paper patterns in their gorgeous packaging at a reasonable price from the UK.
2. I love bias binding. Oh goodness it makes things look so neat, and retro, and colourful. It is really easy to put on, and makes your hems, necklines and armholes so nice and professional. I am now compulsively buying bias binding in all the colours (alongside all the fabrics and all the patterns: sewing can be very expensive) to add a flash of cheerfulness to my creations.
3. I can’t really just sew a pattern without making some adjustments. One of the major reasons to start sewing your own clothes is to actually own clothes that fit you, and not a random mannequin in a factory. I sewed the size 18 straight up in a cheap and pretty polycotton with contrast binding.
A Colette Sorbetto as modelled by shoulderless me
It’s a nice and wearable top, but it could have been so much better if I added a couple of inches of length at the bottom and if I had known that such things as Full Bust Adjustments and Narrow Shoulder Adjustments existed, and in fact, could both be done at the same time. As it was, when I cut out the fabric I could see that this was going to pull a bit across the bust, so I just made my centre pleat a bit narrower, which is fine, but I would have liked a wide pleat. I Then realised this wasn’t enough so added a 3 inch extension panel in the back, so could have probably kept my pleat a normal width. I would also have liked the straps to sit on my shoulders, and narrowing the pleat in the centre and adding a few inches at the back actually meant they sat even further out than normal. The bias binding also tipped inwards due to the extra fabric around the neckline. An FBA would have solved my problems a lot better.
The pattern was very busy, so it was easy to put a panel in the panel without anyone noticing (can you see?), but boy did that wreak havoc on my decolletage
Still, it’s a great, easy and wearable pattern, and one I will definitely make again, with the adjustments I know are possible. I am attempting both these adjustments right now for a wax print cotton summer dress, and I definitely haven’t got them quite right. The Full Bust adjustment has worked a dream, but the narrow shoulder adjustment just seems to have narrowed the strap a bit, rather than bringing it closer in towards my neck. Still, it’s a start, and I am learning all the time. One day, I will have a strap that stays on the shoulders Queen Vic herself would be proud of.