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The Rockabilly Pirate Top

Hi there, I’m Anna of annajosews here with my third blog post for Minerva—and if you’ve been following my other makes (here and here) you won’t be surprised to see this is another retro-inspired make! What can I say? I’m all about those Rockabilly vibes these days. I should just get me a flaming hot rod tattoo and be done with it!

Anyway, as I’m on a quest for cute clothes that are a little bit bombshell, but not so much that they aren’t appropriate for taking a toddler to playgroups, one of the recent Simplicity patterns instantly caught my eye. 

Simplicity Pattern 8342 is a bumper pattern pack that features a Rockabilly style knit top, pedal pushers and a pencil skirt with an amazing ruffle detail. Honestly, I could see myself wearing all the garments, but it was the top that hooked me in first. Apparently I really can’t say no to sweetheart necklines, cap sleeves and bust ties!

I figured as this was a knit top it should be practical for everyday wear, and it didn’t look too revealing (bearing in mind I’m quite happy with skintight clothes and plunging necklines—your mileage may vary). There are two versions, and much as I love the halter neck I thought the cap sleeves would be good for protecting my shoulders from the sun, and more practical to wear with a bra. You can see the cute retro stylings on the pattern cover models in the picture below—and I’ve got to say, kudos to Simplicity for showing two models of very different sizes on the one envelope—I wish more pattern companies would do this as I think it helps out everyone to see how the same pattern can fit different sized bodies.

And check out the fabric! I have to admit, I thought my first venture into nautical inspired prints would be more subtle—a ditsy anchor print, perhaps—but I fell in love with this Spanish nautical print Jersey Fabric on the Minerva website. While I was a little apprehensive about the pattern scale, I figured this top could take it. And I reckon I was right—what do you think?!

The jersey is a lovely quality—a true medium weight cotton lycra with good 4-way stretch and excellent recovery. The white base will show through the navy if it’s pulled really tight so it might not be suitable for something with a lot of negative ease like leggings, but for this top it’s just perfect. Cutting through it was easy with my rotary cutter and the fabric behaved nicely without too much rolling at the edges. Cutting did take me AGES, however, as I had to think really carefully about pattern placement and matching. Any inconsistencies would have been really obvious in a print with that much contrast in such a large scale. I ended up tracing out the front bodice pattern piece flat rather than on the fold which helped keep everything lined up. I’m pleased with my cutting decisions and glad I took the time to plan it all out. And it meant I didn’t end up with ships wheel nipples, which is always a good thing ;-)

For reference, my measurements put me at a size 14 for the bust, a 16 for the waist, and between 14 and 16 for the hips. Rather than grade between sizes I decided to go for a straight size 14, reasoning that the stretchiness should help it to fit. And besides, Big 4 patterns tend to be sized generously, so I figured I’d be likely to need to take the pattern in, anyway. I did measure the pattern pieces at the waist and figured the size 14 would have zero ease on me there, which seemed fine to me with this kind of style.

This version of the top uses a little more fabric than the halterneck, but can still be made out of just 1m of fabric (for the sizes 14 and below—larger sizes need a little more but it’s still very economical), so it could be an excellent stashbuster for those of us with too much fabric hidden around the house. Come on, I know I’m not the only one who does this!

Making the pattern up was a little bit more challenging than sewing a t-shirt, but that just made it more fun! It’s not a particularly difficult one to sew up and it could definitely be tackled by an adventurous beginner. The only bit that confused my poor little brain was the unusual and clever technique for sewing the sleeve where you end up with all raw edges completely enclosed. I couldn’t visualise how it worked from just looking at the instructions, but The Crafty Pinup has an excellent YouTube tutorial for sewing this top. I watched this through once, figured out the steps were straightforward if unfamiliar, and then sewed it up from the pattern instructions.

The back is held tight at the top using elastic in a casing, and I went for the 19mm Woven Elastic. The pattern specifies 13mm elastic, but as I tend to prefer wider elastic (more comfortable!) I went for this and made the casing was wide enough by simply overlocking and stitching down the casing, rather than turning under the edge before stitching. I cut the length of elastic specified for a size 14 but ended up reducing it by a whopping 3cm after basting the side seams and trying the top on for fit. Definitely a sign that I could have gone for the next size down in the bust!

The only other supply I used for this top was some H609 Vilene Fusible Knit Interfacing for the straps. The instructions do specify hem tape as well, but I decided not to go for that as the jersey behaved itself so nicely, and simply zigzagged my hem. Oh, and I used a 90 jersey needle for this one. I’m sure I could have got away with an 80, but as there are a few places where you have lots of layers to stitch through I’m glad I went with the thicker needle.

At just two and a half hours to stitch up I’d say this was a pretty fast make, although obviously a bit more involved than some knit tops (like I said, that’s a good thing in my book!). A couple of tips should you be thinking about tackling this top yourself: stitching the upper bodice together over the strap is much easier if you sew with the tacking side on top. It’s also well worth basting this seam first through all layers at the strap as it makes it so much easier to handle under the machine. I’d also baste the tops of the side seams to make sure you get them lined up perfectly at the underarm. I did this by hand and it worked a treat (after my first, abysmal attempt at sewing it without and a few minutes spent cursing as I unpicked all those annoying overlocker stitches).

So, what’s my take on the finished top?

Can you tell from the pics that I love it! It’s exactly what I was after to go with jeans or a skirt and it makes me feel like a Rockabilly Pirate with all those anchors on display. My little boy loves it too, but then again, he’s a sucker for anything pirate-themed. Prising him out of his pirate PJs is almost impossible some days, and I have been known to take him out of the house in them (Shhh! Don’t tell!), so he’s definitely getting something made out of the offcuts. There isn’t enough for a whole t-shirt, but I’m sure with some colourblocking I can make him something cute. Then we can be matching pirates! Arrgh, matey!

Before I finished this top I was a little concerned that there might be a large hole under the knot, but it’s pretty tiny on me. I’m guessing larger cup sizes might find it’s pulled a little wider. So yes, you do end up flashing the tiniest bit of bra here, but with the tie pulled down it’s barely noticeable. Still, not a top to make if the idea of random people knowing the colour of your bra gives you the heebie jeebies. Just sayin’.

My only problem with the finished top is the straps. They keep falling off my shoulders. Sizing down in the bust area would help, but what I really need to do is shorten the straps. However, you can only adjust the length at the back and if I shorten these any more they knock the cap sleeve too far back on my shoulder and it looks silly in profile. Next time I will definitely cut a much smaller sleeve, and will experiment with the best size for me. For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is necessarily a problem with the pattern as drafted. I’m used to having to make narrow shoulder adjustments, so I think it’s down to my body shape. I could pick apart my straps and redo the sleeves, but since I’m a bit lazy busy, I’ll probably settle to adding some bra strap carriers (or these ready made Strap Retainers) and call it a day. Or just wearing a close fitting cardigan over it. That works too, and let’s face it, I’m not sure how much more bare arms weather we’ll be getting this year. I’m still hoping for an Indian summer, though. Let’s all cross our fingers for that!

So, next time I make this top I’m going to grade down to a 12 at the bust, and an 8 or 10 for the sleeves. Although I reckon my next one is going to be the halter neck as that’s seriously cute and summery… Or perhaps the next time I make from this pattern I’ll go for the skirt (I’m drawn to that hemline, which is weird as I’m not normally a ruffle girl) or maybe even those skintight pedal pushers… Which would you sew first?

Anna-Jo x

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All supplies for this make were kindly supplied by Minerva in return for an honest blog post. Thank you, Minerva!

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