The Gemma Tank by Made by Rae
Posted on Monday the 11th February 2019 by Sew Sarah Smith
As soon as I saw this beautiful cotton and silk blend Voile Fabric by Lady McElroy I knew I wanted it … I was just a little unsure what I wanted to make with it. It’s a really nice grey with an almost mauve undertone to it with a very slight sheen brought by the silk. It also has a lovely handle, soft and drapey and, as you might expect from a voile, is delicately sheer.
It’s semi-sheerness determined to a large extent what I could make with it…it had to be something without too much detail – no yokes, for example. I live in tank tops which I layer with cardigans in the colder months. But every single tank I have – and I have a lot – are close-fitted knits.
So I went scouring for a woven tank top; something I knew by default I’ll get a lot of wear out of. I came across the Gemma Tank Top by Made by Rae Gemma Tank Top by Made by Rae and the decision was instantaneous. It’s a very simple PDF pattern with just two pieces – a darted front and the back piece. The armholes and neckline are finished with bias binding. (There are a few support blogs over on Gemma's site which cover different ways of attaching the bias). It is designed to be a pull-on so there are no openings and comes in a fairly decent size range.
As it was my first time sewing with such a delicate sheer fabric and I thought a simple pattern would be the way to go. Let me say from the off, this is a very quick and easy pattern to sew; the instructions are clear and well written and It’s well drafted. All the changes I made to the pattern subsequently were simply to make the pattern fit my own unique body shape. I’m in no way suggesting you’d necessarily have to do the same!
The pattern itself comes with two cup options – A/B and C/D – which meant I knew I wouldn’t have to do a full bust adjustment; always a bonus in my book!
However, I toiled the top extensively before cutting into my precious silk voile! I initially cut out two toiles – one sized according to my chest measurement and one a size smaller. This was an incredibly useful thing to do. The first one I tried on – the smaller one – fitted ok but, unsurprisingly, was a tad too tight around the chest. However, I still had excess fabric at the neckline and through the mid to lower back. The second, larger one, fitted better across the chest and in the armscye but had lots of extra fabric at both front and back neckline and I was literally swimming in it through the back.
I then proceeded to unpick both toiles and attached the smaller back to the larger front to see how that would work. The fit was better but I still had issues.
To start, the back neckline stood up straight away from my neck rather than laying close to the body. And I still had excess fabric through the back. I found making my toiles in Muslin Fabric extremely useful in this regard as it made the fit issues more obvious.
Again, I don’t think this is anything to do with the way the pattern is drafted. It is simply the issues with my body shape. I have forward shoulders (too long spent hunched over my sewing machine / laptop / books!) and a forward tilted pelvis – meaning that my back waistline is higher than my front.
So I did a swayback adjustment, removing a good 1” from centre back tapering to nothing at the side seams. I also pinched out an excess of 1” from the neckline rotating the resulting dart out. All well and good.
I then added an extra 0.5” to the length of the back shoulder strap and removed a corresponding 0.5” from the front shoulder strap by way of a forward shoulder adjustment.
I also lowered the bust dart by an inch and graded down both the front and the smaller back piece from the waist down to the hip, reshaping the curve slightly.
I then only had the excess fabric at the front neckline to deal with; I could pinch out a good inch of excess fabric here, meaning I created a half inch dart to my pattern piece from the neckline to the bust apex and rotated that out through the bust dart.
I toiled it again in muslin. Result! The back neckline now snapped to by body; the excess fabric at the front neckline caused by bottom heavy chest had also gone. The darts were in the right place and the top skimmed by belly nicely. The excess of fabric through the mid to lower back was also gone.
Being a Doubting Thomas by nature, I then proceed to make another toile! This time hoping it would be wearable, I made it in a lightweight cotton lawn. I was really happy with this and decided the time was ripe to cut into my beautiful silk voile.
However, before doing so I tackled the one issue that I thought lay with the pattern itself. The pattern is drafted with a 4/8” seam allowance. This is not a problem per se; however, I wanted French seams in my silk voile iteration. So, to make life easier, I proceeded to add the extra 1/8” seam allowance to the shoulder and side seams.
The silk behaved impeccably when cutting out. I felt it was stable enough not to need spraying with fabric stabiliser and it took a press (on a reduced heat setting) really well. It didn’t fray excessively either. I did switch to Silk Pins as I was mindful of snagging the fabric. I also made sure I had a new needle in my machine!
I did make one further alteration – because clearly I don’t know when to stop – and that was to finish the curved hem with bias binding as well. What I didn’t do … and what I should have done in retrospect … was to remove something from the length of the top to account for the fact that attaching bias to the hem only removes ¼” from the length rather than the half inch traditional hemming would have done. For my next make I’ll actually remove an inch since I’m a bit of a short stop height wise! I went for a French Bias finish, which means that my bias turns entirely to the inside. This does remove some of the width of the shoulder straps but mine are still wide enough to cover bra straps!
I made by own bias from the voile and took my time attaching it carefully – it was something of a delicate operation! Despite the extra time this took, by now I could sew this pattern together in no time at all and without consulting the instructions.
I’m really pleased with the resulting top; the silk hangs flatteringly – not boxily - from the chest and skims where it needs to. And it is the lightest thing to wear. Perfect for the summer I’m dreaming of but also ideal paired with a cosy cardi for now!
Thank you so much Minerva for sending me this divine cloth with which to make this top! It made me take the time to create a well-fitting pattern block from which I see myself making many, many, more of these!