Shell Tops, An Exercise in Pattern Drafting

 In the last school term of 2017, I took a pattern drafting course at night school.  While it was great for meeting other like minded people in my city, I did find that the content came back to me quite quickly.  I had taken a similar course through the local polytechnic during my teenage years but had never really done anything with it.  This time I was determined to put my knowledge to use.

I purchased Winifred Aldridge, Pattern Cutting For Women's Wear, an awl and a notcher and set to work.  I already had a drafting square and various shapers from my long ago course.  Winifred Aldridge's book was the book used for my original course and I was quite surprised to learn that this book is still used in the course I have just completed.  It is however a much updated version.  So, the first thing I did was to read the book cover to cover.

For my first pattern, I envisaged a shell top that could be worn, tucked in, or over a skirt or pants.  I wanted a v neck that was office appropriate and a high low hem.  Another consideration is lifestyle.  I have read a lot lately about sustainability and in particular a sustainable wardrobe.  Like most sewists, fast fashion is a trend I am keen to avoid.  I do believe however that fast fashion can extend to handmade items as well.  In an ideal world I would wear everything I make in excess of 30 times but one thing my Stylebook app has taught me that this is often not the case.  So, in short, what I was hoping to achieve with my new top is a top that would take me from work in an office, to the beach and everything in between.  It would need to be made of cotton so it is cool to wear and of fabric that is of good quality ensuring longevity and to be in a style that is timeless and not a one season wonder.  I also wanted a style that can be layered so can be worn for all seasons.   Okay, perhaps not winter because winter in New Zealand requires sleeves even as a layer.   All of this seems to be a tall order.  Not to be deterred by my unseemingly long list of requirements, I set to work.

The first thing I did was to create a close fitting bodice block.  Once I had a block that fit well, and yes I did make a muslin, I started on my pattern.  I added a small amount of width at the hips and a gently curve in the side seam to make the top appear less boxy.  One thing I have learnt through making my own clothes, that being a pear shape, I can't wear boxy tops.  

After I had my basic shape, I made another muslin out of an old sheet.  Once I was completely happy with the shape of my top, I transferred my muslin onto paper and drafted my hem facing and one piece bodice shaping and also included a forward shoulder adjustment to my new pattern because this is another must have for me.

For my first actual top, I made a keyhole opening in the back neck and secured it with a hook and eye.  I discovered though, that I could get the top over my head without the opening so for my second version, the orangey one, I left this off.

The fabric I made my tops out of is Liberty Tana Lawn.  The orange fabric is called, Jonathon Orange, and the rosebud, which interestingly enough I thought was a strawberry,  is Estella and Annabelle.  The facings were made out of remnants of white cotton lawn from my remnant bin.

Both of my new tops fit the brief perfectly.  They are made out of lovely  quality fabric that launders and wears beautifully and both are really cool to wear.  They can be layered under jackets and cardigans and both have been worn to work and have also been worn with shorts on the weekend.  I would call that a win!


  1. Great work Andrea! Love these tops and it sounds like you really nailed your brief.

    1. Thanks Naomi. Yup these have been worn a lot and fit in quite nicely.

  2. These are lovely tops with a great fit and beautiful fabric. Well done with the drafting. I'd like to have a go at that myself!

    1. Thanks Megan. It is time consuming but quite rewarding. I am keen to keep going and see where the drafting takes me.


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