By Alaina Zulli
Here is a weightless, elegant, easy-to-sew top for your spring wardrobe. This is a great project to practice sewing tiny hems on lightweight fabric. Use a fabric that is light, with good drape, and presses well (natural fibers or rayon). The aqua top shown above is a changeable silk chiffon, and the yellow is a heavily crinkled silk flocked crepe chiffon.
Fabric lightweight, ¾yard -1¾ yards; see Step 2 to calculate exact yardage.
Beads (about 18)
Machine needle size 75/11 or smaller
Hand-sewing needle small enough to pass through beads
Scrap paper four 2″ squares
Silk thread for basting (optional)
Step 1: Take your measurements.
Bust height is from your shoulder to the fullest part of your bust. Bust circumference is taken around the body at the fullest point, and tunic length is from the shoulder, over the fullness of the bust, and down to the desired length. The last measurement (not photographed) is from bra strap to bra strap, taken over the nape of the neck.
Step 2: Determine the size of your front and back pieces.
Both pieces will be identical rectangles. The finished garment circumference is in a proportion of 4:5, based on your bust measurement.
To determine the width of each rectangle:
- Multiply your bust circumference by 5, and divide the result by 4. This is the finished circumference of your tunic top.
- Divide circumference by 2, and add ½” for seam allowance. This is the unfinished width of each panel.
- For the length, add ½” to your length measurement for seam allowance.
Step 3: Cut out your rectangles.
To make the cutting line perfectly on grain, draw out a single yarn. If the yarn breaks, cut to that point, and start again from there.
Step 4: Press edges.
Press a scant ¼” all around, and then press again, this time a generous ¼”.
Step 5: Hand-baste all edges.
Use silk thread to minimize permanent holes in the delicate silk fabric.
Step 6: Sew the edges.
Set stitch length at 2.5mm/10spi. If you have one, use the straight-stitch needle plate for your machine (photo by Tom Rittenouse). Begin with 2 or 3 backstitches to secure the thread. Start the hem in the center of one of the side edges so that the backstitching will be less prominent.
About 2″ from the corner, slip one of your pieces of scrap paper under the fabric. The paper prevents the fabric from slipping, aids the feed dogs in moving the fabric, and helps prevent the needle from pushing the fabric into the machine at the bulky corners. The paper also serves as an extension to help you guide the fabric under the foot.
Step 7: Remove the paper and hand-basting.
Use both hands to gently tear the paper away from the stitching line.
Step 8: Mark bead placement following the diagram above.
Step 9: To attach a bead, double your thread and make a sturdy knot in the inside of the hem. Pass through the bead, pick up some threads from the other side, and pass through the bead again.
Step 10: Knot the thread on the inside by making several small stitches over one another. I like to make the beads form a sort of bridge between the 2 pieces of fabric, but you may choose to join the fabric and sew the bead on top of the join.
Repeat for every bead. Put a bead on each of the 4 bottom corners to give the tunic some weight. If you like, add beads evenly spaced along the entire bottom hem.
About the author:
Alaina Zulli is a dressmaker and costume historian based in Brooklyn who specializes in historical sewing techniques. She spends her days dissecting old clothes, sewing new ones, and researching the lives of the women who wore them.