The 1 Hour, 35 Minute Top

Self Drafted Top

You know those really annoying recipes that promise you a meal in 15 minutes – and two hours later, you’re still stirring the risotto? Or the sewing pattern that claims this is a 2-hour make, only for it to take you three months? Well, let me tell you. This top really is the 1hr, 35 mins make. How can I be so sure? Because I timed myself with a stopwatch on my iPhone!

Okay, let’s start at the beginning. I was entirely inspired by All Style And All Substance, who recently blogged about some ruched sleeve makes she’d self-drafted. I put in a plea for a tutorial and was thrilled when she came up with two blog post tutorials, here and here. All I had to do was find my fabric…

I spotted my CRAZY-print heavy weight jersey at Classic Textiles in Walthamstow. I paid £3.50 for a scant metre and just managed to squeeze this top out with some judicious pattern piece placement.

All Style and All Substance used the Renfrew top as her base. I turned to Sew U Home Stretch and morphed THREE different patterns! I took the neckline of the Rock the Boatneck top, combined it with the length of the Mini Me dress, and added in a bit of a fun curved hemline from the What A Waist project. Why the heck not?

Sleeve detail

Tracing the sleeve pattern piece and cutting out all my pieces took approximately an hour and a half. All I had to do now was sew. I kept very detailed notes. Want to see my sewing breakdown of steps and time taken? I warn you now, it’s comprehensive. Read it and weep!

  • Changing the thread on my overlocker  4 mins, 30 seconds
  • Sewing shoulder seams together on overlocker  1 mins, 10 seconds
  • Retightening the loose lightbulb on my overlocker  1 minute
  • Basting in a sleeve head wrongly and ripping it back out 15 minutes
  • Working out how to set in the sleeve head (including another ripping out session), basting it and overlocking  18 mins, 45 seconds
  • Inserting second sleeve head  7 mins
  • Pinning and overlocking side seams and sleeve side seams  6 mins
  • Trying on the make and fussing about before the mirror, climbing back into own clothes  8 mins
  • Setting up sewing machine to use a double needle and testing on a scrap  3 mins
  • Pressing, pinning and sewing the bottom hem  10 mins
  • Trimming, pressing, pinning and sewing the sleeve hems  11 mins, 30 seconds
  • Pressing & stitching neckline and a final press  9 mins

Ta, da!

When I set out to time myself, it felt like silly self-indulgence. But now I think there are some really important lessons here.

See how little time it took to prep? Four minutes to change to suitably coloured threads on the overlocker – four minutes! Three minutes to take the time to test my double needle sewing on a scrap of fabric, prior to launching straight onto the final make. Seven minutes out of the whole project, just to do things properly. Really, not so very much time at all.

And did you notice the time reduced with lessons learnt? It took 18 minutes to insert my first sleeve head, and only seven minutes to insert the second! I cut my time by … okay, my maths doesn’t stretch to percentages.

The largest chunks of time were spent on just working out what I was meant to do next. Factor thinking time into your sewing time! This is one of the details I needed to scratch my head at:

Sleeve Head Collage

Having worked with All Style and All Substance’s tutorials for these ruched sleeves, what tips do I have to add?

  • Really do listen when she tells you that you only need to eyeball the pleats. Seriously, with the amount of drape going on here, accuracy is not particularly the name of the game. Happy days!
  • But once you’ve pinned those pleats in place, machine baste the sleeve head insertion before letting rip with your overlocker. This will make life easier and ultimately quicker.
  • I do think this is a knit fabric make that demands an overlocker. The seams on those sleeve pleats would look a right old mess otherwise.
  • Have your pleats facing down the body to facilitate good drape.
  • When it comes to stitching hems on the sewing machine with a double needle – use good quality thread (unlike me) and take your time. Otherwise, you’ll have threads snapping.

My conclusions? I really, really enjoyed making this top! I was so curious as to how these sleeves worked and loved the learning process. I have extremely strong feelings about staying young at heart – keep learning! Use that muscle in your skull!

If I had to quibble (and what would a sewing blog post be without a quibble?) I’m a bit sad that I had to add a little tuck to remove excess at the front neckline. I should have cut a size down in the chest or done an FBA, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. And, to be quite frank, if that’s the only thing I have to complain about, now that I own a wonderful top that I made for £3.50 and with the help of a friend… Well, that’s not such a bad place to be, is it?


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47 Responses to The 1 Hour, 35 Minute Top

  1. Vicki Kate says:

    Ooh! I love the top and the timing breakdown is fascinating! Thank you for the link to a new-to-me blog too.

  2. KT says:

    But don’t you count pattern cutting? That would make it a 3 hour top. Or have I misunderstood?

    • No, not misunderstood at all! I was curious to see how long it would take to SEW this thing (and didn’t strike upon the idea of timing myself until I started the sewing – cutting out had happened in a previous chunk of time). But you’re quite right, if you wanted to put aside time for the entire process, you could devote a good three-hour chunk. Still not a huge commitment!

      • KT says:

        Thanks! For most then, a solid evening. Cool!

        For me… Longer. Need to learn how to sew first!

        Now if I could only knit, or crochet, or tat one…

  3. Cool sleeves! I like those (but probably wouldn’t flatter my extra wide shoulders?)
    Looks great on you… perfect Christmas drinks down the pub wear 🙂

    • Yes, worth bearing in mind your body type. I think these sleeves are perfect for hiding my bingo wings! Someone else commented that this looked Christmas-ey, which hadn’t struck me at all! Maybe it will become my Christmas Day outfit.

  4. MrsAlex says:

    It can take me longer than that to get to the shops to buy a top …

  5. Marie says:

    This is gorgeous Karen! I love the colours and the shape/style on you…all these elements are so flattering on you! And I love that you timed yourself so precisely, it’s really helpful to have it all broken down like that! I’ve always wanted to do this exercise myself, but I’m too scared of what the figures will show…that I’m ridiculously slow ;o)

  6. Anne W says:

    Love your fabric, love the top!

  7. It’s lovely! You’re so clever.
    And you really are making friends with knit fabric! How things change in just a few months! 🙂

  8. The fabric is lovely and I agree that the top is very appropriate for the season (in every respect). It looks elegant and cosy all at the same time.

  9. Poppy says:

    Wow! And lovely colours 🙂

  10. Jenny Gaines says:

    That is gorgeous on you!

  11. Wow. Love, love love. Those colours the best on you. I didn’t think of Christmas, just summery. The sleeves look very clever and gorgeous. This would have to be up there with the best you’ve made and you’re skills have got quite impressive. Whenever I see you’ve made something totally amazing like this I remember way back in the beginning & that 2nd hand machine. You’re looking trim.

    • I still have that machine! Not sure I can ever bring myself to throw it away. Thanks for your long-term support – I really appreciate it! Yes, sewing is quite the journey, isn’t it?

  12. Elaine says:

    Looks lovely, think the little pleat in the font makes it all combine beautifully.

  13. lovely top – I really like it. I’ve yet to make anything with a jersey/ knit. The nearest I’ve got is to use fleece. I just haven’t found a fabric I like yet. I really appreciate timing my sewing, I’ve been making onesies for Christmas and can sew one up in about an hour and a half. it’s the cutting out that takes the time!.

  14. kiwiendormi says:

    I love the final result on you, Karen! And thanks for trying out my tutorial — i’m glad you could make sense of it! Adrienne

  15. sewexhausted says:

    I love the sleeves- that was the first thing I noticed before I even started reading… And I am VERY impressed that you changed the thread on your overlock in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. THAT alone would take me an hour because somethig ALWAYS comes undone. SIGH…

  16. I LOVE THIS TOP!! And you look amazing in it, and styled it so well. I think the sleeve length is just perfect.

  17. Erin Cumming says:

    I’m in love with that fabric, and this top looks SO good on you.
    I love playing “beat the clock” or as I like to think of it “pretend you are on project runway” while sewing just to see how much I can actually get done in an hour. I find it makes sewing even more fun.

  18. Terry Baker says:

    The top looks great, but you don’t need to spend 4 mins changing overlocker thread – just snip through the threads above the spools, swap colours and tie the new ends to the previous tails, then just pull the old threads through carefully. You’ll just need to rethread the needle(s) and ease the knot past the small clip on one of the bottom threads. Hope that helps. I sew for a living so with several changes a day it’s quite a useful trick!

  19. Karen says:

    Whoa – this is gorgeous and you are, too, in it! Awesome fabric – perfect for that pattern. (However, I KNOW it would take me at least twice as long to make it. I promise.)

  20. Sam says:

    Gorgeous! This is just the top I need to wear for my Christmas lunch on Friday. Sadly I don’t have a suitable pattern, or any suitable fabric. Booo!!!

  21. makeitgiveit says:

    it looks wonderful Karen I think you are a shining example to us all! 🙂

  22. EmSewCrazy says:

    Love this! Jealous of your amazing fabric find. Off to check out the sleeve tutorial!

  23. Rebecca says:

    That top is fantastic on you. Pretty and flattering.

  24. Melizza says:

    What a fantastic, flattering top for a bargainous price! Adrienne is so clever. I am loving her recent knit makes.

  25. ooobop! says:

    How cool is that top?! It looks like a proper designer piece. Well it is really!! But for £3.50 and not £350! I really love it Karen. Been dying to get a moment to read and comment all day! 🙂

  26. That’s awesome! Love quick projects. Looks great 🙂

  27. First of all: love the top. The shape and the fabric are both great! Second, it’s fascinating to see your time breakdown. The one that surprised me was the trying on time. At least, I always find that bit painfully slow so eight minutes seems pretty quick! Great post.

  28. piakdy says:

    Amazing! As it’s so fast would you make me one too? 😉

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog so much that I nominated you for an One Lovely Blog Award a couple of days ago. But I forgot to inform you! Oops.

    I realize it’s a bit of a chain letter thing that not everyone want to participate in. But should you wish to participate, you can find the One Lovely Blog Award rules and the award badge at my blog:

    Happy holiday sewing! And maybe in the coming year I might finally tag along to one of your London meet ups and get your autograph! 🙂


  29. oonaballoona says:

    everything about this is STUNNING! that print is deeeeeeelicious on you, i’m heading over to that tute now…

  30. Portia says:

    Love that crazeeeee print. Now, young lady, is it me or are you looking SUPER slim and sexy right now? It’s ok, I don’t expect you to actually answer that. It would be a bit weird if you said, “why actually yes I AM super slim and sexy” I hope ya FEEL super slim and sexy though is what I was TRYING to articulate. Badly. Because you look it. OK? OK! Sheesh I souldn’t have had that last coffee…

    • Thanks, lady! It’s odd – a couple of other readers have said I’m looking slender, but I can confidently tell you all that my weight hasn’t changed at all. Wonder what’s going on?!

  31. Sue K says:

    This top is really, really flattering on you, and the fabric is fabulous! I bet if you made another this weekend, it would be really quick, as you’ve figured it all out. Thanks for sharing, I love the sleeve head idea.

  32. velosewer says:

    Wow. Short sewing time. Long ‘wow’ effect.

  33. symondezyn says:

    This is really REALLY pretty, Karen 🙂 Beautiful job – if you had used a regular pattern instead of so cleverly frankenpatterning, I am sure there’d be oodles of copycats! I really love the sleeves in particular, they make a simple top really special and beautiful!! 🙂

  34. Katie says:

    You are absolutely beautiful and stunning. And so is the shirt!

  35. Mimi G says:

    You look stunning in that blouse. The fabric is just gorg!

  36. Great top, great colors and you have lost weight. Boy, do you look fab!

  37. ZoSews says:

    Wish I could change my overlocker thread in only 4.5 mins! More like 45 mins for me.

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