Time for a 10-minute top!

Alice wearing her 10-minute jersey top under a leather jacket

If you’re a regular reader of our newsletter you’ll know we always sign off with a music track to kick off your weekend in style. Whether it’s the opportunity to thrash it out in the kitchen or have a gentle shimmy with a beverage of your choice, choosing those tracks is the best part of our week – although we love it even more when you email with your suggestions.

An occasional contributor is Sarah – and a recent exchange saw us lamenting the seminal gigs that we managed to miss while at university a few (ahem) decades back. (Me: The Undertones; Sarah: The Police among others).

Of course one of the necessities of heading out to a gig on the spur of the moment would be figuring out what to wear. Often that would mean trawling through my piles of jumble sale and second-hand shop finds and if necessary, carrying out emergency garment surgery. Alternatively I’d conjure up some portion of an outfit in double-quick time on my sewing machine, often while watching The Tube on my black & white portable TV.

Sometimes an outfit would take a bit longer – dyeing my hair to match my turquoise diamanté earrings before heading out to see Mari Wilson being a case in point… (No pictures I’m afraid – Instagram wasn’t available at the time…)

Of course I’m all grown up now – and like most of you, I love to savour the sewing process. It’s my happy place and the idea of spending a quiet weekend working through the details and nuances of garment construction is nothing short of blissful, not to mention hugely therapeutic.

Emergency outing!

Recently however we had a delivery of a jersey print which I absolutely loved. It arrived one afternoon when I was due to take Mr. ClothSpot out for his birthday meal. One of the few occasions we’ve ventured out since The Time of Covid began, there were no two ways about it – I was determined to wear that fabric that evening, come hell or high water.

However I certainly didn’t have time to make a properly-finished garment – and I didn’t want to short-cut something and regret it later. All I wanted was a simple top to go under my leather jacket. What to do?

Inspiration came in the form of a finely-knitted wool top I’ve had for about 15 years. Knitted as two circular pieces with unfinished edges, the pieces are stitched together around their edges with gaps remaining unstitched to accommodate head, arms and torso. Most jersey knits won’t fray – and I reasoned that in a dimly knit restaurant, no-one was going to be inspecting my finishing. So I ironed my top, traced around it onto some pattern paper and used my instant template to cut out my fabric. Hey presto – four short overlocked seams later and I was sorted!

It was such an easy win that I thought I’d share it with you here.

Steps to a 10-minute top

What you’ll need:

  • Skewer (No, really! Or something long and sharp, at least)
  • Ruler
  • Tape or string
  • Set square (or quarter-folded piece of A4 paper)
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • Pattern paper or newspaper
  • 0.6m draping jersey knit fabric (the drapier the better)
  • Overlocker or a sewing machine with a stretch or zig-zag stitch

Creating your pattern

  1. Tie one end of your tape or string to the skewer and the other end to your pen. Use your ruler to check that the length of the string is 30cm.
  2. Using the skewer, string and pen as a compass set, create a 60cm diameter circle by holding the skewer in the centre of your pattern paper and keeping the tape taut as you use the pen to draw a circle around it.
  3. Cut out the circle of paper, fold it in half and open it up again. Draw a line down the centre fold.
  4. Draw four lines right across your circle, each one at right-angles to your centre line. Measuring from the top, my lines were positioned as follows: 4cm, 9cm, 29cm and 49cm. Use a set square or the corner point of a quarter-folder A4 sheet of paper to make sure your horizontal lines are at right-angles to your centre line.
  5. The points where each line crosses the edge of your circle marks the extent of each of your four seams. The first two lines indicate the shoulder seams on each side of your top; the second two the side seams. Here’s a diagram to help with that:

Creating your top

  1. That’s your pattern completed – now all you need is to use it to cut out your top. Fold your fabric in half, selvedge-to-selvedge.
  2. Place your circle on top of your fabric, using the centre fold line as your grainline. Measure each end of the centre fold line to make sure it’s parallel with the selvedge.
  3. Pin and cut out your fabric. (Tip: If you have a rotary cutter, that might make a neater job of the bottom curve than scissors!)
  4. Mark the beginning and end of each of the four seams using a tailor’s tack or a notch.
  5. Pin your two pieces together along each of the four seams, right sides together.
  6. Stitch along each of the four seams using an overlocker or a stretch/zig-zag stitch on your machine.
  7. Turn right side out – and you’re done!
Here’s how that circle shape drapes…
…and here’s how it looks from the side.

10 minutes in a 1 minute video!

Here’s my 10-minute top in action!

Sizing and adapting

For sizing purposes, I’m 5.7″ (170cm) tall with a 37″ (94cm) chest and 29.5″ (75cm) waist and a (proportionally short) 16″ (40.5cm) back length. My version was created using a 60cm diameter circle, using a 60cm length of fabric folded in half selvedge-to-selvedge. Disclaimer! I’m not a pattern cutter but these measurements should scale up or down – although once your circle diameter exceeds half the width of your fabric, you’ll obviously need to double your fabric length.

There are fabric offcuts in the corners and I don’t think it would take much fiddling to piece these into drop-shouldered sleeves if that’s what you fancy.

You might also want to play with your circle shape – I’ve shaped my lower hem a little and straightened out my armhole lines – it’s just what works for you. A warning though – the length of your side seam is critical to avoid revealing too much bare side torso or bunching of the top on the hips. You might want to use your first top on a piece of fabric you’re not too bothered about, just to check what works for you.

Styling your 10-minute top

The circle is a clever shape that works best with a lighter-weight jersey and/or one with lots of drape. The curved edge of the neckline folds inside your garment as a facing while the curves of the armholes just drape in a relaxed manner. As someone without a well-defined waist, I love the way the bottom curve falls and suggests a far more hourglass shape than I have. I’ve also worn my original as a layer over a long-sleeved t-shirt. However this is a top that works particularly well as a layer underneath a jacket or a cardigan to give a pop of texture or colour.

Can’t beat a trusty leather jacket!

Not (too) ashamed

We don’t usually condone this sort of reckless activity – all of us ClothSpotters relish a slow sew that makes the most of our precious fabrics – but on this occasion I’m sorry, but I’m *so* not sorry. I loved wearing my top and have since knocked out another one in ‘Mercure’; a fluid silver grey knit that’s arriving on the website this weekend. They’ve unleashed the spirit of my inner student and providing you’re confident of plenty of wear from the results, I can’t see the harm in a quick win that motivates your sewjo and adds a quick spark to your wardrobe.

Rock on!

If any of you out there have similar go-to solutions for an emergency garment then please do let me know in the Comments below – I’m guessing plenty of you have your own versions of this short-cut to satisfaction! (Also let me know if I’ve missed out any stages in my instructions 😬)

Meanwhile I promise to grow back up again in time for my next post, which will be an altogether more slow-and-sober affair. I’ve a houndstooth tweed to attend to on the cutting table…😘

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