The Fabulous Flatter Sewing Bee 8


I first started watching The Great British Sewing Bee a couple of years ago because I love Claudia Winkleman (long before Claude became a Flatter Fashion idol with her outfits on Strictly!). Then last year whilst watching the 2015 series it occurred to me that another way of finding clothes to flatter a flat chest was to make my own. Nobody really explains to you how bad Chemo Brain is though; my oncologist maintains that it doesn’t even exist! Unless you’ve experienced it, it is hard to understand why someone loses the ability to spell, understand a shopping list or remember to put tea in the oven…and get it back out again! There is obviously also the fatigue to contend with during active treatment. I had the idea of writing a blog about sewing for a flat chest over a year ago, and had great plans to sew a new item during the third week of each cycle of chemo. Then the Tax train hit. And even though I still suffer from fatigue and chemo brain, the latest series of Sewing Bee has just finished (yes, I cried when Charlotte won!) so I decided to set up my sewing machine and crack on!

Here is my Happy Table – the name came during a counselling session where I realised that I was spending too much time and energy trying to make other people (mainly my ex) happy, and none making me happy. This was my Precious Nan’s kitchen table, and what says ‘happy’ more than a yellow table full of childhood memories of my Nan and Auntie E (thank you E for letting me have the table x). I sew on it, study at it, and write this blog at it. I should also thank my ex for the fab kneeling office chair which means I can spend hours at my table without upsetting my dodgy back!

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You will see on the table are my key items for sewing your own wardrobe (clockwise from the top):

  • Sewing Machine (obvs!) – don’t feel that you need to buy a new machine or spend hundreds of pounds. This one is nearly 20 years old and all I did was give it a clean and change the needle.
  • Books – The Great British Sewing Bee, Tilly Walnes’ Love at First Stitch. and Sewing for Dummies. The first two have some nice patterns in them, and all three have lots of tips, advice and explanations of the terms and techniques you will see in patterns.
  • Pins – throw away old, blunt or rusty pins as they will snag your fabric. You could make a felt cushion for quick storage of pins while your working, or use a magnet to collect loose ones on your table or the floor.
  • Stitch unpicker (makes unpicking mistakes so much easier).
  • Tailors chalk for marking notches and seams on fabric.
  • Needle and thread – if you can’t find a thread that matches the colour of your fabric then choose one that’s slightly darker.
  • Tape measure – these stretch over time so get a new one if you don’t think yours is accurate. You will need this for measuring you, as well as seam allowances.
  • Scissors – Red ones are from a kitchen shop although you can obviously get dressmaker’s scissors. The key is that you need a pair that are super sharp and are only used to cut fabric with. Orange ones are for cutting thread. Blue ones are for cutting paper patterns.
  • Pencil and greaseproof paper – I worked for a while as a teaching assistant and so the only time I had cut sewing patterns were in Miss Robinson’s Textiles class. This means that I can’t bring myself to cut the actual pattern, and instead have to trace them onto greaseproof first! This does mean though that if you were to go up a dress size, or wanted to make an item for a friend, you can reuse the pattern again and again.
  • Not in the picture is a steam iron – patterns will tell you to press new seams and pleats which is important for ‘retraining’ the fabric and stitches to lay the way you need them to.

This dress was my first Flat sew. It is New Look pattern 6125, and I chose to make version ‘A’ using a 100% cotton fabric by Benartex called ‘Tuilleries’ as it suited the 60s style of this shift dress.

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Because this is a simple shift dress the pattern did not need much adjusting to suit a flat chest. As you can see all I did was ignore the outline to allow for the bust dart, instead drawing a straight line down from the armpit. You could also adapt this pattern easily to create a more A-line style, or blend a smaller chest size to a larger hip size by using the different size lines when you cut out your pattern. A tip is to measure yourself and use the size guide on the pattern as they are often different to shop sizes.

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I haven’t mastered the invisible zip on this but it fits and hangs well!

Dress x 2

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Fast forward a year and I have dug out the leftover Tuilleries fabric to make a frill front camisole from the Great British Sewing Bee book which I found in Issue Four of Simply Sewing magazine. You can download the pattern pdf for free at www.simplysewingmag.com. Frills are perfect on both a unilateral and bilateral flat chest.

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Lining up the pattern pieces with the selvedge (the finished edge  – with the writing on – which runs lengthways down the fabric) is tricky when you’re using off-cuts, but I managed to squeeze all the pieces out of what was left from making the dress.

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On the front piece I have cut it out and marked the bust dart to show how it affects lining up the front and pack pieces. As you can see the dart sticks out on the side seam so this is easy to cut off.

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Due to the camisole style of this top, the excess fabric above the top seam created by the dart needs to be adjusted. I decided to follow the existing line of the peak – where the strap attaches – down to the top corner of the back piece.

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However, this meant that the seam along the top of the front piece was now longer than the frill piece, so the side seams did not line up.

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To accommodate this I pinned the peak and side seams of the front and frill pieces together and then added in a pleats/gather to the front piece (these are hidden under the frill so they do not have to be particularly neat or even!).

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The finished top has plenty of volume created by the frill which is helped by the stiff cotton fabric – this would also look great in a floaty fabric, although would be trickier to sew. Just as with the dress, you could adjust the fit of the top by widening or lengthening it toward the waist and hips. You could also adjust the length of the straps if you wanted the top to sit lower down.

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I was then feeling brave and had a go at drafting a very basic pattern using a picture in a second hand magazine as a guide. This is a halter-neck top with a gathered neck is another one which is perfect for flat chests. I used another cotton fabric – this is an off cut that I found on eBay.

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This top is made up of two rectangles of fabric and a strip long enough to tie around your neck and a couple of inches deep. The front piece is the length of your torso and the width of your chest from armpit to armpit (plus seam allowances). The back piece is as deep as you want it to be – it also up to you how you adjust the back piece to fit – I used a pleat as it came up a little baggy but I can still pull it on over my head. You could add buttons, zip of shirring elastic though.

  1. Hem the top of the back piece.
  2. Stitch the side seams together of the front and back piece.
  3. Hem the rest of the sides of the front piece.
  4. Mark the centre of the top of the front piece and the centre of the neck tie.
  5. Using a running stitch along the top edge of the front piece pull the fabric into even gathers.
  6. Hem the long edge of the necktie.
  7. Line up the centre markings of the front piece and neck tie and fold the necktie encasing the gathered neck. Pin and sew the bottom edge and ends of the necktie.
  8. Hem the bottom of the front and back pieces.

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If you don’t fancy starting from scratch you could always look out for items for your own Alteration Challenge! This top caught my eye in a charity shop because of the frill and gathered waist (both of which add volume on a flat chest). However, this top was a playsuit when I bought it but it was too small. So I simply cut the legs off and hemmed the bottom to create a cami top.

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And this is where I was going to leave it. However, a chance comment from a fellow Flat Friend over coffee has lead me into unknown territory…the bra and padding swimwear!

What do you do if you find the perfect bra or cozzie but it doesn’t have pockets for your Knitted Knockers, Aqua Knockers or prosthesis? Apparently some Breast Care units offer this as a free service, but if yours doesn’t here are my tips for adapting them yourself relatively quickly, cheaply and easily.p

Firstly I must thank the wonderful lady who has unknowingly lent her bra to this blog so that I can demonstrate the DIY Pocketed Bra! {Thank you x}

This should work with any bra style:

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  1. Draw around the bra cup to create a paper template.
  2. Cut out a piece of fabric (what ever will feel comfortable against your skin) with 1cm added for a seam.
  3. Hem the fabric (red zig-zag stitch in the photo) all the way round.
  4. Hand stitch (blue running stitch) to the wrong side of the cup. Leave a gap large enough to push your Knitted Knocker or prosthesis through. My tip is to stitch it along the inside edge of the band/underwire so that the hem does not rub against your skin.

I have bought a couple of bikinis for this summer. Both are halter-neck bandeau style, the spotty one has gathering down the centre and the green one is frilled (for tips on what to look for when choosing swimwear have a look at this post from last year).

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The green one has removable foam inserts which are good if you just want to add a little volume over your chest, it could also accommodate an Aqua Knocker – a knitted cotton knocker which is stuffed with a shower scrunchie/body puff. You can also cut the thread which holds the puff together and then cut off a smaller amount to stuff your knocker with if it seems too big.

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The spotty one has no inserts or padding…but it does have a thin lining. So I have cut a slit next to the boning large enough to feed foam inserts of Aqua Knockers through.

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I then hemmed it and as it is a delicate fabric I have also hand stitched to the boning to strengthen the opening at the edges.IMG_1993

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Here is the bikini with an empty cup on the right side and with a foam insert in the left cup.

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If your new swimwear does not have a lining you could create one using the fabric from an old cozzie or even the lining from swimming trunks or running shorts (it just needs to be lightweight so that it doesn’t hold too much water and dries quickly).

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Then trace the cup (like the bra pocket instructions), or you could sew in a rectangular panel as seen on the back of the bikinis. If you do that, remember to stitch in a partition between the two sides so your prostheses don’t drift into the same side.

Happy sewing!

 

 

 


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