Making of the FCBD choli

Cholis are great classwear, and absolutely *vital* for performance if you do ATS. They are relatively easy to find, but mostly what is sold is on the smaller sizes. Some vendors, like Flying Skirts, do bigger sizes, but while these are ok, the arms can be a bit too small around the top. Or maybe, what you’re after is not what is on offer.

I’ve reviewed the Folkwear-FCBD pattern in the past. Make no mistake, my issues with the pattern are still there, although I have found that the pattern works half-decently if using stretch materials, with some caveats. I’ve used the pattern already in the past to do all the cholis I’ve posted in this blog so far, and a couple more. This time, I was using 2-way stretch and 4-way stretch velvet in black and purple to make two cholis.

First things first: the fabric choices. I am testing some fabrics, and went for a cheaper 2-way stretch (at £3.99 a metre) and a more expensive 4 way stretch (at £5.99 a metre). One metre of the 1.5m fabric was enough to make one choli with long sleeves. I found that while the cheaper velvet does give better support, it does feel rather stuffy, very thick and it doesn’t breath well. I would wear it if I’m going to be dancing outside in cold conditions, but it does feel a *touch* restrictive. The more expensive velvet has more stretch, feels a bit less supportive, but moves with you better, and is shinnier and softer to the touch. I also used 2.5cm (1″) black cotton twill tape, enough to go the full length of the underbust band, and for the top back laces.

I worked with the pattern extracted from the original Folkwear. I used Swedish paper to trace the pieces, making sure I also copied all the marks. This allows me to keep the pattern intact, and as the Swedish paper wears out, I can replace it easily.

Choli pattern pieces layout

Choli pattern pieces layout

I started by cutting the pieces. Since stretch velvet is very tricky, and it doesn’t really mark well with chalk, I folded the fabric in half, making sure that the pile of the fabric laid properly (stroking downwards) and that the maximum (or only) stretch happened sidewways. I pinned the pieces onto the fabric, making sure I was pinning both layers of fabric. This saved me the drawing time, and also ensures both sides of the velvet stay put without sliding.

If you look at the pieces, you will notice two things: one are the arrows; these help you figure out how to lay the pieces over the fabric to avoid cutting them on the bias; the other is that one of the pieces seemed modified from the original. I’ve wanted to do cholis that allow me to wear them on their own, with an underwear bra underneath; I know they are supposed to be supportive by themselves but that has never been the case for me, and with my bust, I need a bra. The back piece, if you follow the traditional style, opens in a sort of triangle, so I thought of widening the bottom of the back piece to cover bra straps. That’s what you are seeing there. I made the base of the piece twice the size of the original, to the centre, and tapered it to the top.

Cut pieces

Cut pieces

For the sleeves, I measured the top of my own arm, the length I wanted the sleeves to be (halfway up my forearm), and note these down. I measured the diagonal between dots and marks on the underarm gusset, deducted that from the arm circumference, and used that to trace a rectangle, using the length plus a couple of cm for seam allowances. Very important: don’t do what I did with the black one, and make sure that the sleeves are both cut on the pile, and with the stretch sideways, as this will give you more freedom of movement. For the underbust band, take your twill tape, wrap it around your ribcage and tie it up with a bow; cut the length necessary for this, fold in half, and mark 2 1/2 to 3 times the width of the tape, and the length of this half over the fabric. When cutting, make sure you transfer all the marks and alignments to both sides, you can see how I did this on the image above.

Front parts assembled

Front parts assembled

To assemble, start by joining the two triangles for the front top. Then add the bottom one, use the marks to align it further. I’ve found that I actually need to cut the inner one by about 3cm to get a better fit, but this changes with the fabric I use, so cut as expected. Then join the front with the back pieces; if you’ve modified the back as I did, make sure that the longer part of the trapezoid that is your new piece is at the bottom, and that the slanted part is towards the inside; use the marks on the front piece to remind you which side is which.

Once you’ve done the front, assemble the sleeves. Start by adding the gusset, it’s rather tricky and not quite clear how to do it, so check the photos below. Basically, you are adding two consecutive sides of the square piece to each of the edges, at the TOP (remember to check the pile if you’re using velvet!). Pin the rest of the sleeve; you will have to put it on after that and adapt the shape to your arm so it follows your shape as closely as you want it to. I like mine quite close, as I think it gives a very stylised look. Mark this, open up the sleeve, and finish up the bottom: it will be far easier to do before sewing the sleeve along!. To finish mine, I do a rolled hem with the overlocker, then I fold this rolled hem up up and do a straight stitch with the standard machine. Once you’ve done this, sew the gusset and seam in place.
Gusset location and pinning Gusset location and pinning 1Gusset location and pinning 3

To attach the sleeves to each of the front parts, fold the sleeve in half, and mark the centre top. Attach the bottom side of the torso section with a pin, and mark the centre point (this might or might not coincide with the actual seam). Join both centre points, and pin all along each side. Depending on the size of your arms, you should have the sleeves attached and then a section where front and back pieces join. Sew it all; then finish off the internal edge in a manner similar to the sleeves: do a rolled hem with the overlocker, then fold it and sew, or do a full rolled hem wrapping the raw edge inside; your choice will depend on your fabric and machine. You will end with two mirrored pieces.

For the underbust band: sew the two pieces together along one of the shorter sides; wrap the fabric around the twill tape and fold the raw edge inwards along the top so you have a nice even edge. Pin. The twill tape will add stabilisation to the choli, and will also prevent the fabric from stretching, which would quickly wear out the garment. You will use the centre seam to mark the centre of your choli. Also important, if you are using stretch fabric, make sure you stretch the fabric while wrapping! It will stretch further when sewing, and if you don’t take this into consideration, you might end with the fabric bunching in a nasty manner.

Now add first one, and then the other half pieces to this band, making sure that the raw bottom goes *inside* the opening of this band, like a sort of sandwich. For my body shape, I need to get the inner corner of each front piece about 3cm further than the centre. This makes the pieces overlap in the centre and gives more coverage. Now, starting at the centre point and going outwards, sew along the top of the band, making sure that you’re sewing through both of the fabric layers of the band, the twill tape and the choli body. This will ensure that if the band fabric starts stretching, it will do so outwards, and you will have a good chance to catch it. Also, if you’ve modified the back piece to be wider, you might need to fold the bottom edge on the inner area to compensate for the angle the piece sits at. Again, whether you have to do this, or how much to adjust, will depend a lot on your body shape.

Knot, finish and trim off all the bits of thread hanging out. Pin two pieces of twill tape on the back; I prefer mine around 8cm from the top, but the location might change depending on your body shape. Have a friend tie both laces and verify that everything fits as necessary; you might have to adjust the location of the ties. Once you are happy with the ties, sew them in place and finish off the ends. You might want to gather the inside piece right above the breast to create more of a sweetheart line, or, depending on your bust shape, you might need to soften up the cup shape created by the three pieces. Again, these are modifications that you will only figure out by yourself once you’ve put it together, and will also depend on your choice of material.

Bonus: If you followed the indications above to make the choli that covered your bra straps, you will have a suitable garment, but the bra band will still be visible. There’s a very simple way of solving this. Use leftover fabric from your project, and cut a band a bit longer than the back opening, and about double the width of your bra band plus a bit more. Finish off the short edges, then sew the fabric into a tube. Unhook your bra, slide this tube over your bra band, re-hook, and move the band into place to cover the whole area. Now put your choli on. The underbust band should cover pretty much everything, and the actual bra band will be hidden further by this tube.

Pants for the Dance

Right now, I am in a bit of a huff. All I want is a pair of nice flared pants that I could use for my upcoming Tribal classes, and so far I’m having very little luck finding something that I like, of a decent quality, and that fits me. I do have a few pairs, and all of them have plenty of pros and some cons that have made them not good enough for me to stick with them. I do love nearly every pair of them, though, they are very comfortable for the most part, and if I could just get all the pros and put together the ideal product, I would.

My first yoga pants for class where obtained through eBay, from this seller; the fabric is nice and thick without being too warm, they fit really well, but they’ve shortened substantially in the wash, even though I’ve always washed them in the delicates cycle; I’ve got 3 pairs and they’ve served me well, but they are a touch too thick for the summer, and the shortness makes them annoying; the oldest pair has also developed a hole in the fabric and the waist has stretched to the point that I had to remove around 10cms on each side, so I’m tempted to sacrifice that one and unpick the seams to use as a starting point for a pattern, as the fit is really good. Sadly, for some reason these also have a disturbing tendency to disappear in the wash.
Pros: good fabric, good cut. Cons: straight leg, too short, expensive shipping that only works well if ordering 2-3 pairs.

Then I ordered palazzo pants from another ebay seller who is no longer selling them. I ordered a teal and a red pair, in theory both in cotton, from the same manufacturer and the exact same size. The teal arrived and it works nicely, but the fabric piles easily. The red is much smaller, from a synthetic fabric, and insists on running under my belly instead of across. The teal I can use occasionally but it’s looking quite ratty because of all the piling, the red will probably be saved as something to wear under a costume at the last minute, or to sell onto someone else.
Pros: colour, nice sizing on the teal pair. Cons: ugly and unsuitable fabric on the red, piling on the cotton pair, unreliable sizes and manufacturer; wouldn’t buy again if I could.

Not much luck from the US, I thought, so let’s look at something more ethnic. How about some thai fisherman’s palazzos? the kind that wrap around! Found a nice pair in Aubergine, from The Asian Connection, another ebay seller. Pants arrived promptly, fabric was sturdy but not very soft, and required sewing on the sides as they were opening WAY too much despite the fact that I had left the suggested 4″ extra on each side.  And the fabric starts bleeding colour even with sweat. The fit is also very loose (expect that from this type of pants) and for extreme curves it does  become loose and sit strange, for instance with a higher back than front. They also run quite short on me unless I pull them down under my belly, and we all know how lovely that looks.
Pros: lovely colour, sturdy fabric. Cons: dye bleed, scratchy fabric, fit. They’re great for the summer days but I won’t be using them for class again in a hurry.

Then we come to the cheap and cheerful chinese Melodia clones that I mention here, of which I’ve had to buy the ultra-long version. I’ve worn the black trousers three times, they fit comfortably and great, the shape is one I like, but the seam at the back started giving way and it’s not just the stitches, the fabric itself is not too happy about it.
Pros:  cut, fit. Cons: flimsy fabric if you’re stretching it (and being a plus size, you will), and not so sturdy seams

Finally, come the Jazz pants I got from Brighton Orient , which come in two thickness grades. The thicker grade covers a multitude of sins better, but it’s too thick for the summer. The thinner side is comfortable but got a mysterious hole on the front of the thigh for no apparent reason within 3 wears -with a wash in between each wear. I *could* have snagged them under my desk, it’s perfectly possible. They are also a teensy bit on the tight side for me. And while they flare a bit, they don’t flare enough.
Pros:  lovely fabric, feel sturdy and aren’t falling appart. Cons: sizing, would be nicer to have them in a different cut or colour

So, where am I now? Fed up, last Monday I decided to lift the pattern off a pair of jeans.The result are a pair of capris in cheap black jersey waiting to be overlocked before I decide what sort of bottom I want to give them.  I’ve also emailed a couple of fabric places to see if I can get decent thicker fabric to use. If I get a reasonable answer (that is, if they don’t expect me to buy a 50m roll of supplex or meryl lycra from each colour I want ) I might have to get some samples from them, then some fabric lengths, and put my pattern to the test. My general idea right now is to try to develop a suitable basic pattern for the top part (hips and thighs) that I can then extend, flare, add flounces or whatever, to have different styles available quickly. And will probably require a couple of experiments first, with these and maybe a couple more patterns, combining the ones that I like.

You’d think that with a lot of plus sizes preferring stretchy clothing, there would be a big market for these; certainly leggings seem to be quite popular, so why is nobody trying to move into the market and make some? Oh well, their loss. Or it will be if I can make reasonable substitutes.


Two overskirts

In mid-September I am starting ATS Level 1 classes, and I wanted to get an overskirt or hip wrap to replace my coin belt, as I’d need to travel to class via public transport, and coin belts are heavy, adding to an already heavy bag. Also, I wanted something that would cover my bum while travelling, as nearly every pair of trousers I own have a bit of a see-through problem in the area.

I’d seen a few overskirts, and found a really quick and easy tutorial online, so I tried it. DISASTER! Well, not exactly disaster, but as usual, things didn’t *quite* work for my shape. I’d done a full width (1.57m) of my fabric, a simple black cotton stretch jersey, and about 40cm deep. I even made sure I did a bit of stretching on the sides and bottom edges to get a lettuce effect on them. And when I tried it on, the blasted thing was gaping all over and definitely not sitting properly, and to add insult to injury, all the draping fabric was making my already generous hips into the kind of epic-sized bottom that inspired a certain infamous Queen song.

Thankfully, hubby wasn’t around to start singing to me that he was just a skinny lad never knowing good from bad before he met me, so I had a chance to play a bit further, and came to the idea of trying to make one wrap out of just the front. I marked the middle, wrapped it all around, and noticed it was sitting better, so there was still a chance of making something usable. But the top side was gaping, and the back was also gaping, so I needed to shape it all a bit better for my size. This is what I ended with:

Overskirt pattern, style 1

Pattern for overskirt style 1

I added two darts on the back, and a shaped seam on the side to adapt better to the shape of my hips. Made a few strong stitches just at the joining point and presto! overskirt that not only fitted in a more flattering manner, but also interesting, suitable fall on the sides that didn’t make me look like I was wearing a pannier.

So I took the bits I’d learnt worked, and tried the original overskirt design again, this time with modifications: the draping sides would not be longer than 25cms, the back panel would feature the darts to better accommodate the shape of my rear, and the front and back would be held by strong stitching at the top.

The results this time were a lot better, and very soon this overskirt will get its first class workout. Both overskirts have already been tested and approved by the cats, as befits any black cloth in the house, but I’ll test both skirts in class and practice, and if they work as I hope, I’ll try finding more interesting fabric and making another.

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