Italian cloth and hacking a ‘vintage’ pattern

First a bit of preamble, because the origins of the fabric I used for this top were important. In June 2022 me and Mr Y were finally able to return to mainland Europe again for a four day stay in Florence, one of my favourite cities. We knew it would probably be very busy with visitors during the summer but frankly I didn’t care about this, I was just so happy to be able to see all those magnificent buildings and beautiful art again.

In between looking at the art and strolling the ancient streets I indulged in a little window shopping at the stores where I can afford literally nothing, including Alexander McQueen, Missoni and Gucci.

I could get a closer look at the details in the Gucci store that is based in the Gucci exhibition (worth a visit)
Missoni….obviously, look at that extraordinary panelled dress
Alexander McQueen…be still my beating heart

Amongst all these shops though I *may* have come across a fabric emporium….In truth, there are quite a number of fabric shops in Florence, what with this being Italy and home of fabulous quality textiles.

I failed to make a note of the name of this particular shop but it was very close to the Duomo and the Baptistry. I didn’t go in (thankfully it was shut at the time!) but they clearly specialised in very high-end alta moda fabrics which were nowhere near my budget!
Stunning beaded silk cloth

I had, however, been given the name of another more accessible shop by a kind Instagram follower so we set off to find it with only the vaguest idea where it was. Bacci Tessuti is quite close to the Medici Chapel and San Lorenzo and, with a little help from Google Maps, we found it eventually.

The air-conditioned shop was a very welcome haven from the extreme heat Florence was experiencing during our visit and I was not disappointed by what I found, there is a wonderful selection of lovely cloth to browse.

The choices in a beautiful store like this can be quite overwhelming so I had a sort-of plan to buy something which felt ‘Italian’ to me. I set out looking at their fine linen, personally I would call it handkerchief linen and it’s much lighter and softer than most of the heavier and more durable linens I’ve seen on sale in the UK. I homed in on one with a large design in blue, red and pink flowers (I love a floral fabric but I don’t often wear it) but this one ’spoke’ to me. So that was great but then the helpful shop manager, who spoke excellent English, pointed out the Liberty Tana lawn he had at a very good price! I would have resisted but my husband wanted to buy some for me so who am I to turn him down!

These were going to be my total purchases but when I went over to the counter the manager told me that the linen cloth was by the textile designer for well-known Italian brand, Pucci. At this point he produced from under the counter several short length pieces of some beautiful Italian designer fabrics including Dolce and Gabbana! They were all very lovely (and still expensive) but I wouldn’t have a use for them. The one I did fall for though was a small piece of silk/cotton cloth from Pucci with their trademark psychedelic design in delicate ice cream shades. It still wasn’t cheap but it was just a bit different and there was enough to make a top of some kind. So of course it came home with me…

it’s a bit crumpled from the wash after I got it home
The linen is on the left, plus the two pieces of Tana lawn bought by my husband, and that was my view from the hotel in the background, straight over the Arno with the Ponte Vecchio just to the left.

With my purchases safely stowed away we got on with enjoying the rest of our holiday (although I spent a fair bit of time planning in my head what I was going to make when we got home!)

Initially I was going to use this ‘vintage’ Style pattern as is (I bought it new in 1988 so it’s a little upsetting to think of it as vintage!) I used it several times back in the day, and I’ve sewn it again a couple of times in the last few years. The back buttons are the feature I like, the rest is basically a woven T-shirt.

As I said earlier, I had no more than 1m30 of fabric to play with and I still wanted to do a decent job of matching the print as best I could. The basic pattern fitted on the fabric, it’s only a front, back, sleeves and facings, but I thought it might look a bit meh, and there would still be some wastage. After a bit of a rethink, by shortening the body and making two deep ruffles across the width of the fabric I knew I would get a much more interesting design and have very little wastage in the end.

Basically it was a case of working out how long I could afford to make the top section and still get ruffles that were a balanced length [I had the Merchant and Mills Florence top in my head as inspiration] I took a line horizontally straight across to the centre front/back from the side seam approximately 15cms down from the bottom of the arm scye of both the front and back. What I should have done if I had stopped to think about it was make the centre front longer, I didn’t though and as a result the front hem lifts up because of my bust. The back is fine though.

The first dashed line is roughly where I folded out the pattern to make the horizontal seam, the curved dashed line on the front is how I should have shaped it.

I was able to cut the front and back pieces side by side on the folded cloth which meant the design ran smoothly around the garment. From the remaining fabric I calculated how deep two full widths of the fabric could be (approximately 28cms each strip) and still have enough to get two sleeves and the neck facings out too.

Once I had all the pieces it was just a case of assembling. First I did my usual scavenge through my button boxes to find enough suitable colours in matching sizes. After joining the shoulder seams and attaching the neck and back facings I sewed all the buttonholes at this stage, by doing this first it meant I wasn’t fighting the bulky seam of the gathered ‘skirt’ later.

My usual mash-up of various buttons down the back
By sewing the buttonholes at an early stage meant I didn’t have to struggle getting the bottom one under the buttonhole foot with the gathering in the way.
All finished. I know I’m just being fussy but you can probably see what I mean about the top rising up at the front slightly. There is no bust dart on the pattern which would have made a difference.
I’m pleased with how the top uses almost all the fabric and shows off the print to good effect, I didn’t want to chop it up unnecessarily and there weren’t many options with the small quantity I had anyway. I had to use a very narrow pin hem on the ruffle to maximise the length, the sleeves had their normal hem allowance on them. If you want a few more ideas for finishing hems I wrote this blog a couple of years ago which you might find useful.
I opted to have the ruffle run straight across the back rather than have an opening (this was because I was being lazy and didn’t want to make a facing and sew more buttonholes!!)
The top is shorter than I’ve worn in the recent past but I like the look, especially with the flat-fronted Eve pants by Merchant and Mills
Out in the wild at Africa Fashion which is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 16/4/23

As for the other Italian fabrics, I have plans to make a shirt dress with the beautiful linen, I have a design I’ve drafted and sewn a couple of versions of but there’s probably still a few tweaks I want to make to it before making it in the ‘real thing’. The Liberty lawn is waiting for the right project to present itself too, no need to rush these things. I’m all for sewing the good stuff but it’s really upsetting if you sew a dud with it!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

11 thoughts on “Italian cloth and hacking a ‘vintage’ pattern

  1. I enjoyed reading about your trip to Florence. Your top is lovely and I’m glad that you worked out a design to use most of that beautiful fabric. To me, the very very slight rise is not a problem, and it looks like a deliberate design feature.

    Liked by 2 people

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