Tag: design

T-shirts for Trying Times

How to find fit, style, and comfort in loungewear

By Kitty

If you’re one of those people that work from home in impeccable business casual outfits, I applaud you. 

If you’re everybody else stuck at home during the pandemic, you’re most likely reading this while lounging in a T-shirt, and maybe pants if you’re feeling dressy.  Either that, or my standards are really going the way of handshakes in the time of COVID-19. 

Though my day job is pretty much in suspension right now (not a lot of people are shopping for Steampunk-inspired fancy clothes right at this moment), and though most of my day consists of spreading alpaca poo in the miniature farm we’re building in the backyard, my brain never stops spinning design thoughts.

So, here’s my thought of the day:

Have you ever noticed that most T-shirts really, really don’t fit right?

At least they don’t if you, like me, are the proud owner of a massive bosom. 

The idea behind a T-shirt (and other stretchy clothes) is that the elastic material can expand to accommodate everybody’s figure variations.  Within reason, this works.  For example, if you’re a moderate D cup, a super-stretchy T-shirt might cover you acceptably.  You might notice the fabric gets a bit thin and see-through where it’s straining over your assets, but at least there aren’t any buttons to pop.

However, if you’re say, DDD cup or larger, things really can get dicey in T-shirt land.  For example, look at this photo of Kitty in a garden-variety T-shirt with no bust shaping:

Standard Shapeless Tee

Note that while this T-shirt is plenty big enough to go around me, there are major fit issues.  For example, the front hem rides up, and making the shirt shorter in the front than in the back.  This is because my chest is much bigger than the B-cup size that generic T-shirts are designed for.

To make this make sense, think of it like walking over a hill that’s 50 metres high, versus one that’s 100 metres high.  One walk is much longer than the other.  In the same way. The distance over a large bust is much longer than the distance over a smaller bust, so it takes more length of fabric to cover.  The front length of a T-shirt meant to cover a B-cup bust is just too short for a DDD-cup size, resulting in the short-looking front hem.

Fabric in Front Has More Ground to Cover

Maybe you didn’t see it at first, but look at the height difference between front and back.

A Substantial Difference in Height

Also, there’s some major wrinkling around the armhole area:

This is the result of trying to cover something round with something flat.  I already explored this problem in my previous blogs about why dress shirts don’t fit women with generous busts, and even why some face masks have terrible gaps while others don’t.  But here’s an even simpler illustration, in which I throw a flat piece of fabric (which is that the front part of a generic T-shirt really is) over a three-dimensional object:

Flat 2D Fabric Doesn’t Work on a 3D Shape…

The fabric is never going to conform to the curved object without some kind of shaping.  So say I pin out some triangles of fabric here and there to make a nice dome shape to cup around it, like so:

…Until We Add Some Darts

This is essentially what we have to do to the front piece of a T-shirt if we want it to accommodate a larger cup size.  Those little triangles I pinned out in order to make a 3D shape out of the flat fabric are called “darts.”  And if your bust is above, say, a D cup or so, you absolutely need darts in your clothes if you want them to play nicely with your chest.

Apart from looking unsightly, those armhole wrinkles are very uncomfortable!  They’re bulky and they bunch up.  If you’re being active with your arms (say, while raking alpaca poo), the bunched fabric can even chafe, and they definitely cause the shirt to ride up and dig into your armpits.  Many of us have stopped noticing it because we’ve been forced to get used to bad fit, but once you try a shirt that fits smoothly in this area, you’ll never be able to go back.

So in order to make a T-shirt that fits me perfectly, I had to lengthen the front, but not the back, and still make the front and back side seams match up in length.  I needed to add darts to create space for my bountiful bosom.  While I’m at it, I added longer sleeves (because no one with large breasts needs sleeves that end RIGHT at bust level).  This is how it came out:

I also added a forward-shoulder adjustment just like I did for my perfect dress shirt; this is because most of us now have shoulders that are rounded a bit forward as a result of hunching over our desks or keyboards for hours every day.  If you’ve ever wondered why any of your high-necked shirts kept crawling up your throat trying to choke you, now you know how to stop it.

Finally, I added a seam going down the centre back of the shirt, so I could shape it to follow the in-and-out curve of my spine and bum.  Look, no matter what the rest of your figure might be like, ALL women have an in-and-out curve over the back and buttocks.  The normal flat single-panel back of the generic T-shirt truly does a disservice to this most enticing part of the female anatomy.  Look, compare the flat back profile to the shaped back profile, even for me and my nearly-nonexistent butt:

By the way, if you’re better blessed in the buttock department than I, you might find that off-the-rack shirts “catch” and ride up over the fullest part of your bum, making horizontal folds.  The centre back seam would stop that from happening, because you could add fabric just where you needed it, without making the whole shirt bigger and drowning your waist.

In summary, here are the two shirts, flat and 3D-shaped, side by side:

Your generic T-shirts probably fit better than my off-the-rack shirts because there are stretchier fabrics and more shaping than my version available out there (I chose this one because I wanted the clearest illustration of the principles I was covering).  Still, I’m willing to bet that some of you have never found one that fits just the way you wanted it, especially if you’re exceptionally gifted in either the bust or buns. 

If that’s you, keep an eye out for my next project, which will be T-shirts made for different cup sizes and hip/buttock shapes.  I’m hoping to have the prototype available on the website fairly soon (in the Tops & Shirts section).  Far be it from me to dissuade you from weathering the lockdown in your corset and Victorian finery, but us mere mortals could do with a few super-comfy T-shirts that look as fabulous as they feel….

That Perfect Shirt

(…for a given value of perfect)

This is the story of Kitty yanking out all her fur while trying to design the perfect shirt for as many women’s bodies as possible, preferably without having to personally fit them all one at a time. 

If you read my last blog on what makes a shirt fit properly, you already know how challenging it is just to get reasonably good fit.  But I wanted this new design to have all of the following assets too:

  1. A simple enough line so you could wear it often, but also stylish enough that it doesn’t look like you bought it at Fast-Fashions-‘R’-Us.  Basically, you should be able to wear it under a business blazer AND a Victorian corset equally appropriately.
  • Some adjustability.  Much as I would love to have a separate pattern for each common figure variation (bust size, hip size, waist length, sleeve girth, etc), we’re not a mega-corporation with a sweatshop.  One Kitty can only sew so many things in a day, and we don’t have room to carry (or store) thousands of shirts.  Which means that there would need to be built-in features made for flexing around your diverse shapes.
  • Affordability, within reason.  Everybody needs a shirt that fits.  On the other hand, a truly custom-fitted, hand-made blouse, constructed with decent materials with all the fine details I’d like it to have, tends to cost about as much as a small car.  So, compromise is going to be a thing.

So this is the design so far:

We’re going with a standing collar because it gives a finished look without being generic.  I started with a front that closed all the way up the neck, but nixed that idea in favour of this neckline with a narrow V-shaped notch.  Seriously, no one can handle something buttoned under the chin unless you have a swan-like neck and chiselled jawline.  I actually really love the way this neckline turned out — oddly elegant and elongating.  Totally worth the dozens of attempts that it took.

The sleeves are three-quarter length, lightly gathered into a narrow cuff.  The cuff echoes the collar and pulls the look together, and the gathering adds a definite but not over-the-top softness.  Also, it accommodates more kinds of arms, softening the skinny and making room for the billowy.  I can’t be the only one with massive biceps compared to the rest of me, right?  And three-quarter is a universally flattering length, which also happens to look great even if your arms are an inch or three longer or shorter than average.

There is no way to adjust the bust fit on a fitted shirt that I know of.  I suppose I’ll just have to make these in multiple cup sizes.  Oh well.  But it’s worth it!  See how marvellous a shirt can look when it correctly cups your bosom and actually nips in at the waist?

The upper back actually has a built-in adjustment for a forward shoulder.  This is the one alteration you really need that you didn’t know you needed; almost EVERYONE needs it in this age of computers.  Your shoulders and neck curve forward more than they used to back when everyone was out chasing antelope or show-jumping on horseback.  This is why store-bought shirts sometimes fall back off the shoulder and, in extreme cases, crawl up and try to choke you (lots of people avoid high necklines just for this reason, and this is why you often have to pull your shirt down in the front).  See how the shoulder seam is shifted ever so slightly forward?

The blue ribbon in the previous photo is where a conventional shoulder seam sits.  It’s a very small change, but it ensures that the shirt will stay put on your shoulders.

There are adjustable lacings in the back.  Firstly, no one has the same waist length, and secondly, you may have no bum, an average bum, or a really fabulous bum with the full swayback deal.  A little manipulation of these lacings will help most of us skirt the issue, just enough to achieve decent fit.  I detest sewing loops, and I tried many ways to get around it, but I had to admit defeat — the lacing system really works well, and adds a nice detail besides.

It’s so much simpler to make the hem straight all the way around, but stark horizontal line right at the hip doesn’t do us any favours, especially in a crisp fitted item like this.  Ergo, we have a gently curved hem, which is a headache to sew correctly, but makes your legs look longer and enhances your curvature.  It’s subtle and you wouldn’t consciously notice it, but believe me, it makes a difference.

I’m satisfied (for now) that this us the best off-the-rack shirt I can make.  I realize that everything looks good on Amelia, my trusty and completely inhuman-looking dress form, but honestly, this looks halfway decent on me too (linebacker shoulders, Hanoverian bosom, no waist, hip-deficient, bum-less, truly epic biceps), which is rather a feat for any blouse.  There is a reason you’ve never, ever seen me in a button-down-style shirt before.

I may have ripped out all my hair while stitching the million or so sample shirts to get to this point, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end.  The plan is to debut these (yes, with different cup sizes) in April at Calgary, so come help me test out the prototypes. Then as usual, I’ll probably end up making a host of changes based on your suggestions.

Next up: Steampunk goes to Hogwarts.

Blouses for Bountiful Bosoms

(…and other lost causes)

By Kitty

If you have a generous bosom, odds are your shirts don’t fit. 

I don’t mean spandex T-shirts that can stretch over the Taj Mahal.  I mean dress(ish) shirts with actual buttons and a collar that you could actually wear to a job interview, or Cousin Sally’s sixth wedding.  The bigger your bust, the harder it is to find a blouse that stays decently buttoned without pulling across your breasts – unless it’s a vast tent that drowns the rest of your torso in enough excess fabric to conceal an Alsatian. 

As you already know, the fashion industry mostly consists of people who think all women are built like 10-year-old boys, maybe with plums in their breast pockets.  If you look at the average “women’s” shirt, you’ll find that its anatomy is basically the same as a man’s shirt: flat front and back.  You might get curved seams, usually only at the sides, if someone wants you to think it’s extra-feminine. 

Spoiler alert: your breasts don’t grow out of your sides, so curving the side seams do exactly nothing toward fitting them.  If there isn’t a seam or dart that actually touches the peak of your puppies, that shirt will NEVER fit you correctly.

Allow your Aunt Kitty to illustrate.  Meet Amelia, my unrealistic dress form.  She is shaped like no woman ever, but she’ll do to demonstrate how bust fit works.

Amelia has a fairly generous bust, disproportionately tiny waist, and moderate hips.  By measurements, she’s something like a DD cup.  But because of the huge bust-to-hip ratio, you will really be able to see how cup size in shirts work. 

For instance, here is a shirt mock-up made to her supposed size, but with no shaping other than at the side seams (I left the sleeves off, so you get an unobstructed view of the torso).  This is essentially an A-cup equivalent.

Does this look familiar? The shirt gapes open over the fullest part of the chest, and because she’s rigid, I can’t even pull it closed (if she was squishy, like human breasts, you’d be able to force the buttons closed, until they popped off and flew across the room).  The area below the bust is super-boxy, and completely hides the fact that she has a magnificent waist.

From the side, you can see pull lines pointing to where the bust is desperately trying to steal some fabric to cover itself, and the pulling actually causes even the back waist to ride up and get all weird and wrinkly over the butt.  If you’re a D cup or larger, you’ve been there.

Now, here’s a different shirt, but note that this one has actual seams running over the middle of both the front and back panels; it’s drafted to a B cup:  

I picked the pattern size according to Amelia’s BUST size, meaning it fits pretty well there.  But now it’s baggy and loose at the waist, hips, and back, though it’s a huge improvement over the no-shaping-at-all shirt.

Now, for illustration purposes, look at the exact same B-cup shirt pattern, but this time, I used the size intended for her WAIST measurement instead of the bust.  This one fits better over the waist and hips, but you can’t get it closed over the chest.

Finally, look at the same design, but with a DD cup size.  Ladies, this is how your shirts are supposed to fit.

Why don’t all the clothing manufacturers make clothes this way, with actual shaping seams that travel over the actual bits of you that stick out and need actual shaping?  Would it kill them to offer tops in different cup sizes?

In fact, it just might.  It took me three times as long to cut and sew together the pink shirts (with the extra seams that go over the bust and back shoulders) than the red one with only side seams.  Not only do clothes made with built-in shaping usually need more pattern pieces, the pieces themselves are more complex and the seams are more curved, making them much harder to stabilize and stitch accurately. 

As an indie designer who still does all my own sewing, I’m willing to take the extra time and care – but if I were a mass-manufacturing giant who makes millions of each piece, the cost would be drastically higher, especially if the target market just wanted low-priced fast fashion.  Maybe high enough to drive me out of the business altogether.

Even for me, making each size in multiple cup sizes means investing many times the amount of time and materials for any given design, and carrying around three or four times as much inventory when we go to events (and we only have so much storage space!).  I sort of understand why not many people offer this option. 

Still, as a woman who has NEVER (never, never, never, ever) found a shirt that fit until I started sewing for myself, I’m finally planning on giving it a go.  So, this is my design project for the upcoming season – fitted button-down shirts for every bosom!  I’ll try to document my progress in the next blog.

Obviously, real bodies have fit issues other than just bust-related.  We’ve got wide or narrow hips, flat or protruding bums, long and short waists, wide or skinny biceps, square or sloping shoulders, and a hundred more variations.  Any and all of those can look marvellous if you fit them right, and as Amelia proves, the most idealized figure can look dumpy if the fit is wrong. 

The next time you have a frustrating shopping experience, try and remember that it’s not your body that’s at fault, but an industry that prioritized cheap mass production and absurd standards over you, their customer.   And also that when we prove that we want diversely shaped, properly made clothing and are willing to pay what it’s worth, maybe (just maybe) the industry will decide it’s worth making.

10th Anniversary Sale at CCEE

Kitty has been designing some new products.  I’ll post some photos once she’s done.  But new products mean we have to discontinue certain older products.  So it’s time to celebrate our first decade with a sale!

Our accumulated stock of Showgirl Skirts, Men’s Tailcoats, and Victorian Adjustable Skirts are all now 50% off.  Please note that this only applies to the pieces we’ve already made and have in stock, not new pieces.  Once they are gone, we’re not making any more.

UPDATE: We’ve added Boleros, Women’s Vests and Poet Shirts to the sale!

We’ll be bringing what inventory we have left to Calgary Comic, but if you want one before that while the selection is good, please order before April 16th.

See you in Calgary April 26-29, 2018!