Conquering Sheer Fabrics


I was first introduced to overlays back in about 1994 as decorative elements in Make It Your Own authored by Lori Bottom and  Rhonda Chaney. As I recall, we were just coming out of strict ‘power wear’.  Power Wear was the idea that you dressed like the men you wanted to equal so you would be accepted as equals in the work place. The men all dressed as penguins i.e. black coat,pants, shoes, socks with  white shirt.  We were just beginning to exit the power suit phase by exchanging black for navy and dark brown with pastel or cream-colored blouses. Not shirts, real blouses with feminine touches. I remember adopting softer shoulders too.  That would have been 1/2″ shoulder pads instead of 1 or 2″.  But the idea of decorative overlays didn’t even appeal to me. It was too feminine for my work place. I still had to compete with men. I still had to convince both my superiors and subordinates that I was capable; as capable as any man. That I was the person for the job…and the pay.  As with all fashion trends, overlays faded with time.  I’m seeing them again; and again as decorative elements. I had been contemplating adding at least one garment with an overlay to my wardrobe when it occurred to me that overlays might help solve my modesty problem with sheers.

This meant defining exactly what  I felt was uncomfortable exposure.  I decided I wanted my front covered, opaque, from just above cleavage to just below my waist. Maybe high hip even.  My back needed to coverage starting just above  the wide horizontal bra strap and down to about my waist. Roughly these areas:

……….Back —————————- Front……….

I have more issues with my semi-opaque sweater knits than just their inherent sheerness. Yes more than my rant about the advertised suggestion they are opaque when they really are sheer and should be handled and described as sheers.  I bought these thinking I would make quick winter sweaters. Winter=cold. Not the best temperature for sheers.  Every year there is 2-4 weeks that I absolutely want to wear sweaters even indoors. Even though there much total sweater time, in my area it usually occurs in 1 week spans. So I need/want 4-5 pullover sweaters in my wardrobe.  They are the garments that I pull on in the morning to stay toasty warm all day long. Issue is, that I purchased these cuts of fabrics thinking of quick easy T-shirt type tops which need 1.5 yards of fabric; and that’s all I bought.  1.5 yards doesn’t give me enough fabric  to make long sleeves AND experiment or create embellishments, or, as in this case, create duplicate layers.  But it might give me enough to create shortened layers. Layers that would cover the above designated modesty areas.

My fabric is a burn-out knit. I have it in with my sweater knits. So it must have been labeled ‘semi-opaque sweater knit’ but I can assure you this is a jersey knit treated to the burn-out process.  When it arrived, I had no idea how to make a wearable garment from this transparent if lovely fabric.

For the overlays, I took inspiration from Lori Anne’s Layer Top

This pattern has front overlays only. I like the asymmetry of the overlays. In fact, i just sort of like this garment period. But I didn’t want to wait for an order to arrive and besides then I would have to fit. ATM, I’m opposed to any serious fitting that’s why I chose to start with  Loes Hinse Rochelle Top.

I love this pattern. I’ve used it several times.  I’ve altered it so I can use short, 3/4 or long sleeves. I freely recut the neckline this time opting to a scoop the neck 1″ in front and 1/2″ at the shoulder. This pattern saved me last winter when my original Anniversary Dress turned out to be ugly.  I added an extension making  a knee-length dress.  Now with this alteration, I’ve decided LH1011 deserves a multi-page folder of its own.  I keep the new pieces I draft in separate pages so they can be referenced or used again.  I mean the knee-length dress, can become a summer maxi by adding a few inches to the extension. For now though, I wanted to make overlays which would cover my modesty areas front and back. Doing my utmost to save every square inch, I laid out my pattern pieces with long sleeves on my fabric. Cut and then set aside.

I copied the front and back pieces of LH1011 and started drawing lines that would approximate the look of LA’s Layer top

When I was satisfied, I trimmed away the unneeded tissue

Although I like the asymmetrical lines of LA Layered top, I decided for symmetry. Just so I wouldn’t have to make 4 pattern pieces.  I scooped the neck much lower both front and back. In front I cut away to a lower V point just below the waist (I thought). In back I cut a shallow curve so the sides would meet the front sides but would be slightly longer in the center back. Both pieces have considerably fewer square inches than my base pattern.

I had a couple of large pieces of fabric left over from cutting out LH1011 and hoped my overlays were small enough to fit. Not a chance. So abandon the overlay idea? Change from matching to contrasting overlays?  I like the second idea better than the first excep I had managed to save a lot of fabric.  I thought if it were all one piece, I’d be able to cut the overlays and still have some left over. All one piece?  I cut away and discarded the strips and strings that were less than 2″ wide.  Slashed the bigger pieces into smaller pieces and threaded my serger for 3-thread wide overlock with Maxilock Stretch in the upper looper.  I serge finished all the edges keeping the Stretch thread on top.  I took a moment to lay out on my cutting table all the pieces creating a rough rectangle and began stitching them together. I used My Dream Machine’s Stitch 2-09 (at defaults)

and overlapped the pieces creating a crazy quilt of sorts.  The pieces didn’t overlap perfectly and I had excess underneath. I know that adds insulation and weight desirable for a quilt but I want overlays for a garment and I want to see if these overlays will assure my modesty.  So as I joined pieces, I trimmed away any excess from the underside

I kept adding and trimming trying to build width at the same time as length

It was a puzzle of sorts. I enjoy puzzles and didn’t realize how much time I spent to reach the point of having my base layer cut, my overlays designed and my  overlay fabric created:

PSST-took about 2 hours to reach this point.

Once I had the ‘fabric’ assembled, I cut each front and each back overlay separately.  It’s a time-consuming way to cut because I’m also looking and saying ‘better this way or better that’.  Kind of like when you’re at the optometrist. And yes, I had a small pile of fabric left over:

I stitched the back pieces of the overlay together along the center back seam but left the other pieces free. I decided I wanted the overlays to be distinctive from the base garment and bound the neckline and hems with a very light black knit that I bought for lining.  Purchased last Dec it was perfect for the application which made me feel better about the price.  I know I paid close to $8 per yard and at the time I wondered if I was throwing good money after bad. I mean, I think I paid $4 for the sweater knits which were turning out not to be a bargain.  I wonder if I had searched for Sweater Knits in the $15 to $20/yard, would I be facing this problem creative challenge now. Well it is what it is and this knit lining turned out to be the perfect light weight binding for these sheer semi-opaque knits.

When necklines and hems were bound. I basted the overlays to the base garment at the shoulders, armscyes and side seams. I have to tell you that I carefully marked and placed the overlays so that back would meet front at the shoulders and side seams, and the center front would meet.

Although carefully measured and pinned, while I was stitching the garment with overlays together, I had to ease to make them meet.  Even then, the center front, under that button, is slightly off.

Once I had the back together, I decided that I didn’t like how  the center back of the overlay looked.  I did something I haven’t done in a long time, faux piping. I made a tube using the knit lining and attached to the center back seam using one of the joining stitches. Don’t remember which one but do remember why I don’t use this very much. My pics don’t show it but the joining stitch tended to flatten the faux piping and be visible. For a successful faux piping, the joining stitches should be invisible. The viewer either shouldn’t be able to find the joining stitches or should really hunt to find them.  It looks like I’ve piped that seam until you’re about 6″ away.  Either I need to practice this technique more often or abandon it completely.  (I’ve ordered the edge joining foot. Maybe that will help.)

At the last moment, like when all the pieces were together and I was ready to hem, I decided I wanted bind the sleeves and lower hem.  Took only a second to slash off the fabric allowed for a turned-up hem.  Um a little longer to bind.  Normally, I refrain from doing anything that would bring attention to my hips. However, I had noticed that when the hem blended with the pants, I don’t really notice the hem. It’s not glaring line saying “Look at my hips. Yeah I’ve got ’em”.

IRL, it looks like I’m wearing a vest. In the pics, it’s hard to tell that I have over layers.

My over layers turned out to be longer than I expected ie I covered more of my body than planned but that’s OK.  They are very effective. Up close, the sleeves look semi-sheer and the bodice both front and back are modest enough for me.  Overlays WORK. It is an excellent technique for sheers that I will use again.


Comments on: "Overlays/Underlays" (3)

  1. Julie Kaye said:

    Looks great! The colour suit you too.

  2. Looks amazing ! Your patience and ingenuity paid off . Hope you enjoy wearing your new top.

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