Turtleneck fit for a beatnik

Truth: I blame a lot of my fashion dreaming this early start to the year on Vera Ellen’s wardrobe in White Christmas, from 1954. When watching it over the holidays (a yearly tradition), there were a few things that just spoke to me. I mean everyone’s wardrobe in that movie is amazing, but Vera Ellen’s wrap tops and her turtlenecks (and a turtleneck dress, even)… those fashion basics really grabbed me this time!

She sported at least a couple of turtlenecks in that movie. And since the end of December, I’ve really, really wanted to make one. But I wanted one with a 1950s twist.

Turtleneck fit for a beatnik

And I’d say I nailed it! In black, it definitely would fit into the mid-century stereotype of a beatnik, wouldn’t you agree? (Black, the color also know as “Pet Hair Collector”, lint rollers be damned.)

This is a kimono-sleeve turtleneck that I basically concocted myself, pretty much starting from ground zero and cobbling a few things together along the way. I didn’t have a pattern and couldn’t really seem to find anything suitable, so I just kind of winged it. I mean in a stretch knit, how much could go wrong?? I mean, yeah the obvious answer is plenty, but spoiler: it didn’t. 😉

I know I go on and on about kimono sleeves and how much I love them, so this is going to be nothing new if you’ve followed my blog for awhile. You see this cut-on style of sleeve all over mid-1950s fashion, and of course that extends to sewing patterns, where I draw a lot of inspiration from. Sometimes it’s called a batwing, sometimes dolman, I think both generally when they’re much deeper armholes leading into wider sleeves at the upper arm. There is just something so quintessentially vintage about that sleeve style, although of course you see it in modern fashion sometimes, too.

But in the 50s, you’d get more than just little ‘cap’ sleeves that were cut-on. Which modern patterns—that aren’t specifically retro designs, that is—are often are limited to. In the 50s you’d also see them in elbow-length, 3/4 length and even long sleeves. Frequently with a seam extending down from the shoulder to the end of the sleeve, in sewing patterns and in vintage ready-to-wear fashions.

turtleneck2

I adore the look and I enjoy the ease of wearing this style of sleeve, and let me tell you, it’s waaaay better in a comfy knit!! I can confirm that with all the wrap/surplice tops I showed you last week, and with this turtleneck, too.

Having seen Vera Ellen in at least two kimono-sleeve turtlenecks in White Christmas, and while I was in the middle of sewing several versions of Butterick B6285, I started thinking of ideas: a kimono-sleeve turtleneck with a wide band at the waist and bands for the sleeve cuffs. And with the turtleneck, that meant a knit project with no hems… I do kind of hate hemming knits, I admit. So for a project I wasn’t even sure would work well, I wanted relatively no-fuss. So bands, no hems.

Technically, I could have constructed it with no shoulder seam going down the shoulder to the cuff, and made the front/back all one piece, but I decided to add in a seam to make a much less annoying pattern piece. Besides, most 1950s patterns in my stash (or that I examined online) for wovens have a seam, and some of them list jersey as appropriate fabrics, and I’ve seen stretch knit kimono-sleeve tops with shoulder/arm seams… so that was all good enough for me!

Probably not a great idea unless your fabric presses well, though. Mine did fine. Although if you wanted to be fancy you could probably press the seam open and do a decorative stitch on top, kind of like the faux flatlock tutorial at Sewaholic. That’s for sportswear but I don’t see why you couldn’t try it for something else. Hey, it’s your sewing!

Turtleneck fit for a beatnik

Turtleneck fit for a beatnik

I didn’t bother making the front different from the back: the horror! So there was one bodice piece. The only thing that prevents this from being reversible is that I followed a RTW turtleneck of mine and put the seam of the turtleneck band at the center back neck. Yes, I could have worked out different neckline shaping or shoulder shaping for the front and back, but I didn’t have a turtleneck sewing pattern to work from. And you know what? It’s totally fine. Yay for knits!

Turtleneck fit for a beatnik

The top did end up quite fitted in the neck and waist bands, due to a poor fabric match up: this was a black knit that wasn’t described as ponte, but I think it is. So the stretch is kind of minimal. Which I knew, but still plodded on because I wanted black, and that’s the only black knit I had. (Listen to your fabric, people.) It fits fine on, but boy it’s a sight pulling my head through the turtleneck! Definitely a “do your hair and makeup after” top. But I love the turtleneck size when I’m wearing it, so I suspect it’ll be much more forgiving in a stretchier fabric.

Turtleneck fit for a beatnik

I like the waistband but if I’m honest, I’d find it more wearable without the band. I can tuck it in, and you don’t see too much of the band sticking out, thanks to it being black. But more often I’d probably omit a band and lengthen the body. But I’m glad I tried it at least once.

So how did I cobble this all together?

  • I based the sleeves off of 1950s  blouse pattern, Butterick 6223, the same one I used for my snow globe dress. (I sewed this pattern twice last fall but never blogged about it!) I shortened the sleeve length and omitted the elbow darts since this is a knit and generally narrowed them a tad for the same reason. Then I made cuff pieces like you would add onto any knit sleeve you didn’t want to finish with a hem.
  • I based the neckline shape by roughly tracing around a RTW turtleneck I own. For the neck band (i.e. the turtleneck), I just doubled (plus seam allowances) the height I wanted, and sewed it together like you’d sew a sleeve cuff: seam the short side, turn right side out, sew to the neck.
  • I based the torso width on Tilly’s Agnes tee pattern. I just had a total fail with the upper body of this pattern but below my chest fit great. (More on that soon, now that I’ve worked it out.)
  • For the torso length, I just picked something slightly below my natural waist for where to start the waistband. Next time, I think if I were to do a band I would give the torso and band a bit more ease, maybe 2″, and probably flare the band out towards my hips. It fits but it’s quite fitted. As I said I’d more likely just omit the band next time and lengthen the body.

And that was it! I constructed it all using a zig zag stitch since I wanted the option to unpick if I didn’t like something, and because stretch knits don’t fray, all I did was trim down the seam allowances inside. Next time, I’d likely assemble on my serger.

I realized it came out a bit like a more fitted version of Freddies of Pinewood’s Beatnik top, don’t you think? I love that top, but olive isn’t my thing, so I’m kind of not-so-secretly thrilled that I accidentally made a similar one!

Freddies of Pinewood Beatnik top Source: Freddies of Pinewood Beatnik top

I think I have a fantastic starting point for not only more turtlenecks, but if I omit that turtleneck band and do a narrow one (or fold the hem in), kimono-sleeved tees like the above, too! I have a so-far-unshared personal goal of making this year be a year of getting knit tops in order in my wardrobe, and I think I’m off to a good start!

Anything you’re hoping to conquer this year, in the crafting department? I’m feeling pretty inspired lately, although having that kind of too inspired head jumble of ideas where I’m struggling to work through my plans, like Karen touched on recently. But I hope the inspiration part is going around! 🙂

Turtleneck fit for a beatnik

 outfit details

turtleneck – made by me
beret – made by me (unblogged, pattern is Noblesse Oblige)
artist-made Bakelite brooch – antique fair in St. Louis
pants – made by me
resin earrings – made by me

Filed: Sewing, Vintage Wardrobe

Tagged: , , ,

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Golly, 27 Comments!

  • Raesha de Ruiter Zylker February 9, 2016 at 10:31am

    You are the cutest ever in this outfit!!! I love the turtleneck and the fit is so flattering on you. What am I hoping to conquer this year? Well I’ve declared this year the year of Selfish Sewing!!! I plan on getting back to sewing for MYSELF – so far this year I’ve finished a lap quilt and my ultimate goal is getting back to sewing clothes for myself. I used to make tons of clothes but got out of the habit about 10 years ago. It’s time to get back to it and add some awesome handmade to my wardrobe:)

    Reply

  • Your turtleneck is fabulous! I am so inspired! I have slightly wide shoulders and I do find kimono/dolman sleeves to fit really well, but it can be difficult to find patterns (sewing or knitting) that have them in the longer sleeve lengths. I tried drafting my own knitting pattern for a 3/4 sleeve sweater with a wide waistband, but my go-by was in a lace pattern and I guess I didn’t have the skills to figure it all out at the time! It is something I would like to try again, though.

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    • You’re totally right about finding them in longer sleeve lengths, unless you look to vintage patterns from the 1950s, in which case you’ll see them crop up a lot! Both sewing and knitting. I keep faltering with vintage knitting patterns with that type of sleeve… I never can seem to finish any of the ones I’ve started for various reasons! Maybe it’s best I keep them to the realm of sewing. lol

      Reply

  • Love the turtleneck! And I thought that looked like noblesse oblige 🙂 I like the color combo.

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  • huge fan of mock necks for this reason.

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    • If you really want it to be reversible,which I find a little restrictive in the throat,you can easily make the neckband in two pieces with a seam at each side. Put buttons on if you dont like the seam showing,or
      Leave as is.
      Love your pattern and also like the sassy olive green. 🙂

      Reply

  • It is fabulous! Do you think it would work with a baby-belly under it? I love it. Think I have to try kimono-sleeves…

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    • Thanks! Not with the band over the stomach I wouldn’t think! But just with a normal bodice that’s long enough to cover I don’t see why not. 🙂

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  • Wow! Once again I am in awe of your pattern altering skills! Your work with Gertie’s wrap top was fantastic: I seriously hope to do a longer surplice style top once I can get my hands on that pattern, and I am totally loving how your turtleneck came out. What a great job! ❤

    xox,
    bonita of Lavender & Twill

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  • Great top! It’s so cool but will keep cold gusts of wind from freezing you. I’m getting beatnik turtleneck envy!

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  • oh my gosh, I LOVE this!!!!!

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  • Beautiful top and looks like it is well drafted. Amazing how you put several pieces together to create a good looking top. Your ability to tackle both knitting and sewing drafting challenges is inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  • Mmm you really need to make a pattern out of this turtleneck top, i would buy it definately…it is great!!

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  • You look so cute in this!

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  • I have long lurked on your blog, but this is my first time commenting. I adore this top and the hat is too cute. I have a very similar top from freebies of pinewood and mine it is a pet hair collector too!

    retro rover

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  • Love it! You really rock that decade’s styles. I was secretly hoping you’d put in a neck zipper though 🙂 They make me giggle.

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  • Oooo this is fantastic and it fits you PERFECTLY! You’d look great in an aqua blue version, too!

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  • […] By Gum By Golly is a really hip seamstress. She sews like I sew, a lot of self drafting. In case you haven’t heard, the turtleneck is making a comeback!  She nails it and gives great instructions to make your own.  WHO WHAT WEAR is featuring dark denim.  I’ve had dark denimin and out of my stash for over a year now and I just bought quite a lot of some very lightweight dark denim at  Hancock Fabrics. I love the look of this dress they featured. It’s essentially your favorite tee-shirt, nipped at the waist, and made longer. […]

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  • I’ll try this one.. I haven’t done turtleneck before but I hope this is one of the times when its easy to copy somebody else’s pattern 😀

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  • i love the whole outfit!

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