Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Knit Bow Top {Tutorial}

I've done a few guest posts this summer, and here is the first of those that was first shared with you over at Couturier Mommy.  It's a long tutorial, but don't judge the difficulty by the length :)  I wanted to make sure that I was thorough, but all of the steps to this top are simple and straightforward.  At Couturier Mommy, she posted it in a three part series.  If you'd prefer to view it in parts, you can find them here:
Part 1 - Creating the Pattern
Part 2 - Creating the Bow Front
Part 3 - Finishing
And, just in case you missed the posts over there or would like everything in one post, here's the tutorial for the Knit Bow Top...

This top is basically a simple knit tee with bow front detail.  It seems like there are a ton of steps, but I promise this top is easy enough and comes together pretty quickly.  And, if you have a fear of knits...fear not!  They really aren't bad at all it you are patient and use a ball-point needle.  I used a nice, slightly heavier weight knit from Michael Miller, and it was a dream to work with.  You can do it!

**Let me say a few important things before we get started with the tutorial...first, I intended for this top to slip over my daughter's head without a button closure, but wasn't thinking and made the opening too small.  You can decide whether you want the button closure (super, super easy and takes like 5 minutes), or if you want to just double check your neck opening and make sure it fits over your little one's noggin :)  I don't have the button closure in my tutorial because THIS tutorial is excellent and very well explained.  I'll note in the tutorial where you will need to add this if you choose :)  Second, the crazy print on this top makes it a little difficult to see the cute details...so, sorry about that!  The pictures in the tutorial actually show it better than the finished pictures in my opinion!  Finally, anywhere I say "sew" I am using a straight stitch unless otherwise noted.  I've never had a problem using a straight stitch with knits, I just stretch the fabric a little as I sew so that it gives some.  Anyway, off we go...

Well, first a few pics to show you the adorable top you'll be making :)

Materials Needed:
- 1/2 to 3/4 yard of knit fabric (I used a full 1/2 yard for a size 4/5 with minimal left over)
- Basic sewing machine and sewing accessories (thread, scissors, etc.)
- Ball-point needle for your sewing machine (readily available with the needles at any sewing/craft store)
- (optional) Button for back **See my note above regarding the button closure
- (optional) Small piece of 1/4" elasic **See my note above regarding the button closure

Step 1 - Creating the Pattern Pieces:
There are several pattern pieces to create, but don't be alarmed!  I'll walk you through all of the steps as we have to manipulate our pattern a bit.  But, if you have a t-shirt that fits your little one then you can very easily make all of the pieces based on that, and I'll walk you through everything else.  Make sure you are working with a knit top to make your pattern since we are using knit fabrics :)

First, turn your shirt inside out, fold it in half, and tuck in the sleeves.  Trace around the edges leaving a 1/2" seam allowance and about 3/4" at the bottom (we'll fold that up for the hem).

Your basic piece should look like this.  **Remember since this is only half of our shirt, we will always be cutting on the fold with these pieces**.  Cut this out, TRACE ANOTHER ONE, and set one of your two pattern pieces aside.  We will be working with the other one.

Take one of your pattern pieces from above and cut straight across toward the bottom of the arm hole.  You can see below where I cut mine.

Using the bottom half as a guide, we will cut out a piece for the bottom front of the top.  **Again, make sure you are cutting on the fold...the fold is at the far left in this picture.  I wanted some pleats on my bottom piece so I cut it about 6 inches wider than the pattern piece (as shown) and added about 3/4" at the top for attaching to the top front (bow) piece.  The only reason you really need the pattern for this part is so you can trace the armhole curve (top right of picture below).

Set this piece aside, and get your top half of the piece you cut.  We will now modify this piece to make the bow detail.  Trace around your cut piece extending the top and left pattern lines to meet (as shown below):

You will now have this.  Cut this piece out.

Now you have your modified piece for the bow front.  Trace this new piece then flip it over and trace again so that you create the entire front bodice piece for the bow:

Your (almost) finished piece should look like this (with a line down the middle where you traced...kind of hard to see in this pice):

Cut down the middle of this piece almost to the very bottom, but do not cut it in half.  It should be connected by a little piece at the bottom, but be able to spread apart as shown.

Spread the piece slightly apart, pin to your fabric and cut out (this will not be on the fold as we are working with the entire front bodice rather than half).  This step just adds some extra fabric so that it can be gathered into a bow.

Using your original bodice piece (from the whole pattern you cut apart), cut out one for the lining.  Your two front bodice pieces should look like this:

Going back to your original, untouched, pattern...cut out one piece on the fold for your back.

Also, cut out another partial piece from this pattern (shown below...just the top part...you can really make it as long as you want).  I cut out only about the top 3.5" of the pattern.  This will be the lining for the back that will make a finished neckline (since we aren't adding a binding or anything).

To create your sleeve pattern, simply trace around your arm hole extending at the top (to allow for gathering) and the side (extending the side determines your sleeve length...you can see I kept mine short).

Again, remembering to cut on the fold (you can see my fold line marked above), your two sleeve pieces should look like this when unfolded:

Phew!  The hard tedious part is over!

Step 2 - Creating "Bow Front":

On your modified front bodice piece, sew two lines of gathering stitches down the middle (one on either side of the middle line).  Gather your piece (shown gathered below) by pulling the bobbin thread on both lines of stitches.  Now you'll have this:

Pin your gathered piece and "regular" bodice piece right sides together.  You will have to manipulate the gathered piece to match it to the "regular bodice", but the shoulder lines and bottom line are easy to match up (do those first) so that it ends up fitting together well.  **Not pictured (sorry!):  Once pinned, sew along the neckline curve ONLY.  It helps to pin everything together so that it doesn't shift, but you will only sew the neckline curve.**

When you flip it right side out (only sewn together at the neckline), it should look similar to the picture below.  Now take a scrap piece of fabric and drape it around your bodice piece (as shown below) to determine how long a piece you will need for the middle of your bow. Make sure you leave a 1/2" extra at the bottom:

Once you determine your middle piece length cut out two pieces 2" wide by your desired length (please cut better than I did...I trimmed them up better after this pic...LOL):

Sew these two pieces right sides together down the long edge:

Flip right side out, fold in half, and sew the ends together using a 1/2" seam allowance to create a loop for the middle of your bow:

Slide this piece over your bodice to the middle, with the seam allowance at the bottom:

At this point, I topstitched the middle piece in place to secure my bow gathers and the middle piece.  However, next time I think I would just secure the gathers before adding the middle piece and then leave the middle piece loose.  You do it however you choose!

Now you have your lovely bow front and just need to assemble the top!

Step 3 - Assembling the Top

Pleat or gather your front piece to match the width of your bow piece.  It's kind of hard to see, but I added two wide pleats at the top of mine.  If you pleat, be sure to pin them in place!

Now, match up your bottom front piece and your bow piece right sides together:

Pin together well, and sew straight across with a 1/2" seam allowance:

When you flip up your bow piece you will now have your completed front piece!  Look how adorable it is already!  Set this piece aside and let's work on the back.

Align your full back piece and your partial piece right sides together (as shown), then sew along ONLY the neckline (just as we did on the front bodice pieces):

When flipped right side out you will have this.  **Add your button closure now if you wish, using THIS tutorial!!**  (As stated above, I realized too late that my neck hole was too small to go over my little one's head.  Had I realized it sooner, I would have added the button closure here.  If you realize too late also, it's really no big deal to add it at the end either.  For those of you making a button closure, you'll just have to imagine it in my pictures :) )

Now, align your front and back pieces right sides together along the shoulders, pin well, and sew straight across both shoulders using a 1/2" seam allowance:

When opened up you now have this...starting to resemble a shirt!

With your pieces still opened up, you will be attaching your sleeves to the armhole curve.  You can see that my sleeve piece is wider than the curve on the shirt.  This was to allow for some gathering/pleating.

To make your sleeve piece fit (if you added extra for gathering), you can sew a gathering stitch along the curve of your piece and gather the sleeve to fit.  Or, you can make a little pleat at the top, as I did (shown below), to make it fit the curve of the top.  See how adding that little pleat allowed the sleeve piece to match up nicely?

Now flip your sleeve piece over (with your pleats pinned), and pin to the curve of your shirt right sides together.  Make sure that the middle of your sleeve matches up with the shoulder seam!  The sleeve seems kind of funny to pin, but I promise it will fit! Sew the sleeve to your shirt along the curve where you pinned.
*Repeat above steps to attach your other sleeve*

And, when flipped right side out...

To finish your sleeve edges you can leave them "raw" (as knits don't fray), make a small hem, or do a lettuce edge, as I did:

To make the lettuce edge you simply set your machine to a wide zig-zag stitch with a short stitch length and sew right along the edge, stretching the fabric from the front and back as you go.  Make sure you stretch your fabric uniformly as you go so that your edge will look neat.

This is what you will have after attaching and finishing your sleeves (again, just imagine the button closure being there...I added mine after my shirt was totally completed...):

I apologize for not getting a picture of this very last step, but thankfully it's the easiest!  I guess I was just in a hurry to finish!  To finish your top simply fold your entire piece (shown above) right sides together, matching up the sides evenly, and sew up your side seams.  If you wish, you can hem the bottom, do another lettuce edge, or leave it raw.  I chose to fold up the bottom 3/4" and secure with a zig-zag stitch.

Tada!!  You just made a super cute little summer top :)  And, it wasn't so bad, right??  If you get stuck, please feel free to contact me and I'll try to help you out!

Your little one is sure to enjoy it as much as mine does!


  1. Supercute top! I'm pinning it!
    Jess, you're an artist!


  2. Love this shirt!! Cannot wait to try it! Thanks!