Copycat Fashion: Backless beauty tutorial-ish (Intermediate – Advanced)

Buckle in readers, today’s post is quite long. It involves drafting fancy shoulders and a backless shirt. So bear with me, it’ll all be worth it. I hope.

I got a dress form for an early Christmas present! Hooray! So I’ve been playing with some drape. My first project is inspired by this shirt I found on Pinterest. (Please, ignore the weirdness on the model’s back. Poor girl’s waist curve was moved over so far in post-production, her head’s bigger than her ribs! Or she’s just standing at a really contorted angle. Either way, it’s freaky if you look at it too long.)

I like the idea of backless shirts, but somehow they always move around just a little too much for me to feel comfy, even with a bra. I just feel like I’ll flash my bra at everyone, and that’s weird, no matter how pretty it is — if your bra is showing, it should be intentional! So I’m always on the lookout for something pretty and functional, no specialty bra required. In this case, that means bra-less, but it’s secure, and the girls are fairly well contained/supported, so it’s all good for me. It’d be painful to run a marathon, but that’s not really what I plan on doing.

Supplies:

  • Nice, sturdy, slightly stretchy fabric. I used something unknown that I had laying around. It has the tiniest bit of horizontal stretch to it, which helps it lie flatteringly without the need for much shaping. It’s also sturdy enough that there’s little to no show-through in the front, even in the cold.
  • Chiffon or similar floaty fabric for the back
  • Sturdy jersey for the lower back strap

The Process:

Take your measurements like you were making a shirt block. Across the shoulders, across the bust, under the bust, around the armhole, the narrowest part of the waist, the length from shoulder to hip. If you sew a lot, you should have these measurements written down and saved somewhere, even if you mostly use patterns. It’s just good to know the dimensions of your body. You shirt block should have a center back seam.

In the picture, it looks like the opaque fabric makes up the back shoulders as well as the front and collar. This appealed to me; I hate hemming sheer fabric, and it’s good to have a little more structure around the arm that is also visually interesting. So I took my shirt “block,” cut out two complete back pieces from sheer fabric, then sliced a few pieces off of the ‘pattern’ and drafted shoulders from that. If I were working with a real pattern, it’d look something like this:

Or, if you’re measuring them out, it’ll look kinda like this:Sheer shirt back pattern alteration

Draw a big square, and make it into two triangles. And then curve the hypotenuse into the shape of the sleeve opening and cut out. Both shoulders, bam.

Draw a big square, and make it into two triangles. And then curve the hypotenuses into the shape of your sleeve opening and cut out. (Here I’ve only curved one hypotenuse in messy chalk.) Both shoulders, bam.

Add seam allowance to your new pattern pieces. For the shoulders, make sure to add seam allowance all the way around — you’ll see why in a moment.

Cut the back pieces from sheer fabric. Depending on how sheer your fabric is, and what look you’re going for, you might want to cut two of your sheer fabric and layer them.

Note: To save yourself some headache, try and cut the sheer pieces so that the center back is on the selvedge. That way you don’t have to finish it with bias tape or anything.

Since I’m not using a real pattern, I cut a rectangle for the front and two for the back, cut out some draft shoulder pieces, pinned the whole thing on my dress form and made visual adjustments. There might be a better way to do this, but that’s how I did it.

Constructing the shoulders:

You’ll want to cut 4 shoulder pieces instead of two. Basically, you’ll be encasing the raw edge of the sheer fabric inside the shoulder pieces, covering the sheer shoulder with the opaque shoulder.

So first, take two of your shoulder pieces and pin, right sides together, sewing along the curved edge.

Now, cover the sheer edges. Pictures with captions might be the best way to explain:

Cut four, sew two together along curved edge.

Cut four, sew two together along curved edge.

Press open edges under. This will make things much easier.

Press seam allowance before turning; this will make things much easier. Then, turn and topstitch the curved edge.

My fabric absolutely refused to press, so you won’t see a nicely turned-under seam allowance in my pictures. Instead, I used lots of pins.

Insert the edge of your sheer piece into your shoulder piece. You're looking at the wrong side of the fabric right now. (With my fabric it's hard to tell.)

Insert the edge of your sheer piece into your shoulder piece. You’re looking at the wrong side of the fabric right now. (With my fabric it’s hard to tell.)

From here on out, the pictures are sideways for a while. To me, they’re easier to parse — that may not be the case for you, in which case, I’m sorry.

Here's the right side. See how there's pins holding the seam allowance down? Stitch there.

Here’s the right side. See how there’s pins holding the seam allowance down? Stitch there. The other side of the shoulder piece will be loose for now. The pinned line should be pretty straight; it looks a little curved in this picture and I’m not sure why.

Now, fold the loose side and pin the seam allowance under. You will have a sort of sandwich, with the sheer piece as the filling. Stitch.

Now, fold the loose side and pin the seam allowance under. You will have a sort of sandwich, with the sheer piece as the filling. Stitch. Looks more like it’s supposed to in this picture, with the armhole shape at the top of the picture, and the straight line at the bottom, covering the sheer.

That’s by far the most complicated part of the process. After that, I just french seamed the shoulders and sides together. For the front armhole, I just folded over the fabric and made a little dart for the armhole “facing.” Is that bad? Probably, but it looked nice so I left it. The dart helped add shape to the front without having it be too tight and squashy.

From there, I just bound the top and added a buttonhole with one small button. No real collar, to speak of. Then, I sewed up a long, 3-inch-wide rectangle, turned it right-side out, and handstitched the edges inside the front of the shirt. The stretch of the strap allows me to pull the shirt over my head, while still leaving the back loose and breezy. I chose to do one strap instead of two because I just kind of like it better.

You can see how in my version, the sheer back overlaps. That’s because the back is so very sheer. I wanted there to be room for the swaying and the parting, but didn’t feel like it really needed a gap like in the picture.

Finally, I chose to do minimal finishing on my sheer edges, just lightly melting them with a lighter. I like the touch of deconstruction look on it, if you embark on this project you might want to invest in fray check or black binding.

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Yes, that’s a crate with a viola bow in it. I… just deal with it, OK?

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