The Cover-Me-Pretty Cami, Part One

Cover001In my book, “Embracing Beauty” I talk about the challenge to dress well in the busy, harried season of motherhood when you’re never one size more than 3 weeks in a row. It can be a challenge to find clothes that fit, much less make you feel beautiful. But I believe beauty is essential motherhood, so here’s one of my favorite tricks for embracing beauty–and this one isn’t just for moms! (Check out the book here!)


What do the above pretty camisoles all have in common?

  • They fit me perfectly
  • They’re modest
  • They each cost $2 or less
  • I made them

And if you have a sewing machine, some intermediate sewing skills, and a big, old t-shirt, you can make them, too!

When the Layered Look came out several years ago, I become a fan almost instantly. It’s not often that a new fad is both comfy and modest, and so easily adapted by those of us who choose not to show off all our stuff. Adding this fitted layer as the foundation of an outfit suddenly opened a world of wardrobe opportunities, redeeming sheer blouses, too-low tops, and those comfy hip-hugger pants that never really met your shirt.

The ideal layering camisole has a close fit and good elasticity, allowing it to act as a second skin under whatever else you’re wearing. Another thing I look for, with my long torso, is  generous length, as well as a neckline high enough to let me be active without revealing what’s supposed to be hidden. ☺ I found my perfect layering cami at Down East Basics 4 years ago, and have been collecting and wearing them ever since. They even had maternity tanks, and I planned on treating myself to a few with my next pregnancy. Imagine my dismay when I logged on a few months ago, and found their maternity line discontinued! That loss and the fact that I am now growing out of my regular wonder camisoles, drove me to perfect my knit sewing techniques and create my own perfect tank top – the Cover-Me-Pretty Cami.

You, too, can create a modest, comfortable layering camisole with the following tutorial. Mine are maternity, but that just means I’ve added an inch or two in width around the middle. You will make yours using your own favorite, strap-style tank top for a pattern, so it will fit you perfectly. If you don’t have a tank top you want to clone, choose one that comes close – you can add length or breadth or a little more to the neckline very easily. You just need a general idea to start with.  Are you ready? Let’s get started!

Step 1. Go Shopping. (Don’t you love me already?☺) Head to the thrift store and the Plus Sized section – this is my best source for knit fabric! What you’re looking for is a good-quality, mostly cotton t-shirt with some nice stretch to it. Something with 3-5% lycra or spandex is ideal, though a sturdy %100 cotton will work. Long sleeves is great, but I’m actually gonna show you how to do it with a short sleeve shirt, ’cause that’s what I had.You can also go to the fabric store and get a yard or so of knit fabric – I’ll show you how to use that option, too.

The shirts I got for $1 each, ready to be re-fashioned

2. Laying out your pattern. At this point you want to make sure the t-shirt you found is bigger than the tank you’re using for the pattern. Here I’ve laid my pattern-tank down on top of the t-shirt, and also on a length of fabric I’m going to use for a second tank – yup, plenty of room. Now, the scoop on the lavender t-shirt was so low, I’m actually going to cut the back of my tank out of the front of the shirt, and the front of my tank, which needs more length, out of the back. No big deal.

I have just enough fabric from the shirt and the cloth – I’ll be able to make two new tanks today!

3. Cutting Out. Next you want to fold  the t-shirt in half down the front – just one layer. Fold your pattern-tank the same way, and lay it on top of the t-shirt, matching the fold and the bottom hem. You are going to use the existing hem on the t-shirt for the hem on your Camisole, which is a nice short cut.
If you are using yardage, just lay your tank along a folded edge of the fabric, with the stretchiest part of the fabric parallel with what will be the hem of your cami. We will talk about finishing your raw edges later.

Folding my shirt, laying the tank down, and tracing the pattern

Trace around the edge of your pattern-tank with a pencil or seamstress marker, adding 1/4 for seam allowances. Cut out front and back pieces.

left: my back piece; right: my front.

The other thing you need to cut out is strips of binding, to finish the top edges of your cami, as well as to make straps. Ideally, these pieces should be cut across the stretchiest part of the fabric (which would be parallel with the hem of the original t-shirt). Cut strips 1 1/2 in. wide, and as long as you can get them from wherever you find extra fabric in your shirt.

 There’s not much left of this t-shirt, but I found just enough to make the binding!

I found a piece out of the back, two strips salvaged from the sleeves, and a nice big piece from the original neck binding, which, thankfully, was unusually wide! If, however, you found a t-shirt with some Lycra or spandex content, you’ll find that it stretches nearly as well in the up-and-down direction as side to side, so you can cut your binding strips from the length of long sleeves, if you’ve got them, or from the side edges of the body of the shirt.

You’ll need about 30 in. total – one piece that is as long as the front neck edge between the straps, plus at least 20 total inches of strips that you can sew together to make one long piece of binding.

A Word on Equipment

Now, we’re gonna talk about equipment. If you have a serger, now is the time to use it – this tank uses very simple techniques (just straight stitching with the serger!) so it’s good even for beginner serger sewers. If you do not have a serger – relax! I wrote directions for you, too, and you can get just as great a look and sturdy construction with your sewing machine! From now on I will include directions for sergers and sewing machines – I’m making the hot pink tank on my serger, and the lavender one completely on my sewing machine, just to show you it can be done. (and because I didn’t have lavender serger thread!☺)

5. Sewing – Side Seams. The first seams are your side seams on your cami.

With a serger:
You need only a basic, one needle/three-thread binding stitch for the whole project. I have my stitch width set at 2 1/2.

Place your front and back pieces wrong sides together and serge up both sides.

With a sewing machine:
You want a small zig-zag stitch for this seam – about an 1/8 of an inch wide, and about 10 stitches per inch.  Place your front and back pieces wrong sides together and sew up both sides, back tacking at the begining and end of your seams.

I recommend starting at the Hemline and sewing up towards the arm holes, as it is your existing hem that you want to be straight – if you’re off a bit at the armhole, you can trim it later.

6.Prepping Binding. 
If using a serger: Prepare your binding by serging your strips together to make one long strip, besides the short one we talked about earlier. As you serge, trim these strips down to 1 inch wide. Iron the strips almost in half lengthwise, just a bit off center, so one side peeks out from behind the other.

If using a sewing machine: Prepare your binding by sewing your strips together to make your one long strip, besides your short one we talked about earlier. Then, iron these pieces in half lengthwise, and in half again.

You’ll be sandwiching the neck edges of your cami with this binding – the folded edge will face out, and the raw edges will be inside, and you won’t have to worry about them raveling because they’re knit. ☺

Continued in Cover-Me-Pretty Cami, Part Two

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  1. says

    This is awesome! I love the whole idea of it – and will DEFINITELY be trying it this week while I'm off from work! Thanks for sharing!