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Feb 6, 2010

"Aye aye, Caftan!" - WITH POLL

Remember this fabric I bought on Monday with the intention of making Michael a shirt?

From Butterick 3625 - mens caftan

Well, after washing and ironing it, I realized it was too lightweight and transparent for a regular shirt, but would make a very nice caftan top.

Remember how yesterday I mentioned the vintage caftan pattern -- my very first vintage pattern in fact -- I'd bought last June and made into this shirt that I never wore out of the house (and that necklace is Michael's, btw; I do not wear shells, bones, etc.)?

From Butterick 3625 - mens caftan

Well I decided to have another go at it.  I really took pains this time, and with more advanced skills, I was able to do a better job.  There were two particular challenges: the fabric was plaid -- always complicated -- and it was a very loosely-woven cotton that tended to shift and whose stripes were easily pulled out of alignment. (I guess this is what you get for $2 a yard). 

What made things more challenging -- and ultimately frustrating -- was that I tried to incorporate my new Brother 1034D serger into the construction but my serger skills are not (yet) what they might be.

You see, I still haven't decided HOW best to use my serger:  1) to finish the seam allowances (instead of overcasting); or 2) to actually create the seam itself; or 3) baste with my Singer Spartan and go over it with the serger, so that it looks like #2.

I haven't developed good serger judgement yet and I ended up doing a little of both.

For example, I attached the sleeve without a problem on my Singer, but then when I went over it with the serger, I had a harder time controlling the fabric as it fed into the machine and in a few places it left puckers in the armscye where there hadn't been any before (sob).

You know how they say when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?  Well I think that's kind of the situation I'm in with this serger.  I love it and I want to use it (bang bang).

But this caftan was a project that would have turned out better without it.  For example, if I hadn't had the serger, I would have used French seams on the sleeves and torso, which would have been prettier.  And I would never have ended up with puckers in my armscye using my trusty Singer Spartan. 

So here it is.

From Butterick 3625 - mens caftan

I'm OK with it and Michael seems to like it as well.  Some judicious steaming should erase most of the puckering, since the fabric is so loose and stretchy to begin with.  I'll probably hem the sleeves by turning up the serged edge (which I've left exposed here) and stitching on top to create a simulated overlock look.

I'm especially proud of the placket:

From Butterick 3625 - mens caftan

Nice, right?

But the caftan overall?  I'm a little "meh" about it.  Maybe it's the fabric, or that collar band, or the fact that we're in the midst of a MAJOR WINTER STORM WARNING and I'm sewing for Ipanema beach.

I think if you're going to wear a caftan, you should look like this.  Not just physically, but the whole scene.

Maybe I just need to take my pants off.

What do YOU think?

You can also read my pattern review here.


  1. I think the top would look really nice with a pair of shorts made in the darker (brown?) colour that is in the caftan fabric. You have done a great job with it.
    I mostly use my serger for finishing seams, especially on wovens. So I would sew the seam on my machine and then use the serger to finish the seam allowances. Also for creating a nice finish for turning up and hemming on sleeves and bottoms of pants/tops. It's always a good idea to practice on your serger with a scrap of your garment fabric to determine tension etc.
    Sometimes you can serge an entire garment, things like t-shirts or pajama pants/boxers. Then just hem using your normal machine.
    Again, it's all practice and getting used to your machine. Have fun!! By the way, I love your blog.

  2. After getting advice to do what Sue does (sew on a sewing machine, finish on the serger) I ended up putting away my serger because my machine does a really nice overcast stitch, and using it is much faster than pulling out and threading the serger!

    Interestingly, I know a lot of people who will use the serger to overcast all the edges of their cut out fabric, then use a sewing machine to join them (this seems to be how everyone sews in Germany, at least).

    Agreed though, I don't know how you can get into a caftan mode in this gray brrrrr! In a couple months you might like them a lot better.

  3. That image has GOT to be from International Male. I remember when my roommate used to subscribe. Let's just say we both enjoyed reading it.

  4. serging is like cooking. when you first get a stove and a french cookbook, you think every night is soufflé au fromage and boeuf bourguignon. Eventually you figure out when it's really just time for some macaroni and cheese. Experience is really all that will tell you. Which basically means you have a great excuse to serge away to your heart's content. You know, for research purposes.

    Why wasn't "Take your pants off" one of the poll choices?

  5. I use my serger a lot for a finished edge on seams. As far as sleeves go, it depends, but I find it's best to use the serger to overcast all the edges of the fabric around the armscye and the sleeve edge and then use a sewing machine to join them. That way you get a nicely finished, non raveling edge, but no puckering or changes int he attached sleeve.

  6. While you may be meh about it now, this will look great in the summer with short shorts and sandals. You did a great job on the placket.

    That caftan on the beach pic made me laught out loud. So ridiculously over-the-top. I mean, what beach is that?!

  7. I think it looks great on you. Really nice job on the plaid fabric. Caftans are great for hot weather, as the guy at the beach shows above (he has nothing on your legs)...

  8. great work on the caftan, especially that placket! As far as sleeves go, I wouldn't always use the overlocker on them - if I was, I'd overlock edges together first, then stitch with sewing machine. But on that kind of garment / fabric maybe an encased seam (can't remember the name without looking - not a french seam, the other one!) would be stronger.

  9. Gorgeous job on the caftan, especially with that plaid!

    I know I should have voted to see it on Michael, but then you had to go and mention Flashdance. Is Cathy willing to have about 1,000 gallons of water dumped on her? And do you have a steel mill handy?

  10. With knits and wovens, I go directly to the serger for straight seams, and usually use 3 threads. For curved seams (or if I really want to be careful), I use my regular machine first, then run the serger 1/8" to the left of it, so the seam is trimmed and neat, but I'm not messing up the nice and clean seam I made first.
    I like the caftan, regardless of the beach or male model. Wear it with pride!

  11. Have you thought of shortening the sleeves into 3/4 lenght ? With shorts (not too baggy please!) or fitted straight-legs chinos in a light colour ... would look great, I think, on you OR Michael.

  12. Oh my goodness, Peter - how have I not known of your existence?

    I have a handful of vintage mens patterns I have no use for (the return on my time just isn't high enough to sell them on my etsy) - would you be interested in taking them off my hands for the cost of first class postage?

    Drop me an email at if you're interested and I'll start gathering them together for you.

  13. It's near impossible to answer that poll without an "all of the above" option. (Though I don't usually link plaid and Flashdance.) Very well done.:) I love your blog.

  14. Trudy from HotPatterns xxxFebruary 6, 2010 at 7:32 PM

    On you, with pants most certainly off. Ahem.

  15. Oh, these comments made me laugh and thanks for all the serger advice. I ironed the caftan today and I must say it's looking better.

    Flashdance...what a memory!

    I promise to post a pic of Michael in the caftan as soon as we have some sun, since that seems to be the way the voting is headed. Go figure!

  16. Came out nicely, especially the placket on the bias. Many advocated sewing first then serging to the side of the seam to finish. That's what I do. Even so, it still feels hard to control at times. There are times I rely on the old overcast on the machine rather than rethread the serger.

  17. Nice caftan Peter, even though you feel 'meh'. I suspect what this pattern needs is some outrageously loud material.
    Re using the serger. It takes time to learn how to control the darn things, especially on curved edges. I find on tricky seams I use the sewing machine first,then serge. On straightforward seams where I am absolutely sire of the fit I just go and serge them.
    CAn I share my foolproof changeing thread on serger method/
    Have a scrap of material ready to sew on. Cut the right hand spool thread with about six inches to spare. Tie on the new thread looping both threads through once (not granny not, it will come undone) leaving a one inch tail. Serge until it comes through visible on the scrap. Repeat with the next most right hand spool. Serge through. Now with the two left hand ones, cut them both off near the needles (have both needles in uppermost position of course) Pull the old threads through backwards. Thread the new thread through the machine and the needle,pulling about three inches of extra. Repeat with the last thread. Serge until all the new threads are humming along nicely. I hope this helps.

  18. The placket came out GREAT! I have a serger and I mostly use it to finish seams. I sew the main seam with my conventional machine and then finish with the serger. This works great on sewing jeans in eliminating the bulk of all those layers. It works great on rolled hems too; just takes a little while to get use to the nuiances of this type of machine. Nice project!

  19. How have I missed this blog? The shirt is darling on you. Maybe you can let Michael borrow it now and then. This ugly winter weather will be gone in two months. Think summer, think brown or taupe shorts, beach shoes and evenings on the patio, grilling and sipping something light, sweet and bubbly. I think you did a great job with this. I also have this pattern, I think. Thanks for the tips on the placket. Now make something very cozy. As for serger advice, I don't think I can improve on what's already been said. Best thing to do is make some knit lounge wear and get it out of your system.

  20. Excellent comments from those above about using a serger. Sewing the seam first and then serging works fine on patterns with a 5/8" seam allowance. However, many newer patterns use 1/4" or 3/8" allowances. The 1/4" s.a. enables you to serge and overcast at the same time. This is what I do on knits.

    On woven fabrics, I usually serge first without removing any fabric, just cutting the stray threads and evening out any irregularities. I then sew the seam on the sewing machine. On the armseye and side seams, I press the seam allowance to the shirt side for the armseye and back for the side seams and sew a second time with the needle hitting just inside the edge of the seam. This creates a faux flat felled seam. (I think this is the finish that Clare could not remember the name of.) If you have a felling foot, you can use that and forget serging because the raw edges are encased.

    I also like serging the hem of a shirt and then pressing the serged area to the wrong side. Your hem will be automatically consistant with this technique. Then I sew on what was previously the raw edge of the hem. If the fabric is heavier, I sometimes stop here. On lighter fabrics, I press it up a second time and stitch again.


  21. What a FEELING, Peter, let's stick with the Flashdance theme here!

    Oh, how that movie enraged my 15-year-old, ballet-school-attending self! Imagine a skinny child with hair shellacked back in an immoveable bun, stamping blistered feet and loudly proclaiming that there's NO WAY that could happen! Never ever!

  22. I like this top and your placket is terrific. I'm not sure the plaid look suits you, but I love the original blue one on you, so what do I know? Two winters ago I made my bloke a full length caftan in brown fleece (also from a vintage pattern) that he wears around the house in winter because he can be naked underneath and still stay warm (he doesn't like wearing clothes). As for sergers (overlockers where I'm from), I find that I use mine less and less. If I'm just knocking out utilitarian garments for work I sew the seam as normal and then overlock the edge for speed and convenience. When I make clothes for my bloke, I usually flat fell or do french seams to make them as comfortable as possible (remember he doesn't like wearing clothes). I have made knit tops and t shirts completely on the serger, but I don't like the thickness of the seam, so for knits I have reverted to sewing them with a stretch stitch on the machine and twin needling the hems. If, however, I'm sewing with a boucle or something thick or that will unravel easily, I will actually overlock all pieces before I sew. I don't know how to use any of the features on my overlocker, so perhaps if I took the time to read the manual and learn how to do some of the other things, I would use it more. It doesn't stop me from wanting a coverstitch machine.

  23. I love both versions of this top! I'm sure you'll appreciate them much more once it's summery instead of snowy. ;)

  24. Both caftans are really nice and you and Michael should wear them.

    I use my serger a lot to finish seams after they are sewn. Sometimes I finish the seam edges before they are sewn, but one has to be careful that the fabric edges are not drawn up so set up the machine for taut sewing when doing that.

    When finishing the armhole edges remember that one edge is concave and one convex making the amount of fabric taken up in the seam finish unequal. To compensate for that. I clip along the concave seam (this would be the garment body) and then hold the seam straight as it is running into the serger. This technique is especially helpful if you want to top stitch from the right side to make a mock fell seam.

  25. This is fantastic! I am in utter awe of the placket as well. And...maybe it's better suited to a warmer climate...but then, if you live in the city, you can probably get away with just about anything if you wear it with that certain joie de vivre, right? Or just accessorize with a piña colada. That'll do quite nicely I think. ;)



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