For a while I’ve had this image of a garment pieced together in layers like geological strata.  But I put off making it because figuring out the pattern (all those seam allowances!) seemed daunting. Then one day in the shower it occured to me that I didn’t need to make a pattern at all— I could make it in stages (“organically” as Myrna calls it) and fit the pieces together as I went.

“Geological” is still a good metaphor though because this might be the slowest garment I’ve sewn yet.  I started by going through my fabric closet and picking out a bunch of fabrics with similar weights.  I cut these into long strips about 4-5″ wide so I could piece together the inset.  I did the piecing very freely, letting the inset gradually curve, and occasionally holding up to myself to see where it would fall.  At the end I redid a couple of seams to adjust the curvature:

Next I cut the basic pattern pieces from a ponte knit.  (I traced the pattern from a favorite Old Navy tunic/minidress thing.  I made the back and front almost the same with just a little more room in the shoulders on the back.  The sleeves are symmetric.)  In a sketch I’d made I had a contrasting stripe at the bottom, so I auditioned various fabrics before selecting a lighter-weight knit in a similar (but lighter) muddy taupe.  Here’s the inset laid on the front of the tunic:

Next I drew (with tailors chalk) on the inset where I wanted it to show and trimmed the edges to the correct width (plus 1/4″ seam allowance).  I drew the same shape on the tunic front and cut that out, marking where a couple of the pieces should fall to help me line up the curved seams.  Keeping the seam allowances narrow was key to all of this working out.  Also, careful pressing.  Here’s the front with the inset inserted, before final pressing and topstitching:

Because I was going so slowly, I thought to add a lining to the back of the inset (made from the same lightweight knit as the hem-band).  This should keep the wool bits of the inset from scratching and it allowed me to finish the bottom edge neatly.

After that it was pretty easy to sew front and back together and add the sleeves.  At the moment the sides are only basted— it does fit, but I don’t really want it to get stretched out by my 7-months-pregnant belly.  Sometime next winter, after my shape has stabilized, I’ll serge the sides.

Overall this was a fun slow project.  I got to use a bunch of fabrics that I love but aren’t all that practical for me for a full garment (i.e. wool suitings).  I enjoyed piecing together the inset and solving various construction problems without worrying about how it might fit.  And it nicely brought together some of the things I’ve been playing with in art (abstraction, variation in spatial frequency, earth tones) with garment sewing.

The pace of this project was also well suited to writing up a manuscript (which we finally submitted last night, hooray!), being generally pregnant and sleepy, and paying attention to a 3-year old.  Which is to say I expect there to be more “geological” projects in my future.