Pattern Pick for Your 12-piece Wardrobe – Over-Layer Tops

Over-layer tops (aka “jackets”) provide the greatest opportunity to customize the 12-piece wardrobe plan to your own lifestyle, taste and body type. And sewing your own lets you tap into the exact mix of color, style and fit that’s right for you.  From tailored blazers to jean jackets, draped cardigans, vests and even zippered hoodies, these over-layers literally double your mix/match options while they let you create a sleeker, slimmer look and camouflage figure challenges.  What’s not to like?

Let’s start with the most casual iterations and move to more dressed up options.

NOTE: These related posts have suggestions for bottoms and for under-layer tops.

For a jean jacket look, it’s tough to beat Butterick #5616 (below, left) I like View A (but with the collar from View B) especially because it ends with a standard hem rather than a separate topstitched bottom band that would put a strong vertical right across your hips.  The slight dip at the center front hemline adds to the flattery, and you could even exaggerate it a bit more if you wanted. Side seams and darts can be straighted a bit for rectangular and inverted triangle bodies or shaped more for curvy bodies.

Patch pockets are great for adding visual fullness in the bust area; simply omit them if Mother Nature gave you all the fullness you care to have. The three-quarter sleeve gives a taller appearance, but you can also lengthen the sleeve and keep the option to push it or roll it up when you want that look.

If you want a dressier spin on a jean jacket (and you have fairly strong sewing skills) the Cindy Jacket (below center) from StyleArc is a great look for a shaped silhouette and contour hemline.  You could streamline the sewing time by omitting the welt pockets and even the patch pockets.  Designed for wovens, it’s equally compatible with ponte knit.

For a sweateshirt or bomber style, I like McCalls #7636 (below right) even though it needs a few modifications.  The set-in sleeve is more flattering than a shoulder-narrowing raglan cut and it doesn’t have a contrast rib at the bottom to draw attention toward your lower body.  It lands near the waist, which makes it work for curvy figures, and blouses over a bit to balance fuller hips. For a straighter body type you can add a few inches of length so the jacket ends closer to the hipline.

I would modify the sleeve pattern to eliminate the excess fullness at the lower arm and the extra length that blouses over the hand — both style details that add mid-body and hipline bulk to nearly any figure.  Substituting an elastic wrist finish for the rib trim will do even more to keep the focus away from the hip area and let it flow up toward the face.

Draped and cascade jackets and vests are fast to sew, easy to wear and can be dressed up or down the formality scale with accessory choices.  There are many pattern choices; here are a few:

McCall #7484 (below left) is an easy-sew style ideal for ponte knit because the “wrong” side will show.  Includes both jacket and sleeveless vest versions in both misses and womens sizing.

Pamela’s Patterns #110  Cool Cardigan Draped Front (below center) is best suited for soft matte jersey solids or featherweight sweater knits.  To further emphasize the drape, I like to split the front pattern piece vertically near the front edge (parallel to grainline) and spread to add several inches of additional fullness.  The split extends up into the back collar extension, where the fullness is eventually absorbed in the CB shirring.

The Nina Cardigan (below right) from StyleArc has a waistline seam that allows for a more shaped body silhouette.  The cascading front is significantly longer than the back. This style is best in soft jersey.

The Lizzie Top, (below, far right) also from StyleArc, has crisp, angular, slightly Asian styling designed to wear overlapped or folded back.  Best in firm fabrics like ponte knit.

Cardigans provide a slightly more structured, yet relaxed over-layer styling. I like to sew cardigans with a matching shell so I have the option to wear the two as a set or split them to mix with my other tops.

Pamela’s Patterns #108 New Versatile Twin Set (below left) includes various lengths plus the option to turn the facing to the inside for a traditional finish or to the outside for a contrast band.  Ideal in ponte knit.  This is another one where I straighten the shoulder slope a bit to accommodate a shoulder shaper for a more structured look.  (You’ll remember this pattern’s shell was one of the recommended under-layer tops in the previous post.)

The Fay Cardigan (below center) from StyleArc features a front that spreads a bit below the waistline button closure, creating an especially slimming vertical emphasis.  The design has a sewn-in camisole front, but I’d skip that and instead sew a separate under-piece to maximize the mix/match versatility.

Vogue #9011 (below right) is quick and easy to sew, with a stitched-on front band that forms a slight shawl lapel.  Make the short version from a firmer knit or the longer version in a softer jersey.

Front-button shirts can do triple duty – and a stand-alone shirt, as an under-layer and unbuttoned, as an over-layer with a tank or tee underneath.

McCall #3750 by Palmer/Pletsch is beautifully shaped for curved bodies.  What looks like an applied collar is really an extension that rolls back – much quicker and easier to sew.

Butterick #6472 is a straight cut ideal for straighter bodies like rectangles and inverted triangles.  The staggered hemline is oh, so flattering.

The Elsie shirt from StyleArc is another straight cut with staggered hem.  Sleeves can be worn long or rolled into a buttoned tab. Patch pockets add visual bust fullness; skip them if you prefer not to add in that area.  Cute front band/neckline treatment give a distinctive look.

And finally … traditional, lightly-tailored jackets.  These can be worn for career or community leadership roles, and some can also be “roughed up” a bit – pop the collar, push up the sleeves – for polished casual looks with jeans, cords or khakis.

Blazers – always a versatile classic – are an up-and-coming trend for Fall ’17.  All three recommendations below are out of print, but still available on their respective websites.  And new blazer patterns will doubtless show up as this trend continues to emerge.

Butterick #5965 (top left) is a personal favorite, with an easy-sew shawl collar and center-front hook closure, no overlap. I’m a big fan of the shoulder-princess seams that allow easy alteration for full bust, curvier or straighter bodies.  I sew it, unlined and shortened to high-hip length, from stable but flexible ponte knit.

McCall #6172 by Palmer/Pletsch (top center) also provides plenty of fitting points from armhole-princess seams and vertical darts.  Recommend View A for triangles; View B for other body types.

Butterick #5760 (top right) is another shoulder-princess style, this time with a front overlap and a notched collar.

Beyond blazers, the Chanel styling of Vogue #7975 (bottom left) is a perennial favorite.  View B and C are the most flattering length for most bodies.  Shoulder-princess seaming lets you adapt the pattern to your shape and avoid the boxy look many Chanel-style patterns produce.  Sew this in a tweed and consider making a self-fringe trim for just the neckline and front edges, leaving the hemline untrimmed to minimize horizontal emphasis.

StyleArc’s Janet Jacket (bottom center) is a sleek, lined jacket with a double-hook center front closure, slightly raised neckline and great potential for dressing up or dressing down.

If your taste and lifestyle are elegant and your skills are advanced, Vogue #8519 by Claire Shaeffer (bottom right)  might be perfect for you.  Fully lined, with edge bands and in-seam buttonhole, this option isn’t for casual looks.

If you have other favorite patterns for over-layer tops, please share them in the COMMENTS section below.

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.

18 Comments

  1. Bobbie on October 12, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    I plan to make Vogue #8893 by Claire Shaeffer. https://sewing.patternreview.com/Patterns/59960 It is unlined and looks very comfortable.

  2. Judy Kempf on October 12, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Nancy do you ever do group classes in small local towns? Iam over in southern , Il.. small town of New Athens. I have a group of lady’s that are very interested to learn from you.. They wanted to know what you charge to do a class and how many we would need to have if you would consider doing it…..lot of these women are professional women.. I told them how you did my “beauty for all season”and my colors.. They are very interested and they asked me to check with you and see. I have been to a lot of your seminars .years ago……….Judy Kempf// You even did my makeup for me. .Which needs updated. I found this information so interesting because I use”Style Arc ” patterns a lot. I have already made the jean jacket in the middle. I love it.. ido not have the Janet jacket but I will be getting it. I like that high collar.. Thanks Nancy.. if your interested let me know at [email protected]

    • Nancy Nix Rice on October 13, 2017 at 3:08 am

      Sure Judy – I do classes wherever there is an interestd group of 10-12 or so ladies. And Southern Illinois is an easy drive from my home base in St Louis, so even better! I’ll be in touch. Meanwhile you – and the other ladies – can read all about the program at the “Style School” tab on my website. It’ under the drop-down menu for Classes.
      Also happy to her you’re enjoying StyleArc patterns. That midle jean jacket looks like a lot of work – you must be a strong sewer.

  3. Marlette on October 12, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you for the great options in “jacket” styles for those of us who live a daily casual lifestyle like I do since I retired.
    When I see a woman in my age group in the grocery store all dressed in lovely wool slacks, silk blouse and a jacket it reminds me of June Cleaver, the “perfect wife and mother” from Leave It to Beaver. No way do I want to dress like that to do groceries then go home and do laundry, bake and cook dinner. Yes, I do wear a chef’s apron because I don’t like stains on my shirts, but who really lives like that?

    • Nancy Nix Rice on October 13, 2017 at 2:57 am

      It’s equally important to (1) understand what really works for the lives we actually live, and (2) remember that we can – and deserve to – look great every day, whether we’re “dressed up” or not.

    • Cynthia Baker on March 20, 2018 at 10:21 am

      Hi Marlette:

      I’m probably one of the June Cleaver women you see in the markets! I, too, am retired and go out of my way to “dress” when I’m out and about, not only because I feel better about the way I look but also as a foil to all the people in pyjamas! I live in Colorado where ‘dressing for comfort’ has been turned into an art form. I do get the occasional snide remark of “who do you think you are” and “who are you trying to impress”. But I’ve gone off topic: in answer to your comment about cooking and cleaning when dressed like that: I don’t. When I return home, I change out of the wool trousers and jackets and into jeans and a knit top — rather like when we were children and had to change out of one’s school clothes and into play clothes after school. To quote Tom Ford: “Dressing well is a form of good manners”.

      • Nancy Nix Rice on March 20, 2018 at 12:45 pm

        Love the Tom Ford quote! I also “dress up” nearly any time I’m leaving the house, but usually in a way that I can stay in the same clothes at home – great dark-wash stretch jeans or ponte leggings with an asymetrical of two-layer top, for example. My definition of dressed up doesn’t mean impractical or uncomfortable — just put together. I realize that occasionally someone will think I’m a snob because of it, but I compensate by going out of my way to be friendly even to strangers. May not be everyone’s choice, and that’s fine, but I love living my life that way.

        • Cynthia Baker on March 21, 2018 at 11:52 am

          Hi Nancy:

          Thank you for the reply! I change out of my ‘good clothes’ to keep them clean and reduce wear. I have no help with the housework and yardwork, a husband who keeps dogs and cats in the house (I’m not a pet-person myself), and a disabled daughter who lives with us: I usually end up pretty grimy by the end of the day! I, too, go out of my way to be friendly and smiling so while the people who make the snide comments don’t know me, the grocery clerks etc who know me are friendly — which I really appreciate. I agree that everyone should dress in the way that makes them most comfortable (I hope I didn’t come across otherwise.). Thanks, Nancy!

          • Nancy Nix Rice on March 21, 2018 at 12:11 pm

            To each her own – that’s the beauty of this topic. Have fun doing it your way!



  4. Carrie on October 12, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Thank you for all the helpful info! The StyleArc Cindy jacket looks like one I may have to try even though I’ve never sewn one of their patterns before. I like the flattering lines and up to date features it offers.

    You mentioned your recent trip to the Holy Land in your newsletter. I’ll be going there in a few months myself, so I’m hoping you share more about travel clothes and even packing to places like there. I’m in the midst of looking at all the wrong color clothes in my closet, and trying to figure out how to make adjustments for every day and for before I pack. 🙂

    • Nancy Nix Rice on October 13, 2017 at 2:55 am

      The biggest secret to a great travel wardrobe is having a great coordinated wardrobe in the first place. And my best tip for making “wrong” colors work for you is to mix in a few pieces in your hair color and a couple of scarves that can link them into outfits. You can see examples at this link: https://www.nancynixrice.com/wk-13-black-closet/

  5. Elaine Earnshaw on October 16, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    McCalls 6172 by Palmer Pletch. I have this pattern and was thinking of making it in your navy rayon spandex. In fact I was tinkling of making my core wardrobe in that fabric. You recommended it for blondes. I would like to know if this fabric would work well for this. I like to make my own clothes so that they fit well and I really appreciate your post that has so many great pattern suggestions. Thank you Nancy.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on October 16, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      That jacket – and your other core pieces – should work beautifully in the ponte knit and be very comfy as well. You will probably prefer to topstitch or edgestitch the collar and lapel edges for a crisp finish. And I probably wouldn’t line it fully because that would cancel ut the lovely stretch. Consider lining the front just to the princess seam and maybe doing a shoulder area lining in back.
      If you are blonde, you mighjt want to do some additional coordinates in a sandy camel. I just had that color made for us in both ponte and rayon/span jersey. Delivery tomorrow – can’t wait!!! See examples of that combo at https://www.nancynixrice.com/how-can-i-create-a-personalized-look-with-classic-basic-navy-blue/

  6. Lori on March 6, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Hi Nancy – You were wearing a grey version of Pamela Patterns, Cool Cardigans – Draped Front in one of the workshops at SewExpo this weekend and described how you add 2-3 inches to the front. I stopped by a few times to see how you finished the front edge. The edge was crisp/clean and I didn’t notice any top stitching. What kind of finish did you use?

    Thanks for the workshop!

    • Nancy Nix Rice on March 19, 2018 at 6:09 pm

      Two part answer for you Lori:
      1. That jacket isn’t a Pamela pattern; It’s my own design and not a pattern, but there are similar things in the collections of the Big Four. It’s made from our signature ponte knit and the edges are finished by folding under 3/8″ and topstitching along the fold and again along the cut edge. I snipped into the seam allowance at the bottom of the roll line so the turned-under edge is on the back side (under side) of the draped collar and on the opposite side (the “new” under side) along the lower front edge.
      2. I do often sew the Pamela’s Pattern Draped Cardi, usually in softer jersey fabrics. And I do split that pattern vertically near the front edge and up thru the back-neck extension, adding 3 or more inches to get more drape into the front. The extra is just gathered into the center back neckline seam.

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    • Nancy Nix Rice on August 13, 2018 at 9:04 am

      So glad you found it helpful. One other source for advice about pattern selection is the website PatternReview.com. Good luck on your presentation.

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