Testing Pipi & The Shells

Last week, I requested help testing the fun-but-odd Sea Star Tunic, part of the upcoming Tidepool Collection.  Thanks so much for your response!  Our testing in the FB group sort of broke out into a Sewalong this week, and it’s been really good to explore the design with everyone! It’s still in progress and I’m still on the fence about whether she’s a good addition to the Cake catalog, but it’s been really lovely to share the sewing through the group. More on that later!

Meanwhile, I have another pattern ready to test!  This is the Pipi Shell- the first of a series of Shell patterns.  While Sea Star is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it design, the Shells are more like ordinary clothes.  I like that, making clothes.  I learned to sew to make costumes, pretty dresses, weird stuff I couldn’t find anywhere outside my imagination.  Somewhere along the line, I accidentally fell into sewing knits and realized how satisfying it is to stitch up little tops and things I could wear over and over and over again.
It can be really challenging to create clothing that doesn’t scream “home made” to non-sewists.  I find the simpler the garment, the harder this can be.  Part of this is due to the industrial machines/practices used to make mass-produced clothing, and part of this is the techniques and fabrics used by the sewist/pattern.  Earlier this year, I started obsessing over creating the perfect knit sleeveless top.  I spent weeks playing with different arm shapes and techniques, working to make a tank top in my sewing room that looked like clothes– but better.

Ready-To-Wear (RTW) tank tops can be problematic.  In my experience, they’re often too long or too short, the material is too thin, or the top leaves me feeling exposed.  That’s not to mention the fact that most “fast fashion” of the tank-top variety is made under questionable ethics and labor practices.  Where I live, the temperature doesn’t dip below freezing, and most of the year is pretty balmy (or gasping hot).  I researched RTW tanks for a while in scores of local shops, at all price points.  There’s no shortage of tanks around here!  I took note of necklines, arms, finishes and problem spots.  I realized that the vast majority across the brands were made from a handful of boring bases, with the variety in design coming from fabric choice and embellishments rather than interesting cuts.

Slowly, I developed the Shell concept, a set of design specs for some knit tank top patterns:

    • No bra showing– I don’t have words to express how much I hate it when my bra shows.  That means bra straps, underarm bra, any of it.  I also wanted to work on covering underarm squidge, which so often overflows RTW tanks.
    • Breezy- Like I said, it’s usually hot here, so I wanted the Shells to balance “no bra” with as much breeziness as possible.  That means low-ish backs, open necklines, and sometimes a shorter length.
    • Option for Coverage- I thought the Shells should have a plain back option, if not also a plain boat front.
    • Back Detail- I’ve always, always been a fan of nifty back details! I wanted details that were both eye-catching and integral to maintaining the structure of a low-back.
    • All the Neckline Shapes- Pipi is a curved-front v-neck, the back is steeper. Other Shells have Queen Anne, Square, Scoop and other shapes, neatly bound with self-fabric.
    • Length Options- Shells are built on Cake’s Grid Guide concept, which allows for very easy customization of length and width.
  • Easy Fitting- There’s an intuitive, particular way to adjust the base Shell to mold the armscye nicely around the arm, and it’s laid out clearly in the pattern.  I wanted this to work really well for all sizes, so Susan and I spent a few weeks batting arm-shapes back and forth.
  • Standalone/Layering- I thought the shapes should be tested and work on a variety of fabrics, from sweater knits for layering vests to cotton-spandex casual tops, to lightweight base layers.
  • Excellent Finishing- The arm holes use a very neat, easy to apply interior binding that leaves no seam bits exposed.
  • Hack Friendly- I made the Shells so it’s easy to lay one down on top of The Tee pattern to make a Tee with all the necklines!
Pipi Test10

No Bra! No Side boob!

Tall order, right?  Yes!  It was like a puzzle I couldn’t put down.   Pipi and her sisters are part of the reason I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been working to fit all those things into a little sleeveless top pattern!   I’m really delighted that Pipi (and others) are nearly complete now as patterns, and it’s time to test her on a wider variety of bodyshapes.  She’s been pre-tested quite a bit (we really obsessed over the arm shape and pulled in others to play!), but I want another solid round of testing before we release this new shape.

If you’re interested in testing Pipi with me and Susan, leave a comment on our FB page and/or message me with your FB-connected email address.  I’d like to have a dozen or so testers to work out any last kinks.  We’ll ship you a paper Pipi next week, and I’ll add you to the private Cake Testing Group where we can chat, discuss the sewing, and see what everyone is working on.

What criteria would you add to the list for your perfect sleeveless top?  What is the thing you look for and never find, your sleeveless “holy grail”?


  1. Just wanted to say how great it is to have you back here Steph, I missed 3 hrs past both while you were ill and when you moved focus to cake.com. Good luck with all the testing & developing 😄

  2. Even though I don’t sew to make my own clothes, one of the things I like about reading your blog is that you explain how the structure of clothes works, which even for a non-clothes-maker is so much more useful than reading sites that tell you e.g. how to build a capsule wardrobe without explaining why some things work and some don’t. (Not that I am building a capsule wardrobe, that was just an example). I love the back detail on this one!

    • Thanks, Trees…! I want to make one plain black, see how she looks in a dark plain… So far I can’t resist the urge to use a contrast fabric for the twists….

  3. Hi Steph- I would love to be a tester for Pipi- however I do not Facebook. I follow you on Twitter and Instagram however, and have purchased Cake patterns via Etsy. I am obviously on your email list for newsletters. I am @bernadettepian on Instagram. Hope that you are having a great weekend. Best, Bernadette

    • Thanks, Bernadette… I know you! :) Well, so far the Facebook group has been really great for testing, letting us share photos of the work among everyone at one time and easily allowing everyone to compare notes/keep in contact… If you decide to make an account later definitely message me, I’d love to have you.

  4. Can’t wait for these. And now that you (will) have tanks and you have the shrugs, put them together for a cute twin set.

    • Thanks, Ginger! Heh, I was thinking up little sweatery things to pair with these and realized we have Cocoa and Carmine for it! :) Great minds think alike…

  5. I am loving seeing you in action again! I would love to test the tank pattern, even though it’s the beginning of our autumn here (still 21 – 24 average) – if you still need testers. My problem with most knit tops is that I find they scrunch up in my back waist and ride up my hips – so sway back adjustment and widening hips is always a factor. I’ve also just realised recently that my upper back is a bit short after I folded in a half inch all the way across a fabric sort of tank top at the upper back and neatly solved the gaping front armhole and the baggy top back in one fell swoop!

    • Hey! Good to “see” you, F! I like your solution to the gape issue, straightforward and direct. Was it on a pattern or an existing top?

      • hey Steph:). It was a pattern, which I actually muslinned – I have recently gotten the muslin bug – something I never really had… the only things I muslinned were colette’s juniper pants, which ended up fitting me right out of the envelope, and her Laurel, same story… made me overconfident so when I made a dress from her book this summer I didn’t bother and ended up spending way too much time fitting the bodice:(. I was actually working with 40s and 50s top patterns – you know the type, slightly extended (or very extended)shouders, wide Vs, fitted darted waist – which I was then planning to make in pretty voile. I knew about the whole bullet bra/corset thing, and thought I wouldn’t like darts half way up my boobs, so I actually muslinned. Since then I’ve been folding in this half inch like crazy and it works a charm:). Now I’m trying to figure out how to do it on things with sleeves…. Must say though I love vintage patterns for their neck or shoulder darts. Whatever happened to easing back shoulders in? No wonder modern patterns stick out behind my neck – these don’t, cos of the darts!
        btw – I’m on FB.

  6. Those are beautiful tops Steph! (The ‘popsicle’ fabric is fabulous, although it’s the wrong season up here for it, I love the colours). Personally, I’m not a sleeveless top wearer, but the back details and neckline are very, very nice.
    So pleased to see you back in action!

    • Thanks, Fiona. I’m so in love with this fabric, too, and pleased I have a bit more for maybe another shell… :) It’s good to be back.

  7. Hi Steph,

    Not sure if you remember me but you taught me to see at Sewco. I really want to thank you for being part of my sewing journey! You are a brilliant teacher and I’m now pursuing this creative outlet. I recently completed a cert 4 in fashion design at Tafe and am currently teaching Home Ec at a school but am looking to work more in the fashion/sewing side of things so I can work from home with my kids. You are such an inspiration and I hope our paths cross again at some point.


    • Yes, I do remember you Kim! It was a pleasure to teach you a few things, and I’m delighted to know that you’re still using and building your skils!! Do you want to sell clothing for sale or make patterns? I hope our paths cross, too, I’m further down the coast now but I do get up to Brisbane every now and then…!

  8. I’m so glad you’re back at it again, Stephanie :-) I wear a lot of tanks so I’m really looking forward to this pattern. Most of the tank patterns I’ve sewed that fit around my ample chest gape badly around the armhole so I’m looking forward to seeing how you’ve dealt with the fitting in your pattern:-) Your new place of residence looks great btw (tiny bit jealous where I am, way too close to the arctic circle). All the best to you and yours, Christina

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