Monday, August 10, 2020

Of Gaps, Gapes, and Stretchy Buttonholes (aka mending for modesty)

I have this top that’s really comfortable yet looks crisp even on hot days. It’s down to the fabric: mostly cotton with just a touch of spandex in it. Wonderful stuff that it is, it’s not always so great when it comes to buttonholes and shirt plackets. That nice bit of stretch means those buttonholes will also stretch and can result in the unexpected unbuttoning over ones bust or belly. Yikes. The other thing it does is what my Mom calls “gap-osis”: when you bend, twist, take a breath, make a gesture, put a hand on a hip, and suddenly gaps gape open between the buttons on the placket revealing things we’d probably rather not. In a word: Gap-osis.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had tops in my closet that did this, and it’s not just the stretch-cotton tops either. All manner of button-up shirts and cardigan sweaters can exhibit this behavior. Happily I found a solution for most of them.

This won’t work on every garment that pops, gaps, or gapes, but it has so far put one of my favorite cardigans and four shirts back into my regular rotation and made me super happy at the same time. It’s such a relief to not have to think about, worry about, or fuss with my clothes as I am wearing them. No constant checking to see if the button popped out, or remembering not to make a certain move, or to wear a tank top underneath (just in case.)

Here is the trick, and it’s so simple… sew the dang thing shut! That’s it. Couldn’t be more basic, right?

Now, the disclaimer: It will only work on tops that you can get into and out of without having to unbutton them. So, nothing super tight and probably most regular cotton/woven shirts are out, but the ones with slight stretch built-in and of course, the knit cardigans… should work easily peasily.

Here’s how I approach it, plus some tips to make it as unnoticeable as possible. After all, the goal here is to avoid wardrobe malfunctions and provide peace of mind, not show off your mad sewing skills. I love visible mending, but this fix is not the place for it:

  1. Put your top on and button it the way you would normally wear it. Then try to take it off without unbuttoning it. If you can, you’re good to go. Put it back on, again without unbuttoning it first, just to double-check.
  2. Look in the mirror and decide where the gap-osis is happening the most. Usually it will be bust and/or belly region.
  3. Using pins or paper clips, mark the beginning and end of where you want your line of stitching on the placket. You’ll usually want the stitching to start and stop near a button if possible. If it doesn’t work out that way, that’s okay too.
  4. Find thread that matches the existing top stitching as closely as possible. If you don’t have any, then try to match the background color of the fabric. The idea is to make the new stitching as invisible as you can... or at least make it look like it's always been there.
  5. Decide where you want your line of stitching to go: you can stitch on either side of the placket. Each will give a slightly different look while achieving the same outcome. You'll be stitching over an existing line of stitches or creating a new line (see photo above).
  6. Practice on some scrap fabric while you adjust your machine's stitch length and try to match any existing top stitching on your shirt. You want this new stitching to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible. Take your time with this step.
  7. Be sure to backstitch the beginning and end of your stitch line, or pull both threads to the inside and knot them securely.
Sometimes, because of the size of the buttons or width of the placket, you won’t be able to get your sewing machine needle/foot/etc close enough to sew over the existing stitch line. Maybe you haven’t got access to a sewing machine? Maybe you just need a fast fix so you can wear it right away? 
No worries… Grab a hand-sewing needle and your matching thread, turn the shirt or cardi inside out and stitch by hand! It doesn’t have to be quite as neat this way (bonus), but you do have to be careful to take even stitches that aren't too large. For extra stealth, sew just into the back layer of the top placket so the stitches don't show at all from the front. Watch your tension too, so it doesn’t end up puckering. Just take your time and it will be secure and invisible.

That’s really all there is to it! Gap-ectomy complete... modesty intact... closet happy!

Just sitting here stitching the blues away,


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