Behind the Design: The Delphine Top
by Emily DeLong
30 January 2017
The Delphine Top was one of the first pieces I designed for our FW16 collection. I knew from the start that I wanted a drapey, unstructured, slightly cropped top with ruffly three-quarter-length sleeves and a keyhole back. Even with such a clear vision of what I wanted (something that isn't always the case when I start designing!), I still had a lot of things to work through to get the Delphine from my vision to an actual wearable garment.
That's the Delphine Top in all its finished glory. Perfect, right? Did it start that way? Not exactly.
There were a few things about the design that I got right from the beginning: the length (21"), the boxy cut, and the armholes/tops of the sleeves. I wish I could say I got these three things right because I'm awesome and perfect, but the truth is that I only got them right because I had gotten them wrong many, many times in the past on previous garments.
I went into designing the Delphine thinking that it should have bust darts. Bust darts help provide shape to the bust area of a garment and often help a garment drape more naturally around a woman's figure. Clearly, those were all things I wanted out of the top! But once I had sewn up a prototype with bust darts, I realized I didn't like the way that they looked ... at all.
The top was supposed to be drapey and flowy, and the bust darts stood out way too much and detracted from the simple elegance of the silk. So I scrapped them.
The end result was a garment that was a bit less fitted and more boxy, but that's the cut I wanted anyway. And not to mention, the abscence of the darts really upped the elegance and drape of the Delphines made out of silk.
I had a lot of trouble at first getting the keyhole back to lie the way I wanted it to. On my first prototype of the Delphine, I simply cut a keyhole into the back of a top and finished the raw edges with a bit of bias tape. This looked good lying flat on my ironing board, but it did not hang correctly on an actual body.
I realized the issue was that the weight of the keyhole was too great considering how lightweight of fabric I was using. I couldn't think of a way to decrease the weight of the keyhole, so I decided to increase the weight of the area below the keyhole by adding in a back seam.
Back seams on unstructured tops are one of those things that, for the longest time, I thought were just another way for clothing designers to cut down on fabric costs (smaller pieces of fabric = less fabric waste = lower costs). But while they do indeed lower fabric costs (albeit at the expense of another seam to sew), they also subtly weigh down the back of the shirt, which can really improve its drape, especially on lightweight fabrics. Putting a back seam on the Delphine solved all the issues I was having with the keyhole back. And it also made it easier to put in a keyhole back, seeing as I didn't have any cutting to do!
The final thing I had to tackle with the Delphine was the most important element: the ruffly sleeves. I actually had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to draft the sleeves at the beginning, but it took a bit of mathematics to get all the measurements just right.
Rather than create the ruffles with gathers, I wanted to create them the way one would create a full circle skirt: with a piece of fabric that was an actual concentric circle.
Doing it this way, the seam between the main sleeve and the ruffle flounce would be smooth, not bumpy like a gathered seam would be, and it would also be super voluminous. My goal, essentially, was to create little skirts — not unlike the Clover — for the sleeves!
The trouble here was that I had to figure out the circumference of the inside circle so that it would fit perfectly onto the sleeve. This would have been not too hard to do were it not for the fact that since the circle was cut partially on the bias, it was partially stretchy, which means that I couldn't just make a the circumference of the circle equal to the circumference of the main sleeve. I had to make it slightly less so that it wouldn't stretch.
In the end, this process involved a lot of trial and error and a lot of work with a handy compass that I had managed to find from college. In the end, I finally had the perfect concentric circle pattern piece with which to make the ruffly sleeves!
And with that, the Delphine was (just about) done. I still had to decide how I wanted to handle the neckline and the hems and the sleeves, but those came together pretty easily.
And once I was completely done, I then lengthened and (slightly) adjusted the Delphine to create the Celeste!