What to wear under cardigans

What to wear under cardigans

I promised you a post about tops to wear under cardigans, and it’s turned into a monster. I’m attempting to boil it down here and will expand on it over time, no doubt. Suffice to say: My favorite thing to wear under a cardigan is a sleeveless top with a non-plain neckline of some sort. If it is shirttail-hemmed and/or tunic length, even better. And the be-all end-all is pockets. (Especially since somehow none of my cardigans have pockets of their own.) The two tops I wear the most right now are 1) the Endless Summer Tunic my friend Alyssa Minadeo made for me in that Robert Kaufman dotted chambray the whole sewing world is quite reasonably in love with (seen here and here — I’d like another one about two inches shorter and a hair less flouncy), and 2) a natural linen sleeveless tunic I bought at Express twenty years ago, which I know for certain because I wore it to a concert with my now-husband in the summer of 1994. (I found it in a box of sentimental favorites under the bed when we were packing for the move.) It buttons all the way up the front and has, uh, half-kangaroo pockets — do you know what I mean? — and despite being linen I’ve been wearing it all winter. Like, I’m in jeopardy of wearing it out.

I like both of these because the fabrics go with everything, they both have something other than a plain round neck, and I’m really into that length right now; I think it’s great for layering over. In third place is a collarless, half-placket chambray shirt that I cut the sleeves off of. And right behind that is this, which I’m desperate to duplicate in a natural fabric.

It’s a matter of personal preference, but I don’t like shoving shirt sleeves into sweater sleeves if it can be avoided — it always feel too bunchy. The only thing that would make my existing sleeveless tops better as winter layering pieces (or even wear-alones in the milder parts of spring and fall) is if they were made of heavier fabric, or even a brushed cotton or flannel or boiled wool. So that’s where my head is at.

The photo above is my Instagram pic from the other day of Sonya Philip’s Dress Pattern No. 1, for which my sweet friend Marlee is hosting a sewalong. I believe it’s actually tunic length, and if I were to split the front and add buttons, and change the shape of the pockets, it would be my beloved linen tunic. So I might do that. But I’ll probably sew it as drafted first. Sonya has been a big influence on me in my desire to craft a handmade wardrobe, so I’m thrilled to be about to sew one of her patterns.

With all of that said, here are a handful of sleeveless sewing patterns that are simple and reliable (by all accounts) and that lend themselves to modifications of length, hemline, neckline, etc. All on my to-sew list—

What to wear under a cardigan: Or, sleeveless-top sewing patterns

Wiksten Tank by Jenny Gordy is the only one on this list that I have sewn before, and I can vouch for its being an excellent pattern and suitable for new sewists. It’s no wonder there are thousands of them on the internet. For my next one, I’m planning to sew a longer version and raise the neckline. (See also: Grainline’s Tiny Pocket Tank)

Sorbetto from Colette Patterns (free pattern) is another simple tank, but this one has bust darts. It’s easy to imagine adding length and/or volume to it, and I love the box-pleat detail down the front. I’m eager to hybridize this and the Wiksten Tank.

Alice by Tessuti is one that Felicia Semple has sewn multiple appealing versions of. Those gathers under the bustline would provide just enough interest if you’ve got a cardigan over it, and I love the sleeve-cap detail for when it’s worn alone. I also really want the dress version of this one for my summer closet.

Tova by Jenny Gordy is not a sleeveless pattern, per se, but one of my favorite Tovas I’ve seen is Sam Lamb’s sleeveless version (check out her Wiksten tank in that same post).

Sailor Top from Fancy Tiger is the next best thing to sleeveless. I think those little sleeves would layer quite nicely, and the wide neckband with gathers makes it an appealing layering piece to me. (By the way, there’s a Creative Bug class for this one.)

Endless Summer Tunic from A Verb for Keeping Warm, noted above, has lots of really nice details — including optional side-seam pockets — but is probably the most challenging pattern on this list. I’ll get there.

Just typing this up has me itching to grab my Fashionary and sketch out all the mods and hybridizations that are running around in my head, which I promise to share. And I’m sure many of you have other great suggestions, so please add them below!

This weekend I’ll be sketching, sewing, knitting and taking Bellows pics. (Yes, that is a glimpse of it in the top photo up there.) Love to hear what you’re working on—


42 thoughts on “What to wear under cardigans

  1. I actually like sleeves under my cardigans. I wear cotton under my cardigans even in our frigid winters.
    Today I plan to knit the hat for the knit along. The rest of my weekend is too full of other plans to start any new knitting projects, if I do get a spare few minutes I will work on the garter squish blanket. Which reminds me that I need to work on my cardigan from the Amanda knit along, but I am just not 100% happy with it right now.

  2. Because I hate shopping (except for yarn) and I hate that “Gaah, what am I gonna wear today” thing, I have one staple, summer, winter, spring or fall: white t-shirts. Under cardis, under handknits everywhere. I am a virtual connoisseur. Best white t-shirt goin’? Banana Republic, hands down. They last forever ;)

  3. Sorbetto became my go-to tank a few summers ago, instead of sewing the box pleat, I gathered the neckline and omitted the bust darts. With a longer hem, it became a blousy tunic/tank that was perfect alone in the summer and as a layer in the fall winter.

  4. I’ve made the Endless Summer Tunic twice — both times with enough added length to make it more of a dress — and I love it. I am planning to make a couple of shorter ones for warmer weather, but you are so right about how versatile it is. You’ve got me wanting one in chambray now…

  5. ok. sorry about that, above. 99/100 times I write a clever comment and then cant remember my login :)
    at any rate, I am wearing a new to me tshirt from banana republic. its a v neck (a first for me) and linen (also a first) it goes on effortlessly under sweaters and the drape is awesome without it being oversized.
    that said, I am working on some dresses and pj’s for the girls and hoping to get some time on a quilt or two. since I’m talking crazy talk, I’ll go ahead and add a wiksten tank and an alice top to my list. ha!

  6. I just finished the Lou Box Top from the sewdiy.com blog (she was hosting a sew a long as well) in the RK dotted chambray. You can make it in lots of different variations, and I love wearing it under card’s as well for all your same reasons. A super easy sew too!

  7. A thin short sleeve tee underneath a cardigan has been my “uniform” for years now but I am loving the look of a longer layer underneath. I have a great little black sleeveless thin merino wool Patagonia dress that I really like wearing with jeans and a cardigan over. I have made several Schoolhouse tunics and a Washi dress and Washi tunic (with shortened, just barely there sleeves) but I’m really a baby sewer. I would love to try the Endless Summer Tunic! BTW, you have inspire me and I’ve started the Amanda Cardigan recently. I found your blog after hearing you on the Woolful podcast.

  8. Sleeveless? Oh my goodness, I need sleeves to keep the sweat and deodorant off of my woolens so I don’t have to wash them as much. Do you use underarm shields, or something else?

    • I don’t think I have any cardigans that are snug enough to make contact with my armpits.

      But one of the best traits of pure wool is that it really doesn’t need much washing.

  9. I am sensitive to wool, but I love knitting with it, so anything I wear under it has to have sleeves. I particularly like cotton knits because a. it’s cotton and is the most comfortable to wear and b. it’s a knit, which gives when I move. I live in Central California, so it doesn’t get too cold here and that makes the sweater season short.

    • I’m a tiny bit sensitive at the back of my neck and at my collarbones, so I only have to worry about fabric shielding me in those spots. But I love cotton sweaters, too. I haven’t really knitted with it (other than the Balance blend) and am on the hunt for a nice one to work with and wear.

  10. I have several versions of the deer & doe datura blouse in my closet: http://boutique.deer-and-doe.fr/datura-blouse.html. I like it because it gives you lots of options for choosing contrasting fabrics (or not). It’s a great way to use up scraps and off-cuts of fabric. My favorite version is chambray on top, liberty print on the bottom. But, I also have silk versions. I also like it because the top piece, including the armholes and neckline, is completely faced, which eliminates any need for bias-binding (which can be a bit tedious, especially if you’re working with something silky). I wear mine casually, with jeans, and tucked into pencil skirts for work. I also have a few versions of the Made by Rae Josephine top, which has lots of sleeve and neckline options too: http://www.made-by-rae.com/2014/02/josephine-sewing-pattern-is-here/.

  11. For years I’ve been wearing Old Navy tanks under my cardigans, but I think it’s finally time for me to dress it up a little more :) I’ve been planning a Sorbetto tank, but I’m going to have to add all these to my sewing queue. Thanks for the great list!!

  12. This post was very interesting as I’m trying to get back to sewing after a many year hiatus.
    Why is the Verb top more challenging than the others? I had been looking at that one!
    I’m all for easy right now.

  13. White and pale gray t-shirts are my staple. I edit them down regularly so that I have a couple each in tank style, short sleeve, and long sleeve. I am also a complete sucker for white cuffs peeking out of sleeves, and for that I have a cotton, tunic length (with rounded shirt tails) that I got on sale from Eileen Fisher years ago. It is a tiny bit shaped at the waist and tissue thin cotton, so it doesn’t add bulk. I also have some boxy silk tees I’ve made, with a keyhole opening that can be worn in front or back. I wash the silk first because I am not a fan of dry cleaning. I just bought some lovely linen in white and flax. Have to wash it and play with it and decide if it’s lightweight enough for tops. If not, then something else…

  14. Been a knit tee devotee for ages — but mostly because I could rarely find RTW woven tops that fit my short-waist-small-ribcage-large-bust shape comfortably or attractively. But lately I have totally been hearing the siren song of the woven tops, especially sleeveless or cap sleeve ones for wearing under cardigans. I agree with Karen, these things do seem to come over in waves. For me, thinking about adding more handknits to my wardrobe has been a big factor, since with their more assertively I AM KNIT texture, I find myself wanting the contrast of a woven fabric, rather than a microscale machine knit tee.

    I’m just a newborn baby sewer, but I’ve already got Datura, Sorbetto, and a couple others mentioned on my list. But because I’m one of those notorious “ambitious beginners”, I’ve already bought Sailor and fabric to make it, and have decided rather rashly that it will be my first top. So Karen, thank you so much for pointing out that there’s a CreativeBug class — I’d totally missed that. That might just be the difference between a sewing adventure and a sewing adventure that leads to actual clothes!

  15. As a person who a) lives in a cold place and b) has a big chest, I am a big fan of long-sleeve v-neck t-shirts under my cardigans. (And I wear a lot of cardigans, though not enough of them handknit.) I wear black t-shirts most often but try to have a few brighter colors to contrast when I’m wearing black or gray sweaters. They don’t add much bulk and are a nice soft layer underneath the wool. If it’s really cold, I’ll wear a thin (usually v-neck) sweater underneath. I’ve had good luck with both the Gap and J. Crew for these, though the one that’s held up the best for the longest was from an Eileen Fisher sample sale. It started out as a tunic, but I wasn’t wearing it as a tunic so eventually had it shortened and taken in, and now I wear it all the time.

    I don’t sew, and much as I like the idea of sewing, I sort of doubt it will happen, but at least I am lucky enough to go often to India where it is very reasonable to have clothes sewn for you. As such, I have a nice collection of cotton and linen sleeveless tops, and I often wear these in the summer underneath cotton or linen cardigans. I do like the look of the Endless Summer tunic, but I think I’m going to have to find someone to sew it for me . . .

  16. I made two Endless Summer Tunics last year and love them. That is the pattern that made me blow the dust of the sewing machine that I hadn’t touched in maybe ten years, so I encourage you to try it – it really isn’t that hard and once you make one, well, the possibilities are endless. :)

    Made at the tunic length, these tops were my go-to outfit through the fall with a cropped, boxy pullover, leggings, and boots, of course. One of these days I’ll start an Instagram account so I have pictures to back up these testimonials. Feels like Instagram is the new Ravelry!

  17. I’ve made both a Wiksten tank and dress and love them — simple, french seamed, satisfying. Lately I’ve been very into boxy tops (like the Lou box top mentioned above) as the perfect sleeveless shell, and have found that the Grainline Hemlock pattern works well if you just skip the sleeves. I made a quick guide to it here: https://wardrobeecology.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/grainline-studio-x-osei-duro/
    Next up I’d like to try the Tate Top because I think the high neck w/ darts + racerback will be nice variations: http://workroomsocial.com/blog/tate-top/

  18. OH, now you have me going!! Thank you and I’d better get going because ONE day it will be spring!!!
    Thank you for all the great sites.

  19. What cardigan do you have on in the photo? It looks super comfortable and cozy :-)
    I go through phases of wearing only dresses and skirts, with playful AP hold-ups or stockings (not the icky kind people think of in the states…) with lines down the back of each one-the seam. Than I’ll layer a cardigan on top and swap sweaters, depending on the time of year and what I’ll most likely be doing…from there a favorite vest/jacket and if needed, layer a winter coat or raincoat combination.

    I keep wearing the same sweater and had started my own version [that pattern I started is one I’ve gone back to and am happy to have a basic sweater, that becomes anything but basic, with tons of options to change it up, and have it morph into an entirely different jumper…cardigan or pullover], but found it in a store and went with it (marc jacobs, knit from cotton yarn, with sleeves that you may leave on OR unbutton, making it better for warmer weather OR when you only want one arm partially exposed from the slow-ish area down. I’ve done some horrible things to knits, via guitars!). I keep layering tops from my favorite shop over on 8th and a incredible cotton, small-not crazy low, V-neck t-shirt, from a boutique in Green Hills, on the same side of the, “street,” as Whole Foods.

    I’m against t-shirts that don’t have tailoring of some kind and look sloppy, but need to get more of the mentioned tops…one has lasted me for eons. A button down, twist on a mens shirt is awesome, and is super easy to dress it up or leave casual. Adding a fitted or oversized cardigan, changes things too, especially if one part is fitted and the other isn’t as fitted.

    My other favorite, (this works year around and in just about every situation, one might think of and more) is a, “layering tank,” in white or black [simple is my favorite, stretches down or you may leave it wherever you want it…], top a t-shirt/top of choice on top, followed by a long sleeve one if needed, cardigan, vest or jacket, and a winter jacket if needed. LOTS of layers.

    Do check labels…we bought a versatile sleeveless dress for me, years ago. When it needed to be thrown in the wash, we discovered the darn thing was almost ALL silk, and a dab of cotton in one area. Thankfully it wears like cotton, and is still a staple in my wardrobe.

  20. Thanks for these links. I have been thinking about making a new dress and this pattern would be lovely. Off to see about purchasing and then a stop at the fabric store!

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  22. I know this is an older post so I don’t know if you’ll see this comment, but my trick for wearing looser fitting or light-material tops in the winter is to wear a camisole underneath. I wear something in soft cotton or silk, and very thin, and I tuck it into my pants so it stays smooth and no breeze goes up! It keeps me warm and you can’t see them under your top. You have to choose the right fabric combination to avoid clinging but having a silk option usually helps. I’m really fabric and texture sensitive and this layering is very unobtrusive and comfortable.

    I also wear silk slips under dresses. I think old-fashioned dressing has some good ideas!

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