Today I want to share a quick and easy sewing project: a halter top made of quarter flats. If you’re not familiar, quarter flats (or fat quarters) are 22″ by 18″ sheets of quilting cotton, available for fairly cheap in a wide range of patterns, and sometimes available in packs of coordinating colors. You’ll need two, or if your bust or waist is more than about 40″, three; if you prefer, get a half-yard of fabric whose width is greater than your bust and waist measurements. One quarter flat will be the front and the other the back; they can be the same or different; if you need extra, get extra of the one you’re using for the back. You’ll also need straps of some sort; I use this project as a way of showing off my macrame/friendship bracelet making skills, but ribbon or any kind of cord will also work; you’ll need 2-8 skeins of embroidery floss or at least one yard of ribbon or cord. If your cord is very thick or fancy, you’ll also need about 8″ of floss, plain 1/8″ ribbon, or similar. You will also need a needle or a sewing machine, thread, and a tapestry needle.
- Sew the two quarter flats together, right side to right side, along both short edges, to form a tube 40-ish inches in circumference and 18 high. If you’re using three pieces, sew the two back pieces to either side of the front piece, making a strip about 60″ long; cut fabric evenly off both ends to make the strip about 6″ longer than your bust measurement, and sew the two ends together to make a center-back seam. If you’re using one piece, sew the short ends together to make a tube. A 3/8″ seam is plenty; finish your seams however you like.
- Sew a narrow hem around the bottom of the tube.
- Sew a quarter-inch or so hem around the top—don’t make it too narrow, and don’t use zig-zag stitch or serging, just an ordinary straight stitch, to make this hem. This hem will also serve as casing for the gather in the front, is why I’m specifying.
- Try the tube on; it helps to wear it over a bra with straps or a camisole for this. Center the back panel or back seam. Grab the top hem on both sides and pull it forward, pulling the hem snug but not tight across your back and bunching up material in the front. Take a fairly deep breath to expand your ribcage, and hold it. Mark the top hem on both sides where it crosses your bra straps (2″ from the side seams is a good starting guess if you are shaped like me). Measure between the two marks; write this length down and call it L. If you have a flexible tape, it will be helpful also to measure from one mark, up and around behind your neck, and down to the other mark (while holding the shirt at the height you’d like it to sit); call this measurement M.
- Make and attach your straps according to one of the methods below.
Method 1: Friendship bracelet (macrame) with tie back
This method is the first I did; it requires some patience but on the other hand is entirely portable. I’m not going to teach you how to do friendship bracelets today, as there are plenty of tutorials out there on the internet; this and this look like decent places to start. Any pattern will do, although I would not go above 8 strands or below 4. I recommend this method over the rest I will mention, for two reasons: macrame has some natural stretch to it, which makes it very good for straps that won’t cut into your flesh, and the tie back lets you adjust how tight the straps are on an ongoing basis.
- Choose a bracelet pattern and some floss. Unwind all the floss you will use and find the midpoint of each strand.
- Holding all the strands together, matching midpoints, tie a single overhand knot at distance L/2 from the midpoints—that’s half the distance you measured between the two marks when you were trying the shirt on. So if it’s 8″ between your bra straps in front, put the knot 4″ from the midpoints. You can wind the shorter ends—the ends of floss on the far side of the knot from the midpoint—onto bobbins now to keep them out of the way.
- Take your tapestry needle and thread as many of the strands of floss on as possible at once, on the long side relative to the knot you just made. I do this by dampening the ends and threading one at a time, holding the ones that I’ve already threaded flat against the needle while I thread the next. Get at least two on the needle before you proceed, and if you can get it all on that’s better.
- Insert the tapestry needle into the top of the hem at one of the marks. Snake it through the hem/casing to the other mark and pull it out through the top of the hem at the mark. This will be difficult and need a fair bit of wiggling and persistence, especially if you have lots of strands; if you are having too much difficulty, make and widen a hole at each mark using tapestry needles, knitting needles, chopsticks, or pens and then try again. Be careful not to make the hole larger than the knot you made in step 2, though.
- Bunch up the fabric, holding the floss taut, until it is length L between the two marks. If you couldn’t get all the floss on the needle in step 3, gather the leftover ends of floss too, and hold them parallel to the ones that went through the fabric. Holding all your strands of floss together, tie another single overhand knot, placing it close to where the floss emerges from the fabric to maintain that length L.
- Work your friendship bracelet pattern on each side, starting at the knot and working until you have a good 16″ (or, if it’s very different, M/2 plus 5″) length or more. You can tape the knot down to a table for stability, as is common with friendship bracelets; I generally pin the knot to the knee of my pants while working. You can test the length by holding the shirt up to your chest and seeing if you can tie the two pieces behind your neck.
- When each strap is long enough, tie an overhand knot in all the strands at once to finish, and cut the strands off 1/4″ past the knot. If in step 3 you didn’t get all the strands onto the needle, go back and cut the extraneous strands close to the knots at the top of the shirt. You’re done!
Method 2: Friendship bracelet (macrame) single strap with front button
A slight alteration of the above, instead of two straps that tie behind your neck, you can make a single strap that goes from one mark up, around your neck, and attaches to the other mark. This still has the advantage of stretchy, fancy macrame (and the disadvantage that making it takes a while). However, you need considerably less total length than in the previous method, which helps. You also only need half the floss, so get 2-3 strands (for a 4 or 6 strand pattern) and a button you like.
- Unwind your floss and find the midpoints. Holding all the floss together, fold in half at the midpoints and tie a single overhand knot in the doubled-over strands, making a loop that is big enough to get over your button. If you want to be fancy, you can braid this loop as/before you make it, but I will leave that as an exercise to the reader.
- Work your pattern on the 4 or 6 strands of floss until it is length M long, measuring from the center of the loop. Tie an overhand knot in all the strands held together.
- Thread as many of the ends of the floss as you can onto your tapestry needle at once, and cut the leftover strands close to the knot. Follow steps 3-5 above, more or less: insert the needle into the top of the hem at one mark, wiggle it through, and pull out the top at the other mark; bunch up the fabric to length L and tie an overhand knot in the floss to keep it at that length.
- Cut the strands of floss 1/4″ from the knot.
- Sew your button on over the mark, on the side that the strap doesn’t come out of.
Variant: instead of a button, make a bow: skip steps 4&5, instead dividing the floss that emerges from the shirt into two even groups, then braiding or knotting each group into a narrow strap about 6″ long. To wear, put the main strap around your neck, put one of the short straps through the loop of the main strap, and tie the two short straps together and make a bow with them.
Method 3: Ribbon or pre-made strapping with tie back
If you can get your ribbon/strapping onto a tapestry needle and through the fabric:
- Cut your strap material to a yard length (or, M+10″ or so). Find the midpoint and tie a knot length L/2 from the midpoint.
- On the long side, thread the strapping onto your tapestry needle.
- Insert the tapestry needle at one mark, wiggle it through, and bring it up at the other mark (see method 1 steps 3-4 above for tips).
- Bunch the fabric onto the strap to length L and tie another knot in the strap to keep it that way.
- Finish the loose ends of the straps as necessary (knot or fold over and sew ribbon, cauterize nylon cord, etc).
If you can’t:
- Cut a 20″ length of embroidery floss or 1/8″ ribbon, thread it on the tapestry needle, match the ends, and tie an overhand knot in the two ends held together (double-threading the needle).
- Insert the needle on the inside of the garment, into the hem at one mark. Pull it through and out at the other mark, again on the inside of the garment (rather than the top of the hem as in other methods.
- Bunch the fabric onto the floss/ribbon to length L and tie another knot in the floss/ribbon to keep it that way. Trim close to the knot.
- Cut your strapping material into two lengths of 16″, M/2+5″, or longer.
- Sew one end of one piece to the shirt at one mark, and one end of the other piece to the other mark.
- Finish the loose ends of the strapping as desired.
Method 4: Do what pleases you best
There are plenty more options for straps; I hope you will use my suggestions as a jumping-off point and make tatted straps, braided straps, knit straps, beaded straps…the sky’s the limit, and the construction of the shirt is so simple it makes a good showcase for fancy details.