A Poncho Top – Simplicity of Shape

As this sewing project was so basic, I’ll let the book from which it came speak for itself.  My top is a straightforward design from the 1980 book “Creative Dressing” by Kaori O’Conner.


“The simplest of all sewn garments is the poncho – a Spanish word for a garment found all over the world, in all periods of history.  It consist of skin or cloth with a hole in the center for the head, fastened at each side.  And it is the second oldest design in the world – the oldest being the model without side fastenings, in which early man first sallied forth from his cave.  It’s a shape that’s a million years old – and a shape that doesn’t last that long unless it’s that good.  Frederick Stillman’s poncho top shows why this shape has lasted so long so well”

Modern poncho tops are often mislabeled and are really more like caftans of capelet tops.  Nevertheless, poncho tops are so basic but their prices are all across the board it amazing.  Here at Nordstrom is a pricey version of a capelet sweater labeled as a “poncho”, while here is a mid-grade, striped, lovely true poncho top, while here’s a cheaper version yet.  You don’t specifically hear the term “poncho top” anymore but there out there and just as wonderful and versatile on any female body as ever.


I have not been able to find the least amount of info on Frederick Stillman, the designer of pattern for this poncho top.  Now, this book, “Creative Dressing”, features many different designers of the time from all over the world in all aspects of the fashion industry, some of whom are more well-known (Victor Herbert), and others are not, while some are from the movie/theatre department (Les Lansdown), and others are in the fabric business (Susan Collier, design consultant for Liberty of London and Yves Saint Laurent).  This book is a must have for anyone, especially anyone interested in ingenious, cultural, and sometimes unusual designs for both sewing and knitting.  It focuses on making garments with beauty, proper intention, quality, and timeless designs which do not go out of style.  For more about this book, see the blog “DIYCouture” where Rosie writes an observant and thorough review of “Creative Dressing”.  For my first made project from this book see my post on the ‘bias tube’ dress. 100_5980a-comp

The pattern for my top is a very small size in the book, as all the sewing projects are drawn out on shrunken blue-lined graphs with the scale for enlarging in the corner (most patterns are 1 square = 2 inches).  It merely takes some good but basic mathematical skills (or a calculator for others) to figure out the full size proportions, which I then transfer to either regular-weight paper or thin, sheer medical paper for my usable pattern to lay on the fabric.

DSC_0185a-compThe poncho top is basically one long rectangle, with a keyhole type of cut for the head and neckline, and a simple facing piece…all from one yard of fabric.  “Although it’s economical, the top can look elegant and expensive” (from the book) or casual and fun…or whatever you want!  “There are no darts or closures to interfere with the pattern or texture” (from the book) – nothing but straight lines and room for individuality but that doesn’t mean you can’t add in any.  I was considering adding waist darts or a frog-style closure to the neckline with mine, but I wanted it to give it a fair chance ‘as-is’, and I’m glad I did.  I’m still getting used to the fact that garments don’t have to be fitted to be great.  “You can make it up in combinations of fabrics – the body in a plain fabric and the facings in a print or the other way around. And if you make it up in a plain fabric only, you’ll find it lends itself to many sorts of accessories” (from the book).DSC_0299a-comp

My top is made from a cotton wax print batik which was given to me by my Grandmother.  It is quite soft and in a fun tribal-style print – nice and cool and comfy but kind of rugged in a muted boldness.  I even made a basic necklace out of rope and a stone doughnut (jasper to be exact) to match with the feel of the cotton print.

Ana Jarvis solo full shotInspiration for the poncho top came from a couple of random sources.  Firstly, I was inspired by (again) the Marvel TV show “Agent Carter” and specifically the character Anna Jarvis.  Anna wears many ethnic styles and prints, as they were quite popular in the 1940’s and late 1930’s.  Also, I know how the decade of the 1980’s can imitate the 1940’s so…voila!  Mix it all together and I am like a 1980’s knock-off of a 40’s style Anna Jarvis, hair-do and all!  Summer, I’m ready!

Not that you really need my traditional “Facts” list now, but just because…



FABRIC:  100% cotton

NOTIONS:  nothing but thread

PATTERN:  “Poncho top”, from the book “Creative Dressing: The Unique Collection of Top Designer Looks That You Can Make Yourself” by Kaori O’Conner, copyright 1980 (my copy is a second edition from 1981). I bought my copy of this book several years ago from a used book fair for $2.00.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This top only took me two hours to measure out the pattern and make.  It was finished on August 20, 2015.

THE INSIDES:  flat-felled seams on the sides

TOTAL COST:  zero being a gift from my Grandma

poncho top with skirt and Bali trousers-comp

The book has an easy pull-on skirt pattern and a design for traditional wrap-on Balinese trousers to pair with the poncho top as a full outfit.  I like the idea of wrap on pants…look for some Bali-style wrap palazzo pants in the future on my blog!

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