July 7, 2020

Thea’s Field of Springfields


How many times have you made your favorite tried ‘n’ true pattern? For Thea Chester, she’s made seventeen Springfield Tops—and counting!

When Thea first told us about her Springfield collection, we were instantly intrigued. So we wanted to interview her to find out more about her love of this pattern, and of course, to see her makes!

Thea currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, and came there by way of California and Oregon. She recently retired from a career as a lawyer where she specialized in employee benefits.

Thea learned to sew at age 7 on her mother’s Singer—after first nearly destroying it while trying to make clothes for her dolls, to her mother’s exasperation—and has been sewing ever since. For many years she made Halloween costumes for her daughters, including a green dragon that was improvised from a kangaroo pattern, since no dragon patterns were available. (Talk about an epic pattern hack!)

Thea has a number of Cashmerette patterns in her stash, but the Springfield Top has quickly become a wardrobe staple for her. Earlier this spring, we chatted with Thea and asked her all of our nosy sewing questions. Here’s what she told us:

When did you make your first Springfield Top?

I do not recall when I made my first Springfield. It was soon after the pattern first came out. Once I completed some fitting adjustments, I was off to the racetrack. The pattern is easy to construct and I get a consistent fit.

We’re dying to know about your collection of Springfields. How many have you made?

I have made at least seventeen Springfields. I have fifteen in my closet now. Of the seventeen, one was splashed with bleach and had to be discarded. One was made up in a nylon fabric that was given to me and I don’t like it and I don’t wear it. The other fifteen I wear constantly.

Since I live in a hot climate the ones in cotton, silk, linen and rayon get a lot of wear, the polyester ones a little less. I learned from a Sandra Betzina online class (thank you Sandra) that the polyester fabrics from the big box store work best if they are cut on the bias. Otherwise, the straight grain cut fabric tends to pucker when it is sewn. Cut on the bias, the fabric does not pucker and usually drapes well. If I have enough fabric, I often cut the Springfield on the bias, I like the drape. I cut all types of fabric on the bias, most recently I cut a lightweight silk twill on the bias and it draped beautifully. I have permanent bias grainlines marked on my Springfield pattern.

Usually I use the version of the Springfield with the narrower, three piece back. Recently, however, I used the one piece back, added about six to eight inches in width, and gathered it to the yoke. That one was done in two different silks, where I had enough of each fabric for a front or a back, but not enough of either fabric for an entire top.

I also like to play around with the yoke. I have used lace for the yoke and I also have made sort of a patch-work lace for the yoke and often cut the yoke on the bias. The yoke is a good place to use small bits of unique fabric. Sometimes I add sleeves, but generally I prefer sleeveless.

What is it about the Springfield that works so well for you? How long does it take you to make one nowadays?

The Springfield works for me because of the reliable fit, it does not require large amounts of fabric, and it is easy to assemble. It is a good way to get a comfortable, wearable top out of woven fabric. I do not even look at the instructions anymore, I can sew the Springfield very quickly, but I have never timed myself. I guess in answer to your question, it does not take me very long to sew one.

My favorite step in the process of making a Springfield is the conceptualization and designing what fabric, bias or straight grain, which yoke fabric, should the seams be piped in back, what kind of neck and armhole binding, sleeve or sleeveless?

I believe I originally cut a size 20 with a G/H cup. I had to reduce the size a little bit, so if I were starting over now I probably would start with an 18 G/H. If I recall, I had to adjust the dart take-up a bit, and I had to do a round back adjustment, primarily working with the yoke on that, and a sway back adjustment. I think I also might have lowered the front neckline. Sometimes I sew the neckline in a V shape instead of the rounded one.

Do you have plans to make more Springfields in the future?

This morning I cut a cardigan from a beautiful Missoni-type knit. The fabric print required that the pattern be cut cross-grain. When I was finished, I had an oddly shaped piece of fabric left—too big to throw away, too small with which to do a lot. I wanted to make a top and I knew I would need a pattern with a yoke in back because of the odd shape of the remnant.

I have a pattern for a knit top with a yoke, but I had somehow misplaced the yoke pattern piece (it is oddly shaped and could not be replicated easily, and I am going for easy today). I then thought yoke and Springfield. I did not have the luxury of carefully matching the pattern (I am barely squeezing in the lower back pieces). Also, I had to add a center front seam.

This is my first knit Springfield. The knit made it rather loose in the front neckline so I added four tucks in the front. The cardigan is from from Pamela’s Patterns, Cool Cardigans–Draped Front.

Tell us about your sewing space.

I use a bedroom for my sewing space. Over the years I have collected sewing furniture that I like from Koala and Unique Sewing Furniture and I have a set up that I like, including a good size closet and my home-made mannequin, Eileen Lackabutt.

I have separate cutting and ironing tables, and I have two older (2005) Babylock embroidery/sewing machines and a Babylock serger. I am in the market now for a new sewing machine, but I am not sure, in the current weird times, when I will be able to move forward with that.

I have way too many patterns. I store them in file cabinets by pattern company and pattern number or name and keep three-ring binders which organize the patterns by garment type, so I can find what I have. It is like having a pattern catalog.

Tell us about your fabric stash.

I have lots of fabric in my stash, organized on the shelves generally by color, and use a rolodex to keep it organized by fabric type. I really don’t need to do any more shopping for it, but that never stopped me in the past. A lot of my fabric, unfortunately, comes from the big box store, lots of polyester, because it is the only show in town here in Tucson.

When I can, I go to Portland, OR, (Mill End fabric store) or San Francisco (I love Stone Mountain and Daughter in Berkeley) to fabric shop, but those trips are not frequent. I try to get to the Sewing Expo in Puyallup, WA every other year and shop there. I do very little online fabric shopping. I would like to go to either Los Angeles or New York to do some fabric shopping, but that does not look too hopeful.

My favorite fabrics are linen, silk and rayon. They are just so cooperative to sew with. Linen especially. I like wool, also, but not much use for it in Tucson. I do have a lot of poly, and I intend to weed a lot of that out and try to use only fabric that I enjoy and not fabric that frustrates me. I use a lot of knits and like to work with ponte. Linen and silk knits, when I can get them, are a joy. If I could obtain enough reasonably priced silk knit, I could probably make a travel wardrobe of 20 pieces that would roll up and fit in a carry on bag.

I have had my colors done by Nancy Nix Rice and I try to keep within that framework. With my gray hair, pale skin and hazel eyes, my palette is on the gentle side, so I try to keep my fabric purchases within the palette, but not always with success. I sometimes just go for what I think I love, and then sometimes regret it.

With few exceptions, the fabric I work with has to be washable. I wash my silks. I do not have the time, patience, or money anymore for dry cleaning.

What other Cashmerette patterns have you enjoyed making? What patterns are you looking forward to trying next?

I have quite a few Cashmerette patterns in my files. Right now I am considering some summer dresses. I am particularly considering the Holyoke (cut knee length, I don’t care for long dresses), the Upton and the Webster.

I have an Ipswich swimsuit kit I purchased a year or so ago but I have not been brave enough yet to try making it. I also will probably make the Ames jeans soon.

My sewing goal is the perfect coordinated capsule travel wardrobe. Someday, perhaps, I will achieve that. Someday, perhaps, I can travel again.

A big thanks to Thea for telling us all about her Springfield collection and for sharing all of these great photos with us!!

Are you feeling inspired to give the Springfield a try for the first time? We’re super inspired by all of Thea’s great Springfield hacks—and you can learn to become a Springfield hacking master too with our Pattern Hacking for Curves workshop (class includes a coupon code for 30% off the Springfield Top pattern!).

34 thoughts on “Thea’s Field of Springfields

  1. CheraleeS says:

    I applaud Thea for deciding that her pieces should fit her lifestyle. I think it’s nice to make something once in awhile that isn’t what we normally wear or choose, but if I’m going to the trouble of sewing clothing it’s going to need to be worn alot. I love the silk versions and I am going to look at the bias in a new way!

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Cheralees, I urge you to try the bias approach. It makes all of those polyester silkies much more workable. I like special clothing, also, but there are too few weddings and such to attend. Thanks, Thea

  2. Sheila Moller says:

    Absolutely loved this interview with Thea……I recognize the landscape……I used to live in Tucson and miss it terribly……….thanks for a lovely interview

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Shiela, well, it is 105 here today. I look forward to having a strong monsoon soon. I am glad you enjoyed the interview. It made my day when I saw it this morning. Thea

  3. Thank you Thea! for sharing your wonderful creations. You have truly made a diverse and colorful wardrobe of Springfields. And thank you to Cashmerette for featuring someone of my generation who loves to sew and is using her skills in retirement to create.

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Delores, you are welcome. I find I reach for the Springfield frequently when I need a quick and easy top. Now that the adjustments I need have been made to the pattern it is a very quick make. Thea

  4. Lauren says:

    Awesome to have so many summer tops!

    1. Thea Chester says:

      It is. I have one to go with almost anything. Thea

  5. Cathy says:

    What a great story! I’ve always had the ambition of making a bunch of Springfields–I have everything I need, I just need to get after it. I really enjoyed reading about all the ways Thea has modified the pattern to make it work with what she has, to create different looks, and to express her creativity.

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Thanks. I enjoyed reading it too. I think Cashmerette did an amazing job with what I sent to them.

  6. Andrea Holberg says:

    I love this! I haven’t been sewing much lately, but that tip about the bias is genius, and it was great seeing all the variations on the same pattern and model. I agree about the fabrics, too– adore linen, silk and wool, although I live in a climate too warm for much wool.

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Andrea, sewing keeps me sane these days. One of my first projects during this never ending stay at home was to sew all of my purple/lilac fabrics. I now have a purple wardrobe. The bias genius tip comes from Sandra Betzina, a woman I would love to meet some day. Overall, I think linen is my favorite. Thea

  7. Amy says:

    Very inspiring collection. You’ve spent a lot of time experimenting and I appreciate that. Your work space makes my jealous – I have to admit! My goal is to have a custom mannequin. It’ll make dress making so much easier. How did you customize yours?
    Thanks for inspiring me,
    Amy

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Amy, my mannequin comes from my dear husband wrapping rolls and rolls of tape around me one evening according to directions from an older Connie Crawford video. I then followed the instructions to escape the tape, fill the empty shell and make a linen cover for the mannequin. My husband made the stand for me (instructions for the stand come with the video, as does the pattern for the cover). There are similar other videos available if you cannot find the Connie Crawford one. But if you can get a custom made to order mannequin, I would definitely that route. My sewing space is the product of many years work, long lasting furniture (I especially recommend Unique Sewing Furniture, which I saw at the Puyallup show one year) and having a free bedroom. For many years I sewed on a rickety sewing table in my garage in San Francisco tucked between the washing machine and the hot water heater, so I relish having space of my own. Thanks, Thea

  8. Meagan says:

    Thea, thank you so much for sharing. This is a great story. I love your many versions of Springfield. This is a top I too love. I adore the lace yoke and will be copying this idea when the weather warms us. Your sewing space is amazing too.?what a fabulous way to store your fabric. Thank you again, inspiring.

  9. Thea Chester says:

    Meagan, thanks for your comments. As to the fabric, I went to my local Ace Hardware and had them cut a 1/8 inch acrylic sheet into two pieces that perfectly fit inside my shelves. I use the acrylic pieces as a size template to fold the fabric, like stores use templates to fold t-shirts. Then I place the folded fabric between the two acrylic templates and slide it easily into the fabric stacks, especially when space is tight. Using that method I can get a lot of fabric on each shelf. The acrylic templates are slick and slide easily, the folded fabric goes onto the shelf easily and the acrylic templates then slide out of the stack easily, leaving the fabric on the shelf. It looks neatly folded. Thea

  10. Bianca says:

    Thea thank you for sharing your Springfield tops and your sewing tips. What a joy to see a woman with a body shape similar to my own
    expressing her style with such creativity. Reading your blogpost this morning has made my day! I usually prefer sleeves to try and avoid sun damage here in Western Australia but am inspired to look at the Springfield again. I especially like the Missoni knit set. Wishing you all the best in your sewing and hopeful future travels.

  11. Thea Chester says:

    Bianca, you are welcome. To be honest the blogpost brightened my day also. I am glad you enjoyed it. They did a great job and made me look good. Thanks for your comment on the Missoni-like knit set. I have been in love with Missoniesque designs for years. Thea

  12. ann says:

    Wow! I love your Springfields- they are all so unique. Thank you for the tip about cutting polyesters on the bias. And I love your rolodex idea for your fabric collection. I think I have an old rolodex around somewhere. You are an inspiration!!!

  13. Thea Chester says:

    Ann, thank you. The rolodex is my life-saver. I would not know what I have without it. There are lots of ways to document a fabric stash and the rolodex works for me. Thea

  14. garnet128 says:

    Thea, I am so glad I did not have coffee in my mouth when you mentioned your mannequin’s name…Eileen Lackabutt. LOL. Love all your makes and your hacks. We sound like we are cut from the same cloth (haha). I also work with a TNT top a lot. I make and make and make until I get tired of working with the same old thing. I try others but end up coming back to the TNT because it is the one that I pick to wear the most. I use both woven and knits and also use straight of grain, cross grain and bias. Love bias which I discovered by accident. Love linen and cotton (I live in GA, not quite as hot as you but humid).
    My sewing room is similar including Babylock’s embroidery, sewing and serger. I store my patterns exactly like you. I do NOT keep track of my fabric, there is just too much. I rummage when looking for something since I know I have what I want somewhere and frequently find something I forgot about. And I would also love to do a coordinated capsule travel wardrobe. I think we may be clones placed on opposite sides of the country.

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Hello, first I apologize for taking some time to respond. We have had a family issue going on. It does sound like you and I are quite similar in our sewing styles and our fabric likes. I have to keep track of my fabric, pieces get lost so easily. Even with my rolodex system I have pieces that seem to disappear and reappear. I am thinking specifically of a piece of batik rayon that eluded me several times until I went through my entire stash, piece by piece, and finally laid hands on it. I could never find it, although it was right there on the shelf. Thank you for your comments.

  15. catherine says:

    Thank you for sharing all your Springfields! I really appreciate the variety and creativity you put into each and every one. I am new to Cashmerette, and I’m still working on making a few patterns for the first time – you’ve provided such great inspiration!

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Catherine, thank you for your kind words. I am glad you are inspired to sew and create. I fear garment sewing is a dying art and I am glad to see so many people sewing. Thea

  16. Nancy Janiszewski says:

    Hello Thea,
    You are truly an inspiration. Regarding sewing machines- when you are in the market, I strongly urge you to look at Janome Sewing Machines. You can go to their website to see their sewing machines. When you have the time, before visiting a dealer, make up a little kit of the fabrics you love to sew on. Take samples of those fabrics, needles you like to sew with, even thread. Then go to the Janome dealer. Ask to look at their 6700 Professional machine. Sit down and get the demo, then take out your little kit and ask if you can do a little sewing on the machine. The dealers give an “okay” demo, but they use stiff demo cloth and no one makes anything out of that. You be the judge on how the machine sews. Don’t take a machine to trade in, you’ll get a better price without a trade-in. I used to work for a Janome dealer, in the early 90’s. I demo’d and sold all kinds of machines and sergers. Then I gave the customer instructions on how best, to use the machine they purchased. And I ran a monthly sewing club. We had upwards of 35 people, who came every month.
    Janome has adapted some features that were exclusive to Pfaff Sewing Machine like the dual feed system and features from Bernina, like their knee lift. You can put in a pice on the new Janome machines, called a knee lift. If you are quilting or making a yoke, like the one you designed with the prices if silks and other fabrics, that knee lift will come in handy. You simple set the machine for needle down and when you are sewing and need to pivot the fabric, you gently push on the knee lift with your right upper leg and it will lift up the presser foot and allow you to turn the fabric, release the lift, the sewing machine foot will gently go down and you continue sewing.
    Janome was able to adapt these features on their machines because the patents on Bernina & Pfaff expired. I believe, if you look at Janome, you just may become the proud owner of a new Janome Sewing Machine. Sorry this became lengthy, but I wanted to get this all in. Keep on inspiring all of us Sister Sewers!

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Nancy, thank you for your comments on Janome machines. We all have so much expert information available to help others and it is great to have a forum for that information. Soon after I did the interview, I did manage to buy a new machine. I purchased a Brother BQ3050, which I love. It fit me as soon as I sat down in front of it. It has many features that work well for me, including one similar to the pressure foot release you mentioned, which I use frequently. Again, thanks. Thea

  17. Marla Sandridge says:

    Dear Thea,
    Thank you for doing this interview! I have been looking for a top that does not draw attention to the “girls” and this is very flattering on you! I am excited to purchase the Springfield pattern and cut it out on the bias, as it falls quite lovely that way! I also appreciate all the hacks that you have done to help myself and others get get so much out of this one pattern! Hopefully you will get your silk travel wardrobe completed soon and be on your way to many wonderful trips!

    1. Thea Chester says:

      Marla, you are welcome. I also look for styles that do not emphasize the girls so much. Right now I am working with light weight (such as linen gauze) sleeveless vests to distract the eye. I used to joke that when I wore my hair cut too short I looked like two boobs and a pinhead. I have evolved from that position, thankfully. I think you will enjoy the bias cut Springfield. As I mentioned, I have bias grain lines permanently marked on my Springfield pattern pieces. Thank you for your good wishes on the silk knit travel wardrobe, but I don’t hold out much hope. The last time I checked on the silk knit that I want it was retailing at around $80/yard. A bit out of my league, but I can hope. Thea

  18. So interesting Thea! One day your Eileen Lackabutt could meet up with my Sally Bustalot 😂😂😂😂😂

    1. Thea Chester says:

      I bet they would be great friends. Thea

  19. Joan says:

    I loved this piece! So inspired by Thea’s ideas and hacks. it is such a simple pattern but can be made into a multitude of styles with so many levels of dressiness. I don’t live in a warm climate but had not given enough thought to layering the Springfield and making sets. I may need to pull this one out and whip up a couple this weekend. Thank you Thea!

  20. Thea Chester says:

    Joan, good luck with your sewing. It is a simple pattern but quite versatile and layers well. As I mentioned, I prefer the somewhat more fitted back, which works well with a cardigan. Thea

  21. PoundCake says:

    What a terrific glimpse into Thea’s sewing practice! And if I ever need an alias I want to use Eileen Lackabutt. 😂

  22. Andrea Cuda says:

    Wow, what an amazing collection! I really love how you made one pattern into all of these different looks. My favorite so far has been the Appleton dress, which I also find very versatile, but I’ve “only” made three so far. My one Springfield top is an absolute favorite, and I have half a shelf full of fabrics that I’m planning to turn into more Springfields, so maybe you’re my inspiration to stop planning and finally get going 😉

    For me, the best piece of advice is to make the yoke from smaller fabric pieces that you can’t get a full pattern from, especially lace. That is genius! Of course I’ve seen it done on RTW, and I’ve combined fabrics on a couple of other patterns, but somehow never thought of doing with this pattern. This will probably add quite substantially to my stash dedicated for Springfields 😉

    Thank you for being such an inspiration! Keep up the good work 🙂

    Sending best wishes from Germany, Andrea

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