Thursday, July 13, 2023

Sunshirts: So You Can Sweat In Style and Pretend You Feel the Cooling

As a fair skinned person who spends innumerable hours outside, I’m always worried about sun protection.  Living as I do on the coast, you’d think I spent all of my childhood summers baking at the beach but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I did go to the beach, but not all day, every day, and I did often wear long sleeved shirts or sunscreen to try to keep the sun off. I never wanted to be super tan because it seemed like a burn was always my skin’s first choice.  I got my share of sunburns though never so bad they blistered or needed the ER.  

Fast forward to my adult years and ta da, I had a basal cell carcinoma which isn’t as scary as many kinds of skin cancer but is still something to have removed and scare the crap out of me in the meantime.  The one I had removed was on top of my head, which is interesting because I do wear hats a lot outside, and a helmet always when I ride, but there were many, many years of outdoor running with a visor instead of an actual hat.  Lesson learned.

No doubt, I’ll get more of these lovelies and possibly other things in my lifetime, so now I’m extra nuts about keeping out of the sun.  Impossible when I garden, ride horses, live my entire life to be outside in the summer, etc.  I’m really slick about knowing where the sun is in relation to my yard at various times of the day so I know I can’t weed on that side of the house until after 2, etc., but for the rest of the time that I can’t really hide, I wear sunshirts.  

I got my first sunshirt for free with purchase of something for riding and I was impressed that it was lightweight, had “vents” for cooling under the arms, didn’t stick to me when wet and kept me from getting burned.  I tried a variety of them, found one I loved and, you guessed it, they stopped making that style.

Fast forward to 2019 when I started making my own.  I started with the Greenstyle Pacific Pullover and tried a lot of adjusting to try to get the underarm cooling vents in just the right spot.  I made a bunch in the next couple of years, with varying placements of the mesh for cooling but the sleeve was always a little strange.  

Then I made the Ascent from 5outof4 patterns (affiliate linkand figured out that the underarm inserts were more suited to the mesh inserts for cooling.  This pattern is meant for fleece, so I find it bigger overall than most of their patterns.  When I made it in fleece, it was pretty big but fine as a sweatshirt.

I wanted to bring it down to a thin fabric for sunshirts, so I ended up going down several sizes and for the sleeves, I went down one size lower than for the front and back bodice.  These sleeves are pretty loose and I do like that, but I didn’t want them quite as floppy as some of my initial versions.

I struggle a lot with the zipper and collar instructions in the Ascent pattern (affiliate link), so I got back to the Pacific Pullover instructions because they are so good and work perfectly.  I also use Leah Winkleman’s trick for covering the zipper tape and getting a pretty inside edge on the collar, which I show in the last picture, at the bottom of the page. 

Word to the wise:  you can use twill tape or ribbon to do the prettiness here, but I’ve done it twice and finally realized that with a stretchy knit, you really should use a knit fabric to do this or it leaves the neckline a little stiff.  It’s fine and totally wear able, but you see that the collar kinds of stands out and that’s because the ribbon doesn’t stretch.  

Also note that the neckline of the Ascent pattern (affiliate link) is higher than the Pacific so you should use a longer zipper.  I used 7.5 which is what I’ve used in many of my Pacifics, but in the Ascent pattern (affiliate link), it’s a little close to my collar bones even at it’s fully open place.

The fabric is Chitosante Interlock from Discovery Fabrics.  I’ve used 5 of these colors and for reference, the heathered versions seem to have a little less bulk to them. They are all listed as lightweight but this fuschia one doesn’t feel as thin as some others I have.

The mesh is a power mesh from my sister and is the most durable of all of the mesh I’ve used.  I have to confess that some mesh in my previous shirts has been from the bridal section of the fabric store and probably has no business being worn often, with friction u deer the arm!

Overall, while these sunshirts and their fabrics claim to be cooling and sweat wicking, the reality is that if it’s summer, you will feel like you’re creating your own swamp no matter what fabric you use.  It is very nice when the wind blows and you feel it through the soaking wetness you’ve created.  And the vents give a great illusion of heat release, but I’d have to walk around with my arms fully outstretched 100% of the time to really get any cooling.  

Yes, they are cooler than a cotton or poly t shirt. 

Yes, they dry faster.

Yes, they are much lighter weight than a t shirt.

But you’re still going to roast.

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