Wednesday, 11 April 2018


In the same week that a friend's mother was destashing and I scored two lengths of shirting (one poly-cotton and one wool cotton) I saw a progression of photographs on Instagram from a sewist, describing the making of a man's shirt.  
Poly-cotton (l) and Wool/cotton (r)
I could do that, couldn't I? How hard would it be? JTH agreed,  nothing to loose and he would gain a couple of shirts if I was successful!

The instagrammer (Sew-it WithDi)  recommended Vogue V8759

It's quite an old patten, practically vintage

When I read other people's comments on their sewing projects (and if you are interested in joining a group and benefitting from the hive mind I can thoroughly recommend The Self Sewn Wardrobe by Mallory Donohue a great facebook group*) I see that many people begin with a muslin. I have to confess  that in all my years of sewing, and I began aged about 8 sewing doll's clothes on my mother's ancient treadle machine, I have only made a muslin once, for my wedding dress in 1977. I don't even tell myself that I will treat my first attempt at a pattern as my 'wearable muslin', I rarely make up a pattern more than once (with one exception, maybe I'll blog about that one some time) I just plunge in - with some variable results, I have to admit.

So, why break the habit? - no muslin this time, either. No matter that I have never made a shirt before. But honestly it is the tiny techniques that I expected to find tricky - ways of sewing that are peculiar to men's shirts and that transform a shirt from home-made to hand-made. 

But I did measure the pattern pieces carefully against a ready to wear (RTW) shirt that I knew fitted JTH to his satisfaction.

I know I have to cut twice but it is easier to plan the lay-out

And here's another confession - I am not a member of 'Team Trace' either,  once I have decided on a size I cut the pattern out. Generally this is no problem as I am only going to make up the pattern once, am I not?

JTH does not have a lot of patience for trying on, so after checking length and chest measurements against the RTW shirt (collar size did not matter, the shirts will not be worn with ties) I just forged ahead. I did not show him the shirt until it was finished and pressed either. You see I have this idea that JTH has a fear of hand made stuff (or I think he does) that it will look daggy and he will have to wear it just so as not to offend me. I don't think he has ever said this, but I always feel that trying on a half made thing will increase this fear. 

I did, however,  subject him to a running commentary each time I emerged from my studio for meals or sleep.  Just because I loved every bit of the construction.  The pattern instructions, that I followed to the letter, instead of my usual practice of just a quick scan of the pictures, were brilliant.

This is the wool-cotton fabric, you can see how springy it is but it pressed out well

When placing the collar band I found lots of pins placed at right angles to the seam the best way to keep the layers in place. 

I wonder how others like to place their pins? Do you pin parallel to the seam or at right angles? And does anyone dare just sew over the right angled pins? I do at times but have had so many broken needles that I tend to only do this on easy long seams with only two fabric layers, on a seam like this I always remove them as I go. This is why I prefer these glass head pins from Merchant & Mills (never the cheaper plastic headed ones that I have learned to my cost melt under my iron)

button holes next and a tiny pocket detail

Almost finished and ready for machine made button-holes. I love  the wonderful button-hole foot that came with my first electronic sewing machine about 25 years ago. Do you know the one? It has a little jig what you insert your chosen button into; after which all you have to do is set the dial to your chosen button hole-shape, place the first stitch, on the carefully measured and marked dot (the only skill required) and hit the gas.

thread to match the buttons, not the shirts

All machining done I sit down with a pile of buttons, needle, thread, thimble (always a thimble), and a cat (nearly always a cat) to sew on the buttons and snip or tie in all cotton ends.

after pressing

The shirts were all made from stash - not a penny spent except on the pattern. I always have cream and white sewing thread (an all purposed poly cotton thread by Gutermann is the one I prefer, I buy it in the largest reel I can get) and have a very large hoard of buttons.

larger pockets to accommodate a modern smart-phone

I have already said that I found the pattern perfect for a novice shirtmaker like me - or even an expert, except an expert may not need to have recourse to the pattern instructions as often as I did. But if I make more shirts and as I enjoyed the process I may break my usual habit and do so, I will modify the back a little. The pattern is quite old, from a time when men's shirts were very fitted. it has a traditional back yoke but the lower back is in three pieces, with run-and-fell seams, and fits closely to the body.  JTH is slim (annoyingly so, probably lighter than me despite being a couple of inches taller) and the shirts fitted well but another time I will make some modifications.

I will cut the back in one piece allowing for a box pleat and little loop at the centre back. I might also mess around with the collar shape but as JTH only wears a tie for weddings and funerals (and then never with a checked shirt!) he is not particular about collars.  But I am wondering whether I can achieve a small enough button hole on my machine to make button down collars.

maybe I'll play with the collar next time

One change I did make and that was to make a deeper pocket to accommodate a modern smart phone - JTH has had many phone disasters over time - the inevitable phone down the loo scenario, but the funniest was when it fell into a large bucket of wallpaper paste.

I would love to hear in the comments of anyone else's experience with shirt making. And if anyone is thinking of taking the plunge do have a look at Mallory's face book group. Each month she takes a new project with lovely VOLGs about the techniques involved and this month she is talking about button downs!