Monday, February 13, 2017

Making a Shirt

A tunic length shirt with cuffless sleeves which can be rolled up.

There was a time when I had the process of shirt construction down to a stream-lined art.
I became serious about making classic shirts when our son in his early teens stretched to a slender height above 6 feet.  Finding jeans, let alone anything such as casual trousers, developed into a hunt that still continues.  Shirts are easier to find in 'Tall' sizes, but most of them assume that a tall man also has considerable girth.
I was an experienced home sewer, so chose a basic men's shirt pattern and proceeded to customize it. I split the sleeves and body of the tissue pattern, measured and inserted sections of paper to lengthen, taped tucks to decrease un-needed fullness and set about creating a wardrobe of shirts for my son.  I had access to remnants of fine oxford cloth, warm chamois flannels, traditional checks and plaids.   
I usually laid out and cut several shirts at a time, fashioned the collars and collar bands, cuffs and pockets before working on the shirts in an assembly line manner.

Along the way I was also making a variety of shirts and blouses for my daughter, myself, various nieces and friends.  It was the era of Gunne Sax shirtwaists, made to resemble the ones worn by young women of the late 1800's.  I bought fine broadcloth, crisp lawn, dainty pinstripes and spent careful hours adding lace and ribbon trim, tiny pearly buttons. 

It has been nearly 2 decades since I have made a shirt!
Last week, rummaging through a bin of fabric I discovered several yards of a soft cotton flannel.  I purchased it during the years in Wyoming, but have no idea of its intended use. Blue isn't a color I wear--except in denim--but there it was.
On a rainy day whim I decided to see if I remembered the process of creating a shirt.
I rootled out a shirt pattern, never used, not quite what I wanted,
 but do-able.
I wanted a loose, longish shirt which could be popped on over a pair of jeans with a T-shirt as an under layer.
I fussed with some alterations to the pattern, pressed the fabric carefully, lined up and pinned the bars of the plaid along the selvage edges and began cutting out the pieces.
I had forgotten that the layers of a lightweight plaid are prone to skittering and that it is best to cut such bits as sleeves and yokes one at a time so that the plaid bars can be meticulously matched.
Looking at the finished shirt it is noticeable that while one sleeve lines up fairly well with the body of the shirt, one does not. 
I wanted a lined yoke which the pattern didn't specify and, for the life of me, couldn't recall the best way to achieve that. Still, with all the fiddling I was nearly done with the shirt by evening. 

I always attach the sleeves before side seams are stitched so that I can make
 a continuous French seam. 
At 9 in the evening I was not paying proper attention and discovered  I had stitched those long seams with the right sides together which would leave the finished seam on the outside.  I picked up my seam ripper, started to pick stitches and then balked. 
There had to be a work-around.

The make-do solution was to finish the French seam, then press to one side and stitch it down on the right side of the garment--a modified flat-fell seam!

I"m annoyed with myself for botching the plaid match in places and for being slow to recall some of the finer points in the construction process.
However, I've created an everyday-wearable garment which is at least the equal of the few women's flannel shirts which I've seen available locally.
I might make another shirt--if only to prove that I can do it right!


  1. Clever, clever you, I would not even start a shirt because of the button holes. It looks fabulous and the colours are pretty to.

    1. Thelma; Both of my sewing machines have a sophisticated buttonhole process--a special attachment that can 'read' the size of a button inserted at the back of the gadget and create uniform buttonholes. I have to review the instructions each time to be sure I'm doing it correctly.

  2. Gosh - you ARE an experienced dressmaker. Half of that was foreign to me! Well done with your project though - surprisingly, I went out and bought a plaid flannel top rather like this only last week, only with long sleeves and a fold down collar. Nice and snug for freezing February days.

    1. Jennie; My dressmaking/tailoring skills have languished over the years. I learned the basics in a home ec class during high school, then went on to some fine-tuning through how to books and help from a friend. Nice fabrics and meticulous construction details were hard to find in my petite size years ago, as well as beyond my frugal budget. I came to enjoy the process of making good clothing for myself and others.
      A flannel top is SO comforting, especially if a bit over-sized.

  3. Goodness me, I think your shirt turned out GREAT! Especially with having to match stripes.

    Happy Valentine's Day dear Sharon ~ FlowerLady

    1. Rainey; Most of my clothing is purchased at consignment or charity shops, but I'm pleased to find that with a bit of practice my seamstress skills could be revived.

  4. Been a long time since I sewed anything complicated too. You did a great job after so many years. Surprised that you don't wear blue too much. It seems like it would be a lovely color for you with your silver hair. Happy Valentine's Day!


    1. Jane; I don't have the peachy complexion that would enhance wearing blue--I tend to like deeper colors--shades of plum, purple, dark red or burgundy. I'll wear this plaid shirt with a brighter layer peeking out.
      The 'silver hair' still surprises me!

  5. Mistakes and all it really turned out well. I do zippers, but buttonholes have always been beyond me. Love to wear blue, my favorite color.

    1. Janet; From your photos I would think you wear blue very well! Buttonholes: I've had sewing machines that 'do' buttonholes in various ways--I have to concentrate on the process, and even then sometimes there is the frustration of picking out one that has gone askew.
      I've never installed a zipper by the instructions that come with the package--I have to baste them in place.

  6. Your shirt turned out just wonderful! Love the fabric and the colors. I was once an experienced seamstress also and made all of my clothes as well as clothes for my daughter. My sewing now consists of mostly quilts and mending. I am sure the shirt you made is of better quality fabric and workmanship that what would be purchased as most department stores. A friend (former seamstress also) and I were discussing recently how garments are not cut on the grain of the fabric or the stripes/plaids matched in many garments. I guess if you had never made clothes, you probably would not even notice those things. Love your save on the French seam. I enjoy your blog and the slice of life you write about. Your cats are just wonderful.

    1. Shirley; I also turned more to making quilts when the need to make garments for my extended family had ended. If we've been meticulous with our stitchery we are always going to notice the workmanship--good or not so good-- of a purchased garment.
      The little cat in your profile photo is darling--cats are such a great help when one is sewing!

  7. I think your shirt turned out very nice and nobody would notice that the plaid didn't line up or the seaming was an afterthought. I was like you, always sewing for my children and myself. I made little girl dresses and bonnets, play clothes, whatever was trendy at the time, prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses, and sometimes whole wardrobes for myself. Then fabric became incredibly expensive and I found that sewing was not cost-effective any longer. Things have taken another turn and clothes have become expensive and sewing is once again cost-effective, especially utilizing thrift store fabrics. I just spent the last week sorting through my patterns and fabric stash once again. I think we are on the same wave-length! I do love the style of your shirt. It looks very soft and warm. x Karen

  8. Karen; At one point I carried swatches of fabric in my purse, so that I could match sweaters and such to skirts I had made! There was great satisfaction in creating lovely clothes for myself, my daughter and my nieces.
    I stopped making my clothes when I gained 10 pounds!
    I wore the flannel top last evening and have it on again this morning. It is soft and cozy--but if I make another I think it needs to have shorter 'tails.'
    Living in Kentucky I don't have the need for the lined wool skirts and blazers which were a staple of my New England/Wyoming wardrobe--I need long floaty skirts for our endless summers.