flannel shirt sew-a-long: cutting the fabric & applying interfacing

Posted by on Nov 19, 2013 in sew-a-long, sewing journal | 19 comments

flannel shirt sew-a-long icon

Hello my awesomesauce stitching fiends! Today we are actually fondling and cutting fabric for our flannel shirt sew-a-long! It’s about time!

A quick recap: So far I’ve posted the supply list, a bit about what to expect in undertaking this project, and a link to the the Flickr Group (please consider posting your progress!). Last session we traced and cut the pattern in our tracing medium, and pre-treated our fabrics. I’m going to assume you are all caught up and ready to move on!

Remember – I am available to support via email, blog comment, and Skype! In fact, I have a Skype-sewing instructor date tomorrow morning, and you can bet I am excited!

SOooooooOOO guess what. There are like forty or so photos in this section of the sew-a-long and lots of verbiage. Pour yourself a cup of coffee (or tea, or pickle juice, or whatever), and let’s get going!

We are going to be doing about three operations today: cutting the shirt pieces, fusing the interfacings (both before, and after cutting shirt pieces, depending on the application), and marking the shirt pieces with the marks needed to place pockets and the marks needed to line up pieces during construction. You will need your fabrics, your interfacing, your scissors, needle and thread (thread in contrasting color to the fabric), a ballpoint pen, and whatever equipment you use to cut fabric (rotary mat or scissors – et cetera).

You will also need a knowledge of how to cut fabric from pattern pieces, so you might want to take a minute to review your technique before proceeding.

In order to cut with precision, we have to find the grain on the fabrics. Grain runs parallel to selvage. If you don’t know that, I’ll wait for you to catch up. If you’re the visual type, check this picture out:

Fabric Grain, Selvage

The selvage edges are the edges of fabric that don’t fray, even when you wash the yardage (in the photograph below, you can see the selvage of the satin fabric, running up and down on the left side of the picture). In general, the grainlines printed on a pattern correspond to the lengthwise grain, not the crosswise grain. This means that when we lay out the pieces that are going to be on the straight grain of the plaid fabric – the shirt front, back, and sleeves – these pattern piece grainlines will be parallel to the selvage and what is labeled, above, as “lengthwise grain – warp threads”.

We’ll start with some simple interfacing, to work with grain lines. All in all we are going to be applying interfacing to the following: the collar pieces, the undercollar pieces, the top pocket edges, the front self-placket, the sleeve placket overlap, the sleeve placket underlap, the cuffs, and the cuff lining pieces. In all cases except for the pocket edges and the front self-placket, we will be applying interfacing to fabric before we cut the pattern shape from the fabric. When you interface a piece of fabric, and THEN cut the pattern fom the fused piece, this is called “block-fusing”.

Below you see my interfacing smoothed out, with grainlines matching the satin’s grain, on the wrong-side of the satin – next to the paper piece corresponding to the cuff lining. I am going to block-fuse these together, following the manufacturer’s directions for the interfacing.

Cuff Lining, Prior To Interfacing

Before I do this, here is a close-up showing my interfacing grainlines versus my selvage edge. Not all interfacing has grain to it; but this particular product does.

Preparing To Interface

Fusing the interfacing to the satin: I use silk organza as a press cloth for most of my pressing. It performs well and has the added advantage of being translucent. Press cloths are not always necessary – just be careful whenever you press to use the appropriate heat and steam (or lack of steam) for the fabric pressing. When working with interfacing, it is important to follow whatever instructions come along with your interfacing product.

Pressing

After fusing, lay out your cuff lining piece with the grainline parallel to the selvage, and cut. If you don’t know how to cut pattern pieces out properly, it’s time for you to take a BIG BREAK and research this a bit before proceeding. It is pointless for me to go into more detail, because there are a few different methods in cutting fabric. As mentioned in the previous post, I personally use a rotary mat and rotary cutter, and I do not pin my pieces to the fabric. So in these photos you will see me doing this. However, many of you may want to pin and use scissors. Just please: make sure you are using a sharp blade or pair of scissors or this step is excruciating.

Okay, that’s enough about cutting in this post. Remember, I am available to help you if you get lost.

Once you have cut your cuff lining pieces, set them aside. At the end of this section of the sew-a-long, we will be stay-stitching the edges and you will see the results.

Let’s take our other remnant, the 100% cotton for the pocket lining, and talk about finding fabric grain when you do NOT have a selvage edge to work with. This method is going to be very important as we mess about with the plaid fabric, so it’s important you understand it.

In the case of the pocket lining, using either crosswise or lengthwise grain is suitable. So below, you see I have made a little clip at the edge of my pocket lining fabric:

Finding The Fabric Grain: Notch, First

After making this clip, I simply tear the fabric (this feels super-satisfying). For most woven fabrics, this will provide an edge directly along the grain of the fabric. If you look above at the illustrated diagram for grain, and look closely at my torn edges, you will get the general concept:

Finding The Grain (Shown: Pocket Lining Fabric)

Now that you’ve found the grain (crosswise or lengthwise – we can’t really tell and as I said for the pocket lining, it doesn’t matter), we then press the fabric to straighten it out a bit, fold the fabric parallel to the grain (you can see this fold in the bottom of the picture below), then lay out the pocket lining pattern piece so that the grainline is either perpendicular or parallel to the fold and the torn fabric grain. At this point, we can cut these two pocket pieces by having them in this little two-layer pile. You should know that a great deal of fabric-cutting for garments involves fabric that is folded over along the grainline and cut in two layers – and you can probably conceptualize why:

Not Much To See Here

And now – finally – we are going to work with the plaid fabric. You might be excited about this, but by the end of this session you will probably be crying!

So, let’s talk about our plaid. Only a few paper pattern pieces will be cut along the lengthwise grain. We are going to tackle the bias-cut pieces first. And we are going to tackle the interfaced pieces first, too. This means we will A. segregate a big piece of fabric for bias cutting, and B. fuse interfacing to this fabric before we cut out the pattern pieces.

At this point I am going to point out that you need to know if your plaid is identical on each side of the fabric. Mine happens to be, and many plaids are. If yours is not, you need to take care with how you are laying out your pattern pieces once we are cutting out the block-fused pieces. This is both for the shirt aesthetic, and so that we have the right pieces at the end of the day. We are cutting many of these pieces out one at a time, and for the sleeve placket overlap, it would be easy to cut two left-hand overlaps. For good habits in general, make sure to flip your paper pattern piece every time you cut a pattern piece one-at-a-time, if that pattern piece needs a symmetrical counterpart.

We need to know, in a general way, how much fabric we’ll need to separate from the main yardage, for these bias pieces. Shown below – the pocket, yoke, sleeve placket underlap, sleeve placket overlap, collar, undercollar, and cuff. Lay these out on a doubled-up layer of plaid, giving each piece ample room. Don’t worry that the plaid is lined up for folded all that great. — * Evil laugh * Well, don’t worry NOW as you’re going to have to worry a LOT in successive steps.

Flannel Shirt Sew-A-Long

You want to lay these out such that they are on the bias. Remember those little green lines we drew last session? Those should be lining up with the plaid motif:

Estimation

And now? Again, giving yourself ample room, tear along that left-hand area of the doubled-up yardage so you can separate this large piece from the rest of the fabric. It will be easier to work with this piece than all X-amount of yards.

Getting The Grain

Shown for the next several steps is the large-ish piece of plaid you just separated from the main yardage.

To confuse you more, we will not be cutting BOTH the yokes (inner and outer) on the bias. We are going to cut the inner yoke on the straight grain. Why? To provide structure and a firmer hang for the garment. Or: because I said so. So take that piece of plaid, press it and straighten the grain, and lay a yoke piece on it, conserving your yardage and making sure the vertical middle of the yoke piece is right in the middle of a plaid motif:

Cutting The Inner Yoke

After cutting, carefully thread-mark the markings on the yoke. There should be two at the bottom edge of the yoke, and one on each curved edge (I always mark the center of pieces like this, both at the neck seam and the bottom seam). To thread mark, simply stab a needle with contrast thread through the pattern piece and the fabric, pull it through, and snip the thread, leaving 1″ or so hanging out both sides of the fabric:

Thread Marking... Go Slow If You're New To It!

Carefully separate the yoke pattern piece from the newly-cut-and-marked yoke shirt piece, and set that fabric aside. The astute eye will notice that in the below picture, the fabric piece is not cut on the straight grain but on the bias – from when I cut the second yoke piece. But the thread-marking separation process, and the end result of thread-marking, is identical no matter what grain you’re cutting from:

Thread Marking

It’s time for block fusing! Again, block-fusing is simply fusing interfacing to yardage before you cut specific pattern pieces. We are going to take a small chunk of yardage from the last piece we tore, and – again, making sure we have ample room for the pattern pieces we’ll be cutting – block-fuse, then cut out the pieces for the collar and the undercollar. NOTE – in the picture below, these pieces are laying on one layer of fabric. We will need two undercollar pieces, and two collar pieces, so make sure you have enough of this one layer to cut those. This photo looks like I don’t have enough fabric, but I do – the angle of the photo is deceptive.

Calculating Block-Fusing For The Collar And Stand

Put aside the paper pattern pieces and cut a piece of interfacing to fuse to this collar-and-undercollar rectangle. Again – follow instructions for fusing, and make sure the interfacing grain and the flannel grain match, if the interfacing has grain:

Just Before Block-Fusing

After fusing, cut and mark these collar and undercollar pieces, one at a time, for a total of four pieces. Keeping the pieces on the bias grain, be conservative with your cutting layout so you have plenty extra from this block-fused piece. And for marking? You can use thread-marking again. But I usually like to take advantage of interfacing’s properties and make small marks with ballpoint pen, if I have every reason to believe they won’t show through to the right-side of the fabric:

One Nice Thing About Block-Fusing...

You should have leftover bits of that block-fused piece we used for the collar and undercollar pieces. This is an opportunity to cut out the sleeve placket overlaps and the sleeve placket underlaps. Again – cut one at a time, on the bias, and make sure to FLIP your pattern pieces after you cut the first pair of placket pieces:

You Should Have Enough Left Over...

And now is a good time to talk about handling cut fabric pieces. In short: don’t! Handle them gently and don’t crumple them. Bias-cut pieces are especially prone to distorting. Set them on the ironing board and steam-fuse them again if you like. I do this because I’m a weirdie.

Pressing, Again

All this tearing, fusing, then cutting is a little annoying. But block-fusing and then cutting pieces is almost always far better than cutting pattern pieces separately from interfacing pieces, and then fusing them after cutting. Fusing first is more accurate and gives a better result without distorting the pattern pieces, as long as we are very careful and fuse interfacing properly.

And now – one more block-fusing experience – the cuffs. You know the drill by now. Tear a rectangle that can accommodate two outer cuffs (shown here – the paper pattern piece and one of the satin cuff pieces), cut a piece of interfacing to this size, straighten and align grains, fuse, then cut.

Cuffs, Bias-Cut

Now –  still working with the piece we first separated from the main yardage – it’s time to cut mirrored pockets. This is easier than it sounds. Take a small piece of fabric, tear, straighten the grain, and press, then fold it right along the lengthwise grain and in the middle of a plaid motif, as shown below. Then lay the pocket out at a bias angle and carefully cut through both layers:

Cutting Mirror Pockets

And then you get – mirror image pocket pieces! At the end of this session we’ll be applying those pocket interfacing strips to these pieces. For now, set them aside.

Mirror Pockets

We will not be interfacing the front placket until later in the shirtmaking process, so we are done with interfacing – for now.

Now finally, cut the second yoke piece from that piece of yardage, cutting on the bias. Thread-mark as demonstrated. Picture not shown because I forgot to take a picture. DEAL WITH IT.

So after all that generous yardage we put aside to cut these bias pieces, we have a little bit of fabric from that piece left. Not enough to cut out any of our remaining large pieces:

"Extra"

We only have five pieces of the shirt left to cut: the back piece, the two fronts, and the sleeves.

For the sleeves – the pictures below show the process. First, I double the fabric and tear off a piece that will accommodate the sleeves:

Reducing Yardage Size, For Accuracy

Here is the same piece, after I’ve pressed and straightened the grain. In order to have matching sleeves, make sure to fold along lengthwise grain right in the middle of a plaid motif, just like we did for the mirrored pockets:

Flannel Shirt Sew-A-Long

Cut this piece and thread-mark the sleeve placket lines (shown below marked in yellow), the top of the sleeve, and the notch on the curve of the shoulder:

Sleeve Placket Placement

For the pleats, I take a risk and make a tiny, and I mean TINY, snip for each pleat mark (four per sleeve). Snipping must be done with caution, especially for a fairly loose-weave fabric like this, with such a small seam allowance (3/8″). Since I barely handle the pieces before sewing them, I find it is okay to take small clips like this:

The TINIEST Little Notches!

Shown below: after I cut the thread markings on the sleeve:

Separating And Cutting Thread Marking

Cutting the back piece: again, straighten the grain, and fold along lengthwise grain right in the middle of a plaid motif, before cutting:

The Back Piece - Cutting Carefully

Shown here: I am adding some length to the shirt. Pretty self-explanatory how this works, as most patterns come with clearly-designated lines for lengthening garment pieces. For this shirt, I lengthened the body about 1 1/4″ for my son. I am kind of naughty to even show you this as you should be very careful about adding length to this shirt. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up with a plaid disaster – or worse, pieces that don’t fit together upon construction. Nevertheless I did it, and I’m not ashamed!

Adding Length To The Back Piece

Separating and clipping the thread-marking on this back piece – you can see this mark in the above picture, at upper-right, and below, at mid-photo:

More Thread Marking

And moving on to the front piece – first, cut your front pieces ONE AT A TIME, do not layer the fabric. First, we need to know how to line up the front pattern piece on the fabric, so that the plaids will match horizontally at the side seam. You can do this by laying out the marks on the fabric…

Lining Up Side Seams

… or by abutting the cut back piece with the paper pattern’s orientation for the front. Note how I have slashed and spread the front pattern piece (at the top of the photo below) the same distance as I cut and slashed the back pattern piece.

Lining Up The Front, Using Our Back Piece

Now, when I cut out this first front piece, I am going to depart from the pattern a bit. When it is time to cut that front edge, I will ignore the front edge on the paper pattern after I know where, along the plaid motif, it lines up. At that point I use a ruler to cut the remainder of this front line out so it is very precise, along the lengthwise grain:

Cutting The First Front Piece

Believe it or not, the second front piece is very easy. Just carefully straighten fabric grain, lay the first front piece on top of it, and cut carefully around! Shown here I have not laid it out perfectly just yet. It is well-worth your time to really get this right, or as good as you can get it.

Cutting The Second Front Piece

For shirt front placket we will be departing from the pattern directions considerably. For now, just thread-mark the fold line at the top of the front edge:

Front Marking For Placket

Pocket marking – see, all this meticulous plaid farking around is going to benefit us. We need to only mark one pocket location in one front, since we cut out two IDENTICAL front pieces and we can use plaid placement for pocket placement. So here’s one side, marked:

Pocket Marking, Using Thread

If you are still with me, you can finally let out a long, shuddering sob. Because you are ALL DONE cutting! And MOSTLY done interfacing! Here is what you should have:

All The Pieces... Finally Cut! WHEW!

From bottom left clockwise: shirt fronts, undercollars, collars, yokes, pockets, pocket linings, cuffs, cuff linings, pocket interfacings, pocket underlaps, pocket overlaps, sleeves, and back piece. The collars, undercollars, cuffs, cuff linings, sleeve placket overlaps, and sleeve placket underlaps are all fused. There is one yoke cut on straight grain, and one on bias. Sleeves and pockets are mirror images of one another. Fronts are identical. Side body seams are horizontally aligned with respect to the plaid motif. You are so tired of looking at this plaid you want to murder its ass.

I think, not including the interfacing strips that are going to be fused to the pocket edge and the interfacing we’ll be cutting out for the front facing, there are a total of twenty-three pieces to this shirt. MOST OF WHICH you just cut with a lot of finicky finesse. So – GO YOU! I am not even kidding, give yourself some major props. And while you’re at it – fuse those interfacing strips (shown at far right in photo) to the pocket pieces – right along the line I’ve designated “interfacing”, that we marked on our lined pocket piece. As I said, we will be doing our front-facing interfacing later in the process.

We have one more thing to do this session.

We are going to stay-stitch along the edge of both cuffs, both cuff linings, and both undercollar pieces. Stay-stitching is a way to provide structure or guidelines on a fabric pattern piece, and stay-stitching will generally be hidden along the inside of the garment. You are simply going to stay-stitch 1/4″ along the edges of these pieces. Make sure, before you start, that you can sew a perfect 1/4″ seam allowance. Practice like a madman. If you like, you can painstakingly draw (in pencil) a line 1/4″ from all edges and slowly stitch there.

Here is what your stay-stitched pieces will look like:

Cuffs, Collar Stands

Now you can probably tell that that is a tidy and precise little pile of pattern pieces. And believe me, you are going to be glad things are so exact, when we get to shirt construction!

I hope you all made it this far through this process. I am going to go ice my wrist from all this typing. I will be posting again on Thursday, as we begin construction on the sewing machine. Any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to post!

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19 Comments

  1. Wow Kelly! Your instructions and pictures are so user friendly, easy to follow and understand. Very nice. Received my pattern yesterday so am going to try and catch up today!

  2. @Judy
    Thank you so much. Be sure to email, call or text if you have any trouble!

  3. I’m amazed that you use a rotary cutter and no pins to do your cutting. How do you cut the curves so perfectly?

  4. This is awesome. Thank you for posting it! I don’t have the bandwidth to participate right now, but I’ll definitely be looking back at this when I do get around to making the shirt I’ll have planned.

  5. @Mary Kay
    One word: experience. To get used to rotary cutting, my advice is to take a quilting class. The equipment takes a while to master, but cutting is accurate and fast by my methods.

  6. Kelly, I use a rotary cutter all the time; but with a cutting ruler–so only straight lines. I know how they work. That’s why I’m amazed you are cutting clothes out with one.

  7. Ok, so I’m going to try this. I used Swedish tracing paper and was fairly easy because it clung to the flannel and my pattern was trimmed. What about commercial paper patterns? Those don’t cling to fabric. Do you trim those? Do you use this method if the fabric is slippery? Also I used a small rotary cutter. Can you do this with large ones?

  8. @Mary Kay

    I still use the rotary cutter with commercial patterns. I can even lay a pattern sheet with multisizes on the sheet, flip it up to the fabric underneath and still cut exactly on the (imagined) line. Like I said though, I have many years’ practice. And I think this is IDEAL to cut slippery fabrics as you don’t move the fabric at all (to pin) once you lay it down. I use the regular-sized rotary cutter – I’ve never used a small one.

    Be careful and go slow! Good luck!

  9. Thanks! Wow, I’m impressed.

  10. My pattern pieces are traced. My husband has been losing weight and his measurements put him in the largest size. I’m still afraid the shirt will be too roomy in the shoulders. I bought the flannel on sale at Joanne’s, so no harm if it’s too large. I can tweak the pattern and make another.

  11. @Charlene
    Thank you for your comment! I think making a sample garment in the best-guess size is a great way to start. Unless you are experienced with making alterations, it’s too easy to get into trouble. Especially given the very particular ways we have to line up plaid patterns, etc.

    If you do decide to add a little room anywhere, please do adjust your paper pattern pieces and build entirely new paper pattern pieces, then re-measure them at the stitching lines to make sure they will join easily.

  12. Aw man, I was doing this for hours last night and my back was ACHING! Holy crap. So, I still have to do the collars and beyond, I am bringing this stuff to the upstairs table and trying to work with cutting ergonomics. This will be my journey through the evening. Ha!

  13. Alright, I ended up getting 3.5 yards, but somehow, it’s not enough….I can’t fit the sleeve on this fabric when it’s folded in half, it hangs over by about an inch. Dag. So, I will be back to the fabric store tomorrow…

  14. @Bex
    I’m sad to hear about your back! Also: 3 /12 yards is plenty so I am wondering what’s happening with your cutting layout! However if after a night’s sleep you still can’t figure it out, yes go back and grab more flannel. Also: if you want to Skype so I can see your set-up I am happy to do so. Text me for best results!

    Good luck!

  15. Hey, so I got the new fabric washed and all cut out. I messed up the first pockets that I did because I folded perpendicular to the lengthwise grain, so awesome – lesson learned. I used another piece, folded it parallel and got matching pockets. So, when I got to the sleeves, I realized that I had to have it folded parallel, but the shoulder girth was too wide to fit across that. I had to cut them out one at a time, and shimmy the second sleeve about 6 inches into the unused fabric to get the pattern to line up/match. So, that took a little bit of extra fabric. I didn’t pay attention to how wide the fabric was when I bought it….so that might be part of it. I have no idea why I used so much, I have a ton of left-overs, but it took 4.5 yards for me to get everything cut out. Mostly, I think I am a dumbass. I thought I was following everything you did, laying out the pieces and then ripping off what I needed and cutting. I was able to get all my bias pieces out of that first part I ripped off, but I don’t think I have a photo of how I laid them out….it was the left-over piece that I couldn’t fit the back, arms and front on. So I must have used too much in the original. I’m gonna go try and thread this machine and do some sewish action now.

  16. Okay – coming up from behind! I am working on cutting out all the pieces! My plaid is a balanced plaid (from side to side – warp threads) but it is uneven (from top to bottom – weft threads). I think that is right – as you said, before this is over I’m vowing not to even make anything from plaid unless it is even and balanced!!! The plaid has a lot of open space to it – the stripes are sort of narrow with a good bit of plain space between and I’m not sure how it’s going to look with all the bias pieces. I have laid it out on the bias, changed my mind and moved it back to straight of grain and I think I’m deciding to put everything on the straight of grain! This is the main reason I’m so darned slow on this process. I’ll try to post a link to my plaid and see what you think. It will be on a separate comment.

  17. Here’s a link to the fabric. Hmmmm – it won’t work and my camera is unavailable right now. It is on Fabric Mart Fabrics under flannel and it’s color is listed as toasted oats, black and white. Maybe you can see it – it is on sale now.

  18. @Ann
    This fabric? How lovely.

    With any fabric that is not a solid, figuring out what works best for motifs (whether they are yarn-dyed as in these flannels, or printed) is always an involved process – and I think, an exciting one! I look forward to seeing your finished product!

  19. @BexG
    “Mostly, I think I am a dumbass” gave me a good laugh! I just sent you another email re: your progress.

    In my introductory post I made it clear to buy lots of extra fabric. It’s just such a time-intensive and meticulous process that unless you’re pretty used to sewing from patterns, the layout stuff can go awry. Pattern layout is something that lends itself to experience. No one should beat themselves up if sometimes they run short or cut woefully. It still occasionally happens to me.

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