flannel shirt sew-a-long: flat-felled seams, side seams, and narrow hem

Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in sew-a-long, sewing journal | 13 comments

flannel shirt sew-a-long icon

Hello my awesomesauce stitching fiends! This is our penultimate flannel sewing post! Yay! Make sure to check out the results of my particular project. A perfect shirt. Pretty much. Almost perfect. I made one error. Can you spot it?

A re-cap. 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!). We traced and cut the pattern in our tracing medium, and pre-treated our fabrics. We applied interfacing and painstakingly cut and marked all our shirt pieces. We then created our pockets, made the sleeve placket, and attached both yokes. Two days ago we put together the front placket and collar stand.

Today we are messing with one of the most difficult seams – the flat-felled shoulder seam. It actually isn’t hard to do, it’s just hard to do and have it look perfect. After we sew this up we have the much-simpler side seam, and then the narrow hem.

Let’s get started! Remember – I am available to support via email, blog comment, and Skype! I will Skype support any stitcher through the months of November and December 2013.

Your shirt is ready for the sleeve. I can tell you that the sleeve’s shoulder is a bit of a fussy seam.

To begin, we will be using a regular stitch, not a topstitch. So either remove one of your threads from the topstitching rig (and readjust and test tensions), or if you’re like me and have another machine, move to the other machine for these next seams.

First, carefully pin, wrong sides together, at 5/8″. That’s right, 5/8″. Remember how I mentioned we would be going off-pattern? Here we are doing it. REBELZ

Pinning Shoulder Seam

A closeup:

Pinned Shoulder Seam

And now – baste the sleeve to the armscye with a high-contrast thread. Baste it exactly at that 5/8″. We want to have this seam be pretty exact and this is a great way not to end up having to remove a seam later.

Basting The Shoulder Seam

The finished, 5/8″-basted sleeve-to-shoulder:

Basted Shoulder Seam

And now – topstitch! Make sure to backstitch securely at both ends of the seam.

I stitched with the SLEEVE facing up, and the shirt body against the sewing  machine bed. The reason for this is, we are going to be folding the seam allowance towards the shirt body so the stitch I’m making here, has to look great. Stitch right next to the basting thread (this makes it way easier to pull out the basting later, as compared to if you sewed over the top of the thread). I use my fingers in between the shirt body and the sleeve, to keep things moving smoothly. In the below picture, the lump to the left of the sewing machine foot=my fingers.

Stitching The Shoulder Seam... SLOWLY

At this point, when you’ve finished these seams, you can carefully remove the basting threads:

Finished Sleeve Seam

Then carefully trim the shirt-body side of the seam allowance. I trimmed to 1/4″:

Trimmed Shoulder Seam

Press, making sure to only press the seam allowances and seam line:

Pressing The Seam ONLY, On The Shoulder

Then, fold the sleeve seam allowance over the trimmed one and press again. Here, I’m using a tailor’s ham so it’s easier to press a curved seam. By the way, a tailor’s ham is often found in a thrift store for like a couple bucks.

Pressing The Shoulder Seam

And now it’s time to sew that flat-felled sumbitch! Topstitch, making sure to backstitch at both ends. Go slow. GO SLOW. Keep shifting the shirt body and the sleeve so that you don’t catch anything extra. Here are a few angles:

Sewing The Shoulder Seam

I don’t pin or anything, just adjust with my fingers as I go. It’s a little tricky, especially for newbies. Be patient and GO SLOW. Did I mention – go slow?

Sew Slow

Finished! Note, at the middle-top part of the photo, how I’d securely backstitched these seams:

Finished Felled Shoulder Seam

Now it’s time for the side-seam, which will be a French seam. This is a simple seam where we sew wrong-sides together, trim, then re-fold over those raw edges and stitch again. This seam will also take up a 5/8″ seam allowance, instead of the pattern’s 3/8″, which results in a 1″ girth reduction for the shirt.

So! The next few pictures will be a lot of boring pictures of me lining up the plaid all along the sleeve and the side seam – two long seams running down the garment sides. First, pin wrong-sides together. Pin so that the horizontal lines of the plaid motif line up RIGHT at that 5/8″ mark.

Lining Up The Plaid

All pinned and ready to stitch, using a construction stitch. Even though we pinned at 5/8″, we are going to be sewing at 1/4″. Sew, making sure to backstitch at both ends of the seam. Make sure too you have a fairly tight stitch, as we will be trimming very close to this first seam, in a moment:

First Side Seam, For French Seam

After stitching, remove pins and press:

Press Before Trimming

And now, trim. I trim to about 3/16″. That means, a little more than 1/8″:

Clipped & Ready For Pressing

Now, we fold our garment seams back over that raw edge, and press again. Make sure you are doing this second fold right along that first stitching line. This takes a little finger-pressing before the steam pressing. Like so:

Side Seam Pressed & Ready For Second Line Of Stitching

Now, pin – this time 3/8″ from this first seam, and making sure to line up the horizontal aspects of the plaid:

Lining Up That Second Seam For The Side Seam...

Lining up right on that blue line:

Lining Up That Second Seam For The Side Seam...

Here you can see how well the motif is lined up:

Plaid Lined Up - Perfectly!

Once we’re all pinned, it’s time to sew at 3/8″ using a construction stitch.

Preparing For Second Stitching In Side Seam

Here you go!

French Seam At Side Seam

And now – the narrow hem.

I ain’t gonna like. Narrow hems can be annoying, especially on certain fabrics. There are many ways to make a narrow hem but I’ll show you a decent one (I’m open to more suggestions and no, I don’t much like the serger-method). So first, sew at 1/8″ from the edge using a construction stitch, then press and (if you like) starch:

Pressing Hem After First Stitching Line

I know it’s hard to see my seam line at 1/8″ in the above picture, but it’s there – and it’s important, to help us give something to turn under for the next seam. Trim any little threads that have resulted from handling the shirt. Then turn that 1/8″ under, and fold another 1/4″. We’ll be sewing this hem from the wrong-side of the shirt, and using a construction stitch. Start stitching a little bit after the front placket, leaving long thread tails (the placket is too bulky to machine sew so we’ll be going back and handsewing that part.

Here’s a picture using pins for control of the hem…

Hem, With Pins...

And here’s a better method – using finger-control:

Hem

I AM NOT GOING TO LIE, those curves at the hem’s hips don’t go super smoothly. I gently clipped up to the first seam in order to give a little stretch but the hem is often a little wonky there. Shown before my two folds of 1/8″ and 1/4″:

Clipping At The Side Curves, Before Second Hem Stitch

Shirt hem is finished, you should have a front placket hem to handstitch:

Hem, Before Securing Placket Hem

Use a whip-stitch, ladder stitch, or slip stitch to secure up the bottom of the front placket:

Hand-Sewing Hem At The Placket

And here is our hem, before pressing. If it has a few ripples, don’t worry. The pressing will remove those!

Finished Hem, Before Pressing

Okay so – whew! You should be looking at something that LOOKS A LOT LIKE A SHIRT. We’re going to be applying cuffs, then placing and applying buttons and buttonholes. You’ll want to be an EXPERT at sewing buttonholes on this fabric before you sew them on the shirt, so next installment plan on practicing.

Any questions so far? METHINKS some students have fallen behind. That’s okay, as I’m still here to help!

Happy sewing!

 

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13 Comments

  1. My pattern still hasn’t arrived. I have been to two stores in town taking photos of their flannels, trying to decide if I want to go with something classical lumberjack, or purple and tan or dayglo orange and yellow and red. These things are hard for me, I haven’t even narrowed it down. It takes me a very long time to choose something that’s going to cost me $30-40. Haha. I’m a sucker.
    I am excited to trace my pattern, when it gets here. I am equally excited to serge (I have a serger here, it’s been picking up dust in the corner since 2006) the edges of my fabric and wash it and iron it. All of these things, I can do, and reading through your posts on them made me start tapping my foot like a kid who is getting tired of listening to that teacher that won’t start talking because I just want to Get. To. It! But, the tutorials after that, the ones where you are *actually freaking cutting out the material,* oh gawd, those make me want to crawl up into the corner.
    So, I am standing at the starting line for Round 2 here, raring to go! I fear that I may let my lack of confidence overwhelm me in some places…but I want to keep up! LOL

  2. @Bex
    I am super-excited to have you for Round Two. My advice on fabric – pick a fabric you just love the look of, because you are going to be handling it a lot!

    And just: don’t read ahead because yeah all the steps look daunting.

    Don’t you dare iron the fabric. Talk about a boring, joyless chore! Just take it out of the machine after it is dry, while the machine is still tumbling, straighten the grain and fold it, and hang it up on your shower curtain rod or summat.

    See you December 1st! :-)

  3. The teacher that won’t STOP talking is what I meant.

  4. @BexG
    I knew what you meant… & sometimes I feel like I *never* stop talking.

  5. So, I’m jumping from attaching the pockets straight to this one, because the bit about sewing the front placket (which is in the post before this one) seems to need to happen after the shoulder seams are complete. I don’t know if you put things together this way intentionally, but I did spend a fair bit of time wondering if I’d missed those instructions as I began measuring for the front placket.

  6. Yes. I was wondering when the shoulder seams got put in versus the front placket. Do you measure after attaching front to back?

  7. @Beth @Jenny
    Thank you for catching that error. The front placket can be sewn before attaching the yokes – but the collar stand cannot.

    So, attaching the yokes at the shoulder indeed needs to happen before we measure for our collar stand. That should have been done in this post, and I have put the yoke instructions there.

    Hopefully now that I’ve corrected the order I haven’t made MORE of a jumble. I think there were over 200 pictures of this shirt construction by the time I’d finished!

  8. Im just about ready to attach my sleeves. You say to pin with right sides together but it looks like in the picture that it is wrong sides together for the 5/8 in seam. Which is correct?
    Thanks

  9. @Jenny
    It is wrong-sides together. Thank you for catching that. I’ve fixed the error.

    You can do it right-sides together if you like – that just means the fold-over part will be happening on the inside of the shirt. I do it the way posted here as I think it gives a better result on the public side of the garment, but I’ve seen it done the other way, too.

  10. Just wanted to check about sewing the side seams. After the 1/4 inch seam do you sew the 3/8 inch seam on the inside of the shirt?
    Thanks.

  11. @Jenny
    After the 1/4 inch seam you trim, and then fold the fabric such that the right-sides of the shirt body are together, then stitch at 3/8″. This leaves a seam allowance that is fully enclosed on the inside of the shirt.

  12. Posted pictures on Flickr of my finished shirt.

  13. @Mary Kay
    Thank you for posting! The shirt looks great. Did you enjoy the experience?