You don’t need a serger or expensive equipment to make the best t-shirt you’ve ever worn!
Yesterday my son had his fourteenth birthday party, and it was a small and sweet event. We gathered friends and they carpooled to a swim date while Phoenix and I set up food and music in the house. The group adjourned home for homemade chili and cornbread, fruit salad, virgin mimosas, cake and ice cream. I bought Nels a little Instamax camera and we took instant film photos indoors and outside. Our friends and family – my mother, brother, and sister-in-law – gave generous, thoughtful gifts and my son loved being the center of attention. I tried to hold onto each moment of the day because my children are growing so quickly.
I felt down that evening, as I have been of late. Our son came into the bedroom before he went off to bed and Ralph and I it was his favorite birthday so far. That’s high praise, as we’ve had several very special parties indeed.
Besides the camera, I made him two birthday shirts: a chambray workshirt with pearl snaps and a long-sleeved tee in cheerful red and white. The spring has brought sunshine and with it, I realize – as I so often do – how low I’d been feeling with all the grey, rainy weather. Today Ralph and I took our aging (and ill) dog on a trail walk and it did the three of us good; the dog was limping but eager to continue. Skunk cabbage and verdant greenery; loamy earth and trickling creek. It was an oasis after a hardworking week.
Below, plackets. I enjoy so much being able to sew a menswear shirt without needing directions. These shirts are now soothing to me to make, despite troubles with my trusty Pfaff. I’m planning on making my brother, and my husband, similar shirts in the next two weeks. I’ve struggled with unspeakably painful sadness and anxiety over the last few weeks and it seems like making someone something special is such a pitiful, mundane thing. But it is something I can do and it’s something so few others can. And so I endeavor.
As simple as menswear shirts are for me now, for a long while I struggled to understand their components. Years ago when I started wanting to convert my shirts to an entirely clean finish (meaning no serge, pinked, or zig-zagged internal seams) I really foundered in knowing where and how to do this.
While it’s impractical for me to attempt to detail every kind of menswear button-up shirt out there, and while there are many ways to clean-finish a shirt, I’m going to share my tried and true method with the more common builds of menswear shirts. I generally use french seams for all the block joins, including the curved armscye (which some people tend to flat-fell – not me). The collar, yokes, cuffs, and front plackets generally do not need any changes to cutting and marking, but these block joins do.
By french seaming the interior of the shirt, you get a gorgeous finish on the interior. I also think it is faster than flat-felling and leads to a more agreeable effect:
For french seams, you usually need a minimum of a 5/8″ seam allowance. Can you just ignore this and make the shirt up anyway? Not if it is at all fitted or semi-fitted – your shirt will be too small. So if you have a pattern with a smaller seam allowance – 3/8″, 1 cm, 1/4″, or 1/2″ seam allowances, you are going to need to add some seam allowance to the vertical interior seams (body and sleeve), the shoulder seams, the armscyes, and (possibly) the yoke joins.
Let’s try to understand a menswear shirt a bit first. Disregarding for a moment the collar/collar stand, cuffs and cuff plackets, and front placket, let’s just think about the body and sleeve pieces. Below is a basic example, which includes four body blocks: a front, a back body, a back yoke, and a sleeve:
If you have been following my blog, you may notice I am enjoying the Euro fit pattern (this version by Bootstrap is great). Even though this shirt does not have a back yoke, it is functionally rather similar. There are five body blocks: a front, a side front, a side back, a back, and a sleeve:
In general, the only place you will need to add more of a seam allowance are these basic block seams (including the shoulder and armscye). This is because the collar, front placket (whatever way it is formed), and cuff and cuff placket generally come with the seam allowances required to finish the garment cleanly. There are likely exceptions to this, and if you have any questions please take a few screenshots and ask in the comments.
There are several common variations on collar and front placket, and that can be confusing. I’m going to talk about those a bit.
So for a basic shirt, below are our pattern blocks with seam allowances included (minus the cuff placket piece). We have a collar and collar stand at top left, and a cuff at top right. Below that we have the body back (left), the shirt front with a cut-on front placket (center), and the sleeve (right). My blue lines indicate where you want to add your seam allowance for a total of 5/8″ seam allowance. If your back block is not cut on the fold – if there’s a curved center seam for example – you will also add to your seam allowance there, as it is a vertical body seam. Note you do not have to add any additional seam allowances to the collar pieces, the cuffs, or the cuff placket. Think of these as little mini-blocks that are self-contained.
Also: if you have a back yoke, you don’t have to add a seam allowance to the yoke/body joins if the yoke is lined; most yoked menswear shirt patterns will ask you to cut out two yoke pieces and sandwich the back body between them when you join. You could also ignore adding seam allowance to the shoulder too, in order to finish the front and back shoulder seam using the burrito method.
Below: a lined yoke, inside a plaid shirt I made my partner.
But I mentioned variations – yes? Below are a few more common shirt pattern blocks. On top, we see a collar with cut-on stand (meaning: the collar and stand are one piece). At bottom left, a front with a cut-on front facing. At bottom right, a shirt front with a separate front placket. Again: the collar, neckline, and the front placket pieces have enough seam allowance for a clean finish. So does the front placket. But you will want to add a seam allowance to the shoulder, armscye, and side seams to get your 5/8″ for these french seams:
By the way – if you are curious – of all the styles of shirt placket and collar I like the cut-on straight front placket, and the separate collar and stand. This allows me to colorblock and affords me a great deal of control in hand-finishing.
Below are the blocks for the Euro shirt build I mentioned (which is featured in the photo directly above). Instead of two body pieces for the trunk (a front and a back), the shirt has four body blocks for the trunk that feature princess seams – really great for shaping. Here, we are still only adding seam allowances to the vertical seams, shoulder seam, and armscye. The neckline and front do not need more seam allowances for a clean finish.
So there you have it! When you think about changing any construction of a garment, it becomes so much easier to tackle it when you start to really think about the parts, and that is easier with experience. Now, there are loads of tutorials on making french seams online and I trust you to find them. For the 5/8″ version I am mentioning here I sew a 1/4″ seam (just a hair scant) wrong sides together, press open, and trim (if it seems necessary). I then re-fold right-sides together, press again, and sew. And then – the final press! Pressing several times yields very smooth results, which is especially important for that curved armscye.
For the front placket, I find that sewing from the right side of the shirt secures a gorgeous front finish. For the cuffs, I hand-finish the bottom of the collar stand (shown below – you can’t even see the stitches) and hand-finish the inside of the cuffs.
If you are new or new-ish to sewing menswear style button-up shirts, contemplating all these different shirt patterns can be overwhelming. I advise you make a few of these shirts, and bookmark your favorite tutorials as you do. Soon they will be easy as pie!
Shirt: Bootstrap Fashion’s free blouse (modified, details below) in Toasted Almond from Robert Kaufman’s “Mammoth” line.
Jeans: Vado custom block (from Jeanio) – boyfriend-style fit with fitted hip. Mid/heavyweight denim (very low stretch) from Pacific Blue.
One of the first intermediate garments I sewed, was a flannel shirt. Listen – I live in Aberdeen, Washington and while we didn’t invent the plaid flannel per se, we sure got it on the scene. In the early 90s – when I sewed my first shirt – the typical M.O. was to find them at thrift stores. I hadn’t filled out yet – I was still a relatively petite C-cup – so I’d buy what was available: the men’s flannels.
Of course, menswear doesn’t fit most women’s bodies in a comfortable or practical way. For me, the shoulders too broad and the arms were too long. The shirt hipline was too narrow yet the waist was baggy. I think that is what my fourteen year old self must have been chasing, when she purchased a lovely raspberry and green soft cotton flannel and embarked on the adventure.
I remember my mom and I squabbled every step of the way. A menswear-styled shirt isn’t exactly a beginner project: you have the cuff plackets and the front placket and fiddly collar and collarstand and pockets! Then there’s the narrow curved hem – ugh! We argued throughout the creation but
These days I pretty much take menswear shirting to #levels. I am constantly pursuing better craftsmanship and new methods. Plaids are amazing because while they take a little extra work to match – the . For this reason, I don’t both using any flannel that isn’t pretty decent quality. And flannel can be tricky that way. It can look great on the bolt – but once you’ve prewashed, turned to rubbish! The “Mammoth” line has been very satisfactory so far and I picture myself sticking with it until I’ve chomped my way through several more of their lovely colorways!
And yes, those are bias-cut cuff plackets, and a bias-cut cuff. I interface the cuff, but not the placket. While interfacing a placket can be very helpful at times, in general you want to use a very, very light interfacing. The medium/heavy weight of the flannel meant interfacing the plackets was not wise. The cuffs, collar, and collarstand interfacing made for a very rugged-feeling shirt.
Curved baby hem – another potentially frustrating seam to pull off:
Here’s my noir photo of my shirt. Being all mysterious ‘n’ shit:
Finally: I modified the Bootstrap shirt in only two ways – the sleeves, and to add breast pockets. I modified the sleeves for a cuff placket, and to narrow the sleeves. I wanted to be able to wear the plackets open, but have them not flop! Two pleats at the cuff as per tradition.
Now let’s move onto the jeans!
I’ve hosted two jean sew-alongs so it hardly seems like I should keep telling y’all how I make them. I will say this denim was just wonderful to work with. It was mid-to heavyweight, which feels good for a fall/winter jean. It also had a very firm hand. And the blue/black indigo colorway is drool-worthy, especially when coupled with the traditional goldenrod thread work:
Those who’ve been with me a while will remember my Miniature Giant Japanese Baby Bunting and the wonderful fabric I used. Well today I finally got to use the last little bit of this fabric! I used it for my pocketbags and waistband facing, and because I used a crossgrain facing and pieced this facing, I really did use the last bit of this fabric economically. SO SATISFYING!
While I am not totally averse to a curved waistband, steaming the curve into the crossgrain uses less fabric (therefore less bulk), and makes for a better performance and finish – IMO:
(Also note how fly my fly is!):
Stitcwork meeting at the center back yoke:
My own little pocket graphic. I accidentally sewed the pockets on the wrong side – usually the larger curved motif is at the outseam! Brass rivets, zipper, and snap:
First: if you are just finding my site, please do join up with me at Bespoke/Hogaboom. This is the best way to reach me, as comments close on old blog posts!
So! Today one of my online sewing groups is finishing up a shirtmaking module as helmed by David Page Coffin, shirtmaker extraordinaire and author of two shirt construction books (here, and here). I finished my version of a menswear shirt several days ago, and yesterday took a few pictures (OK more like a dozen). I also wanted to drop a few plaid-sewing tips here as I find myself more and more excited about working with plaids; you can read a bit more about the pattern in my pattern review.
Nels, male model. Adorable times One Hundred! You know. I made all the clothes pictured: the Finn hat, the Flyer Jacket, the skinny wool trousers (Banyan by Figgy’s), and the hooded pearl-snap shirt. AW YEAH. Hell I (arguably) even made the child. Yeah. Yeah I’m pretty awesome.
OK, so down to brass tacks: I have two new garments to show you, and two patterns to discuss. Across the internetz many (mostly)lady-bloggers are sewing up a batch of boy patterns. They are all PDF indie designs, have a wonderful size range of 3 months to sizze 16, and they are all featured on sale this week. I was honored to be asked to participate. August 26th I will be submitting my second entry. If you like what you see here, you might pee your pants on the 26th! No, really. It’s that good!
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? 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 – and if you’re lucky and just finding the sew-along today, why not give me a ring? Email, Twitter, Facebook – come find me!
Hello my awesomesauce stitching fiends! Yes, I am still on top of this sew-a-long business. “The show must go on”, as they say.
Today we have a fairly easy series of tasks ahead of us in our flannel shirt sew-a-long. You should be pleased with yourself at the session’s end! Among other things, we will be working buttonholes. So be prepared to bust out your manual and practice – ideally on shirt fabric scraps.
Remember – I am available to support via email, blog comment, and Skype! Just last night I had an email from a sew-a-long student and I responded within the hour.
Let’s get started!
Hello my awesomesauce stitching fiends! Today we are actually fondling and cutting fabric for our flannel shirt sew-a-long! It’s about time!
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!