On Shirt Making

While I have enjoyed making a classic style shirt before and generally love wearing them, I hadn’t made one in a while. Then I watched The Classic Tailored Shirt class on Craftsy.com (affiliate links) and started craving some crisp new shirts to wear this fall. And when Spoonflower came out with a new Cotton Lawn fabric I had no choice really, but to design a fun floral print (my maxiflora shirting), order some of my own fabric and make at least one new shirt to get going.

As an idealist, I usually don’t craft just for craft’s sake. I really want to love and use what I enjoy making, which can be a hit or miss proposition sometimes. Shirt making easily fulfills my need for satisfaction with both the process and the end product in a sewing project. It’s a detailed, but not overly tricky process that results in a timeless garment that I will wear for years to come. What’s not to like?

Shirt front, Kwik Sew 3555, my maxiflora shirting fabric available at Spoonflower.com

Shirt front, Kwik Sew 3555, my maxiflora shirting fabric available at Spoonflower.com

The pattern I used is Kwik Sew 3555 and is one of several that instructor Pam Howard recommends for the Craftsy class. It is a “classic shirt” in that it features an un-darted body shape, has a collar with a collar band, a left front pocket, a back yoke, a fold over front placket and cuffs using a lapped placket. There are many other types of front and sleeve plackets that can be used in shirt making, but these are the ones covered in the class.

Front pocket, hidden by pattern matching.

Front pocket, hidden by pattern matching.

Another nice thing about the Kwik Sew 3555 pattern is that it has a separate piece for the under collar. It’s a nice feature in a pattern, and not every shirt pattern includes it. Pam discusses the benefits to having separate collar and under collar pattern pieces and also how to deal with it if your pattern doesn’t include one. She goes through every step of the shirt making process in the most calm and logical way. If you were ever intimidated by shirt making, her sweet voice and methodical approach will soothe all your worries away.

Shirt back. Narrow shirt-tail hem

Shirt back. Narrow shirt-tail hem

Even though I’ve been sewing for a long time, there is always more to learn and I picked up several new tips and techniques from the class to use when making shirts. There are several methods out there, in books or online tutorials, that can be used for constructing the shirt collar and band and attaching it to the shirt. This is one part of shirt making that many sewers can find frustrating, not because it’s confusing, but because it takes some skill and precision to collar a shirt and have it look professional instead of homemade. (I think homemade is great when it comes to cooking, but less so with sewing. Handmade, custom, or bespoke are what I’m striving for!) It takes patience and practice as well as a smart technique to make sure everything lines up, rolls and sits nicely. I have tried a few different methods for this, but found that Pam’s straightforward one really worked for me and I’ll continue to use it.

The only time I didn’t follow her lead was in hand stitching the collar band facing to the shirt. I finished the facing by pinning and edge stitching the collar band by machine. In the class, Pam follows up later with the edge stitching finishing details that I used. I don't mind hand sewing at all, but for a shirt collar, I prefer skipping the hand stitching and only use machine stitching to close and finish the collar band. The cuffs were hand stitched closed before top stitching them to match the collar. Pam covers some aspects of fitting the shirt, but the only alterations I chose to make were to lengthen both the body and the sleeves, which are typical alterations for me.

Pocket and front button fold over placket. Vintage buttons.

Pocket and front button fold over placket. Vintage buttons.

I almost skipped the pocket entirely thinking the print was too busy to bother with it. But Pam showed a foolproof way to create nice reinforced stitching at the top edges, and I had enough fabric to match the print, so I decided to try out her method. Voila! Neat and symmetrical reinforced pocket corners.

The sleeve plackets were continuous lap plackets, although she did include a pattern (and link to a video tutorial) for doing a tower placket instead. Two flat felled seam techniques were shown and were done without the use of a specialty machine felling foot. Her method for the shirt tail hem works well and I will be using that on other shirts or garments with narrow shaped hems. She covers details about sizing and spacing of buttonholes as well as showing a nice way to sew on a button that makes it lie flat when buttoned. I was happy to find some vintage shirt buttons in my stash that worked perfectly with the fabric.

Top stitched cuff, lapped sleeve placket and vintage buttons.

Top stitched cuff, lapped sleeve placket and vintage buttons.

She gives hints, tips and tricks throughout the whole class, explaining both the “why” along with her “how-to”. Everything that she does in the project makes perfect sense and worked very well for me. Now all I need to do is to figure out what fabric to use and which shirt style to make next.