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Sewing-wise, I’m in an indolent mood these days.  I don’t feel like tackling a new pattern, a new technique, a new fabric, a new anything. It’s a fine time, then, to sew myself a flannel shirt.

We’re reaching the peak of the flannel shirt-buying season, that’s for sure, judging from the L. L. Bean and Lands’ End catalogues clogging our mailbox. Buying flannel shirts is not an option for me. Oh, I suppose I could look hard enough and find shirts that fit me that don’t have a lumberjack look.  But what’s the fun in that?

Flannel shirts! Buy them by the dozen!

Flannel shirts! Buy them by the dozen!

Besides, yesterday my flannel arrived from B & J Fabrics in New York. I had swatched it back in August when I was in Manhattan for several days and could see and finger the yardage. It’s an unusual color combination–kind of a pale golden yellow in one direction and olivey brown in the other direction. (I know, it may not sound inspiring, but trust me.)

I wouldn’t say this fabric haunted my dreams, but it was an interesting and rare neutral that bridged gaps between other wardrobe pieces. For flannel it was sophisticated but not full of itself. (Arrogance is so unbecoming in a flannel.)

Cotton flannel Paul Bunyan wouldn't choose.

Cotton flannel Paul Bunyan wouldn’t choose.

Three and a half months after having the swatch cut, I called B & J to order a couple of yards. It was still in stock, which wasn’t surprising. If I have a rare talent, it’s the ability to wear shades of yellows and greens that would make most other people look seasick. Not that I’d go so far as dress head to toe in these shades. Pajamas would be pushing it.

But a shirt–that I can handle.

A classic man's shirt scaled down to my size.

A classic man’s shirt scaled down to my size.

The pattern is one I’ve done before: from 1955, Vogue 8267, described as a “boy shirt,” which sets my teeth on edge a little. Couldn’t Vogue have called it a “man-styled shirt”? How about just “shirt”? That works for me.

"Boy shirt"? Please.

“Boy shirt”? Please.

Aside from the name, though, I like almost everything about this pattern.  It is scaled to my size, except for the pocket, which is barely four fingers wide and virtually unusable. I widened it by an inch for shirt number two.

For a brief shining moment I thought myself very clever choosing a shirt for my next project. I’d be getting something sewn with less work and no angst for a change. But then I began reviewing what lay ahead. A shirt has a lot of construction going on. Think of it:

From 2009, my first rendition of this pattern. I like the bias-cut front placket.

From 2009, my first rendition of this pattern. I like the bias-cut front placket.

  • A collar on a band.
  • Plackets and cuffs on sleeves.
  • A pocket.
  • Different left and right fronts to cut out and keep straight.
  • A front placket.
  • Yokes.
  • Many buttonholes.
  • Flat-felled seams.
  • Topstitching or edgestitching.
  • If the shirt is a plaid, there is a lot of careful cutting and matching, too.

None of this is nightmare-inducing; it’s just that it’s easy for a shirt to bear the marks of homemade-ness. Crooked edgestitching. Lumpy, bulky collars and cuffs. Sloppy flat-felled seams.  Once a part of it has been so cursed, the shirt seems to know, and the mistakes mount. True.

On the other hand, I don't like the ham-handed hem.

On the other hand, this hemming job doesn’t pass muster.

Maybe this flannel shirt will not be a walk in the park after all.

Well, I will just take it at a good, slow pace. Where’s my flat-fell foot, which I haven’t used since my anorak project? Where are David Page Coffin’s shirtmaking book and DVD? Class, it’s time to review.

Proper preparation is what will separate the man shirts from the boy shirts.