Cut From the Same Cloth


The summery striped linen I snatched up in 2014 at The World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale has been turned into not one, but two garments.

I had long eyed this piece for a blouse for myself, using Vogue 8772, which I’ve now sewn half a dozen times at least. Now it really is a trusty, tried and true (or “TNT”) pattern for me.  I spent quite a lot of time–I am a slowpoke–figuring out where to position certain stripes in this unbalanced stripe.  “Preview windows” I cut from paper helped me visualize the fronts, back, and collar before I committed to cutting the actual pieces.

After I finished my blouse I had oh, about half an acre of this beautiful linen, which sewed and pressed like a dream, left for another project. Would a striped skirt be good? I wasn’t so sure.

I can’t believe how long it took me to realize this linen was destined to be a summer shirt for Jack. He had watched my blouse coming together and admired the result, and when I asked him whether he would like a shirt, he said “Yes!”

I think it hadn’t dawned on me before to make a shirt for Jack from this fabric because we would be risking the uncool look of a couple wearing matching monogrammed golf jackets. But we could choose to wear our shirts at different times–if we remember to notice what the other person is wearing.

(A couple of weeks ago we were mildly horrified to discover as we walked into the grocery store  that we were both wearing shirts I’d made from the same unusual seersucker. Luckily I was wearing a cardigan, which I buttoned up so that only the collar peeked out, and we avoided eye contact with other shoppers as we wheeled our cart up and down the aisles. We escaped without a single remark about being a cute couple, but it was a close call.)

When I cut out the pieces for Jack’s shirt I did anticipate a repeat of the grocery store incident and vowed to position the stripes differently.

You will notice that the pink and purple bars on my blouse are at center front but are halfway between the neckline and shoulder seam on Jack’s shirt.

You will also notice that the buttons on my blouse are purplish. Jack’s are your standard white shirt buttons. (Call me lazy–it was the best choice in the button stash.)

Another difference between these two garments is that Jack’s has a label.

Also, Jack’s shirt has a yoke–which shows off the stripes horizontally–and sleeves. 

So you see, our shirts do not match.

But they are cut from the same cloth–much like their wearers.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for photos of Jack and me.)

Project: Vogue 8267 (1955), “Boy Shirt,” Part 3


I finished my flannel shirt this morning.IMG_4272 (260x460)

The End.

Oh, all right. I’ll try to find a fresh angle. It’s just that I have made about three dozen shirts over the years. What is there to say about collars, cuffs, plackets both of the front and sleeve varieties, yokes, pockets, fronts or backs that someone else hasn’t said before or better?

Also, I chose a fabric that’s practically impossible to photograph for demonstration purposes. The soft, fuzzy texture and mottled colors of the flannel conceal imperfect stitching (thank goodness).

Nice sleeve placket and cuff, wouldn't you say?

Nice sleeve placket and cuff, wouldn’t you say?

At least I can report that I successfully followed a tip in a Threads magazine. The contributor said that when a collar has a straight outer edge she eliminates that seam allowance and cuts the collar on the fold. Then she doesn’t have the bulk of a seam allowance going into the collar point and causing homemade-looking lumps. If you sew collars you know what I mean, and if you don’t sew, believe me, sewers are very concerned about bulk in their collar points.

Top: the original pattern piece. Bottom: redrafted to eliminate the seam allowance from the outer edge.

Top: the original pattern piece. Bottom: redrafted to eliminate the seam allowance from the outer edge.

Because I’m so slow at understanding sewing tips–heck, I’m slow at understanding everything–I drafted a new collar pattern. I was so proud of myself. I discovered later that I goofed. I had eliminated not one but two seam allowances. If you sew, you’ll know that was not bright, and if you don’t sew, believe me: that was not bright.

Knowing I often make dumb mistakes cutting wrong pattern pieces that have to be discarded, I was extremely conservative cutting out my shirt and had a nice, big scrap of flannel left, just in case. So I cut a correct collar, no problem.

My template for placing thread markings for the buttonholes.

My template for placing thread markings for the buttonholes.

My new collar, made following this simple tip, was so superior to what I’ve always sewn, with less bulk and fewer steps that I’ll make my shirt collars this way from now on.



On the other hand, my shirttail hem is rather disgraceful. The sleeve and side seams are flat-felled, and somehow–the pattern instructions don’t tell you how (of course, she muttered bitterly)–the seam is supposed to gracefully transition to a rolled hem. If you sew, you know what I mean and why I’m exasperated. If you don’t sew, believe me. I’m exasperated.  Teasing out the stitching for several inches in the hem, pressing in a graceful curve and handstitching the hem again sounds so tedious. I might end up shredding the edge in the process, making the problem worse.

Well, I’ll leave the hem alone for now and sleep on it.

Perhaps forever.

Solution to the hem dilemma: tuck in the shirt. (The vest is ready-to-wear.)

Solution to the hem dilemma: tuck in the shirt. (The vest is ready-to-wear.)

Project: Vogue 8267 (1955), “Boy Shirt,” Part 2


For me, one of the pleasures of making a shirt is not having to squint and keep finding my place in the instructions. Many shirts ago I realized I could put instructions for all the separate parts on index cards and exercise much more freedom in the construction sequence. If I’m in a pocket mood I flip to the pocket card for reminders of a neat trick or two to making one. Same for plackets, sleeves, and so forth.

Instructions for sewing each shirt component have their own index card.

Each shirt component has its own index card with instructions.

If I devise a better technique I can replace one card rather than scribble in the margin of the instructions.

Monday I cut out all the pieces. I was glad this wasn’t a plaid so there wasn’t all that matching business this go-round.  (I continue not to feel very industrious.)

What I did next was all standard procedure:

  • Made a pocket and attached to the left front.
  • Pressed in the long edges of the front band and edgestitched it to the right front.
  • Made pleats in the back, then sandwiched it between the yokes and stitched the seam. Pressed seam, graded seams, pressed yokes up.IMG_4184 (345x460)

Forgive me–I think I just reached a new low for sewing blog-writing (as I suppress a yawn).

However, it is so gratifying to get these simple parts done and see a shirt taking shape from what was so recently yardage.  And the next step is, to my structural visualization-deficient eyes, anyway, rather magical.

I learned a nifty technique from shirtmaking teacher Steve Pauling for neatly and accurately enclosing the fronts in the yoke seams. I’m not sure this is his invention, but I learned it in one of his shirtmaking classes. I know so few sewing tricks, I feel triumphant every time I perform this one.

Lay the back and fronts right side up as they will lie as a finished shirt.

Lay the back and fronts right side up as they will lie as a finished shirt.

IMG_4229 (460x345)

Roll up the back. Carefully lift the back and let the inside yoke flip down. The outside yoke stays in place.

Roll up the fronts.

Roll up the fronts.

Right sides together, pin the outer yoke to each front in a couple of places.

Right sides together, pin the outer yoke to each front in a couple of places.

Now bring that remaining yoke, the flipped-down inner one, up to match the outer yoke.

The remaining yoke, the flipped-down inner one, is going to be brought up to match the outer yoke.

The two yokes are now pinned together.

The two yokes are now pinned together.

In my notes I wrote “It will look weird. It it doesn’t, it’s wrong.”

Stitch the yoke seams.

Stitch the yoke seams.

Grade the seams.

Grade the seams.

Gently tug each front out through the center.

Gently tug each front out through the center.

One front has emerged from the chrysalis.

One front has emerged from the chrysalis.

Both fronts are unfurled. Press the new seams and edgestitch.

Both fronts are unfurled. Press the new seams and edgestitch.

Now stand back and admire what you hath wrought. Nice!

IMG_4200 (292x460)

Project: Vogue 8267 (1955), “Boy Shirt”


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.


Lost Momentum: Reward for Safe Return


The beginnings of a sleeve pattern.

The beginnings of a sleeve pattern.

When I got back earlier this week from a 12-day trip to Ohio I thought I’d brought everything back that I left with. It turns out I was wrong.

I lost my momentum. And darned if I knew where it went.

To be specific, I lost my momentum drafting a pattern for a shirt for Jack that I began a month ago. I’d naively thought I could just alter the shirt pattern I’ve been using for years: nip some fullness out of the sleeve, front and back, and Bob’s your uncle, move straight to shirt construction.

But no. I found myself under the spell of shirtmaking teacher Steve Pauling.

And he somehow persuaded me that drafting a new pattern by the draping method would be the way to go. In a moment of weakness or wisdom, I’m not sure which, I agreed.

My shirt pattern must be worthy of this linen shirting, bought in London last summer.

My shirt pattern must be worthy of this linen shirting, bought in London last summer…

I had put off learning any pattern-drafting for the last decade, resisting my sewing teacher Edith‘s generous offers. Having a blog was the game-changer. Now I’m not just sewing–I’m Getting Things Sewn, for pete’s sake. Hero’s journey and all that.

So Jack accompanied me to Steve’s studio and stood patiently while we draped muslin on him. Steve made marks on the muslin and took measurements. Then we began translating those marks into a sloper–a close-fitting paper pattern–as the preliminary step to a custom shirt pattern.

Draping fabric on somebody, making marks, and turning those into paper pattern pieces is an interesting process but whose reasoning eludes easy comprehension for me. I take some comfort in knowing that my aptitude for spatial reasoning is only so-so. I have enough to be able to parallel-park, but not so much that I can grasp the slightest relationship between a three-dimensional body and a two-dimensional pattern without effort and practice.

...and of this cotton, bought at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, MN.

…and of this cotton, bought at Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul, MN.

Steve was happy to go at my super-slow pace to move me through this process. I did some pattern work under his supervision and then at home sewed a first muslin. In our second meeting we evaluated the fit on Jack and made changes for a second muslin.  We began drafting a sleeve.

Home again, I took a stab at finishing the sleeve draft. The object is to create a sleeve cap that smoothly fits the armscye and that balances fit and mobility. This is part science, part art.

Then I went on my trip, and the concepts that had begun to gel went poof!

When I got back, I looked at that shirt project with mild but increasing aversion. Pattern-drafting is not my favorite thing, but it’s a key to creative freedom. It was time I stopped avoiding it at all costs.

(Have you ever noticed that telling yourself to stop avoiding something never inspires interest, excitement, or action?)

Feeling this aversion in the past had led to years of guilt-inducing UFOs (unfinished objects). I was not going back to that, I swore to myself.

Then I realized what had stopped my momentum dead in its tracks more than lack of knowledge or skill: assuming that I should “go it alone” and that to ask for help would be “imposing.”

Says who?

Not me, anymore.

I think creating and sustaining momentum is an individual thing, from one person to the next, and one project to the next. The push and pull of structures, habits, teachers, and deadlines can all play a part in getting things sewn. I need to notice what’s missing and fill the gap. Do I need more expert guidance? Then get it!

I e-mailed Steve, asking if he would help me get back on track with this (to me) daunting project.

No problem, he answered. Let’s find a time.

And Bob’s your uncle.