“Oh, shirt!”

A sewist’s journey up the shirt-making learning curve

by Judith Rickard

Here are some tips on shirt making details which will hopefully increase your confidence to tackle shirt-making or help with problem areas you’ve run into while making shirts.
Shirt Front Versatile Buttonhole-Button Plackets
Shirt Front Cut-on Buttonhole-Button Plackets
Yoke with Lining and Enclosed Seams – Burrito Yoke
Cuff Placket for Sleeve
Lined Pocket
Collar and Collarband

Before you dive into this information, a few notes:

  • These information packets were developed to go along with an in-person demonstration. Without seeing the demo, I’m worried that this written information will be more confusing than helpful. Photos (or even video!) would help, but I haven’t figured how to make that happen. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to make arrangements for an in-person session in my home studio.
  • This information is drawn from what I’ve learned making almost thirty shirts during the last couple of years. It is what works for me and the kind of shirts I make, and will often times be different from what you do and/or were taught and/or what the “rules” of sewing say. PLEASE, if how you are doing a technique works for you, then rock on! On the other hand, if you are finding something frustrating, maybe a tip here will help.
  • I won’t be discussing some important shirt-making subjects much or at all, and here’s why:
    • Fitting, darts, interfacings — bigger subjects than I can tackle here
    • Fabric choices — shirts can be made from almost any fabric!
    • Flat-felling — I haven’t yet settled on a method I feel I can recommend, and to be honest, I don’t really see flat-felling as that important…serging and/or French seams work for me.
  • Special tools and notions — there are only a few tools and notions that are out of the ordinary, and I note them in the instructions.

Lastly, here are common sewing abbreviations I use in the packets:

CB – center back
CF – center front
FL – fold line
LF – left front
RF – right front
IF – interfacing
RS – right side
RTW – ready-to-wear
WS – wrong side
SA – seam allowance

So, let’s get started, with my four general “lessons learned” in shirt-making:

  1. Commercial pattern instructions — As soon as possible, ditch the printed pattern instructions for a construction sequence that makes more sense to you and fits your way of sewing.
    For example, most printed pattern instructions have you do the buttonholes at the end. I find wrestling with the completed garment at the end of construction to do buttonholes to be frustrating. Much easier to change up the order of construction and do the buttonholes as soon as the front placket is completed, before the shirt front is attached to any other pieces.
    Another example of changing the instructions to fit personal preference—I prefer a natural shoulder line rather than a drop sleeve so my shirt sleeve draft has a higher cap, requiring setting sleeves in the round. This means a standard shirt construction sequence has to be changed.
    Don’t tell, and the sewing police will never know that you aren’t following the printed instructions!
  2. Staystitching — Do the minimum amount of staystitching. There are times when a little give in the edge of your fabric is needed for easing, and if it is staystitched it will have to be clipped. If you choose to forego most/all staystitching, handle cut out pattern pieces gently.
  3. Safety pins and sticky notes are your friends!
    Safety pins are great for safely marking almost any fabric, and for some fabrics (highly textured knits, meshes, very dark fabrics) it’s a better choice (and faster!) than tailor’s tacks. Incidentally, quilter’s safety pins (with a bend and made of softer metal) are easier to use.
    Sticky notes safety-pinned to garment pieces work great to mark RS/WS, RF, LF, RS, SA reminders, etc.
  4. Sewing (mostly) without pins is easier, faster, and more accurate — Margaret Islander and Janet Pray have great videos showing how to do it. In the following instructions, I note the few times that I recommend pinning; otherwise, I think “no pins” is the way to go.

Let me know how these tips work out for you!

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