I’ve given the month of august shirts as an overarching theme. From now on and as long as it is motivating, I’ll assign myself specific tasks or focus areas to help me improve my sewing, month by month. Who knows – this may last a year!
My first idea was to explore and practice shirt-making techniques. One reason is that I made a linen shirt for my husband recently which made me remember how fun shirt-making can be. Another reason is that I go back to work this month, and a couple of fresh shirts would lift my spirit (I love my job, but post-holiday blues is a thing). Accordingly, I decided to make not just one, but three shirts simultaneously based on the same pattern with the same alterations, only with a few design differences.
A couple of years ago I bought a new shirt pattern from Swedish Mönsterfabriken, the Agnes shirt. It’s a loose fitting modern shirt without darts and a slight A-shaped bodice and a curved hem. The collar has a perfect shape and the cuffs are just right. I’ve made a few shirts with and without the collar and a shirtdress from it already and know the pattern well. I chose this pattern because I love it, know it and it felt like the perfect choice for a practice run. The only modifications I made to the original pattern was straightening the side seams for a more classic, boxy shape and as usual shortening the sleeves by 2 cm, a standard modification for me. I left out the box pleat as usual, there’s plenty of width still.
The fabrics I prefer for shirts are almost exlusively linen and cotton, and I wanted to use only quite lightweight shirtings for these. Lightweight fabrics are perfect for shirts meant for warmer weather or to be layered under jackets and sweaters. Cotton lawn and poplin are very easy to sew with and quite crisp. Linen is softer and can look a bit rumpled, but that’s part of the charm.
Fabric weight is interesting in itself. I always look at the GSM (Grams per Square Meter) number when fabric shopping if it’s available. When shopping online this is a very reliable indication of what the fabric is suitable for. Shirtings are typically lightweight and from 110-160 GSM. A lighter fabric than this is probably too sheer and fragile for shirts, but there are no absolute rules. If it is heavier the shirt will be quite warm and rather heavy.
I prepared my machine with white sewing thread for all three shirts and a 70 Microtex needle. The overlocker was set up with a three thread narrow seam for finishing the seams around the sleeve openings. All shirts were cut at the same time, and I fused all the interfacing before I started the actual sewing. This is my least favorite part of the process, but it must be done properly.
Classic white shirt in linen
White lightweight linen (125 GSM), one layer of interfacing in the collar and cuffs, double in the collar stand. The buttons were harvested from an old linen RTW shirt that no longer fit me. I wanted a minimalistic, almost sheer shirt and let the fabric shine. It’s very comfortable and perfect for the office in August heat. I already love this one.
Casual shirt with a mix of fabrics and band collar
A mix of two shirtings (110-165 GSM): Right front, outside yoke, outside of the collar and inside the cuffs plus patch pocket in white/blue stripes, the rest in blue needle-striped shirting. Single layer interfacing. Light blue buttons. This shirt was inspired by RTW shirts I’ve seen lately. Band collars are easy to layer under jackets, and I wanted to try a little pattern mixing.
Classic striped shirt
Striped blue and white cotton lawn (110 GSM) plus white for the inside of the collar band, under collar, inside yoke and inside the cuffs. Pink buttonholes, white buttons. Double interfacing in the collar, single in the cuffs. This shirt is inspired by one of my husband’s shirts with dark blue stripes and orange buttonholes.
I had a lot of fun choosing the details of the shirts. One decision I regret is not adding new seam allowances to my pattern. Previously I’ve made this shirt with 1 cm seam allowance as per the instructions (asking for overlocked finishing), but since I wanted to practice making flatfelled seams I should have added 1,5 cm to the shoulder seams and side seams. It turned out to be near impossible to sew neat felled seams at the shoulders with 1 cm allowance, so I went with a simpler solution, an overlocked finish. The side/sleeve seams are flat-felled, but turned out a bit narrow. I still like the result, though. Live and learn!
Resources for shirtmaking
One of my favorite sewing resources is the brilliant Closet Core Patterns website. A couple of helpful tutorials are Collars and Necklines and How to sew perfect buttonholes, both invaluable if you need to freshen up your skills in those areas. My preferred way to finish a yoke is by the burrito method, it looks so neat. You can find a tutorial here (also by Closet Core Patterns): Sewing a shirt yoke – the burrito method.
I haven’t bought any fabric specifically for these shirts, but most of them are from The Fabric Store (NZ). They offer the best international service and has a great selection of linen and cotton shirtings. Other great resources are of course my favorite Metermeter (DK) and Merchant & Mills (UK).
I highly recommend making the same pattern in doubles or even triples if you are interested in honing your skills and learn something new or master a difficult technique. I used surprisingly little time from start to finish, only five days with around 2-3 hours each day. By planning a bit ahead and avoiding change of thread I managed to sew very efficiently. I try to use my stash first these days and didn’t need to buy anything new. What do you think of this approach? Would you like to try the same? Do you have a favorite shirt among the three? I’d like to hear about your shirtmaking struggles, if you have had any, too.
I’m not done with shirts yet – at least two more projects are cut out and ready. For every project I have at least two new ideas! I love being in this flow and hope it will last. Maybe I’ll even dare to try making a shirt in silk crepe de chine some day.