Shirt Making Adventures I

I know the fabric is busy, but the shirt’s lines are actually quite good. And princess seams are super adjustable for those of us without standard-issue upper bodies.

I gave up on off-the-racks button-up shirts a long time ago. Probably around the time that, wearing a light purple button-up blouse at a work meeting for my old job at CN Rail, I looked down to see that the third button (yes, THAT button) had popped open.

Clothing manufacturers typically base their products on a b-cup. Some of them will base their models on a c-cup. Generally, if you’re talking about a knit t-shirt or a top without front closures, you can work with what’s in the stores without embarrassing yourself; but the farther over the b-cup line you go, the more you will be risking with any shirt that has buttons.

A few years ago I thought I’d struck gold with a coral-red blouse. It had lovely long sleeves with lattice smocking stitches at the top. It was soft, and had a defined waist. Best of all, it buttoned up, and stayed buttoned up! Then I got more and more into sewing my clothes and realized that the front darts were so much higher than they were supposed to be, that we might as well call them shoulder darts. Or maybe armpit darts. Bust darts, they were not. Bother.

(It’s amazing how much these previously-missed details become obvious when you start paying attention to the fit of the clothes you make yourself.)

So a current sewing priority is button-up shirts I can wear to work that will stay closed without safety pins or glue. The yellow one from the summer worked pretty well, but it’s getting colder now, and I’d like to have some long-sleeved options.

See? Very work friendly. This is the view I am making: I thought the floral would look cute ruffled up at the end of the sleeves.

Enter the silk-cotton voile I bought 50% off this summer, and a stash pattern from Vogue. I muslined it in a blue poly a month or two ago, just enough to see that the fit was pretty good, but could use some more space in the bust. (sigh) So I added another half-inch to the side-front pieces at the bust point, and graded back to the 14-line at the shoulders and the 12-line at the waist. I shortened the back-waist length by 1.5″ all the way around, broadened the shoulders by 1/2″ on each side, and widened the hips. It’s basically a melange of 12-16+ at this point, with a bit of Size 4 Petite thrown in for good measure for the length. My torso is weird.

The main fabric--already underlined, but you can see what it looks like. Honestly it's got so many colours in it I'm not sure I could clash with it if I tried. Either that or it's self-clashing.
The main fabric–already underlined, but you can see what it looks like. Honestly it’s got so many colours in it I’m not sure I could clash with it if I tried. Either that or it’s self-clashing. In person, the colours are not so opaque.

This weekend’s challenge, though, was underlining.

Yes, underlining.

I bought two colours of the voile in the summer. One was this lovely off-white floral watercolour painterly print that I thought was just gorgeous, and I got 1.5m of it. And then I got 3m of a white, both to underline the floral print if needed, and to make a separate white shirt. The voile was incredibly sheer. Soft, gorgeous, drapey, and wonderful, but sheer.

I wasn’t entirely sure I would use the white for underlining the floral, though, until I interfaced the cuff, collar and placket pieces. The white interfacing completely changed the brightness of the print, making the background much whiter, not to mention changing the opacity. There was no way I could put those together with the sheer off-white fabric. So underlining it was.

White on the reverse, showing the underlining stitches. And also the sheerness of the fabrics. They have good opacity when put together, though.
White on the reverse, showing the underlining stitches. And also the sheerness of the fabrics. They have good opacity when put together, though.

This is, to put it mildly, an incredibly tedious process for a princess-seamed blouse. There are nine pieces to underline: three on the back, four on the front, and two sleeves. Each piece was cut out twice, once in floral and once in white; they were placed together and pressed, then a hand-basted line in the middle in silk thread held them together. Each piece was then smoothed around a magazine, the edges pinned in place, then hand-basted along the edges. It took about six hours altogether, just for the body pieces (I haven’t yet done the sleeves).

BUT. The floral is now brighter, a better match with the interfaced pieces, and no longer sheer. The layers are behaving very well together and now have the weight of a fairly drapey shirting fabric. And are still incredibly soft.

Look at those colours!
Look at those colours!

The second challenge was assembling the shirt, now that there were four layers (of very lightweight fabric, but still) in each seam.

The pattern calls for french seams, which if you are sewing-uninitiated, means that you sew the seam very narrowly the wrong way, trim down the seam allowance, flip it around, press it, and then sew it again the right way at the seam line. I’m not sure how easy that is to visualize, but basically you end up with a garment inside with very neatly encased seams–no edges. It’s a fabulous finish for lightweight fabrics, but with four layers–even of lightweight fabrics–which then becomes 8 layers through the magic of french seams–I know from experience, it makes a rigid seam line that stands up underneath the garment. This is especially unattractive on the princess seam over the bust (also learned from experience).

So I did some experimenting: a french seam; a clipped french seam; a classic felled seam; a faux-french seam (in which you sew the pieces together the normal way, turn the seam allowances in on the inside and press, then sew the seam allowances together). All made with scrap fabric in a fairly drastic curve to see what would be softest, most comfortable and most attractive.

From left to right: french seam, clipped french seam, felled seam, faux-french seam
From left to right: french seam, clipped french seam, felled seam, faux-french seam

The french seam turned out bubbly and rigid, as I expected. The clipped french seam performed better, but I wasn’t convinced the clipping wouldn’t fray the fabric over time, and it was still fairly rigid.

The felled seam was the softest and the least rigid, but all of the folding and pressing made for something pretty ugly on the outside. The faux-french seam would have done better if I could have managed the sewing inside the test-bit with a better curve, but I didn’t; it was still fairly rigid. But I reasoned it was probably the best bet and I’d just have to wrestle with sewing the curves.

Until I turned them inside out, and saw that the reverse of the felled seam was actually fantastic. Neat, soft, good curve, little bulk.

reverse of felled seam on the left, reverse of faux-french seam on the right
reverse of felled seam on the left, reverse of faux-french seam on the right. Which one would you rather wear?

The front seams have now been put together with a reverse felled seam, and it’s so pretty, and behaves very well. The rest of the seams are classic french seams, then pressed down and edge-stitched to keep them flat. I’ve also finished the collar and the hem, but this is getting long enough (or too long), so I’ll save that for the next post.

Which will have to wait until I get a chance to restock on thread. French seams + edgestitching = lots and lots of thread required. I’ve used a whole spool and I haven’t even gotten to the sleeves yet.

I swear, if this shirt isn’t wearable when it’s finished, I’m going to be pissed. But so far all signs point to yes.

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5 thoughts on “Shirt Making Adventures I”

  1. Andrea, I have that pattern, too!!! For button-up shirt making adventures…someday!! Wait, so when you say you put the SF to CF seams together with a reverse fell, the wrong/underlining side was sewn as the right side? And the right/floral side was sewn as the wrong side?

    1. Basically, I sewed them together with a traditional right-to-right seam, then on the wrong side, snipped away as much as I could of every layer except one. That one was then folded in half and pressed, wrapped around the snipped layers, and then the enclosed pressed seam was edge-stitched to the shirt. It got rid of a lot of the bulk, which helped.

      With a regular fell (like you see on jeans), you sew the wrong side to wrong side, and do the fell seam on the outside of the garment. I did the fell seam on the inside.

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