Sewing: men’s shirt V

Time got away from me, and even though I’d put in quite a lot of time on this shirt, 12 1/2 hours already, it took until yesterday to put in another five hours on my Bernadette Banner-style pirate shirt. So we’re up to 17 1/2 hours at this point (not the 22 I thought I’d reached). You can read the earlier parts of this project here: I, II, III, IV. My next steps have lingered in the back of my mind, though: to fell the shoulder seams first of all, and then to attach the collar to the neck hole. This was my to-do list yesterday, and this is what I set out to do.

I worked in two separate shifts, a 2 1/2-hour shift before lunch, and a 2 1/2-hour shift after lunch. That turns out to be my limit, at the moment. My hand gets cramped from wielding the needle for longer than that, and the need for frequent breaks to unclench my hands winds up reducing my effectiveness. Bernadette is right — this IS a great beginner’s project for hand-sewing. But you had best be prepared for it to take a long time. You should view her tutorial on the running stitch, the running back stitch, the back stitch, and the felling stitch to understand how the shirt’s seams comes together. (She has an even more beginner video here.)

First up was trimming down half of the inside shoulder seams, and felling these in place. The felling stitch is super-tedious: a lot of diagonal stitches that grab 1-2 threads from the cut seam allowance, and 1-2 threads from the folded-but-uncut seam allowance, and seals up the backstitch inside a finished thread. I didn’t take too many photos here, because you get into a groove of stitching to complete the work. So there’s only one photo of this.

Next up was attaching the collar. This involved back stitching the collar to the edge of the shirt. Now, the collar is about 22″ long — 11″ on the back side of the shirt body, and two 5 1/2″ sections on the front body of the shirt, with the neck hole between them. But the neck opening is more than 28″ around — so the first thing that needed to happen was a running stitch all the way around that edge, in order to gather the edge. That … was not successful. I had to draw out the running thread, and try again. And I realized that really, I had four (4) sections of 5 1/2″! I wanted the middle-back of the shirt to be attached to the middle-back of the collar. That split the long stretch across the back of the shirt into four 5 1/2″ sections: like certain airplanes, two in the front, and two in the back! This time, I put in four running stitches instead of just one. After a bunch of deliberation and pondering, I attached the two 5.5″ sections on the front first, and then sewed across the back, using my running stitches as gather threads to draw down the four quarter-sections of the collar from 7″ each to 5.5″ each. And done.

Once the collar was secured to the shirt, it was time to fell the inside edge, hiding the raw seam inside the collar of the shirt. I thought about trimming down the seam, but I decided against doing so. A little extra bulk around the neck will give the collar some extra support, and provide a bit of substance when ironing.

It’s worth noting that having a block of beeswax in the shop has been a real godsend.Some threads, like gathering stitches for crinkling the fabric, should be unwaxed. Others, like construction seams, should be waxed. I bought a 1000-yard cone of unwaxed linen thread, and in the event that I can’t finish the cone I have a weaver friend who’d love to have it. But this will definitely support a number of shirts, if I decide that I want to make another two or three shirts using this method (at this point, I do). Pins are also an essential component of this sewing program — linen is a slippery fabric, and without pins this thing would have come undone in several places; the pins held everything together.

I really should throw those purple-handled scissors out, though. They’re good for pattern cutting, and they happened to be in reach when I needed scissors. But they’re not adequate to this task.

I finished up the collar, and tried on the shirt. It looks good! The shirt is finished, right? You can’t tell from the photo that the shirt isn’t done, and I could stop here, right? No, alas. I’ve got sleeves to put together first, and then I have to decide how I’m going to sew up the sides — with two triangular gussets, or with two square gussets, to accommodate my Jovial waistline. One way or another, I’m going to have to widen the shirt’s middle, without expanding the bottom of the shirt too much. Hmmm. Maybe two triangles, points to their bases? I don’t think so, but this may take a bit of time to work out.

Which means my text task is making the sleeves.

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