Sewing: Men’s shirt VI

I only got into the studio for an hour and a half today, bringing the total hours on this shirt project to 19 hours of hand-sewing: back stitch for the structural elements, running stitch for the gathers, and felling stitches for the seam completion process. It’s a haul, but it’s working. You can read parts I, II, III, IV, and V here. The whole project was inspired by Bernadette Banner‘s video on YouTube on how to make a pirate shirt.

I didn’t have a lot of time today — only two and a half hours, which gradually got shortened into an hour and a half by other concerns. So even though I planned to finish one sleeve and start the second, I only got part-way through one sleeve. My first goal was to attach the cuff of the shirt to the sleeve; this involved gathering the sleeve’s open end in two places, and then back-stitching the cuff onto the gathered sleeve. I am not very good at gathering, and the final result looked great at pinning, not so good in the final result. Well. Maybe. I haven’t put in the button or the buttonhole yet, so maybe it’s salvageable.

I was aided in this process by the fact that I made the cuffs for the sleeves at the same time that I made the collar for the shirt. Each is basically folded in 1/2″ along one long edge, and then the whole cuff is folded in half and ironed. The two ends are back-stitched on either end, and then the cuff is turned inside out — which results in the right sides being on the outside, the seams on the inside, and one edge pre-folded to the inside so that you have a finished edge to fell-stitch the cuff’s outside to the inside edge of the sleeve body.

Got that? Me neither. It was confusing to write, too. I’m not sure I can explain better at this time.

The basic method here is to gather the sleeve in two parts, and to match the middle of the cuff to the top line/mid-line of the sleeve’s main panel. One half of the gather will be on the outside of the sleeve, and the other side of the gather will be on the inside of the sleeve. I find breaking the gather up in this way results in a more accurate narrowing of the fabric to both sides of the sleeve-cuff intersection. In retrospect, I should have added maybe another 1″ to 1 1/2″ to my cuff pieces, so there was some overlap. But this is not a shirt I’ll be able to roll up the sleeves on, I think. It’s down, and buttoned at the wrist, all the time.

The cuff then gets attached over the gathers. The gathers are at about 1/4″ in from the sleeve’s body edge, but the attachment line is at 1/2″ on both the cuff and the sleeve body edge. This results in most of the gathers being “tucked inside” the cuff during the final felling stitches that join the inside of the cuff to the sleeve body. The cuff is backstitched to the sleeve body, and (provided you made your cuffs properly) then you can use tiny felling stitches to attach the inside edge of the cuff to the inside edge of the sleeve body, along the line of back stitching that joins the outer side of the cuff to the sleeve. This means that both sets of stitches get hidden inside the cuff. Which is exactly what you want. Also, the rough edges of the fabric are now inside the cuff, and not on display to the world, which is also what you want.

The other thing that I did was try on the shirt, visible in the last photo. The shirt body and the sleeve are not yet attached to one another, but I’ve been worrying for days that the body of the shirt is too small for my body: my fear is that, after all the effort to make the shirt, I won’t be able to fit into it. The solution may be to add gussets (square panels) or gores (triangular panels) under the armscye (the roundish hole in a shirt-body that the sleeve attaches to) in order to even it out and give the shirt enough body in the middle for me (or my belly) to fit into it. But trying on the sleeve and shirt-body over my regular shirt has convinced me that it might be ok to sew up the sides as is.

We’re used to wearing knit clothes in the 21st century, which have a lot of stretch and give to them (rather like your handmade scarf from grandma from five years ago that is now a vaguely rectangular shape without being a pure example of a scarf). Woven clothes are not like that. They don’t give in to movement in the same way, and wearing them involves a different set of challenges, I think— rather like changing over from t-shirts to oxford cloth button-downs . We’ll see.

The obvious solution here is to put in a running stitch from the bottom of the armscye to the break in the shirt body, on both sides, and use a running stitch to attach the sleeves. I should also not wax the linen thread as I do this. The resulting stitch will be strong enough to try on the shirt, and test the fit — but not so strong that a single scissors-clip will not unravel the whole seam, and give me a second chance at fitting it without finishing it. In other words, the running seam will imitate the finished structure of the shirt, but one clip of the thread in the middle and I can pull both ends out. I can test the shirt’s fit without finishing it, which I can’t do on the other seams.

Problem solved.

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    • My guess is that my dithering is occupying 30-50% of the work. 🙂 I don’t think that I’ll be able to shave too much time off of the thread-pulling to make the shirt pieces ASAP (As Square As Possible™) — that seems to require the time that it takes. But I do think that as I get more skilled with hand-stitching, that I’ll be able to sew some of the longer seams with more speed. As I’ve picked up skill, I’ve noticed that my back stitching and felling seams don’t take anywhere near as much time as they used to. And Bernadette Banner is right — a back-stitched and felled seam is not coming apart. The fabric will tear before the seam will, which is not true at all of a machine-stitched seam or even of a serger/overlock machine stitch. I think the big thing is that I have to start with a better measure of the shoulder width of the shirt, and be more careful about adding 1/2″ seam allowances to the design of the pattern pieces. I must say, though, that starting with “bodice” measures of shoulder width, neck to shoulder, shoulder to wrist, belly, waist, and shirt length s really essential to this project. You and me, we are not Edwardian-ideal-shaped Bernadette Banner… and we need to make sure that a shirt fits both our necks, and our bellies.

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