RTW Shirt Making – Introduction to a new series

Dear readers,

As promised, I am back with a compilation of my favorite shirt making techniques and strategy. If you want to follow along, my first recommendation is to have 1 or 2 shirts with you for reference. I prefer men’s shirts because they tend to have more elegant finishes than women’s, at similar price points.Even top of the line Banana Republic, Ann Taylor and J. Crew can be used  references (not the outlet type).

My most important disclaimer is that I do not like David Coffin’s book. I’m a bit irrational about it but I will not use it as a reference for this post.I know it’s been tremendously helpful to a lot of you, I own it and I just don’t like it. I even gave it away.

The less important disclaimer is that you don’t need to have sewn shirts before to use the techniques I will describe but you do need to have sewing experience and a good handling of your machine. I use an industrial Juki for the entire process (except the buttonholes) but there is no reason it wouldn’t work on a home machine.

If you tried my free pencil skirt pattern (see here to subscribe to the mailing list to get the latest version of the skirt and updates) you know that one of my goals is to engineer as much of the construction in the pattern as I can. It requires preparation before cutting for me it helps with clean results and make the construction a smooth process.

The next post in the series will be about pattern changes but I first want to look into the features of the shirt so that you know the changes you want to apply and the ones you don’t!

Flat-felled seams throughout

This includes side seams, underarm seam AND the armhole. Actually, the sleeve is attached first, so the underarm and the side seams are sewn at once since I prefer to attach the shirt sleeves flat.

SewingTidbits Shirtmaking - Flatfelled seams

Man Linen Shirt-3

French-seamed darts

I’m actually not sure how they are called but it’s the principle of a french seam applied to a dart. It works well for deep darts and darts that extend all the way down to the bottom (or front) of the shirt.SewingTidbits Shirtmaking - French seamed darts

Separate button band

A very common feature on my RTW shirts that I love the look of! It does require you to wok with different front left and right pattern pieces but since I cut single layer it’s really not an issue !

SewingTidbits Shirtmaking - Buttonband

SewingTidbits Shirtmaking - Button Band

Alternative pocket and placement

I will provide the pocket template I copied from a RTW shirt but I really recommend that  you go in your closet and figure out which of your shirts has the best pocket size and placement for your shirt. I’m convinced that they make a huge difference when it comes to ensuring your shirt looks more professional!

SewingTidbits Shirtmaking - Alternative pockets

2-piece sleeve placket

I think that traditional plackets are just so much nicer than the continuous bound type. For this step, I use a combination of Off-the-Cuff tutorial and and Fashion Incubator.

SewingTidbits Shirtmaking - Sleeve placket

 

Cuffs attached and top stitched in one-go

This Fashion-Incubator technique is the way I do it and I don’t think I will ever go back. I’m trying to implement it collars too but I haven’t had the same level of success yet.

SewingTidbits Shirtmaking - The Cuff

The probability of this series being too ambitious for me is real, therefore I will not attach any time frame to it! It make take a month, a year, you never know!! What I can say for now is that I’m already working on the post detailing changes to the pattern. In the mean time, I would love to start a conversation here about shirt making here, please share your favorite resources and tutorials but also the ones you tried and did not work out!!

Striped Shirt dress to close the year (among other things)

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year!! I hope that you are enjoying a pleasant and peaceful holiday season. I have disappeared for a while again, and it’s likely that it will take me a few weeks before I can make it again on the blog. Since last weekend, I moved (semi) permanently back to New York City. Over the last month, I’ve been traveling to find an apartment (the whole lease thing is soooo complicated), getting my visa, going back to France for some cheese&wine time, packing all my things and settling down. As with every move, the mixture of excitement and sadness sometimes becomes overwhelming.

Sewing Tidbits - Striped Shirtdress-6

Regarding sewing, I now notice that I came to a full circle. Before coming to Haiti, I sewed and shirt dress (this one) and now a shirt dress will be the last thing that I’ve sewn there. I can say during the almost 3 years I spent in this country, I’ve improved my shirt making skills and this makes the entire process very enjoyable. One of the things that I enjoy the most about sewing shirts is that I can do it all on my industrial machine (except buttonholes) and that the inside is as clean as the outside.

Sewing Tidbits - Striped Shirtdress-4

The pattern is a lengthened version of my white shirt, which was initially derived from the Grainline Archer. Although it’s not perfect yet, it feels nice to have a pattern that can produce a decent shirt with major alterations. I do want to make some changes to future versions though :

  • While in France, I wore this dress with a sweater, tights and boots. My sleeves were not rolled-up and this is something that hasn’t happened in a while. It made me realize that i/ I was to radical when I shortened them, they are missing 1/2 to 1 inch and ii/ the cuff is way to wide, on my wrist.
  • I now find the collar a bit wide, especially in relation to the stand. I want to draft an alternative very narrow collar.
  • The length is manageable but maybe slightly on the short side, ahem ahem…
  • Finally, I’m still bothered by something that looks like an excess of length in the upper back. I pinned it out once (1 inch!!) but it would also require altering the sleeve head in some weird way which I still haven’t figured out…

Sewing Tidbits - Striped Shirtdress-3Sewing Tidbits - Striped Shirtdress-8

The fabric is a Japanese cotton purchased at Mood during spring trim to New York City and it’s probably the best thing out of this garment. It’s soft and strong at the same time, light but not too see-through and I have the feeling that it will age well. My main concern was using an interfacing that would not make it to heavy in the placket/collar/cuffs.

Sewing Tidbits - Striped Shirtdress-2

I do want to do a post where I round up the different tips/tutorials that I gathered over the last 3 years and that I know use as my standard for my all my shirt. I may do it before I manage to set up my sewing operation (yes, I’m serious like that). Let me know if you know of any resource that should not be overlooked!Sewing Tidbits - Striped Shirtdress-7

Finally, in January last year I had made only one resolution here, which was doubling my number of post. In 2014, I posted only 23 times so in 2015 I wanted to reach 46… …. …. (embarassed silence) …. Unfortunately, I ended up posting only 13 times… Oops!! It looks like regular blogging is just not compatible with my life, oh well…  In 2016, I will keep doing what I can and hopefully you will keep reading me! The good thing is that I can only (hopefully) improve from here!

That’s it for 2015, sewing and Haiti for now. I hope you are enjoying your loved ones and I will be back soon!

From Inspiration to Garment part 4 – Starting with a block

Dear readers,

At this stage, you may rightfully ask yourself what is going on, well I could tell you that I will explain at the end of this post, but I won’t. I’ll say it right now. I’m moving back to NYC!!! Starting 1st of January, I will change jobs and will relocate in Manhattan. On the one hand, it’s a great news. On the other hand, it means that I’m swamped at work trying to close as many processes as possible, plus organizing my move, searching for an apartment etc. Don’t expect too much sewing or blogging to happen before I’m settled…

However, since I have a significant blogging backlog and I’m never post very often anyway, you may not even notice the difference! Enough about the logistics, let’s talk about sewing! For the 4th post of the serie (see part 1, part 2 and part 3), I gathered some inspiration pictures for simple tunic dresses (all found on Pinterest, as usual) :


If you want to know more about using block patterns, you can read this post of the Fashion-Incubator. Basically, it’s about iterative designs based on an initial pattern that fits well. In the home-sewing world, it’s what we call TNT (Tried and True) patterns. The benefit is that you reduce alterations and depending on cases, can skip the toile stage. I really liked the upper body fit of my chambray dress so I started working on this version almost right afterwards (yes it was a while ago).

Sewing Tidbits - Chambray Tunic-1

Sewing Tidbits - Chambray Tunic-3

For the pattern I simply took the bodice pattern of my previous version and lengthen it. I used french seams for the sides and added pockets. If you wonder about in-seam pockets and french seams, you can check out this tutorial.

My other construction change was to use bias binding as facing. It would have been quick and easy if I had used the self fabric but of course I decided to make things complicated and used some of the silk crepe remnants from my slip dress. It took a little more time but I love the contrast of the cream silk and the blue/grey chambray. I used this fabric before for a pair of Colette Madeleine pajamas. I bought it at Mood NYC back in 2013 and it’s very easy to work with. I used white thread for topstitching.  I stole the pocket pattern from my white shirt.

Sewing Tidbits - Chambray Tunic-5

Sewing Tidbits - Chambray Tunic-4

These days, I try to skip bust darts to simplify the lines for a cleaner/sharper look.  I love those simple straight silhouettes on other people but when it’s time for me to wear them I find them more flattering when belted. I have to apologize about the pictures, unfortunately The Old Man has not completely mastered the focus with my new lens!!

Sewing Tidbits - Chambray Tunic-6

Overall this project has been very cheap since everything came from stash and I made my own pattern. Regarding the fit however, I’m only 75% happy. I wish I had shaped the side seam a little to take in the waist and give more ease at the hips. I did add back darts as an afterthought to remove the excess when belted. Most importantly, I should have worn my previous version of this pattern more before using it as a block. I drafted a square angle under the arm that requires to be clipped. It’s a point of weakness for this design and I had to repair it on each side for the first dress.

Sewing Tidbits - Chambray Tunic-2Sewing Tidbits - Chambray Tunic-7

I believe that it’s the fundamental difference when you draft/drape your own pattern compared to buying patterns or RTW garments. Nobody did the testing for you!! Just like when buying a car, you have to take it for a ride before you commit! Standing straight in front of the mirror or for a 10 minutes photo session in your garden won’t give you all the insights you need to assess the fit, the durability and versatility of your design. Now let’s talk about it! How many times do you make a pattern before it becomes a block/TNT ?

French or Italian? A Nettie t-shirt in stripes

Dear readers,

I am currently flying back from Guatemala and Honduras where I visited the amazing mayan ruins of Copán which partly explains the lack of activity around here! If you followed me on Instagram during #sewphotohop, you will have seen some sewing happening. I made that tee on a whim while keeping up my resolution to sew more from my ideal closet items pinned on Pinterest. Below are the two shirts that triggered my crush for widely open back tees.

For a reason I cannot explain, there is something intrinsically italian in my mind about those shirts. I picture myself in the countryside (maybe where Sasha lives?), leaning on the door frame of my imaginary bungalow, drinking delicious coffee and gazing at my olive trees in the horizon… When the tropical backgrounds of Haiti are not exactly Italian landscape, I can at least have my shirt and drink coffee!!

Nettie T-shirt by SewingTidbits

One Saturday, I went to hide in the heat of my sewing for an hour or two and pulled out my Nettie pattern. To turn it into a hip length tee, I stopped the patterns where it indicates to add for dress length and decided on the high front, mid-low back and short sleeves. Since I made this pattern twice already (here and here), there is not much more to report.

Nettie T-shirt by SewingTidbitsThe fabric came from my stash, I bought it in Port-au-Prince and it’s a left over of a Shadi skirt I made last year. The entire shirt was sewn on my serger and I am still not perfectly good at matching stripes with that machine… I changed the order of construction slightly so that I can attach the neck band and the sleeves flat. I was so determined to own this tee that when I realized that I actually didn’t have enough fabric for the front, I decided to piece it. Not very professional since you can see it in my shoulder area, but I don’t really mind.

Nettie T-shirt by SewingTidbits

As soon as I finished it, I threw it on and ran to The Old Man to get his opinion on my Italian tee. His comment sounded appreciative but was along those lines: “OOOooh a French tee!!”. I guess the stripes betrayed me… No matter how much leaning on the door frame I did with a coffee mug in my hands, he would NOT see the Italian side of it…

Nettie T-shirt by SewingTidbits

In other news, I just moved houses so this will be the last time you get to the garden in the background I’ve been using for the last two years. Our new apartment is smaller but I still have a sewing room (most important thing about housing!!). Also, it’s higher in the mountains which means fresher air and amazing view!!

I still have some posts coming up but since there will also be more traveling it’s hard to commit to regular updating… In the mean time, let me know what you think, French or Italian tee??

From Inspiration to Garment – Part 3 – With a commercial pattern

Dear readers,

It’s the third part of my little serie and I want to talk about those times when you feel too lazy to draft or drape the pattern! For several years now (yes, several), I have been thinking about slip dresses. I was a teenager in the 90’s so I will always be convinced that calvin klein epurated slip dresses are the coolest. Kate Moss and Rachel from Friends shaped my idea of style (for the best and the worst!!)! Twice a year, when the idea of making a bias slip would sudden become urgent, I’d frantically research patterns meant to be cut on the bias, take note of linings in some Vogue patterns and forget about it. Until next time. But not this time! Let’s look at the inspiration first, all collected on Pinterest, with of course, queen Moss:

As stated before, some Vogue patterns include a slip which is meant to be cut on the bias. Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn made a beautiful version. I myself own New Look 6244 but it’s at my parents’ house… in France… I actually made this dress 10 years ago but purposefully ignore the bias for the lining (so stubborn) because I did not see the point. Ahem Ahem… I have to admit that in my early sewing years, I was (still am) very stubborn and I did not see the point of many things . Those things included seam finishes, easing sleeves, aligning the grain, wearing ease and many more… Slowly but surely I integrated them in my sewing for the better!Bias silk dress by SewingTidbitsOne detail, I dislike in current Vogue slips such as 1287 is the bust dart. I was convinced I could get away without one since the bias could do the minimal shaping I require. I finally decided to go with the lining of Lekala 2021. It doesn’t not specify that it’s meant to be cut on the bias, (at least Google Translate does not say so) but since I got to start with a pattern customized to my measurement, so I figured it was worth it.Bias silk dress by SewingTidbitsMy first step was to do a toile. I used regular muslin even though my silk was going to be behave differently. I figured a “skin” tight fit on my form (slightly bigger than me) in muslin would result in appropriate amount in and the 2 layers of silk would have appropriate wearing ease on me. It was a bit risky but it worked! I also used the toile to check the neckline and position and measure the straps. I had to take in 1/2″ from each side at the bust and waist, tapering to nothing at the hips and I made no changes to the neckline.

Toiling a bias slip dress today. Can't cut into my delicious silk until I sharpen my scissors… Sigh… #sewing #isew

A photo posted by SewingTidbits (@sewingtidbits) on

The most challenging part for me in working with with silk is cutting, especially on the bias. It takes forever and I’m always tempted to cut corners. However, this time I did not. I lied my 23mm silk crepe from Calamo New York on a first layer of paper, aligning the selvage with the straight edge of the paper to prevent distortion. I created a “marker”, which is another layer of paper with all the pieces to be cut drawn in their cutting position. I added my “marker” on top and pinned between the pieces to avoid marking the silk. I then cut through the 3 layers.
Bias silk dress by SewingTidbitsBias silk dress by SewingTidbitsI have an important piece of information that some of you may resist. It’s OK to cut through paper with your fabric scissors! Yes… I know what the home sewing police says but really, you’ll be fine! And it will actually dull your blades a lot less than cutting wool or tweed!!Bias silk dress by SewingTidbits
I stabilized both layers of the neckline with fusible strips and attached the sides with french seams. For a reason I cannot explain, sewing went well for the first pass of the french seam but my industrial Juki refused, yes refused (!!), to go through the second one with a repeated mess of skipped stitches. I was confused and about to cry but I decided to add a layer of paper on top of the seam and tear it off after stitching and it did the trick!
Bias silk dress by SewingTidbitsFor the straps I used the method described by my friend E. on her blog. The only thing I would add would be to not be afraid to use a rather large strip of bias, such as 2.5 or 3″ as the allowance will “fill” the tube. For the hem, on top of providing the tutorial, E. gifted my ban-roll. I don’t know why I never tried before. Actually I do know why (see stubborness mentionned above) but I regret it deeply. This thing is absolutely AMAZING: perfect baby hem on silk. Every. Time.  No need to say more. I actually want to try it to hem shirts with it too!Bias silk dress by SewingTidbits
That’s it for my notes. I love love love the final dress and I wore it for my birthday (30… yikes). We went dining and dancing and I felt very comfortable in this simple yet dressed-up silhouette. I am now thinking of making a single layer one out of thicker black silk crepe. And tank tops, a lot of tank tops, I may have opened the pandora box of bias project! Do you have favorite patterns for bias cuts ? I would love to see what you recommend!

Second hand sewn leather project: Travel Ipad Case

Dear readers,

A few month ago, I finally indulged in beautiful box of Japanese leather tools and sewn a phone case for The Old Man to try it out. Pretty soon afterwards, I worked on the project I’m showing you today. As with any new craft, the learning curve is quite steep in the beginning. It reminds me a lot of learning how to sew:

  • You are not sure how to handle your tools
  • You make wrong choices when it comes to material/fabric but
  • You love the results despite all the very visible imperfections.

Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-2
One thing about leather work that I definitely appreciate is that it is relatively short compared to sewing. Of course, my inexperience makes me totally biased. I only tackle simple projects and I’m probably not putting in the level of efforts that professional finish would require. Sewing taught me that you don’t have to be patient from the beginning, it’s an acquired skill that develops once I get tired of making the same mistakes over and over. Only then I’ll take the time to do things properly and wonder why I waited so long. Oh well…

Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-1If you read my blog regularly, by now you have realized that I am more a copycat than a designer. My design “research” (haha), usually starts by endless Pinterest perusing, and for leather items, I find Etsy very useful too. For this project, I wanted to make something for The Old Man (again!! How unselfish of me…) in the same leather as his phone case. We travel regularly and we try so simplify packing. We both carry 2 passeports each and various electronics so I wanted to make a case that could hold an Ipad, travel documents, a pen and a few cards.

Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-3 Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-4The positive point is that I’m happy with the design, I think it’s functional, nice looking and not too girly. On the negative side, the list a bit longer… First of all is the leather. It’s definitely too soft for a structured case. When full and closed it’s ok because the Ipad provides the structure, but the document side lacks firmness. I tried to remedy temporarily by inserting a piece of cardboard. Unfortunately the only solution will be to make is in a more appropriate leather (more on that later!).

Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-5 Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-6My second issue is with my hand stitching. Applying constant thread tension while saddle stitching is definitely a challenge. One that can only be remedied by hours and hours of practice I guess. The last problem is something that was just reported by the user. Apparently, the leather stretched out on the document side and things tend to fall out…

Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-7 Handstitched Leather Ipad Case-3Of course, it’s a little disappointing to admit that this is not the perfect case that I had in mind, but I decided to treat it as a learning experience. When I was in New York recently I bought a BEAUTIFUL vegetable tanned hide, some more tools/finishing products as well as a Japanese book of bag patterns.

After leaving Canada, I am doing a quick stop over in Guatemala but I can’t wait to be back in Haiti to start scheming my next leather project!! Last time I posted about leather, one of my lovely readers recommended the blog of Gillian, Sew Unravelled, as she and her husband make beautiful leather items! I highly recommend taking a look at it, as well as at the blog of my NY friend E., The Pattern Line, where she just posted a leather corset belt she made for class at FIT. Do you have any other leather blogger recommendations to share?

 

From Inspiration to Garment – Part 2 – Sewing

Dear readers,

Canadian weather seems to make me lazy, and since I’m not a very prolific blogger already, it’s getting sad around here. But here I am! As promised, I have pictures to show you of the finished chambray dress I draped in my previous post. I mentioned before that sewing your own patterns is completely different experience than sewing commercial patterns. Since you don’t have instructions it may seem counterintuitive, but it’s much easier. Steps just flow naturally. Of course you have to figure out a lot of things, but hopefully you did that in the patternmaking stage!

chambray-dress-1If you remember the original dress, it had a kind of funnel collar, which I don’t find attractive. Instead, I decided to do a “visible facing”. There may be a real name for that but I don’t know. I stole the idea from my new favorite sewing book: Sewing for Fashion Designers by Anette Fischer. I plan on doing a book review of it because I am truly impressed by it. Considering the number of sewing books I read, this is quite exceptional.

Another design change is the little turn up detail in the sleeve. The construction of the entire dress was pretty straightforward. I used a lot of my fusible tape to stabilize the neckline, the pocket opening and the zipper area. For the neckline, I dumbly interfaced the wrong side when, with my inverted, I should have done it on the right side. Oh well…

If you saw this dress on my instagram, you may have thought that I was very fitted but in fact it’s not. I love how comfortable it is, the style is relaxed and it makes it a perfect weekend dress!

chambray-dress-3

The fabric is from Rag&Bone, purchased at Mood during my last trip to New York. It does wrinkle and the sleeve style tends to accentuate the wrinkling but It doesn’t bother me for a relaxed dress. I used some of of my muslin for my pocket bags, I always think muslin is the perfect match for denim and chambray and it feels less wasteful about the whole process. I didn’t make my pocket bags deep enough for my taste, which is a recurrent issue. I always eyeball it and it’s systematically to shallow. I wonder if there is a rule of thumb out there… Any hint?

chambray-dress-2chambray-dress-5I love the upper body fit and I may iterate from this style and see what I can turn it into. I’m currently thinking and tunic/dress length without waistband of gathers to be worn with a belt. It looks clean and simple in my head and if I could sketch I would share with you. But my drawing skills are … let’s say limited (understatement…) so I guess you will have to take my word for it!

I only wish I had checked the ironing before taking the pictures because the back looks quite terrible. It looks like the waistband does not match at the zipper, when in fact, it does!! The fancy camera does not do it all, I have to put more efforts in my pictures…

chambray-dress-6 chambray-dress-7I’m trying to turn those posts in a little serie that i call “From Inspiration to Garment”. Now that I wrote it, I may lose all my interest in doing it (yes…). But in case I don’t, I like the idea of exploring different ways to draw from inspiration to make an aspirational wardrobe materialize and work in real life. Next post will be unrelated (it’s a leather one) but I will get back into it shortly! In the mean time, I leave you with a side by side comparison picture, do you think it looks close enough (except for the bad pose)? I’d love to here your approach to sewing from inspiration!

Comparaison Chambray Dress