Last April, I promised my Dad a bespoke shirt for his birthday. It is now the beginning of December and I finally fulfilled my promise. Better late than never, I guess!
The biggest reason for the delay was the first UK lockdown which we were in the middle of in April. Dad and I decided to wait until the lockdown was over to make the shirt so that we could go and choose fabric in person. Dad discovered the addictive joy of fabric shopping when I made him a waistcoat in 2019 and I always prefer shopping for fabric in person so that you can feel the weight of the fabric.
So we waited and finally got to go fabric shopping in the summer. We went round all the local fabric shops but didn’t find anything we liked. Dad loves a bright patterned shirt, and nothing quite fit the bill. By that point I was also in the middle of my 1910s project so this delayed us even further! Finally, in November, during the next UK lockdown, we decided to look online. We finally found the perfect fabric from Sherwoods Fabrics (www.sherwoodsfabrics.co.uk/) – a blue cotton poplin decorated with bright red flowers and a contrast poplin with more muted colours.
On our first shopping trip, Dad and I did find the perfect pattern – Simplicity 1544. It looked just like Dad’s favourite shirts and I was delighted to find that the version we wanted to make (view B) was only 11 pieces! The instructions looked really easy to follow and I was ready to get started.
I had intended to make a mock-up but I realised when I went to start that I didn’t have enough fabric. I was keen to get the project started so I decided to measure one of Dad’s favourite shirts and the pattern pieces to make sure I was cutting the right size. I also held up the pattern pieces on Dad – I really didn’t want to make a mistake! I thought a 38 would be okay but I decided to cut a size 40 just to be on the safe side.
Once I cut out the pieces I got started putting together the front and back of the shirt. First, I sandwiched the main back piece between the back yoke pieces (one main and one contrast), sewed them together and top stitched them.
Attaching the front and back shoulder seams was a bit more complicated and was a construction technique I hadn’t done before. I pinned the front shoulder seams to the shoulder seams of the back yoke then rolled the front and back pieces up to the shoulder seams. Then I pinned the shoulder seams of the back yoke and back yoke facing, sandwiching the front between them, sewed it together and turn all the pieces right side out. Complicated to explain but far easier in practice – and very satisfying!
At this point, I basted together the side seams and tried it on Dad to check the fit. We were happy with the length and fit across the shoulders and body so I undid the basting stitches and pressed on!
Next, I moved on to the sleeves, and another new technique – making a placket! I’ve put pictures of the process down below because it’s very very difficult to explain and involved a lot of folding! In short, you make the underlap first, then fold the pointed overlap over the top. I was delighted with the result considering I’d never made one before! The instructions for this part were very clear and easy to follow – perfect for a beginner. After finishing the placket, I finished off the bottom of the sleeves with two sets of pleats.
Now I could insert the sleeves. As the side seams were left open, this didn’t involve easing in the sleeve as I’m used to. Instead I simply matched up the side seams and notches and sewed along the curve. Before finishing any edges, I basted the sleeve and side seam together to double check the fit on Dad. Overall we were really happy with the fit but it was at this point I realised that (despite my checks and measurements) the sleeves were too long – more on that later.
The way I finished the seams on this shirt is really down to my Mum. I had intended to finish off the seams with my usual machine zig-zag stitch until Mum was looking at the shirt I was using as my guide and asked me what the type of seam on the side seams was called. I told her that it was a flat-felled seam before the light-bulb went off in my brain. Whilst I had never sewn this type of seam on a sewing machine before, I knew the theory and it was a much better way to finish the seams! Not only would it look neater and more professional, the flat felled seam would also be much stronger than one finished with a zig-zag. Below I’ve added photos of the process of making this seam on the sleeve head. I trimmed down the seam allowance on the main body of the shirt so that I could fold the seam allowance of the sleeve over it. Then I topstitched it down.
I used the same method to finish off the sleeve and side seam but this was far more difficult as it involved sewing a seam inside the narrow tube of the sleeve. It involved a fair bit of wrangling under the sewing machine but I managed it in the end.
With the shirt beginning to look more like a proper shirt, I moved on to the details: the button stand, collar and cuffs. As I knew that the sleeves were too long, I opted to deviate from the instructions and construct the button stand and collar first. This way I could close up the front with pins and double check the length of the sleeves with the body of the shirt fitting as it would when it was finished. So, first up I hemmed the shirt with a simple double fold hem and went ahead with the button stand. As the interfacing I was using was rather sturdy, I decided to only interface half of the button stand, as seen below. This was such a good decision – it would have been far too bulky with essentially four layers of interfacing at the front of the shirt. The rest of the button stand construction was very straightforward, I simply sewed the non-interfaced side to the front of the shirt, folded the button stand in half on itself, sewed up the bottom, turned it out and topstitched it. No problems at all.
The collar also went on without a hitch – or so I thought at the time, more on that later. I’d never sewn a collar stand before but the instructions were very straightforward. I sewed the collar stand right sides together to the shirt, sewed the collar onto the collar stand with the facing right sides together with the collar stand, then sewed the collar stand facing right sides together with the collar stand and collar. I then flipped the facing inside out and got myself a functioning collar.
It was at this point that disaster struck. Perhaps calling it a ‘disaster’ is an exaggeration but I was devastated. When trimming down the collar stand seam allowance I snipped into my button stand. I called up my Dad in a little bit of a state because I was so disappointed and he tried to assure me it was okay (to be honest it was the smallest snip but that was beside the point). Crying over a sewing project may seem like an overreaction to most people but when you’ve put so much work into something for it to be ruin in a split second is a horrible feeling. Luckily, I remembered that I had enough of the blue fabric left over to remake the button stand. This didn’t take long at all and it was worth the extra effort. Crisis averted.
Once I had redone the button stand I also realised that the collar stand was a little uneven. The curves weren’t the same and the collar came forward just a little more on one side than the other. As I had already recut one part of the project I decided to go ahead and recut the collar stand and facing as well. This time, I mark out the 1.5cm seam allowance all around the pieces to make sure that the curves were even. This process was a little difficult as I had already cut down the seam allowances on the shirt and the collar but I made it work. I also learnt from my previous mistake and simply tucked away the small bits of seam allowance which protruded where the button stand met the collar stand instead of trying to cut them down. I wasn’t going to put myself through that emotional ringer again.
I didn’t get any photos of the making of the cuffs because, honestly, it was a bit of a struggle. First, I had to figure out by how much the sleeve was too long, coming out to about 5cm, and cut off the excess. Shortening the sleeve like this did mean that the placket ended up a little short but me and Dad were happy to let that slide and learn for next time. When I went to attach the cuff to the sleeve I found that the sleeve was a fair bit too wide for the cuff (probably because I had cut off part of where the sleeve tapered). Coincidentally, the excess was enough to form a pleat the same size as the ones already in the sleeve so this was a pretty quick fix. I also didn’t get on with the way the instructions wanted me to attach the cuff. They wanted me to face the cuff pieces together, with the facing having a 1.5cm seam allowance pressed down already. This way, when the cuff was attached to the sleeve from its main side, it could be folded right sides out and the cuff facing would have a neat edge. However, I found it really tricky to sew on the cuff without catching the cuff facing underneath so I decided to sew the cuff right sides together to the sleeves first the sew the cuff facing on to the cuff afterwards. I found this far easier.
When I went to finish the cuffs with topstitching, I noticed that somehow a hole had appeared in one of my cuffs. I have no idea how and I was beginning to become just a tad annoyed at this becoming a theme of this project! So I recut the last piece of the project and a new facing and redid the offending cuff. I was relieved that all the pieces were now together.
Now all that was left was buttons and buttonholes! Me and Dad had decided not to buy buttons until this point so that we could see how the shirt looked and decide what colours and size of buttons would suit the garment. I was very proud that Dad found a button website all by himself! When I say he’s catching the sewing shopping bug, I mean it. We chose 10mm pale blue shirt buttons and 10mm burgundy accent buttons for the bottom button and the cuffs.
Sewing the buttonholes was super easy with the buttonhole attachment on my sewing machine and I was able to get those finished pretty quickly. Then I sewed on the buttons by hand. When Dad tried on the shirt we realised the cuffs were a little wide but this was easily fixed by moving the buttons further in. And with that, the shirt was complete.
Dad is absolutely delighted with his shirt, he has declared that it’s his new favourite and he’s worn it pretty much everyday since I finished it about three days ago. This is the second item I’ve made for him and it’s as much fun for me to share my passion with someone else as it is for him to be part of the process of construction! From my end, I found this pattern super easy to follow and, other than the sleeve length and cuffs, we didn’t have any issues with fit. I would absolutely use this pattern again (Dad is already keen for another one) but I definitely would alter the sleeves for a better fit. This pattern also has a lot of alternate features which can be used to personalise it.
Making this shirt also got me thinking a lot about different types of interfacing. The one I used for this shirt is a slightly heavier medium interfacing which resulted in a stiff collar and cuffs. When I compared it with ones Dad already owns, I found that there was quite a variety in weights of interfacing from ones more like the one that I used to ones with no interfacing and supports in the points of the collar. This isn’t a reflection on any being better than the other but I was interested to see the different affects. Something to consider in future perhaps. As my first effort in making a men’s shirt, I’m really happy with how this turned out!