I am making shirt number one in my wardrobe makeover project that I plan on stretching across the next year in between quilting. Now it has been about two years since I made a blouse or shirt, and that was the first one after several years, so I have a lot of rust to sand off my shirt/blouse making skills. I am remembering almost everything that I learned or developed during my many years of clothing construction though, and it is very helpful, so I thought I’d share some of it.
First of all, I only rarely read the directions, but I don’t recommend this if you are new to clothing construction. The reason I don’t is that I change a lot of the techniques to speed up the process and make the end results more satisfactory and sometimes the directions coincide with my techniques and sometimes they don’t.
Secondly, I use the specialty feet and stitches to help me get things done well, like the edge stitch foot for topstitching, and using the blanket stitch with my applique foot for stitching down the inside of the collar stand to the neck.
Here’s my basic approach, which I figure cuts the time by about 25 percent over the usual pattern making instructions after a little practice. This is not for specialty fabrics, or when you want details like french or flat felled seams, but a simple shirt:
- I look over the pattern to see if I need to add or change a piece like adding an additional facing or changing the type of sleeve placket to match what I’m trying to do.
- After flat fitting my pattern, generally using Nancy Zieman’s methods (see last week’s blog) and cutting out the shirt, I interface all the facings and other pieces. For facings I sew fusible interfacing non glue side to the right side of the facing with a small quarter inch or less seam on the edge you would be turning down, turn, and fuse the facing. This gives you that nice turned edge with little trouble.
- I finish all the seam edges with a serger, or I sometimes use the vari-overlock foot (2a on my Berninas) and the vari-overlock stitch (#3 on my Bernina 830), except the arm scythe (armhole).
- I make all the small, challenging pieces first…like the collar on the collar stand, tabs, and the cuffs of the shirt. I top stitch using my edge stitch foot (#10D on my B 830).
- Then I sew it together in this order:
- Front seams and edges or front placket, depending on style.
- Shoulder seams, or yokes.
- collar or facing onto the neckline, depending on style, adding any decorative stitching as I go.
- sleeves into armhole (arm scythe) before seaming side seams and sleeve seams, unless sleeve is a multi-piece sleeve where the underarm seam doesn’t match.
- I finish the armhole seam with a second stitching about an eighth inch into the seam, trim close to that and then I finish with a vari-overlock stitch or zigzag using #2a foot. I have found down through the years that this is one of the strongest, most reliable seams you can stitch. I learned this from making very heavily used opera costumes. It’s really embarrassing if the performer rips a seam during the performance.
- If you are making a particularly nice blouse, you may wish to cover the seam with a light bias tape designed for seam finishes or cut a 1/2″ bias strip from a very light piece of fabric and fold it over the seam after stitching the two rows and then zigzag it down.
- I then edge topstitch the armhole on the front and back, with the seam turned toward the front and back.
- If needed, sew any additional pieces, like tabs on.
- Sew the sleeve placket, if needed.
- I then sew the side seams and sleeve seams in one operation. This is particularly good if you are losing weight, because you can take in the shirt and sleeve for about two sizes from the finished size with very little effort by stitching in however much you need, starting at just above the cuff in the original stitch line and gradually stitching toward the amount you need to take in the shirt and continuing to the hem. You only then have to remove the stitching from the original seam and the hemline and restitch the hemline. I am currently losing weight, so I have chosen patterns that have single piece sleeves where the undarm/side seams meet–a much better option than not making any new clothes until you lose more weight.
- Put on the cuff or hem the sleeve, as needed.
- Hem the shirt/blouse and sew the buttonholes, if needed.
- Sew on the buttons and you are done.
If you do a lot of shirts like this, you eventually make a shirt after cutting it out in a morning or afternoon. I’m not back to this quickly yet. It took me about eight hours to make my first shirt in my wardrobe makeover. I am sure my next shirt will be quite a bit quicker now that I have worked through and sanded off the rust.
A word about feet: I have found that if I am not using a zigzag or decorative stitch, sometimes it is better to use a straight stitch foot, like 37D or 8D on my Bernina 830, which lets me see all the way to the needle, and the straight stitch throat plate, than it is to use the one most recommended for such sewing like 1D, because I can see where I’m sewing better. If I’m sewing simple flat seams without much curving or the like, then the 1D is probably better, because it holds down the fabric very well. I also usually engage the dual feed mechanism for most of the sewing, but this is not a necessity if you don’t have this on your machine. If you don’t you may wish to pin a little more and have something like an awl to help move the top fabric through evenly with the bottom. With my dual feed engaged, I can eliminate pinning altogether for a lot of the sewing.
Sew happy everybody! Make yourself a shirt.