The Off The Grid Shirt

We have an unspoken, gender-fluid segregation of duties in my house. I will do the laundry, husband will feed the dogs. I will pay the bills and do the admin/boring paperwork, and he will clean (admittedly to a better standard than me). I will sew him clothes, and he will dye my hair for me. If I ask nicely, he will trace my sewing patterns while I get on with sewing something else. We’re a pretty good team, a well oiled machine that’s been fine tuned over the years.

I really enjoy sewing clothes for him. To me, it’s a different sort of win – often we don’t tend to mind wearing things that we’ve made ourselves – “let’s just not look at the dogdy buttonholes/slightly wobbly hem” – but when someone else is happy to wear something we’ve made it sort of feels like a new level of achievement. Like we’re successful by other people’s (usually more critical) standards and not just our own – we’ve hit The Big Time.

It came to light the other day in conversation that the poor husband was a little apprehensive when I first said I was going to start making clothes. I had knitted him jumpers and cardigans up until that point, which he wore with no issues, but when I said I would make him a shirt I think inwardly the panic started to grow that he would be presented with an embarrassing shambles of a garment which he would have to humiliate himself wearing out in public just so he wouldn’t hurt my feelings. He would have totally done a Ross Geller and Drank The Fat, bless him.

Excited for this new project of mine, I went out and bought some nice Liberty fabric (Toile? Practice run? Nah mate let’s steam in with the pricey stuff) and the Vogue 8759 pattern. I knew from previous shopping experience that the areas he struggles with in shirts are the length (body and sleeves), and the width of the sleeves. Based on measurements I cut the size 34 from the pattern (the very same templates I’m still using now!) and evaluated the size. And by ‘evaluated’, I mean held the paper pieces around his arm, not knowing whether this was an actual profesh technique or the worst idea in the world. Either way, the sleeves were MASSIVE. The cuffs would have reached round his bicep. I took a stab at slimming the sleeve and also the body, but was totally blagging it as I had literally no idea what I was doing. I did however have the sense to take the same amount of width out of the bottom edge of the sleeve as I did the cuff, so they would still match up.

I don’t remember too much about the actual construction, but the finished item – my very first ever shirt – wasn’t bad. I think his face in the picture below, wearing the fresh-off-the-needle shirt is one of moderate surprise that it actually turned out ok. Sure, there’s a whole heap of things wrong with it – the collar is not in line with centre front (and neither is the top button), the sleeve caps are a bit wrinkly, some of that topstitching is proper dodgy and the sleeves are FAR too long – but on the whole it’s a pretty successful first try.

That was about four years ago. Fast forward to now, and I’ve since made maybe 8 more shirts – most of these within the last year. That’s 8 more tries to figure out the tricks to getting that collar and stand lined up (top tips: make sure you mark centre front, draw on the seamlines on the centre edges of the collar stands so you have something to follow and they are even on both sides, and use this method for attaching the whole thing to the body of the shirt). I never get tired of making shirts, because they do get worn a fair bit in my house and the possibilities for fabrics are endless. I’ve made so many that I don’t actually need to read the instructions any more, but I do have them to hand just in case I have a moment and forget what I’m doing. Let’s be real, it happens.

The pattern I use is Vogue 8759 – I bought it back in the day when I was cutting the size I wanted from the original tissue patterns (yeah yeah, I know, rookie mistake). I now take the time to trace them instead, using this tracing paper if anyone’s interested. Yes, it might seem a little expensive, but it’s a big ol’ roll that lasts ages and the dog gets immense enjoyment from totally destroying the cardboard tube when it’s finished.

I’ve now used the same original, flimsy tissue paper pieces so many times that it’s getting to the point where I really should buy another copy of the pattern so that I can trace a set of templates and keep the originals nice and shiny and new. Like a pro. I know a lot of people trace so that they can use multiple sizes, but I don’t really sew for friends/family and my weight doesn’t fluctuate *too* much (watch me gain 20lbs now lolz) so my reason would be to just preserve the originals. I’m sure I’m not the only one that accidentally takes off a bit of the pattern piece when cutting out the fabric, resulting in eventual deformed templates… am I?V8759 Vogue Mens Shirt pattern

My love for making (and wearing, but not ironing) shirts also goes hand in hand with my love for Liberty fabrics – there’s some real beauties out there, the ones below are ‘The Artist’s Tree’ and ‘Heads and Tails’ and both are on my potential purchase list (trees for husband, cats for me).  It is a shame they are so expensive, but you definitely do get what you pay for. I tend to wait for the sales, when the price per metre comes down from the jaw dropping £22.50 per metre to a more reasonable £11.25 or even the take-my-money-now price of £9. Alternatively, if you really can’t wait and/or absolutely must have the fabric in your life RIGHT NOW then head over to Shaukat as they have an unbelievable collection of both old and new Liberty fabrics (and not just the Tana Lawn either – cord and silks too) at cheaper prices. There’s a real life bricks-and-mortar shop in west London which you can visit, but be warned – you’ll come out absolutely skint and realise that you need to now make a £1 bag of pasta last for the rest of the month until payday.

I’ve even got the husband into Liberty fabrics – he will quite happily wander around the fabric section of the famous department store, choosing the fabrics that he likes. And he chooses quite well. If there’s a sale online, I’ll point him in that direction to choose some prints for his next shirts and does so without any input from me – except sometimes to remind him that we do not, unfortunately, have an endless pot of money so let’s not buy ALL the things.

Do you guys get bored of using a pattern over and over again? In this case, I actually don’t – with this pattern I know it will turn out with a good fit and I really enjoy focussing instead on combinations of fabric, topstitching thread colour and bias tape colour. Plus, when you don’t have to worry (too much) about the construction of what you’re making, you can concentrate on improving the other aspects of the garment – like the finishing touches, or perfecting that collar stand or buttonhole.

As the seasons are now beginning to change here in the UK, I will be moving away from the short sleeve shirts and heading towards the longer sleeved versions for the autumn and winter.. at least it will give me a chance to perfect my sleeve placket technique and maybe try out some of the fancier shaped ones. I currently only have one fabric destined to become a long sleeve shirt so I think we may need to have a shopping trip…

The fabulous shirt you see here is made from the ‘Progeny’ print Tana Lawn (2 metres of fabric, with some leftovers), in size 34. The pattern on it reminds me of a few different things – watercolour paintboxes is one, and an aerial view of city blocks is another. What do you see?

I’ve used a purple bias tape on the inside of the sleeves and the hem, and went a little crazy with the buttons – alternating purple and red down the body of the shirt, with a shiny-shiny gold one at the collar stand for an added bit of bling. I don’t usually mix up buttons, I prefer a matching set, but as this shirt is so colourful you can get away with it (and yay for using up odd leftover buttons). I even made an effort to match the pattern across the chest, something that I don’t always remember to do but am getting much better at.

 

The husband is pleased with his shirt (as he should be, lol) and gets a lot of compliments on it when he wears it. I love hearing that people have said nice things about something he’s wearing that I made for him – it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside 🙂 The two shirts I made for him at the start of my shirtmaking journey have now served their purpose and come to the end of their life with us – they have faded a little through so many washings, and the glue on the iron-on interfacing left us long ago (I now use sew-in). They will be thanked for sparking my passion for shirtmaking and given to our local charity shop in the hope that they will find a new life somewhere.

Meanwhile I’m going to keep on makin’, I’ve just cut out a shirt for me from a beautiful Liberty silk which I absolutely cannot WAIT to wear (it’s long sleeve though, so if the summer could please hurry up and leave that’d be fab) and I’ve got a super-loud, super-colourful one for the hubbo that I need to finish off which I’m so excited to show you guys!

 

Coming up next week on the Wanderstitch blog… a secret sewing project! I’m not allowed to tell you what it is right now, but I can give you a sneak peek at the fabric I used for it and promise that it’s totally cool 😍 Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!

 

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16 Comments

  1. September 3, 2017 / 10:48 am

    Enjoyed reading this Sarah 😁 Your makes are always amazing and look so professional but my hubby would be the same if I declared I was going to make him something! Which I’m not! I visited Liberty last week, can’t believe I used to work near there and never went to habby dept, pre-sewing days, it is amazing but pricey like you say.

    • Sarah
      September 4, 2017 / 8:08 am

      So glad you enjoyed it Maxine 🙂 🙂 Haha never say never, you might be making those dress shirts for him sooner than you think! Liberty is amazing to look around isn’t it, so many prints! I always come out of there with a couple more fabrics added to the wish list 😉

  2. September 3, 2017 / 10:50 am

    I love making shirts for my other half too, especially as she takes such huge delight in the hidden treats I add to them- like contrast fake-felled seams. cool buttons, contrast cuffs/collars and so on.
    Current fave seems to be the blue motorcycle print one, where I was forced to cut the sleeves in plain navy as I didn’t have enough [I’d thought I was making a waistcoat]. It has the bound/felled inside seams, and actually does look like a shirt and waistcoat. I stick to the same couple of shirt patterns for her, they fit well, and also look good open as jackets over a T shirt or vest top.
    I have plans now for something WAY more interesting though, punky, Westwood-esque, asymmetrical. We’ll see if it works! [Remember the best cuff placket comes from Folkwear western shirts pattern, which is well worth the money as you get so many variations, in men’s and women’s sizes]
    This shirt is super cool!

    • Sarah
      September 4, 2017 / 8:13 am

      There’s just so much you can do with a shirt, isn’t there! My latest is the bias hem in a nice contrasting colour, though I do want to try using contrasts on the inside of the collar stand and cuffs, just always struggle to find something as all I have are loud crazy prints!
      That’s great though when you find a pattern that fits someone well, I’d never thought about doing contrast sleeves – your accident might have just sparked some more inspiration for me… 🙂
      Your plans sound AMAZING – can’t wait to see! Is it for you or for the other half? Ah, yes I have that Folkwear pattern, it’s traced and I have the fabric ready to make my first one – a western affair with a suede yoke. Will definitely let you know how the sleeve placket turns out!

  3. September 3, 2017 / 11:49 am

    I really am glad that I took a bit of time out to read this today Sarah! I absolutely love your approach to sewing and getting a great fit and think Mr W’s shirts are perfection and I’ve enjoyed you sharing their evolution. His original Strawberry Thief print one is fab too, I really need to get making Jim shirts, you’ve really inspired me to try. Have you seen katzfabrics on eBay too? That’s where I believe Jim snaffled his Liberty lawn from the other day! X Josie (off to buy the Vogue pattern now I reckon 😂)

    • Sarah
      September 4, 2017 / 8:20 am

      Yay, so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 I really do recommend the Vogue pattern, because it’s panelled you get a nice fit and the topstitching makes it look really profesh! I do really like the first one I made for him, I will have to make another to replace it. I liked it so much that I actually made one for myself… 🙂 So if I make him one we can be matchy-matchy! (It’s worth making it just to take the photo of us both in them really, isn’t it…) Ahh yes Katzfabrics – is that the place that does 3 metres cuts for about £18? If so, YES! It’s such a bargain, I’ve bought a couple of bits from there. I imagine shirt making is a bit like jeans making (which I haven’t attempted yet) – they look a bit scary and you put it off for quite a while, but once you’ve completed one you wonder what you were worried about and never look back!

  4. kris
    September 3, 2017 / 2:49 pm

    I have never sewn a shirt for my husband, but now I am inspired to do so!

    • Sarah
      September 4, 2017 / 8:23 am

      Yay! So glad that you are inspired! 🙂 They honestly aren’t as scary as they seem, and there’s lots of tutorials around for the trickier bits (like the collar). It’s something that you can make again and again and get really good at really quickly! For me they are easier than making things out of stretch fabric, because at least the cotton behaves itself and stays still! Always happy to help if you get stuck with it 🙂

  5. September 4, 2017 / 11:32 pm

    I love this print, it kind of reminds me of colourful motherboards! Love the purple topstitching and colourful buttons ;o)

    • Sarah
      September 6, 2017 / 6:20 pm

      Ahh, yes that’s a good one too – motherboards! I love a good splash of colour, and this print seemed perfect for a shirt. And it was on sale too! Result!

  6. September 6, 2017 / 8:23 am

    Such a great and unique dress shirt. The fabric is so gorgeous and the little twist with the collar button is fab.

    • Sarah
      September 6, 2017 / 6:23 pm

      I’m happy that you like it! Another beautiful Liberty fabric, they do so many lovely ones!

  7. September 21, 2017 / 11:50 am

    These are great fun, as is the rest of your blog which i found via your spectacular Bluet frock! I’ve made a couple of negroni shirts for my husband over the years, but never a proper one with a collar stand and full length sleeves…. too selfish I am! One possibility to add some extra longevity to your much loved pattern pieces is to iron them onto some interfacing….

    • Sarah
      September 21, 2017 / 7:06 pm

      Ahh, thanks Sarah! Really glad you like the blog 🙂 Yes I’m so pleased with how my Bleuet turned out! It’s funny you should mention the interfacing as I have actually done that with one of my patterns! I find though that it doesn’t help with me getting a bit keen with the rotary cutter and slicing off small bits every time I cut it out… haha. Guess I just need to learn to be a bit more careful! How do you find the negroni shirts? I’ve never made one but hear good things about the pattern so am interested to hear your thoughts on it 🙂

      • September 22, 2017 / 1:15 pm

        The fit is good from memory – nice and trim through the body (blushes as it’s been a couple of years)… I’ve always maintained though that Colette should release a proper two piece collar add on. If I was a good wife I’d also give the Thread Theory pattern a spin…

        • Sarah
          September 22, 2017 / 9:53 pm

          Ah, does the Colette not have a two-piece collar? I have a couple of Thread Theory patterns, but have actually never sewn them. Do they have a good shirt pattern too? Making shirts for the husband is kind of fun because I get to use the fabrics that are cool but wouldn’t suit me 🙂

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