Well hello again! Don’t these weeks fly past quickly?? At this rate, some of my summer projects will need to be deferred to next year… Or I need to sew faster. Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have seen that my sewing queue has recently got longer because the husband saw that Liberty had a sale, and I now have a few more shirts to make as a result.
I sew for both of us, not just me (ok maybe 80% me). Because I’m nice like that. Well, actually it’s really because the husband’s got a slim petite frame and RTW stuff is always way too loose and too long in the arms and torso and shopping for him is actual hell.
This poses a problem when it comes to buying shirts for work or occasion wear, as he (bless him) looks like a child who has borrowed his Dad’s clothes in pretty much any shirt from any store. So we’ve ended up in the situation where I make almost all of his shirts. (I’m also hoping to progress into jeans soon…that’s another shopping nightmare for him). Luckily I actually really enjoy making shirts, and with every one I complete I can see that my skills get a little better.
But after making the last shirt, although it looked good and I was proud of it, it just wasn’t floating my boat – I’m a bit of a sad perfectionist and it wasn’t perfect. I always so you’ve got to Go Big Or Go Home, which applied to my sewing is basically Don’t Half-Ass Stuff. The intricacies and the details that take time and patience are the things that really set the finished item apart and make it that little something special.
Firstly to the materials used in case anybody needs this fabric in their life – this shirt is made from Liberty Tana Lawn ‘Glencot House’ print in colourway A. Liberty lawn is such a beautiful fabric, but at full price it’s an eye-watering £22.50 per metre. Every now and then they do have a sale, and I got this print for the absolute (relative) bargain price of £9 per metre. That’s a whole 60% off ? which makes my inner finance nerd go SQUEEEEEEEE 🙂
The pattern is my tried-and-tested V8759, the short sleeve version (obvs) and without the pocket. (As a rule, I never put pockets on shirts. What’s the point? People don’t put anything in shirt pockets anymore. You know he’d only go and put a pen in it and end up, Shaun-Of-The-Dead-style, with red on him. No amount of Vanish is gonna get that stain out. Nuh-uh. Not risking it).
Although the finished shirts were looking really good from the outside, it was a couple of the finishings on the inside that just weren’t really cutting the mustard:
- The hem
- The armscye seams
Any of you lovely people who have ever tried to sew a curved shirt-tail hem will know what an absolute faff it is to get around those little curvy corners without the whole thing looking a total disgrace. Wobbly lines, pleats, folds, tucks, you name it I’ve had it (and unpicked it. More than once.). I figured that if I was going to carry on making more shirts, then I had better up my game and find a way to finish these bits off that looks considerably more profesh.
The pattern instructions for the armscye seam just have you sew the two layers together and leave the raw edges as they are, just chillin’ there in your armpit. If you’ve clipped the edges to get a good fit on the curved seam, it looks even worse because you’re left with these little flappy tabs all the way around.. I know Vogue have probably kept the instructions this way so the pattern fits into the ‘easy’ category and doesn’t put people off trying it, but tbh it just looks awful.
I’d seen some tutorials on flat-fell seams for armscyes, but it seemed to involve folding over teeny tiny edges of fabric around a piece of cardboard before you insert the sleeve. Erm, what now? This looked awkward to the max. Now I wouldn’t say I’m lazy, but definitely a fan of efficiency – getting the required result with the least amount of faff. The body of the shirt is constructed with French seams, so I thought why not approach the armscye the same way?
As the seam was going around a curve, I had to make one adjustment – after stitching the first line (wrong sides together), I had to clip the allowance to enable it to stretch around the slightly wider curve for the second line. But it’s ok, because it all gets tucked away nicely within the seam once it’s done. If you don’t clip the seam, it can’t quite stretch out enough for the second round and you’ll end up with a weird misshapen puckered shambles. Yeah, ask me how I know that ?
Whether you’re meant to do it this way or not, I’m not sure… but it definitely worked for me and I’ll be continuing to use this method because it’s so much more neat and tidy than leaving the raw edges hanging about on the inside. I’ll make my own rules ??????
After the success of the armscye, it was time to tackle the dreaded hem. My usual approach was to turn up a little bit of fabric, press it, and then go round and repeat that process. Then I would stitch. It’s those little curvy corners that gave me jip – I just couldn’t get the hem to stretch round into the right shape. After some research online I found a method using bias tape – it looked properly posh and didn’t seem too difficult, so I thought I would have a bash at it. I’d used this technique on skirts before, but it never occurred to me to use it on a shirt.
Here’s what the finished hem looks like from the outside of the shirt…
And here’s how you get one of these bad boys for yourself.
To start with, pin your bias tape onto the front of the shirt, with right sides together. (I use 1/2 inch bias tape – it’s not as easy to find as 1 inch wide tape, but eBay has a good selection. Etsy might be worth a shot too, and if you’re feeling uber-keen you could always make your own). I wasn’t particularly bothered about the exact science here, but if you’re following instructions to the rule then put the bottom crease of the bias tape along what would have been the bottom of the hem. So… if your hem allowance was 2cm, you would put the crease of the bias tape 2cm from the bottom edge (you will need to trim the hem allowance to less than 1/2 inch though, so that it tucks away nicely under your bias tape). Leave a few cm’s of tape overhanging each of the front edges, as you’ll be working with this in a bit.
Continue around the whole hem in the same way, stretching and contracting the bias tape around the curves, maintaining the same distance from the bottom edge.
Once you’re happy with the positioning, go along and stitch in the lower crease of the bias tape (the one nearest the raw edge of fabric), starting and ending at the edges of the shirt opening, removing the pins as you go. REMOVING THE PINS AS YOU GO. You only have to hit a pin once with your needle to forever remember this mantra. If you’re lucky, you’ll just break your needle. If you’re unlucky, you’ll experience having a sharp object withdrawn from your eyeball. Same goes for holding pins in between your teeth – don’t do it, kids.
Once you’ve stitched that first line, fold the bias tape to the inside of the shirt and press the hem crease, being careful not to open up the other fold of the bias tape (the one you haven’t stitched). For the front opening edges, go back to the little bit of bias tape you left overhanging at the start. You’ll be folding this back in on itself to create a nice neat finish at the edge, as shown below. You can now trim the excess tape if you’ve got a bit too much (better to have too much than too little though, I learned that the hard way ?) and you can also trim the bottom edge of the tape to reduce bulk within the fold if you like. Pin in place and repeat for the other side of the shirt opening.
Now you’re going to do another row of stitching, all the way along the bias tape, close to the edge. This time, stitch with the right side of the shirt facing down, and the bias tape facing up towards you – that way, you’ll get a nice neat line along the inside and will be sure not to stray off the bias tape and into the shirt fabric. (Guilty ??).
Start as close to the front opening as you can, and be sure to secure your stitching at the start and end. You can backtrack for a few stitches if you prefer this way, or you can do locking stitches if your machine is capable of that. Alternatively you could go old-school and hand tie the two ends on the inside of the shirt. Whichever method you choose, just make sure that come hell or high water that seam ain’t coming undone.
Manipulate the bias tape around the curves and try to make sure that the main shirt fabric isn’t getting creased/folded/bunched underneath the tape – my method is to gently pull the shirt fabric away from the bias tape as I sew, to hopefully get it flat and where it should be. There’s no patching up going to happen here so if you do catch a bit of the main fabric in the seam, you’ll have to unpick the whole line. Have a check every now and then as you go along to make sure all’s good in da hood.
Now you can stand back and admire your amazeballs, uber-profesh hem ?? Since trying this method, I don’t think I will ever hem a shirt another way. Yes it takes a little bit longer, and you’ve got to buy the bias tape and spend what seems like forever pinning it in place, but it looks so damn good. (And, you can take the opportunity to go for a little pop of colour or a patterned tape to really jazz things up).
Although this shirt isn’t outwardly the coolest thing I’ve ever made, I actually think that it’s technically The Best. I’ve traded the loud prints and the ‘wow’ factor for something that’s a bit more subtle, but finished to a very high standard. I’ve improved my skills and techniques a lot and it’s really taken me from the mindset of where I was as a beginner (‘here’s a dress pattern follow the instructions off you go’) to that of someone with a lot more confidence to do things my own way (‘here’s a rough template for a garment and some suggested instructions, but use your imagination’)
So to everyone reading, whatever stage you’re at in your sewing journey, keep on making all the things. Every project is a learning curve and your sewing superpower will grow with each one ✂️
Coming up next week on the blog… a sneak peek into my AW17 sewing plans! (Yep, it’s coming round fast… those Autumn colours are callling to me)
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