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?
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!