Hot Under The Collar - Sewing a Shirt

Pattern: Deer & Doe Méliot Shirt

Chances are you own at least one shirt, whether it is a formal cotton one or a more relaxed denim or linen shirt, but have you ever made your own? Initially, a shirt can seem a daunting project: buttonholes, plackets, fitting a collar, sewing cuffs... There's a lot to consider but if you are familiar with your sewing machine and used to following patterns, a shirt could be the next challenge you are looking for to learn new sewing skills or perfect existing ones.

Shirts have been part of our wardrobes for centuries - in fact, the earliest record of such a garment dates back to the Ancient Egyptians! Shirts were a necessity due to the lack of modern stretchy fabrics, so variations on the theme were worn by everyone, regardless of status and gender. Hemlines went up and down - in fact, long shirt tails were popular in the early 18th century as they doubled up as underwear when tucked in! Collars became removable in 1827, which meant that they could be washed separately as required. Ever wondered why the buttons are on opposite sides for many men and women's shirts? Women of status were often dressed by their servants, which was easier to do if the buttons close to the left (apparently!) There is a wonderful animated timeline from shirtmakers Gant, which details the full history of the shirt - click here to see it.

Although the form of a shirt has changed very little in the last century, there are so many design variations that you can experiment with and make your shirt your own. We have a wide range of patterns to choose from, including 'mens' shirts and shirtdresses too.

Top from l-r: Colette Penny Dress, Closet Case Kalle Shirt, Cashmerette Harrison Fitted Shirt    Bottom l-r: Green Bee Frances Shirtdress, Cashmerette Lenox Shirtdress, Sewaholic Granville Shirt



But first, the basics... once you've chosen your pattern, you need to think about the fabric: light to medium weight woven fabrics are what you should be aiming for. Cotton, poplin, chambray, light denim, oxford cotton or cotton shirting will give you a crisp tailored look, while linen, rayon, fine needlecord, flannel, or barkcloth will give a more casual feel. To help you decide on the perfect fabric for your project we have a whole section online and in-store specifically for Shirting Weight Wovens, but if you need more help then pop in for a chat or contact us. These tips will help you tackle your shirt project confidently and make sure you have professional results:

  • Pre-washing your woven fabric is a must when making a shirt, as any shrinkage on the first wash would be frustrating after you'd spent all that time making it!

  • You will also need to make sure your cutting tools are sharp - whether you prefer scissors or a rotary blade, sharp will mean more accurate and neater results. Woven fabrics do fray so snip off any threads as you work, so you don't get tangled in the machine.

  • You will need to consider how to treat your seams so that the fabric doesn't fray over time. Your pattern will tell you the best way to do this, but overlocking, french seams, or flat-felled seams are all commonly used for shirts.

  • Match the interfacing to the fabric you are using - too thick and your collar won't sit right. Look for professional garment grade interfacing, and be guided by the pattern.

  • Take your time to mark the pattern carefully, and transfer all the details you need on to the fabric. Be especially accurate with the buttonholes as you want these match up perfectly. You can use either chalk or erasable pens on most woven fabric.

  • Press, press, press! Making sure your seams are pressed correctly during construction will give you a crisper finish, so make sure you don't skip this at every stage. If you want to get really professional, you can invest in a tailors ham or a sleeve board.

Garment details from Left:
Mens shirt: Liesl and Co All Day Shirt, made in Irish Linen/Wool. Ladies shirt: Grainline Archer Shirt, made in Patch Weave Javanese Cotton, Skirt: New Look Basic Skirt, made in Dark Denim

We asked one of our sewing teachers about her love of sewing shirts: "I got into it for the challenge and because I wanted to make something for men for a change. There is something special about giving a handmade, made-to-measure shirt as a present. I also love the variety of skills you need to use. There's never a dull moment!"

  • Don't be put off by the perceived complexity. Do a little sample for each part (preferably using the same fabric) e.g. a flat fell seam a small buttonhole or a curved hem.

  • Hand baste the trickier parts like the collar, cuffs and plackets. It's so much easier to sew accurately without pins getting in the way.

  • Spend lots of time on the detail; cutting down the collar, pressing and topstitching.

  • Use a blind hem foot for single topstitching. It has a little gauge which will make sure all your rows are the same distance from the seam.

  • Make sure your buttonholes are evenly spaced, mark them carefully and don't cut any of them until they are all done and you're happy with the placing.

    The bottom buttonhole in a man's shirt is often horizontal rather than vertical. It looks really professional to do this. You could even do the bottom buttonhole in a contrasting colour for a little twist.

  • Keep an example of a shirt with you while you're sewing. It helps to have a reminder of how a placket should sit or which direction the seams go.

If you would like a bit more tuition, or just want to sew in a friendly supportive environment, we are running a Shirt Making Weekend on 13 and 14 April. Over the weekend, you will learn how to make a classic shirt with all the details such as cuffs, collar, yoke and placket. You can choose either the Archer Shirt pattern (above) designed by Grainline Studios or All Day Shirt (below) by Liesl & Co. With a maximum of 6 in the group, and our experienced tutor you will leave with new skills, full of inspiration (and refreshments!) and a finished shirt!

Or you could spend the day making the Closet Case 'Kalle' Blouse or Shirtdress in our class on 15 March. As usual, lunch & refreshments are included and booking a class at Ray Stitch entitles you to 10% off everything in-store where our team are happy to help and advise on fabric choice.

We hope this has inspired you to tackle making a shirt, and if so then please share it with us on Instagram using #raystitch. We love seeing your projects and so do our followers. (And if you are looking for more online inspiration, check out @indie_sew who have designated February as #shirtmonth!)

Happy sewing :)