Learning to Sew Shirt Collars

I wasn’t thrilled with the way the collar turned out on my muslin test shirt so I went back to the drawing board before beginning to work with nicer fabric. The collar pattern I used on the test shirt had what I thought were really steep points that were too close together. I redesigned the collar to have a more “square” shape, which also resulted in the points being spread further apart. Below is the new collar shape and collar stand cut out and prepped in the charcoal chambray shown in my last post. The white pieces you see are  bleached cotton interfacing that has been glue basted to the top collar and top collar stand.

Mens shirt collar and collar stand

Constructing the collar is definitely one of the harder tasks when making shirts. Each step requires precision, careful measurement, and attention to detail. I sewed three or four practice collars before I actually cut into the chambray shown above. Alright…back to the sewing machine!

Men’s Shirt Pattern and Test Fit

The majority of my men’s shirt pattern is finished. Yay!  I ran into quite a few snags during the drafting process, and this pattern took much longer than my jeans pattern to get right. I am still tweaking the shape of the collar a bit, and I need to determine the shape and length of the shirt tails, but thankfully the tough parts are over.

Men's shirt pattern pieces

After finishing my sloper and the main pattern pieces, I made a quick muslin version of the shirt to test the fit. I didn’t attach cuffs, plackets, or buttons because I just wanted to make sure that the main body of the shirt fit properly. For the most part I was really happy with the way this test shirt turned out. There is a little extra room throughout my lower torso area below my chest and arms, which will be corrected by curving the side seams inward. My neckline, collar, and collar stand all need to be taken in as well, but these should be fairly easy adjustments. Otherwise, I am almost ready to start on some “real” shirts.

On top of my test shirt below are three different shirtings I plan to use:  a gray chambray, a charcoal chambray, a blue striped fabric, and some interfacing. All of the fabric is 100% cotton, including the interfacing, which is actually bleached muslin. Based on David Page Coffin’s recommendation, I’ve decided to use sew-in interfacing for the collar, collar stand, and cuffs rather than fusible interfacing.

Practice muslin shirt and shirting fabric

Throughout this entire shirt making process, I have been using Coffin’s Shirtmaking book. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning great construction and fitting techniques. He provides step-by-step, detailed instructions for the most difficult tasks such as constructing and attaching collars, collar bands, and cuffs.

I can’t wait to get started making some shirts that I might actually wear!

Shirt Sloper Continued

So I finally finished my men’s shirt sloper by adding the necessary ease across the upper back and chest area. I am going for a somewhat slim fit with this shirt, but let’s face it, I still need to be able to move and breath with some comfort. To determine where I needed the extra room in the sloper, I tried on the version below for my totally awesome pattern drafting/sewing teacher. She drew vertical blue lines in the areas that were too tight.

Men's Shirt Sloper test fit

From here, I carefully matched up my pattern to the muslin test sloper, and then transferred the blue lines to my pattern paper. To add the ease to the pattern, I cut along these lines and spread open the front and back pattern pieces as seen below. I inserted some scrap paper underneath the cuts in the open area, and attached these pieces with tape.

Men's shirt sloper, spread to add ease

Below are the final front and back to the shirt sloper. The orange area is where I added ease across the chest and back. One consequence of spreading the sloper at the shoulder seam was that this created a shoulder seam that was too long. To fix this problem, I folded out the extra length along the seam, which I marked with blue in the photo below.

Men's shirt sloper with ease

Now that the sloper is finished, I can begin tweaking it to design my shirt pattern.

Men’s Shirt Sloper

men's shirt sloper drafts

Um…yeah…that’s a lot of paper.

During the past few weeks I have accumulated this mass of paper in my attempt to draft a men’s shirt sloper. I have drawn, adjusted, and redrawn this pattern too many times to count. Compared to my jeans sloper, which came together relatively quickly, this shirt sloper is taking quite a bit longer than I expected. I started with the same book I used for my jeans, The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear by Lori A. Knowles. This taught me the basic shapes for the front piece, back piece, and sleeve, but I had some fit issues with this initial pattern.

Trying to draw a pattern on a flat piece of paper that allows for the way the arm moves relative to the body is more complicated than I previously thought. I started making some changes on my own, and while I got somewhat close to what I was looking for, the sloper still wasn’t perfect and certainly wasn’t ready for me to use to begin making shirt patterns.

Instead of continuing with blind trial and error, I decided to save some paper (and my  sanity) and got some help from a wonderful sewing/pattern making teacher here in Nashville. She was able to help me with some of my fit issues and as a result, I finally have an upper body sloper that fits really well. I still need to add a bit of ease across the chest and shoulders in the back, but for the most part I am almost finished with the shirt sloper.

Men's Shirt Sloper Variations

I ended up with three or four different variations.

Front/back test fit in tissue

I tested the fit of the front and back in tissue prior to cutting out the pieces in muslin. Tissue is not the best way to gauge whether the pieces fit correctly, but I wanted to see if they were roughly the correct shape.

Men's sloper test fit in muslin

Once I determined that I was on the right track with the tissue test fit, I cut out each version of the pattern in muslin to give me an idea of how the sloper would fit using fabric. This also gave me a chance to see how the sleeve interacted with the front and back pieces. Each version was progressively better than the previous version. Since I wasn’t sure how the pattern would fit, I only cut out half of the sloper each time I tested it. As soon as I add some ease to the latest version, I will test the whole upper body at the same time, which is really the only way to make sure the sloper fits exactly how I want it to.

Let the Shirtmaking Begin

The best motivation for me to start a new project is to go out and buy the fabric. After I’ve already spent money on some yardage, I am more likely to take the time to start working on the pattern. I ordered the denim for my jeans months before I was ready to cut into it, and have already ordered more to use towards the end of the summer.

Now that I have my jeans pattern more or less finished, I am turning my attention to the next most obvious wardrobe staple, shirts. When I saw that my local fabric store, Textile Fabrics, was having a 50% off sale on all of their fabrics, it was a perfect opportunity to stock up on some shirt-making motivation.

Fabric for making shirts

I started preliminary work on an upper body sloper, which includes a front, back, and sleeve. As soon as I finish the sloper and test fit it, I can begin designing the shirt pattern. My goal is to create simple yet versatile, slim-fit shirts. With some minor adjustments, I should be able to use the same pattern for both dress as well as more casual shirts.

TaylorTailor on Denim Debate

Denim Debate

I want to give a huge thanks to Ryan at the Denim Debate for posting about my denim project. The Denim Debate is a fantastic resource for exploring great denim brands and is a must read for denim enthusiasts. Ryan put out the call for anyone with something unique to share to submit photos and information about their project to his blog. I was thrilled when he said that he would like to post about my custom jeans! It is always great to connect with like minded people who are as passionate about denim as I am.

Selvedge Denim Recap

I have been wearing my jeans for a few weeks now. The denim is softening a little bit, but they are still pretty stiff. Here is a little recap of the process I went through to make the jeans. When I started I didn’t really know much about denim or clothing design for that matter. Over the course of several months though, I learned enough about pattern drafting and construction techniques to make myself a custom pair of jeans.

custom denim

Step 1. I sewed a practice pair in muslin using a commercial pattern. I used Burda 7733 to get a general understanding of the shapes of the different pattern pieces that make up a pair of jeans. When I began this project, I knew I wanted to design my own pattern, but using a  commercial pattern was a good place for me to start.

Step 2. I drafted and test fit a men’s jeans sloper. The sloper is a simple pattern without any style lines or pockets that helps to establish a good fit and basic shape. A sloper can be used to create more “stylized” patterns later.

Step 3. I designed my jeans pattern. Using the sloper from step 2, I modified the shape of this basic pattern to include the pockets, yoke, fly, and waistband. My goal here was to create a straight leg, somewhat slim fitting men’s jeans pattern. After creating the pattern pieces, I added seam allowance to each piece and cut them out in tracing paper.

Step 4. I sewed a second practice pair in muslin. Before cutting into high quality denim, I needed to make sure that the pattern I created in step 3 fit and that the pieces would actually go together properly. Everything went together as planned. Yay for my good work!

Step 5. I sewed the final denim jeans using the same pattern from step 3. Aside from the waist being a little too big and some less than perfect top-stitching, they turned out much better than I expected.

In fact, they have become my “go to” jeans for everyday wear. While I am already contemplating the changes I want to make for my second pair, I may have to learn how to make a women’s jeans sloper and pattern first because my wife secretly wants her own pair of custom selvedge denim jeans. I guess I’ll take that as a complement!

Selvedge Denim Jeans

I finally finished my jeans and couldn’t be happier with the way they turned out. I used a 12.25 oz, raw, selvedge denim from the famous Cone Mills in North Carolina. After working with muslin for so long, it was nice to use some quality fabric that I would actually wear.

selvedge denim roll

My main concern leading up to this project was that the sewing machine (Pfaff select 1526) would not be able to handle the thickness of the denim. For the most part it did just fine. In a few really thick areas, where I was sewing through two flat felled seams (the crotch point and where the back yokes came together), I had to hand crank the machine. This was fine by me because I tend to sew at a snail’s pace anyway.

back pocket stitching

The denim is a bit streaky, which I like because it gives the jeans some subtle texture. I added a branding leather patch that I left blank because I haven’t thought of a name for my “line” yet. I also added rivets to this pair, and lined the fly with the same fabric I used for the front pocket bags.

streaky cone selvedge denim

There are a few changes and improvements I would make on the next pair. The second muslin practice pair I made from my pattern had a little extra room in the waistband. I debated whether or not I should modify the pattern when cutting out the denim. After trying on the muslin practice pair multiple times, I thought that maybe the muslin had stretched, which would explain the extra room in the waist. I also thought the denim would be stiff and I would want a little wiggle room, so I left the extra room in the pattern when I made this pair. I wish I hadn’t because my waistband is still too big. While I can wear them with a belt, I was hoping for a perfect fit.

I would also take in the pattern through the entire length of the leg to make the overall fit a little slimmer. The last change or improvement I would make is to my top-stitching, which I’m sure will improve with time and practice. The top-stitching in the fly area is less than perfect, but will be fine for everyday wear.

back pockets

selvedge fly

The front pocket lining has greetings in multiple languages from all over the world. I used the selvedge on the fly as a way to reduce bulk.

selvedge denim cuffs

Despite the waist being a bit big and my top-stitching wavering here and there, I am thrilled with the way these turned out. Armed with my own pattern and an obsession with high quality denim, I can’t see myself ever buying a pair of store bought jeans again.

Second Muslin Pair of “Jeans”

Once my pattern was complete, I wanted to make another pair of test “jeans” out of muslin before diving into actual denim. Since this was my first attempt at drafting a custom pattern, I was a little nervous that maybe the pattern wouldn’t come together properly. I needed to make sure that the fit was right, and well…that it could actually be sewn.

Prior to this, I always had a set of instructions and the various markings on the commercial patterns I had sewn to guide me. This time around I was completely on my own, which actually made the sewing process more enjoyable. It was quite freeing to not worry about following a set of instructions, and to just assemble these practice jeans in the way that made the most sense.

To my surprise, everything went together flawlessly. They fit well through the leg, crotch, and butt area. I had a little extra room in the waste band, which could easily be fixed in the pattern. The only detail I left off this pair that I would put on a denim pair is rivets. I went ahead and put on the fly buttons for practice. As I mentioned in the pattern making post, I wanted to learn how to make a button fly. I used David Page Coffin’s book Making Trousers for Men and Women to figure out how a button fly is constructed. The book has a section on button flies that was very helpful with step by step instructions.

My top stitching through the fly area could still use some work, but this was a practice pair, and I wasn’t too concerned with making them look perfect. Here is the back side.

I want to make these back pockets a bit bigger on a denim pair, but the overall shape is fine. The top stitching across the back pockets is supposed to make a somewhat abstract pair of “T’s.”

Other than taking a little extra room out of the waste area, my pattern doesn’t need to be modified in any way. I have spent sooooo much time designing the pattern and test fitting that I am really looking forward to cutting into some real denim.

Time to roll out the good stuff!

Men’s Jeans Sloper and Pattern

I decided I wanted to start from scratch and make my own jeans pattern after not being completely happy with the results of the Burda 7733. I’ve also realized that this hobby is not just about sewing for me, but rather the entire process of making a garment from start to finish. That process includes designing/drafting my own patterns, picking out the fabric, sourcing notions, etc., and then the sewing. While sewing is obviously important and fun, it is only one of many steps involved in the process of creating a garment…and I want to do it ALL!

I didn’t really know anything about pattern making, but after scouring the internet for resources, I eventually settled on a book called The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear by Lori A. Knowles. It is a great resource for anyone wanting to make menswear, and was essential for helping me to make my own jeans pattern.

The first step in the pattern making process was using measurements taken directly from my body to draft a lower body sloper. I learned that a sloper is a very basic pattern, without any pockets or details, that provides a general shape and starting point for creating more “stylized” and finished patterns. From the sloper, you can draft actual pattern peices creating any style you want. It is a building block of sorts that can be used over and over.

mens jeans sloper 1

I needed an assortment of curves and rulers to draft the lower body sloper. It felt like a geometry project from high school at first.

mens jeans sloper 2

Here is the finished sloper pattern before I cut it out. I had to tape it to a glass door to be able to see the lines. The lower body back is on the left side, and the lower body front is on the right. From here, I cut out the front and back pieces in muslin for a test fit.

As I mentioned above, the jeans sloper has no pockets, yoke, or any details. It is just the fronts and backs sewn together to make sure I took proper measurements and that the basic shape and fit is correct.

My sloper fit great and I didn’t need to modify it to begin creating the jeans pattern. The book gives instructions for turning the sloper into a pattern, showing where to modify specific points on the sloper to create individual pattern pieces including pockets, yoke, waistband, fly, etc. I used these instructions as a starting point, but completely altered the shape and measurements to suit the style I was looking for. I wanted a somewhat slim fitting, straight leg, five pocket jean. The “straight leg” version in the book seemed more like a tapered leg to me so I changed the shape of the leg. I also changed the shape of the yoke, back pockets, front pockets, position of the crotch point, and the fly, arriving at my final pattern. The pattern in the book called for a zipper fly, but I decided that I was going to learn how to construct a button fly instead.

Once all of the pattern pieces were complete, I had to add seam allowance to all of the individual pieces. I used 3/4″ seam allowance for any areas where I would be doing a flat-felled seam, and 5/8″ everywhere else. These allowances are probably a bit big for muslin, but when I start using real denim, I want the flexibility to work with a bigger allowance.

I drafted all of the pattern pieces in tracing paper. Here is a picture of my final pattern. At this point, I hadn’t finished the fly so those pieces are not shown.

mens jeans pattern

The next step is to cut out and sew this pattern in muslin to see if everything goes together properly, and to check the fit again. Pattern drafting was actually quite enjoyable. I feel like it is the perfect right and left  brain collaboration, using geometry/math to achieve something more creative.