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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon



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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sew Forth Now podcast

If you go to the podcast list and look for the latest episode #60 you can listen to an interview done today on the never too many white shirts project.

Thanks Lori, great talking to you.

Pattern details

Responding to a comment.

If you see any detail in vintage pattern posted here that you can't live without, email me and I can trace it off for you as soon as I am able.

How does that sound?

So when is a shirt a shirt and when is a blouse a blouse?

A very good question.

Well, I did some research here and found some interesting things.

First of which is that not only do men and women wear different garments traditionally, but also that they make clothes differently.

That's right.

You see historically tailors were a guilded profession and they didn't let women in. Tailors taught other tailors in formal settings with defined apprenticeships, but women learned to sew from their mothers, informally (your have to remember that the printed pattern, which I talked about a few posts ago is a relatively new thing), or from taking garments apart or from observing how things were made. I think we all still do that to some extent.

It is really interesting to see how a tailor sews and how a home dressmaker sews and what the differences are. A tailor sews a hem left to right with a catch stitch (learned) the average sewer hems with a slip stitch right to left (observed). Sewers stay-stitch (low tech.) tailors tape (specialty supplies), sewers tend to use one kind of interfacing in a garments (as available), tailors use many different kinds of interior supplies (resources). Pad-stitching versus basted in interfacing - big difference in training there. 

It seems to me there are many differences that could be discovered, and there are many parallels here - the chef versus the home cook for example.

Male dress, and this would include the serviceable shirt, was built to last and constructed in a sturdy way. Details that didn't go out of style, long wearing features. David Coffin in his indispensable book Shirtmaking describes these on p. 20:

Every classic dress shirt has the following elements: a one-piece, pleated or gathered back; a narrow, one- or two-piece double yoke; two front sections that overlap; flat-felled armcycle, side and underarm seams; one-piece sleeves with plackets; either barrel or French cuffs; a collar on a separate stand; and a rolled hem. That's it.

When you look at this further each part is there for a use. 

The double yoke wears longer and supports the shirt details better (without adding any stiffness over the shoulder).

The front bands in a shirt are created without interfacing but by multiple layers of fabric. 

Cuffs show under jackets and are distinct; cuffs can be rolled up and therefore need neat plackets that look nice on the wrong side.

Pleats at the back add ease and movement where they are really needed but preserve the slim line of the sides seams.

The separate stand lifts the collar above a tie.

The rolled hem is low bulk when tucked in and of course nothing wears like a flat-felled seam.

I mean they use those in tents.

Coffin also argues that a dart has no place in a real shirt (he says they complicate the ironing) and what does that tell you? These are classic male garments.

So I would define a shirt as a child of that history, adapted by women who were dressing for work in the male work world or who, sensibly, saw the value of a garment that was durable, seasonless and fashion permanent.

I think too that adapting the classic rectangular shirt to the female body has required some maneuvers (I think we call that fitting and that's one of the object for me here) and probably explains why curvy women always seem to me to fit into classic Lands End type shirts (and I own quite a few) with some discomfort - busts pulling, collars gaping. 

I see some accommodation in this in shirt patterns with darts and more specifically in the more traditional technique incorporating princess seams that can even be flat felled.

A BTW here.

David's book is worthwhile not just as a technical manual but because it is written with charm, anecdotally, and is as much opinion as advice. Even if you never sew a shirt, IMO, it's a good read for that alone.

Now on to blouses.

I am just making this up.

If a shirt is what is described above then a blouse comes from a different tradition, less designed to be worn under a jacket and more designed to be worn alone.

To me this means more dressmaker details and less structure. Collars can be anything, and rarely if ever have a stand (we don't wear ties thank goodness), so the convertible, flat, shawl, round, peter pan, roll - well just about any collar but one with a stand is blouse defining.

There is shape. 

Darts coming out of anywhere, shape in pleats or gathers, with or without a yoke, detail in the sleeves for interest, pockets for decoration not utility (what woman carries a bunch of stuff in her breast pocket - when was the last time you saw woman wearing a plastic pocket protector?), facings, interfaced, at the front, unless the blouse, like the ones in the last pattern I showed you, is back buttoning. And some can even have side zippers.

Back neck facings (which I hate and never use more on that later), and probably a real type hem.

French seams are standard finished seams. If you are using flat-felled that might by a shirt you are making.

What am I missing?

I will end this post with another vintage pattern, one that I definitely think reflects the culture of the blouse. A 1951 sleeve only pattern which, like the last one, showed the home sewer how to stretch a pattern, I am particularly in love with the turn back cuffs on views A and F. 

I may end up making 20 white shirts/blouses here. And for my own purpose as a sewer I intend to mess around with all this a lot and produce both white shirts and blouses, depending on how I feel, and to just expand my tool box of skills.

I may end up making hybrid shirt/blouses some of the time.

Oh and the pattern in my button is from a current Vogue 8689.

Just so much to say (and no surprise there)

My head has been buzzing all week with white shirts and I have been inspired and motivated by your comments.

I had intended to start addressing some of those last night but my dear husband went over to help my son-in-law fix his garage door and we ended up spending the evening in the ER. Six stitches in one hand and a bruised and cut knuckle on the other. His hands are now bandaged up like a boxer's, but no real harm done. You got to watch those garage door springs apparently. They, well, spring.

So what I am going to do over this weekend is do some subject specific mini posts on various issues as I warm up to starting the first white shirt Monday, November 31st. As there will be other projects that intercede the end date for this whole thing is indefinite. Any one of the points of this for me is to see what the rest of you are doing.

That will be my inspiration.

I want to remind those of you who sew but don't blog (probably a very productive approach, based on my own experience...) to tell us what is going on in the comments section here and if you want to email me some pictures to post.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The usefulness of the white blouse, or shirt

I found this pattern in my collection and thought you might enjoy it. 

Image the sewer this was designed for. I am fairly sure that I had a teacher in school who made this jumper and at least a few of these white blouses. 

And of course some in my 10 are going to be blouses too, not just shirts. The gender divide doesn't seem to me to be particularly significant here, and I will probably want to honour white shirt makers who have gone before, like the purchasers of this blouse pattern. The view with the tie appeals the most.

In the meantime I have one first project figured out now and have been busy contacting the suppliers you have connected me to in your comments. Michael at Michael's Fabrics has offered swatches  (he is putting 20 in the mail to me) and I have to say it is awfully nice to talk to an actual  person when planning something like this. I will keep you posted, and post, on fabrics.

I have also been contacted by Lori from the Sew Forth Now podcast  for an interview on this project and will let you know when that will  be available to hear.

It's 5:40 a.m. and I am off soon on my day off to pick up baby Scarlett for sitting so my daughter can do a shift at work -  she's a nurse - that will give me some time too to do some Mouse Suit fitting.

More later. TGIF to us all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

There is precedence in this

It has occurred to me that we are not the only group of women who have engaged in a white shirt project.

The school I work at once had a home ec. department, now long gone. Left behind though, are many books on clothing that I read, and sometimes I think I am the only reader.  

One of these is Barbara Burman's The culture of home sewing. It is an interesting book. One of the themes in it is that when women entered the workforce in the 20's (post WWI - after they had been called up to do the jobs that the men had left behind) and went off to work in offices, they had no idea what to wear.

What to wear at home, they knew. What to wear as domestic help, they knew. But what to wear in an office- well they had no idea.

This era, as a result, gave birth to the woman's magazine (they exploded during this period), many of which contained sewing patterns, and to the printed pattern, as women tried to teach themselves how to negotiate a strange environment in which there was no precedent.

Part of that process led to the feminization of male dress.

We would know this as the shirt waist blouse and the serge skirt.

It seems to me that this history is worth considering. 

The white shirt, after all, has a banded (wear with a tie) collar and other male details.

It also has me thinking of what it was like for working women, trying to dress on very modest salaries. (Come to think of it, that hasn't changed). 

I have found vintage patterns down in my collection that feature many details to be added to the same pattern, will  post some pictures tomorrow. Dollar stretching patterns.

What did they do to extend their resources to dress as well as the workplace required? How important to that was the white blouse, or shirt, that would go with every thing?

This all reminds me tonight of my grandmother who once went nuts when I unraveled thread from a bobbin so I could wind on a new colour.

"Save that," she said to me. "That costs money."

This was the same grandmother who was a book-keeper before she married, and was always wistful about her lost career. The same grandmother who used to tell me stories about friends  who had remained single and working - "She had a good job you know, she was in Coats at Eatons," (the late great Canadian department store).

Sometimes, she would end these stories with "better a good career than a bad marriage." I wonder what that bride of the 20's was trying to say to me?

Funny that I now, as I move to the end of a very interesting career, plot on many days how I can go back home and be the housewife I always felt I was, only one in disguise.

And wearing a white shirt.

Updating the list

I have added a blog roll of sewers who have told me they are going to be sewing along on the white shirt project.

I have only added those who have specifically said,  sign me up. If you would like to be added to this list please let me know. There are no real rules here of course - random sewers (like myself) welcome.

I will also note that some sewers who don't blog are also sewing along. For those of you in that category please send me some shots or commentary on your own projects and I will post them here too if you like.

I am working away on the Mouse Suit for baby Scarlett for this weekend and then I am starting my first shirt - November 1st is my launch date.

My concern today is fabric sourcing. I am going to call Michael in Baltimore  for a chat.

I really want to use the restrictions of this project - one colour and one garment type, to fully explore fit, fabric, and technique.

I want to find some good quality classic fabrics. Any other thoughts on where to get those would be appreciated.

Who has pique these days? Oxford cloth? Swiss dot? (remember Swiss dot). 

I am only going to work these one idea, one pattern, and one fabric at a time, rather than generating a to-do list.

I want to see where this leads me, and to see what other sewers make, and where they lead me too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Still sitting in my coat - but now I have a button

I have had a few suggestions that I should add a button on my blog about the white shirt project.

Now my graphic design skills are nil to none so after work I came home and, coat still on, sat down at the dining room table and made up a super amateurish button.

So now all of you who want to make their own shirts along with me can copy this and paste it to your own blog. (If anyone is more skilled than I am at this sort of thing and want to come up with a prettier icon - be my guest).

I guess the next thing to do would be to make a list or link to all of those who are interested in this project. I am, of course, as interested, if not more interested, in what other sewers are going to make, than my own projects.

Might try to figure how to do that out too. 

But first I have to take off my coat.

White shirt updates

Thanks to all of you who said you are interested in a sewing along with me. This makes it even more interesting.

If you blog and will be posting about this can you send me your blog address so I can post a central list? Or if that is too organized just drop in with a comment as you go along. 

I also want to thank Robin for pointing out that every doesn't look great in pure white (anyone who has ever gone bridal shopping knows this) so off-white or ivory or something similar makes sense too.

I am going to research this all this week (and try to source some fabrics for real classic fabrics - any suggestions?) and will be sending an email off to Michael's in Baltimore today for a start.

My goal is to use a different pattern or view every time and as many different white fabrics as I can.

I am also spending my free time this week making a mouse costume for our baby. Been a while since I did the Hallowe'en costume thing. My daughter wondered if I would be too busy - over this grandmother's body are we going down to Walmart.

Lots to think about.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Never too many white shirts

Thanks for all the great feedback yesterday. 

There were a couple of things I would like to respond to over the next few days, but what I most interested me was that the idea of sewing a multitude of white shirts resonated.

It is always nice to know, when you suspect you have lost it, that aren't the only one.

I have been thinking this over and these are my reasons for my own white shirt mission (feel free to sew-along if you want-send me your link and I will post it here if you want) and white shirt thoughts in general, if I am missing anything let me know.

Ten reasons to sew ten white shirts:

1. Who ever looked a a white shirt in her closet and said "damn I don't have anything to wear with this"?

2. These are true wearable muslins. A white shirt allows a sewer to focus on technique and fit - and what you learn on these shirts/blouses can be transferred to other fabric.

3. In what other garment can you make many things from the exact same fabric? Multiple white shirts are cost effective, yardage, and notions saving.

4. You can wear a white shirt year round. Under a vest or cardigan in winter; as a sun cover suit in summer.

5. They don't really ever go out of style - unless the details are really crazy - but I would argue the white shirtedness extends shelf life.

6. They use classic fabrics, some of which you don't sew with any more. Pique, voile, swiss dot, broadcloth, oxford cloth, pima cotton, kona cotton. There is a bit of retro sewing process going on here,

7. The majority of white shirts are cotton. Easy to press and to sew. Plus you get that great satisfying steam coming off of the cotton - a cultural experience. Our culture.

8. It is easy to add details to a TNT - get a great fitting body and cuffs, sleeves, collars can be interchanged - in fact a lot of the patterns provide this in the envelope.

9. These are the ultimate snappy garment. Wear a white shirt when you are tired, crabby, or feeling sort of half-assed and it will make your appearance at least, looked perked up. There is occasional need in my life for this.

10. No one ever regrets the time spent on sewing a white shirt.

What are my standards going to be for sewing this self-challenge, and I guess for you if you are also feeling the urge:

1. I am starting November 1st. I need a week to think.

2. I am finishing when I am done. Feel free to go as far along with this is you want - if three white shirts is all you can face - well that's probably a sensible decision.

3. I will not do this straight, since I am a sewer much distracted by the bright shiny object. I will sew other things as I see the need between WS. See rule 2, this shouldn't be a problem.

4. I will use a variety of fabrics if I feel like it, as long as it is white.

5. I will make each shirt, or blouse, in some ways, different, reserving the right to carry forward techniques or details I like, in the interest of quality development. 

The object here is to explore the idea that limitations nurture creativity - I am not going to be mass producing 10 identical shirts - I don't sew like a factory and I don't sew in a factory.

My intention is to fully explore The White Shirt.

Any one else interested?