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I am a mother, a new 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 first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Incompetent sewer's shirt collar instructions

I have enjoyed sewing this shirt and pictures of it will be up the end of the day when my husband gets back from going out to help his mom, and I have the buttons sewn on.

In the meantime here are, in what I hope is some kind of coherent order, my instructions for a collar that works for me. (see title above).

I want to emphasize that absolutely different methods work for different sewers. This is true of all techniques and the reason why there are 101 different ways to do everything out there. Just find what works for your sewing style. Personally I do best when a job is broken down into little stages with self correction opportunities are available at each stage, and everything does not depend on one large ambitious seam to make it all work.

Having to pull out the seam ripper does not bring out the best in me.

First off here are the collar issues an incompetent sewer like myself on some days can have with shirt collars:

1. Sewing that tricky round corner and top-stitching it is tough to do evenly. With a 1/4" seam, advised by some for good reason because it is more accurate, can make you crazy if your fabric starts to fray. Note a straight stitch foot and plate if you have one, or a needle set at the furthest left or right position (right up against the presser foot opening so to reduce the wide gap in the standard zig zag presser foot and therefore adding stability to the fabric support) is a real hep.

2. Little bits of thread or fabric can hang out right at that bump where the collar stand meets the shirt.

3. The top stitching of the band to the shirt can miss catching the other side.

4. Add your own issues, I am sure I have made more and forgotten some.

In general this is my approach:

1. Do nothing in final stitching until you have as much as possible set it up and pressed and organized it in its final shape. This gives you the opportunity to correct any potential problems while you still can. The object of this whole method is avoid having to use a seam ripper at all costs.

2. Sew with a conventional 5/8" seam allowance and then trim before the next step. I find this easier. I like to have something to hold on to.

Here goes, and if any of this doesn't make sense please let me know.

1. Make the collar. Stitch, take one stitch diagonally across the point, and press. The secret to a decent collar is to press the seams open on a Barbie doll ironing board a.k.a. this: (When searching for an image I found a link to an article with good pictures on the Threads site. I was surprised to see I wrote it. No mention that I would go on to write instructions for incompetent sewers. )

Turn and topstitch. David Page Coffin says to use a smaller stitch length and not to stitch too close to the edge, so I do it because he would know. Use a little "hump jumper" or folded something behind the presser foot when you turn to corner so you won't skip or pack up stitches and to keep the presser foot level. (I use an old leather bookmark somebody gave someone once).

Now this is important: because of turn of cloth when you turn and press the collar the open neckline edges will not be even. Trim them so they are.

2. Right sides together, baste the neckline edges of the collar band together with a long basting stitch. Press this seam open, then remove the stitches. This is a Debbie Cook trick and a great one. This step will make both of the collar band seam allowances even and set them up for the final stitch down without one side being shorter than the other. It is also sooo much easier to have this edge pressed before it goes anywhere near any other part of the shirt and will set you up with an edge like this when you go to sew it down:

Yes I know this is a weird fabric, I am going through a black and red stage and this was hanging around.
3. Paying attention to the markings on the top of the collar band to show you where the collar ends, stitch the collar to the band, sandwiching it between the collar band pieces, around that curved corner and right across your pressed-up seam allowances on the neck edge. Trim this seam closely but leave the seam allowances a little longer at the neck edge. If you don't do that when you turn and press the collar band/collar unit you might have little frayed seam allowance pieces poking out at the bottom of the curved edge of the collar. This will drive you crazy.

Go inside and make a few hand stitches to hold these seam allowances up and out of the way of the pressed edges. Am I making any sense?

You should now have a nice completed collar unit ready to slot onto the shirt. If it isn't nice and complete you still have time to fix it up so it is.

4. Stay stitch the neck edge of the shirt and clip it as often as you have to to get that neckline to create a straight line when you pull it out. It is not possible to sew a curve (neck edge) to a straight (collar band) without those little pleaty things forming along the neck seam line. You have not choice but to make the curved edge straight.

5. Try pinning the collar unit to the neck edge to make sure it fits exactly over it. If not you still have time to make some adjustments. For example if your neckline for whatever reason is a shade too long you can still take in a shoulder seam a little bit until it fits.

6. Sew most of the collar unit to the neck edge stopping this seam a couple of inches short of the edges of the shirts and working with attaching only the outer collar band to the shirt. Leave the pressed edge of the inner band free. Stitch this seam along the pressed line of the seam allowance and then trim but only along the part you have sewn. You are going to need to be able to see that 5/8" to attach the rest of the band:

I like doing this because it takes the pressure off of having to attach the band in one long accurate seam. Oh, and at this stage I would trim the seam allowance of the pressed under inner band, once I was confident it would all work. I like to trim only at a last stage in case any other adjustments are necessary - I hate trying to resew a tiny trimmed seam.

7. Flip the pressed edge of the collar down, and top-stitch all around the band for the final securing, only a small part of this seam is going to involve making two unstitched edges line up:

This works pretty well for me and for the way I sew.

Pictures of the final collar on me later today.


Bunny said...

Makes sense to me! That hint from Debbie Cook is brilliant. Thanks, Barbara, for a great tute. Hey, we all have our color phases

Bunny said...

I'm back. Where the heck did you get that teeny point presser or is this one of those optical illusion things?

Barbara said...

Bunny I just noticed this, must be a Threads optical camera illusion. I use the real standard sized thing.

LinB said...

As I have a short neck, I usually decrease the height of the collar stand and leave off the collar altogether. Still, I also have trouble attaching that blankedty-blank piece. I do myself the favor of making the facing piece the one that is on the OUTSIDE of the shirt, so that when I topstitch, the seam allowance is safely enclosed. Thanks for the tips.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I thought I'd tried every collar technique ever written, but the basting/pressing process in step # 2 is something I'll try directly. Thanks!

(Love the fabric. I'm in a perennial "red & black phase." I call it "aposomatic coloration," like the ladybugs use.)