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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, November 25, 2012

Ivy Style

One of the many really cool things I did in New York was go to this exhibition at F.I.T. :

Of course it was an exhibition about mostly menswear - the preppy Ivy League style that has influenced so many North American designers. Think of the L.L. Bean ladies or anyone who ever declares there can never be too many white shirts.

It was pretty interesting as a retrospective of American classic design influences but...

Hold the phone

Guess what I found out?

Now before I go on my rant let me give you a pre-rant.

I have long thought that home sewers are asked by pattern instructions, books, and their own female sense that it has to be me not them that finds this hard, to do the impossible.

The built-in unachievable makes good sewers feel like bad people.

To my mind this has to stop.

I have been developing this opinion ever since an industrial sewing machine guy told me that the only reason tailoring details like welt pockets and keyhole buttonholes looked good in ready-to-wear was because they were executed with giant machines that worked vertically, and didn't try to move the fabric along with a presser foot.

Back on topic.


A lot of us have struggled with stand collars and more specifically with that last little buttonhole right in the curved part of the stand. You know that one that drives your blood pressure up and you know you are going to unpick a couple of times and then decide that no one will ever notice anyway.

Well the question is - how achievable is this? 


Well down at F.I.T. I was at source and saw how the original Oxford cloth type shirts were made in the days before they were sent off to Taiwan and computerized factories.

Well guess what?

The shirts I saw had:

  • Wider button bands about 2"
  • Squared not curved collar stand ends. No tricky curves to sew.
  • Collars that were set a full 1 1/2" in from the end of the stand. Makes sense actually for wearing with a tie.
  • Buttonholes that were made a full 3/4" in from the end of the collar stand and therefore were nowhere near all those layers that gum up your buttonhole stitching!
The thing is that these collars and stands looked completely terrific and from a sewing point of view would be a piece of cake.

Here is my drawn-on-my-purse illustration, note that both are supposed to be drawings of a collar on a stand, even though the bottom one looks like a convertible collar. I was too excited to remember to draw in the neckline seam.

 Well folks what do you think of this?


WeLoveSewing said...

I live in the Philippines and worked in a garment factory for many years. Whilst nowadays it is true that there are many automated machines which don't move the fabric whilst constructing welt pockets etc, years ago this was not the case. The fact is that regardless of what machines the sewers in the factories are using, they are specialised to do only one task and they do that with one machine which only does that, every day and all day. If you were sewing buttonholes with a specialised buttonhole machine every day for years, all your buttonholes would be perfect too!

shams said...


annie said...

Fabulous information!

tinyjunco said...

oh boy am i ever in tune with your rant! first, this, "... the only reason tailoring details like welt pockets and keyhole buttonholes looked good in ready-to-wear ..."

huh. how many absolutely atrocious tailoring details do we all constantly see in RTW? crappy matching of interfacing to fashion fabric, cheez whiz topstitching, bulky untrimmed seams showing thru and made shiny by crummy pressing, on and on.

not to mention crap fit.

which is of course why we sew! about a decade ago, i decided that since i'm just sewing clothing to wear myself, i may as well please myself. and i became more interested in fast sewing techniques, as well as slower techniques that made a garment more enjoyable to wear.

As far as i'm concerned, judging our work by comparison to RTW is ridiculous. RTW has many many drawbacks, as i said above - that's why we sew!!

Thank you for noticing this and bringing it to our attention! steph

Elaray said...

I usually omit that little troublesome button and buttonhole. But I will study you sketches and some RTW blouses and consider incorporating the techniques. Thanks for passing on the info!

badmomgoodmom said...


Jeanneke said...

You are such a smart woman;
a 1st class*** designer, measuring up the whole lot overthere at the exhibition :>)!
Thanks for sharing.
I love to follow your blog and your great sense of humor.
Cheers from Holland,


Rebecca Clayton said...

I am fascinated by the history of clothes, shirts in particular. I think pattern companies feel they must keep changing their details to keep us buying patterns, but really, the changes are seldom improvements.

Every once in a while, I succumb to the urge to try a new shirt pattern, but it only serves to remind me why I developed my own pattern starting with a Kwik-Sew men's dress shirt and sticking on some historical reenactor-inspired details. It works every time, it looks nice in many different fabrics, and nobody notices that it differs from RTW.

Admittedly, I did get excited last summer over a princess-seamed Vogue pattern. (V8598) The collar and cuffs that came with it were stupidly large and out of proportion, but they were easily replaced. I'm currently trying it in different fabrics. (I wonder what it would do in tee-shirt jersey?)

"WeLoveSewing" is right--if we just made shirts all the time, we'd be aces at it.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

Barbara that is an interesting summation. One thing that I think it does show is that we should not be slaves to the pattern companies instruction sheets and feel free to change things up.

Bunny said...

Provocative post, Barb. Things that make you go hmmmmm......

sdBev said...

I leave that top buttonhole and button off. DH never uses it and I prefer the convertible collar for myself. Sewing sets you free.

twotoast said...

Very interesting, and lets face it, we sew how the fashion/patterns/sewing books of today tell us. And that does not mean that they are right!

On another note, I walked past a Chanel jacket on display/for sale in Holt Renfrew (posh shop in Calgary) it looked very nice, boucle fabric, princess seams, welt pockets and, horror of horror, machined buttonholes! To be fair, they could be handsewn, but they looked terrible! The stitches were lost in boucle (and not in a good way) and looked all gappy and rough. Ugh!

Karin said...

Makes perfect sense. You are astute to notice these details.
I agree that the top button area on a collar stand is a pain. I always resort to some sort of hand stitching to put things right.
My husband has to wear a suit everyday to work. He is constantly buying and replacing formal work shirts. I notice that their are constant changes in the fit and details that make the shirts look "current" and differentiate them from cheaper versions. I can easily imagine that going preppy "retro" would have an upmarket appeal.

Andrea said...

Very interesting. I wish I had some old shirts on hand to look over. The nice thing about sewing is that we can do things how we damn well please. Some RTW is so awful, I would not want my sewn items to be comprable, but rather better!

Lyrique said...

What do I think? I feel affirmed, thank you very much. I started sewing this summer and have now sewn six shirts. Along about the fourth one, having previously been a member of your pre-rant group, I decided to stop thinking about what the patterns have been telling me to do. The patterns are never going to be transformed in such manner that the results are going to make me look like a Vogue model. Patterns are puzzle pieces, and I get to create how the shapes of the puzzle pieces are to be cut and fit together. A button here...no button there...who cares? I want to be skilled enough to make the fabric hang in such manner that we can see its pretty design on a reasonably attractive garment that is comfortable to wear.

Juliane said...

Great post. You said the button bands were 2 inches wide, and I'm wondering how close to the edge (ha ha) were the buttonholes worked? Or were they centered on the band? And how large were the buttons?

To avoid the crap problems working buttonholes, I make the buttonholes as early as possible during construction. Seems to help.

You've given us some wonderful food for thought with this post.

Rose said...

I stopped ranting when I stopped doing that collar band buttonhole. You included a quote from me, "nobody will notice anyway" after several attempts. Thanks for sharing the information!

carolinascallin said...

Very interesting! Good point by WeLoveSewing, too!

Catherine Daze said...

That's really interesting! I hate making that buttonhole on regular collars.

LinB said...

Well, of course! That makes so much sense. I'm in the camp of I-never-fasten-the-collar-around-my-short-fat-neck-anyway, so I stopped making that buttonhole. This will make the next round of shirt-making so much easier. Thank you, thank you.

Sharon said...

Very interesting, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Barb, Mr James Kaufman knows a good thing when he sees it. Of course they will love you.You never make people feel stupid, unlike patterns and some math teachers.


barbara said...

i feel sad and terrific, all at once. terrific because after sewing the first shirt for my husband i knew the instructions were terrible and started doing it the way you described, which made the best sense to my years of sewing. sad because after reading your post i see i'm not the genius i thought i was! here i thought i was original. all those wasted years of fighting with my own shirt collars before the lightbulb went on over my head.