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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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Friday, June 14, 2019

Sewing shirts the stress free way: the collar and dreaded collar stand. Part one, why this is hard


There are many ways to stitch a stand collar on a shirt. There are some great instructions already written by many wonderful sewers and teachers. And I am sure those methods are correct and work well, particularly for folks who make a lot of shirts and have the whole thing down.

The thing is that not everyone sews a whole lot of shirts, regularly at least, and not to practice makes perfect stage, undoubtedly because the I-am-so-fed-up-with-this-thing I am going to pitch it in the corner stage comes first. 

A lot of us sew a lot of different things in our sewing lives. Shirts only come around the rotation every now and then, unfortunately, often in the shape of gifts for men, when we are under extra pressure not to screw up.

Also not everyone wants to concentrate all that hard every step of the way. Some of us would rather sew something relaxing that makes us feel pleased with ourselves.

Both these things describe me, or they have for a long time in my sewing life. As a result, I have worked out a way to tackle the dreaded shirt collar and stand in a system that has placed an extremely high priority on not stressing me out, while still producing a very good result.

I often take this approach when I am trying to make my own sewing easier. Usually I start by figuring out ahead of time what disasters I can see coming, and then try to figure out a way to avoid them.

So let's start with what can go wrong. Tell me if I have forgotten anything:

1. The collar is off centre, meaning the space between where the collar ends and that curvy part of the band are different on each side. Your male wearer will always notice this first thing.

3. The collar band is all lumpy with little bumps that no matter how hard you try to trim out are still there, up until the time you trim so closely you open up the seam.

4. The shapes of the curves at the ends of the band are different. One may be OK but if it is, the price you have paid for this is that the other one is all wobbly. You know one end of the band is a curve and the other one sort of squarish.

5. Topstitching around the collar band is next to impossible. See #3, bumps, and #4, different shapes. Despite your blood pressure doubling, yourself squinting, and all the advice you have read about hump jumpers and cardboard templates under your belt, and despite trying really, really hard and going slow, by the end of it you are pretty sure your stitching looks like the dog did it.

6. When you are finished you notice that you missed a bit and there is some unstitched, frayed fabric hanging out of the end of the collar.

7.  You also notice too that the collar band doesn't line up quite with the edge of the front plackets, like the shirts hanging in your husband's closet all do.

Finally, and this is the most important thing to my mind, the whole process is just no fun. 

It's sewing, which you love, but there is nothing to enjoy here. You already have your seam ripper handy.

No one can do this you decide, or  - the one thing I don't want any sewer to ever think - they just must be better at sewing that you are.

You feel powerless. 

You may even have trimmed the seam allowances to 1/4" like the experts said you should to make it easier. You may even have trimmed them again to 1/8" like they advised, right up to the point your seam frayed away. 

You tried really hard to do what you were told.

But who really can make this work while those tiny bits of fabric disappear under a moving needle, where you no longer can see them, and over moving feed dogs, while you try to rotate an entire shirt (worse still if it is stuffed burrito style into the collar - take about lumps and bumps)?

Well I can tell you not a lot of people can make a success of all of this. And certainly not folks who only sew shirts every now and then. And particularly not those  trying to make a shirt on December 23 for someone they really love.

So what is a person to do?

Try an easier way.

And I will show you that tomorrow.



Anonymous said...

Thanks, I'm really looking forward to easier! Always enjoying whatever you write about, especially regarding sewing. Your efforts are always appreciated, admiring your efforts to those of us struggling with our sewing ambitions and admiring also your personal family contributions also, from Toronto, we all are the North here, champions!

Sarah Wale said...

Oh Barbara! You've done it again .... #4 is the bane of my life and I thought I had tried everything, so I wait eagerly for your next blog. Your Newsletters are absolutely ace, too. Thank you!

Cynthia said...

First off, I love your blog!
#4 and #6 are my peeves and I sew A LOT of shirts. I must have made at least 20 or so in the last year. A perfect shirt is my constant quest. For me, #6 also includes how sometimes the collar stand pieces are not the same size by the time you attach them to the neck so the topstitching can't possibly end up in the right place on both sides.

paloverdeblooms said...

OMG! You hit every single one of my problems (although not always all of them in the same shirt). And I don't even sew shirts for anyone else—just me! I am eagerly awaiting salvation!

SewRuthie said...

Sounds good, I'm looking forward to finding out as I'd like some shirt but can't bear the pain.

L said...

I have experienced every piece of numbers 1 - 7 and tried many different techniques. I put off making classic shirts because of the collar stand. I found a tutorial by Kathrin Brenne that, so far, has worked for me. I'm interested to see how you do it as I am always looking to learn something new. =)

Anonymous said...

Count me in! It's as if you've read my mind. So looking forward to the next installment!!!

Katrina Blanchalle said...

ROFL! All me, all the time! The only one you missed was seeing the shirt you made hanging in the back corner of the husband's closet, reminding you of your failures, every day.

knitsync said...

What a brilliant list. My (teacher) partner and I were only today taking about the fact that by the time you have enough expertise to teach, you've forgotten what it's like not to know anything, and what are the really confusing things for beginners. Well, you clearly are not out of touch! A brilliant list of all those problems that I've certainly encountered in shirt making that no one ever mentions anywhere! Really looking forward to the solutions!

Esther said...

I thought I was the only one having a hard time! I'm working on my third shirt in a row for my husband and I thought I would have perfected it by now, but no! My respect for the bespoke shirt makers has gone up a thousand times!