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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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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sewing shirts, the stress free way

I have a folder on the desktop of my laptop called "Stress free sewing." In it I put all my ideas on how to put clothes together in the most laid back way possible. I have had an idea that this would be a good book someday, but I doubt if any one would publish it.

It takes a real garment sewer, maybe not a publisher, to understand how much stress sewing the complicated way can be, and how important it is to discover a way to do the most challenging jobs in ways that are relaxing.

But then again I have you.

I sew a lot of shirts for the men in my family.  I love them but I don't always find the process that easy. Men are so much more particular than women. Maybe this is because they have only a few categories of clothing, shirts pants and tee shirts for example, and so have time to get really precise about preferences. I know my four year old grandson already has a long list of things he doesn't wear - unlike his sisters who will wear any outfit providing it involves at least four different prints and sparkles somewhere. 

Over time I have figured it out. I know who wants their short sleeves 1/4" shorter, and who wants them a 1/4" longer. I know who has the largest neck and the longest arms. And who doesn't. It has taken my a few years but the fits and preferences are in the memory bank.

Which leaves me with technique.

I want to make these shirts without fussing around with them. So here are some of the techniques, all the work arounds I do to minimize mistakes and extra effort. It might take me a few blog posts to do it all but for a start tonight I will talk about this shirt and the tools that helped me make it.

This is my son-in-law again. I used to always say he was nicer to me than my own children until they told me not to say that any more, but really he is. I made this shirt out of a really light chambray so he would wear it to work or someplace in the hotter weather:

His 6'5" and I think I got the length right, for the untucked look.

Since the fabric was so fine I definitely didn't want a fusible interfacing so I used a sewn-in that I basted to both the collars and collar bands - I always interface both so they behave the same way when I sew them together. I don't sweat it and just use a big basting stitch to do this:

I keep the stitches big to just hold because after I stitch the pieces together it is quick to just pull the basting out and then trim the interfacing really close to the stitching line with my duck bill scissors.

The other thing I had to think about with this fabric was topstitching. I always figure it is really important to keep things to scale. A thin fabric meant I really had to topstitch close the all edges - edge stitch really- to match the fineness of the fabric.

However since I was committed to stress free construction I pulled out the edge stitching foot that gives me such a nice big ridge to keep on the edges of fabric - so even if my mind wandered, and it always does, my stitching wouldn't. Here is the picture of that foot, although my actual foot is an older version Bernina foot, same idea:

 And here are some topstitching samples, that show absolutely more accuracy than I could myself produce  with an ordinary foot without considerable stress being added to my stress- free experience:

Front shirt placket

The other tool that I considerate frustration reducing is a straight stitch foot. 

One of the most annoying things that can happen when you start a seam of course is that the fabric gets pushed down that wide space in the throat plate that is there to accommodate the swing of the zig-zag foot. The straight stitch foot reduces that area and really stabilizes the stitching area as a result, which makes for nicer stitch quality too:

Of course I don't need to tell you not to zig zag with this foot.
So that's a beginning on my low stress shirt making. Tomorrow why don't we talk about collars and the dreaded collar stand?  I have touched on this in the blog before but I think I have better pictures now and easy is always worth repeating.


Marie said...

Eagerly awaiting the collar and collar stand post. Thank you so so much for all your tips and the newsletter!!

Ginger said...

Great post. For sew in interfacing, what are you using? I used it years ago but haven’t lately. Thanks.

Jodie said...

Thanks Barb for this. I have shirting, a tested pattern and HOPEFULLY some time this weekend to cut out a shirt for myself. I'm looking forward to making that sewing experience as stress free as possible!

Sis said...

Thank you very much for doing these stress-free sewing posts. I haven't made a shirt for many years but recently I made a shirt dress and was really annoyed by the lack of "proper" shirt techniques so thought it would be really good to make a real shirt again but I have forgotten so many techniques since last time and due to my life being crazy at the moment so using my sewing time to keep me sane I don't really need the sewing time to be stressful. Looking forward to the next instalment. Thanks for sharing your vast knowledge so freely

Kansas Sky said...

Yes!!!! Collar stand!!!!! Cannot wait. I'll print out every word you write [actually, I have a file! And a binder!] and keep it for reference. And then I'm gonna start up a shirt pronto, while your instructions are fresh. THANK YOU!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this; I have long admired your ability to make shirts your sons/son-in-law enjoy. Maybe someday I'll get to that point, especially now that my guys are having jobs where something other than athletic wear is appropriate. Maybe.


BeccaA said...

Your son-in-law's shirt looks great! I, too, am eagerly awaiting your collar and collarstand explanations. This is such a fussy and visible part of a shirt that having a lower stress approach would be great! Thank you for sharing all these tips.

Nana said...

Thanks for the repeating of any techniques and easy hints. I need to attempt a man's shirt soon and I will need all the help I can get.

Anonymous said...

Considering some of the sewing books that do get published ('Yet another half dozen pointless baby gifts to sew that will immediately end up in a charity shop'), I can't see why this actually useful book wouldn't get published. Anything with 'Easy' in the title seems to get a guernsey. I'd certainly buy it!

Perhaps you could also add a chapter on things to check in patterns to see if they're worth bothering with - some are so badly drafted that it would be great to have a checklist to follow before wasting even fabric from the $2 table at Darn Cheap.


Carol in Denver said...

Where the folded edge of the shirt facing joins with the seamed edge of the collar stand is the most challenging part of shirt-making, in my opinion, the challenge being to make that join smooth, with no wrinkles in the shirt. Yet I've seen them done perfectly smooth; I just don't know how it is possible.