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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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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Stress free shirt sewing: hems and seams

I have a few other details to discuss on how to sew shirts with less stress.

The first of these is how to sew a curved hem. I am not totally happy with the way the hem looks on my son's shirt in the last post (why don't those boys iron more?) but I saw that shirt before it was sent out and it wasn't wavy. The lesson here is that this pattern has a shaped side seam and for a casual shirt on this straight up and down guy I have to remove all curve. And in a casual camp collar style shirt like this one I will do a square shape with vents in the side next time.

Back on topic.

The curved shirt hem is a difficult one for most sewing folks. The straight parts at the front and back are easy, they are on grain, but once you get to the curved places at the side the grain moves off to something closer to bias and under the action of pressing and sewing it can so easily stretch and bow out. 

There is a lot of good advice out there about stay-stitching etc. to avoid this, but my nerves are something I like to restore, not erode. So when I sew so this is what I do instead.

I hem the fronts and the back of the shirt before I sew the side seams. 

The reasons for doing this are:

  • It is easier to press and sew up one small hem at a time
  • Any bias that exists, even if I elect to stay-stitch (I don't always do this in high thread count stable shirt fabrics) is pushed towards the side seam and I can trim it off before sewing those seams
  • This is the way many ready-to-wear shirts are made - look for a little patch many RT
The process is simple:
  1. I press up the hem allowance, turning the raw edge under on both front and back pieces before I do anything else to them, like sew on the front bands. These pressing lines are good markers.
  2. I sew the bands onto the shirt, but before I topstitch them down I fold them back and sew along the bottom, just like you would at the bottom of a facing in a blouse. I turn and press this to the right side and then top stitch the bands in place.
  3. I then stitch the hems, following my previous pressing marks.
Now to the seams, sleeve and side.

I don't serge any of my seams in my shirts. Yes it is fast and easy but I feel it is part of the culture of shirt-making, all other construction is enclosed with yokes, bands etc. to have all raw edges, even those covered by serging, hidden.

Of course the standard is to make flat felled seams, and I have made a lot of those with a felling foot, but that kind of work, particularly when you get to the tricky step two of edge-stitching down a raw edge, is nerve-wracking.

And we are sewing stress free right?

So after much experimentation I have decided to use french seams for my shirts, two different ways, and to top stitch them to look like flat felled, mimicking the appearance of RTW shirt seams.

To set in the sleeves- a conventional french seam:

  1. Make a french seam, step one wrong sides together, step two and final stitching from the inside.
  2. Top stitch close to the folded edge of the encased seam, which will give the appearance of a single line of topstitching from the right side. Note how this eases in the extra bulk of the sleeve cap but keeps this hidden from the right side:

To sew the side seams- a french seam done in reverse with the encased seam in on the outside:
  1. Make a french seam, step one right sides together, step two and final stitching from the outside- this will catch the hem allowances.
  2. Press the encased seam allowance to the back of the shirt and top stitch close to the folded edge, giving the appearance of a flat felled seam.

Here is how this looks at hem level, from the wrong side.

First before the final top stitching is done:

And then after the final top stitching is done on the right side:

Done and not at all stressful.


Sandra said...

Wow! You make it look so easy! The finished shirt looks very professional, definitely something I will try on my next one. Do you do the same for a blouse?
I love your tutorials Barb, thanks so much for all you do to help us upgrade our sewing.
I love your book!!!

Sarah Wale said...

Another "Why didn't I think of that?" inspiration from the lovely Barbara! Thank you again. I had sussed out curvy hems on skirts etc. but the shirts always annoyed me - now I know why!

Linda said...

Thanks for sharing this hemming method. The finished outcome looks great

Linda said...

Thanks for sharing how you hem this type garment. It looks very polished

Marie-Noƫlle said...

Thanks Barb. I like this series on shirtmaking. I like to make shirts for the boys in my life and follow the instruction of a Japanese book. They have you sewing the curved hem first as you recommend. It never came to my mind that it was easier this way but I've always had excellent results this can see my shirts on my Instagram account @lamachineacoudre.

Julie Culshaw said...

That's a great technique for the side seams, much better than flat felled.

Mary said...

Very interesting on the sleeve cap! I would have never thought to do it that way at all.

Unknown said...

Now this makes more sense to me! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Both of these tips -French seams to replace the flat-felling and hemming first are brilliant!! Thanks so much. Kinda wish I had realized those things about a dozen shirts-for-signifiant other ago! ( :

Ellie in Colorado

Angela said...

Thank you for such a helpful post! I just finished a shirt and it would have been noticeably improved by using your methods. If possible, can you post pictures (perhaps in a future post) showing the steps you describe in the area with the front band and hem? Also, the sentence: "This is the way many ready-to-wear shirts are made - look for a little patch many RT" how should that end?

I love your blog, have your book, and appreciate all you do for your readers :D

Deanna said...

My son is 50. He is also 6'4" with a very long back and arms. Thus, many (!) shirts made for him over the years. Darn - wish I had known these great tricks and flawless finishing tips before. Oh well, never too late, right?