Thursday, 19 March 2015

Kwik Sew 3555; Or: Why I Am Now Regretting The Number Of Striped Fabrics In My Stash

Kwik Sew 3555 in purple and grey striped polycotton
So far, though I've only made just three such garments, I find the detailed work of making button front shirts quite rewarding but also quite frustrating. You can be sewing along merrily, smugly patting yourself on the back for how well it is all going, and then argh, disaster, some little tiny detail goes awry and suddenly it seems like a whole part of the shirt looks like a mess. I probably experienced fewer overall such disasters in this third shirt than in the previous two, but it's not problem free by any stretch! Some of the trickier parts still took me a while (collar & collar stand, in particular) and have pretty obvious, visible imperfections, but other parts I felt like I had got the hang of this time. The sleeve and cuff, for example, I was still very slow at making but more in an "enjoyably taking a while to get it right" sort of way than a "wait, how do I do this bit?!" sort of way.

Both of the previous shirts I've made used the Ottobre 05-2012-07 "Gardener shirt" pattern, and despite their problems I still wear them pretty much every week after more than 6 months in my wardrobe. (I suspect, however, I may have to cull the original navy version from my wardrobe at the end of the spring as the (cheap) fabric is really not holding up to such frequent laundering.) For this shirt, however, I chose to use a different pattern, Kwik Sew 3555. This was mainly because I wanted to try a pattern with a back yoke. There are also some other differences between the two patterns: the Kwik Sew pattern has no dart or other bust shaping as drafted and the bodice is overall more boxy in shape; the button band on the Kwik Sew pattern is cut on and folded under rather than separate as on the Ottobre shirt; it has a squared edge, one piece cuff rather than a shaped two piece cuff; it has a forward shoulder seam; and the shape and width of the collar is slightly different.

I hadn't used a Kwik Sew pattern before now and I found the breadth of the XS-XL sizes rather unhelpful, but the good news was that since I know the Ottobre shirt fit reasonably well, I was able to use those pattern pieces to help me choose a size and make some adjustments. I ended up with a rather strange medium/large hybrid: the back, collar and cuffs (I have big wrists, apparently?) are a large. The front and sleeves are a medium.

On top of my combination of sizes, I also did a 3cm FBA on the front bodice and introduced a side bust dart, added some length to the bodice and then, uh, cut some of it off again because I'd made it too long (that part of the process was a bit of a mess!), and lengthened the sleeves for my monkey arms. The adjustments I didn't do were my usual square shoulder adjustment (which I should have done and left off only by accident) and a large upper arm adjustment to the sleeve, which I didn't need for once (which, as I know for a fact I have proportionately large upper arms, suggests to me that the pattern is probably excessively generous in this respect).

As modelled by yours truly
 As far as fit of the final garment goes, well, it's an intentionally fairly boxy and unfitted style, so the fitting challenges were fairly limited. I am pretty happy with the fit at the bust (courtesy of a small-for-me FBA) and across the back. If anything, I have a little too much room at the front at hip level, and I probably should have tapered out a little of the extra width provided by the FBA. The big fit problems are all at the shoulders and armhole -- in addition to not being square enough for my body, the shoulders are too wide and the armhole too low. As the shoulder seam hangs off my actual shoulder, the sleeves are therefore too long.

Overall, I think I need to do quite a lot more work to properly tailor the shoulder/upper front/upper back of shirts to my body. It seems like I must be a really eccentric shape -- square shoulders, wide neck, average-to-narrow shoulders, hollow-chested above the bust at the front, and then wide through the upper and upper-mid-back. Getting it right might result in some really funny looking pattern pieces, but it would be worth it not to have the shoulder seams of shirts perpetually hanging down over my biceps. I'm just not quite sure where to start in terms of getting to those pattern pieces: with something that fits at the shoulders and then adjust the back? Or find something that fits across the back/armhole and adjust the shoulders? I'll have to do some reading and experimentation I think! I know a seamed back (either shoulder or armhole princess) would be easier to fit in this respect, but I do love to wear casual, unfitted/menswear style shirts. I figure if I can get to the point where I have a pattern piece that works from the shoulders to just below the armhole, I'll just copy that onto every subsequent pattern I use!

For this shirt, construction-wise, I used the Kwik Sew instructions for the parts that were new to me, i.e. the folded button-band and the clean-finished two piece yoke, and then ignored the rest as I wanted to construct it in a different order for purposes of trying on/fitting and/or use the methods from the Shirtmaking book for the cuffs and collar. On the two previous shirts I made I flat-felled my seams, but this time I just overlocked. It's not as pretty, but it's perfectly serviceable.

Interestingly, the KS instructions have you set the sleeves in flat -- I set mine in the traditional way because of changing the construction order for fitting. Alas, I continue to be rubbish at setting sleeves in -- I don't know how it is that I'm not improving at it even though I've now done so many sleeves. The first sleeve went in lovely, but the second, argh, non-stop unpicking/sewing/unpicking/sewing for over an hour. My apparent skill plateau in setting in sleeves is my number one concern about moving on to making outerwear, I have to admit.

This is one little detail I did pick up from the otherwise tedious Craftsy class -- stripes in every direction at the cuff, including cutting the sleeve vent facing on the bias. I don't know why the cuffs look uneven in this shot, I swear they aren't in reality.

Overall, compared to the Ottobre pattern, I don't think I like this pattern quite as much. There is some subtle shaping to the bodice of the Ottobre shirt that I think is more flattering than the Kwik Sew. I also I don't particularly like the cut-on/folded-under button band. I don't hate it, but it's not interfaced and it feels insubstantial. I think I might have liked it better if it had been folded onto the top as I've seen in other patterns. I think I like having the definition of the ridge of seam visible. However, I do like the look and fit of the yoke very much, and I love the clean finish of the yoke inside and out compared to the shoulder darts the Ottobre pattern uses.

In conclusion: it was definitely useful to make this up this pattern, but it is not really a contender for "The Perfect Shirt" pattern that I am in search of and I am not sure if I will make it again.

I have to talk about the fabric and the eye-searing nightmare it proved to be. I pulled this fabric from the "inexpensive shirting" part of my stash. It's hard to get an accurate photo of the colour, which is purple and grey, but it seems to look more blue in some light. It was cheap-ish (about £3.50/m) because it's a polycotton, with rather heavy emphasis on the poly, and I bought it on Goldhawk Road in London when I went on a shopping trip with my friend B in late 2013. It takes a crease beautifully and is mostly well-behaved under the needle, so it was actually a good choice for this pattern. Weirdly, however, it didn't seem to take being top-stitched very well, and I am disappointed with the top-stitching on the whole shirt.

Some details I am pleased with -- pattern matching across the bodice pieces and side seam, my nicely curved hem
However, when it came time to cut out, I unfolded it and immediately thought: this is going to give me a headache! Not only was it a pain in the ass to match the seams,  I also can't look at it for very long before my eyes start to feel funny. I actually did have to take frequent breaks from close work on it because no, really, it's like staring at one of those ridiculous optical illusion images that have something hidden in it, it makes my brain go bonkers. As predicted, though, the main problem was the pattern -- and it's actually a subtle check, not a stripe, just to make my life harder. It made it exponentially more of a faff to sew than the solids I've used before for shirts. I had to cut out on the single layer, I had to press and re-press every single fold and seam to get it to run evenly along the stripes, and let's not even talk about the seam matching. I also had to re-cut the collar because I realized, belatedly, that striped shirts usually have the stripe running horizontally across the collar rather than vertically.

Less pleased with: crinkly looking unmatchable shoulder seams due to easing, the mess I made of the "nose" of my collar stand (but my collar point is nice and pointy!)
My biggest seam matching fail was the result of using different sizes for the front and back. There was only 1cm-ish difference at the shoulder seam so I was all lalala, I'll just ease it. Which, yes, that would have been fine except: you can't stripe match an eased seam, dummy. In the end I did what I could to deal with the stripes, and in some places I did a decent job. In others, meh, there is room for improvement.

The whole striped shirt experience made me look at one or two fabrics in my shirting stash with a very jaundiced eye. Now I know that whatever I make with them I will need to budget LOTS of extra time for stripe/check/pattern wrangling. I have one utterly gorgeous shirt-weight linen in white with a bright green and blue check that I was looking forward to sewing up this summer, but now I am kind of dreading it!

What's up next: My next garment project is definitely another woven top, but as a little breather after making this one, I'm going to work on my Fake Everything Bag next (so called because it's made of fake leather and fake suede).


  1. Ah yes, the optical illusion type fabric! :)

    I like it though. Looks like a perfectly good shirt to me! Nice job on the collar!

    1. It's terrible when you sew for an hour and have to stop because your eyes are rolling around in your head due to your fabric ;)

      I wore my shirt yesterday and it's the most comfortable of the shirts I've made so far, shoulder issues notwithstanding. So definitely a win I think!

    2. YAY!!!! Now you can make more!

  2. A couple of things suggested themselves to me as I was reading this post: 1) Look up order of fitting - I think Pati Palmer has one online...maybe snoop around Threads magazine's website....I wish I could remember exactly where I'd read it online but I can't - sorry. That will save you work in the end. 2) The David Coffin book on shirtmaking is lovely and many libraries have a copy. This will help you in making shirts you love I think. 3) To help with the eye strain/strobing, it will help if you keep a good sized square of plain fabric (like a 25" x 25" piece of muslin) around when working with your striped & checked fabrics. That way you can cover most of your field of view with the plain, restful-to-the-eyes fabric, only leaving just the immediate area you're working on exposed. I don't know if I'm writing this clearly enough or not. You'll need to experiment to see if this works for you - some people find it too annoying to keep readjusting the fashion fabric & plain fabric.

    For me, I have used it successfully to sew for longer periods of time with less eye fatigue overall when working with busy fabrics. I developed this on my own some years ago -I was maybe 23? - when I was sewing a striped fabric - a button down shirt like yours - I kept getting headaches. The fabric background was white, my iron's soleplate was dirty and would spit as well so I made a muslin presscloth so the shirt wouldn't be stained or anything as I made it. I realized that I really looked forward to pressing every seam as I went along - not my usual style certainly!

    So as I was falling asleep one night - about midway through making this particular shirt- I was wondering about why this was and the answer came to me out of the blue - my eyes had nowhere to rest until I was using the press cloth. So during the next sewing session I experimented with laying the press cloth on top of whatever I was sewing about an inch or two away from the cut edge. I didn't need to pin as two different fabrics had enough "grab" to stay together. This way I was only concentrating looking at a narrow strip of busyness and my eyes were not distracted by the rest of the stripes, which meant no more headaches!
    Maybe this will be useful to you. :) Sorry for the long, windy comment.