Thursday, 28 April 2016

My shirtmaking frustration (or, Deja Vu with Ottobre 05-2012-07)

So, back in September 2014 I made my first button-fronted shirt using Ottobre 05-2012-07 in a navy fabric. And here it is again! Well, not quite, this is my new April 2016 version.
Finished shirt before sleeve surgery. The exposure of this photo is ramped all the way up to show the details in the dark navy colour.
I really loved the original 2014 shirt and wore it loads and loads despite the fact it was very far from perfectly made. I am pleased to say that the actual sewing survived hard wear and frequent wash over the last 18 months. The inexpensive fabric, however, not so much. When it came out of the wash last it was looking really rough, especially around the cuffs, so I decided to replace it. I thought hard about whether I wanted to make up a new pattern, but the fact is that this shirt and the chambray shirt I made from the same pattern in October 2014 (which is still going strong despite even more frequent wear than the navy version) are among my favourite and most frequently worn things I've ever made. Why mess with success, was my thinking... except it kind of didn't work out that way.

My starting point then was Ottobre 05-2012-07, without the pockets or the colour blocking options provided by the pattern. (I do not like pockets over my bust at all and always leave them off everything.)

Ottobre 05-2012-07 "Gardener shirt"

The big change between the October 2014 version and this version is the fabric. The 2014 shirt was made in an easy-to-sew, stable cotton, and this new one is a very soft viscose. I love this new fabric in the abstract: it drapes and hangs absolutely beautifully and it's very nice to wear. On the other hand, wow, I really did not like making a fiddly detailed shirt with it.

Collar points made with new-to-me "thread pull" method, which I like a lot
Let me lead with the one construction thing that I was really pleased with: I tried out the "thread pull" method described in this tutorial for my collar points. I have always tried quite hard to get good points on my collars, but my success in the past with achieving good pointiness has varied and it's always been quite a time-consuming task. I absolutely loved this new-to-me method -- my collar points on this shirt are about as pointy as I've ever managed and it really took no time at all. Definitely a technique I'll use again! That is literally the only detail of the shirt I would say I was 100% happy with, however.

Many of my issues came from struggling with the fabric.

Here you can see the problem I had with my button bands -- yes, my "straight lines" really are THAT wobbly
Problem 1:  The viscose was very shifty when I was cutting and although the larger pattern pieces turned out okay, the smaller pieces like the collar, cuffs and button band were really difficult to cut well. I had to re-cut the collar stand three times. I should also have cut the button bands again because I just couldn't seem to get good rectangles, but I didn't have enough fabric. I really really regretted this later. Although I tried really hard to compensate for the imperfect shape of the fabric pieces, my button bands turned out absolutely shitty, to be frank. They make it look like I can't sew a straight line. It's the sort of thing that I don't think is too noticeable from 1m away, but still, ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I hate when things like this go wrong because I think it makes the things I make look really Becky-Home-Ecky and cheap. For next time, I think a cut-on-and-folded button band would be much easier to work with if I want to make a button-front shirt with a drapey fabric.

Problem 2: The difference in texture and stretchiness under the presser foot between the fabric on its own and the fabric fused to interfacing was extremely pronounced. I really don't like at all how heavy the interfaced button band turned out as a result, although fortunately the collar and collar stand, despite being interfaced just the same, turned out quite well. I'm not sure fusible interfacing was overall a good idea though -- maybe self-fabric as interfacing next time?

Problem 3: The fabric shredded like mad at the cut lines and barely holds a crease. Ordinarily I flat-fell shirt construction seams -- I just like how this looks and I've found it has really good laundry longevity. However, there was no way in hell I was going to flat fell this slippery viscose, especially when I realized it really doesn't take a crease well, so I French seamed it instead. This is fine, I don't mind french seaming, but because the fabric was super shreddy no matter how carefully I trimmed and seamed, I still ended up with hairy French seams, which, ugh. I might have been better off just overlocking even if I don't find that it lasts as well for wovens in the wash.

Problem 4: The fabric puckered when I sewed any line that wasn't either straight along the grain line or perpendicular to it, which is to say, almost every seam and the darts. The bust darts and shoulder seams in particular are hideous. I need to look up how to improve my stitching on this type of shifty fabric so I don't continue to have this problem.

Finished shirt after sleeve surgery
The biggest problem though, I can't blame on the fabric, because it's down to fit. I didn't do as many adjustments to this version as the last as since I last made the shirt my measurements have changed a bit to be slightly smaller. So, the last time I made the shirt in Octobre 2014 I made a 44 with, among other adjustments, an FBA. This time I made a 44 without an FBA, because my bust measurement has decreased but I felt that the original shirt still fit well at the neck and shoulders. However, last time I also did a small upper back adjustment, and I also omitted that this time. This turned out to be a mistake -- the shirt is just a little tighter through the upper back than I like.

I could probably have lived with it not being a great fit at the back, but it's exacerbated by the bigger fit problem around my upper arm. Last time I did an overly large bicep adjustment and then had all sorts of problems with the sleeves twisting. This time, I used the pattern as written as, according to the Ottobre size chart, a size 44 uses a measurement of 31.4cm for the upper arm and my actual current upper arm is 31cm. However, the full length sleeves on this shirt were just not at all comfortable. This cements my opinion that the Ottobre sleeve draft is overall just slimmer than I prefer to wear, no matter whether I am allegedly the right measurement or not. I've had this problem before with knits and wovens alike in Ottobre. They tend to bind all the way down the bicep to just below the elbow on me.

Finished shirt as modelled by me -- I really had to mess with the colour settings to get anything to show
Anyway, between the back being a little tight and the upper arms being too tight, the fit felt miles off, definitely enough for me to feel really fed-up with it as a long-sleeved shirt. I decided to cut the sleeves down to short sleeves and that really improved the situation a lot, as it turned out. It's not the best fit across the back I've ever worn, but it's entirely wearable now that my arms don't feel constricted from shoulder to below the elbow.

As far as the rest of the shirt goes, button band horror notwithstanding, the fit is generally good, I love how the collar turned out, and how the bodice hangs at my hips. I am a size 40 hip in Ottobre but I didn't taper from the size 44 I used at the bust -- I rarely do taper unless something has to actually fit at the hip and I definitely wasn't interested in doing so with this shirt. The extra space gives the hem a nice full, floaty feel to it and I like how it fits a lot.

In conclusion: Well, I didn't particularly set out out to end up with a short sleeved navy shirt, but I am pretty sure I will wear this one a lot over the summer. Overall, the experience was extremely frustrating though -- mainly because I feel like I should be getting better outcomes in the details of shirtmaking at this point than I am. Quite a lot of my problems were down to the fabric/pattern combination. I'll know next time I use a very drapey viscose that I need to pick a different sort of pattern, or at least be more prepared for the problems I'll have in construction!

Next up: I have no idea. I mean, I have a list, but I am really not sure where to start with it at all! Since May begins this weekend I am going to be fully into summer sewing in the next month, despite the forecast for snow overnight tonight! D:


  1. I'm sorry! I think you were super brave for this endeavor! I have wanted a drapey button front shirt but I do not dare. I lack the patience and tolerance. I do think it looks pretty danged good but I know the frustration of "It's just not RIGHT!".

    You have an awesome jacket and a slew of great tshirts...Go for the Hannah dress! :)

    1. I have definitely learned a lesson from making this about drapey fabrics and fiddly patterns! You'd probably be all right with a much simpler shirt pattern though, if you have one with a cut on button band!

      I am so tempted to make the Hannah dress, I really should print it out and look at it!

  2. Yes, drapey rayon is a difficult fabric. You were brave to make a tailored shirt from it. My only suggestion would be to block fuse your interfacing to the collar and stand pieces before you cut them out. This would give you more stability and less ravelling.

    1. Possibly not so much "brave" as "ignorant"! I didn't realize quite what a pain it would be to make in this fabric. Thanks for the interfacing suggestion, I can see how that would help.

  3. It is so funny to read this post as I am currently dealing with a similar issue. I am in the process of making a tailored shirt (Jalie 3130) out of a nice cotton/something (possibly linen or rayon) blend. The fabric has a beautiful drape and presses quite nicely. HOWEVER, it is a royal b*tch to sew because of the shifty-ness. My sleeve tabs have all the wonkiness and there is no fixing it!

    Despite the pains, your shirt is very lovely.

    1. Thanks! I am sort of reconciled to it being wonky at the button band now. There's nothing to be done about it after all, and it's a perfectly wearable summer shirt.