Saturday, 24 February 2018

Slow (but somewhat successful!) shirt sewing + a stress-relieving bag

After I finished my black and white jacket earlier this month, I intended to plough on, full steam ahead, into Making All The Shirts. Well, I did move on to making shirts, but the last ten days or so have been less a full-steam-ahead-shirt-apalooza, and more a lengthy and rather trying experience making a single shirt.

I've made several previous attempts to make a classic, button-fronted shirt, with mixed success. The best outcome I had was a chambray shirt I made using an Ottobre pattern in 2014, which is still going strong in my wardrobe. Since then, though, most of my shirt-making attempts have been unsatisfactory to some degree, mainly because of the fit. Most have ended up going into the recycling/donation box after very few wears because they were just uncomfortable to wear.

My big focus for shirt-making this year therefore is achieving better fit. I decided to start with something relatively simple with a solid coloured fabric (no pattern matching!) and a straightforward pattern. I was specifically looking for: a normal (not dropped) set-in shoulder/sleeve; a cut-on/folded button band; a back yoke; a bust dart; and a traditional collar + collar stand. My final choice was Burda 04-2010-114, which is, I have to admit, fairly uninteresting as shirts go, but has all the features I was looking for. I made this first version in an inexpensive navy cotton with a touch of lycra that I bought in 2016.
Burda 04-2010-114: Shirt pattern (images from
I must tell you immediately, before I start complaining, that I think this is a really nice pattern and I will definitely make it again. All the problems I had with this particular shirt were of my own making! Overall, there are a LOT of sewing flaws in my completed shirt and as far as the finish of it is concerned, it's definitely not my best work. This was kind of depressing because I was really trying SO HARD to make The Perfect Shirt and that is really not what I ended up with. At all. In any way. Instead, I just had sewing session after sewing session where I just. kept. screwing. up.

My very imperfect navy shirt using Burda 04-2010-114

Everything I could have done incorrectly, I did incorrectly. I caught random folds of fabric in seams by mistake. The whole collar/collar stand sewing experience took forever, was utterly miserable and frankly the outcome doesn't bear up to any kind of close scrutiny. I also put the wrong interfacing on the collar and collar stand and made them much too stiff, but only realized how bad it was once I had already trimmed the seam allowances so drastically that unpicking/resewing with a new version would have been a nightmare. I set in a sleeve inside out. Two of my ten buttonholes were a complete and utter disaster. And so on. I don't think I've ever unpicked so much in my entire life.

Collar details. Not my best collar attempt and it took forever.
By the time I was 80% of the way through this shirt I was SO DONE with it. In fact, I was so done I very seriously considered binning it and moving on. At the very moment when I was contemplating shoving it in my fabric recycling bag, however, the post arrived and included a set of tools to install metal grommets that I ordered in order to finish off a tote bag. I took a time out and hit things with a hammer for a while (the results of which are below) and felt much better as a result! My screw-ups didn't end with the hammering, but I had worked off enough aggression to decide I should at least try to finish it.

Eventually, I got to the point where I needed to try on my shirt in order to position the buttons for my bust point. I was totally ready to hate it and declare it a wadder. I put it on and it was like: Oh! OH! This is actually really nice! And it is! There is one small fit problem I want to fix before I make a second version (the bust darts are just a little bit too long) but other than that, this shirt probably fits better than any woven top I have made to date, and it's certainly the best fitting button-front shirt I have made so far.

This is a terrible photo, but I took the other one standing in such a stupid pose that it was pointless.

In order to achieve this improved fit, I did a bunch of things that I have more or less established as my necessary adjustments to Burda patterns: lowered the bust point, did a rounded back adjustment and a large bicep adjustment, and raised the armhole). However, I also refined the fit in a couple of areas compared to previous sewing efforts.
Back view, more sensibly taken on a timer and not in a stupid pose.

- Dealing with the narrow shoulder thing.

I'm really taken with how much better tops and outerwear looks with the shoulder in the right place, which is sadly kind of a novelty for me. It was not something I could ever achieve in RTW clothes because I always had to buy to fit my bust, which reliably meant buying tops that were significantly too large for me through the shoulder. Until recently I've been making exactly the same mistake with my sewing -- sewing a straight 44 to fit my bust -- with exactly the same result. I've been working on this for the last few garments and I think I may now have cracked what my "usual" Burda adjustment needs to be for this problem.

With this pattern, I went back to the Burda size chart and spent some quality time attempting to measure my own shoulders as a starting point. According to the size charts, I'm a size 38 in shoulder width. I have taken this measurement before, but if I am honest, I've always kind of dismissed the outcome as an error on my part. It's very hard to measure your own shoulders, after all, and also honestly, I look at photos and in the mirror and nothing about my body shape says "narrow shoulders" to me. For this shirt, however, I took the radical step of believing the measurement and the Burda size chart. When I traced the pattern, I drew in the shoulder and armhole for both the size 38 and 44. Then I did a pivot and slide adjustment to blend them together, which ultimately meant hacking off just over 1.5cm from the shoulder seam. And it WORKED. This is the best shoulder width fit on a woven top I've achieved so far.

On the other side of the neck/shoulder issue, however, I'm still fine tuning my approach to the neckline. For this shirt I used the neck opening/collar/collar stand in size 44. Looking at it critically, if I pin the centre front of the collar stand together as if it were buttoned, it is clearly too big. It's not going to bother me with this shirt at all, which I will never wear buttoned up. However, I guess I know why so many previous Burda tops I've made have been too wide at the neck and prone to showing off my bra straps. I'm thinking for my next pattern attempt I might try believing the size chart again and make the actual size Burda's chart indicates for my neck measurement (which is size 40). You know, just in case that should happen to work. /o\

- Square shoulder. I have been doing a square shoulder adjustment for years now. With this pattern, the shoulder line is within the yoke piece, and I had to look up how to adjust that properly. Then I was sort of dithering over how much to adjust it by, and decided to try to be a bit more scientific than usual. It just so happened that I had just recently seen on someone's Instagram that they used a little clinometer app on their iPhone to get a better idea of *exactly* how their shoulder slope compared to a pattern. I decided to give this a go for this shirt pattern.

Nothing shocking came of this -- I looked at the slope for the shoulder in three separate Burda patterns I had out, and discovered they sloped fairly consistently at about 15-16 degrees. My shoulder slope is squarer at around 12 degrees. After drawing a bunch of lines, I concluded that I needed to raise the shoulder point of this pattern by 2cm, or, if I were using a pattern with a more standard shoulder seam, by 1cm on both the back and front. This is, in fact, pretty much exactly how much I usually adjust Burda patterns for my shoulders so there was nothing much gained immediately from this work. However, it should help me figure out my adjustment for patterns for other companies.

In conclusion: This is a lot of blather for a very simple shirt, but the upshot of it is that despite my miserable sewing experience and the poor finish I got, I really love this shirt because of the fit. I will definitely be back with another of these and hopefully will transfer a lot of what I learned making this to the rest of my Make All The Shirts plan.

Meanwhile, I also have a bag to show off! This has a rather long history, insofar as I cut it out back in August 2017, then realized I didn't have the right tools to finish it, got fed up, and stuffed it into a bag in pieces. I fully intended to get back to it, but you might recall I then keeled over and ended up in hospital in September last year. As a result, the whole thing went out of my mind until I was rounding up WIPs at the end of 2017 and realized that not only was the bag in pieces but I still hadn't bought a tool to insert the grommets. I finally put the bag together and ordered a grommet tool earlier this month. Hammering the grommets in place proved to be an extremely therapeutic interlude this week, and I am generally very pleased with how this bag turned out! The pattern, by the way, is the free Rope Handle Tote, from Sew4Home.


  1. This is my favourite shirt pattern! Burda do shirts so well. Shame about all your mishaps, hopefully next time the sewing will go more smoothly.

  2. I have been sewing for 35 years. I love sewing button front shirts. I have never made a perfect one yet. It takes me weeks to sew one ( well I should say many many sewing sessions ) Collars and collar stands are really hard. Four Square Walls , a sewing blog has a fantastic tutorial making sewing collars.
    I think you have done an amazing job here and so glad it did not go on in the bin. Next time will be easier and quicker.

  3. Thank you, thank you for your lengthy post! I've made ONE poxy shirt in January (actually it's not poxy, it's lush) and I can't get my machine to make the buttonholes, so I've no clue when I'll finish the damned thing. But I want need to narrow shoulders and shorten torsos on everything, and I think I need a forward shoulder adjustment, so it was interesting and useful to read this. Thank you!