Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Shirt Sewing Tips

I added some tips to a couple of my shirt making posts and then I decided to just put all of the tips in one post ~ also adding some more information and links to blogs and equipment in case you need them. So while this post is a little long, I'm hoping that you can refer back to it whenever you need tips on making your own shirts.

Buttons/Buttonholes ~
- Buttons
To me button placement is so important on a shirt to prevent gaping.  As I said before I use a lot of buttons on my shirts. The first button I place on the shirt, is in the valley between my breasts. Then one is placed above and below that one. This is to guarantee that there's no gaping. I typically set my buttons 3.5" apart.

This is the beauty of making your own shirt. You can use as many buttons as you like. I also used a larger button than most RTW shirts have. I hate trying to button those tiny shirt buttons so I've sized up. As a plus size woman I find that good button placement and a great fit add up to a well-fitted shirt. I highly suggest that you use the size button and a placement that works for your body, not just what the pattern suggests!

- Making Buttonholes
I use a seam gauge to mark my buttonholes down the front of my shirt. However, another method of marking is to use a simflex guide. I've made a lot of buttonholes in my sewing career. There are many ways to mark your buttonholes and loads of tutorials on the internet. 

I honestly use pins to mark the top of my buttonholes because I can line them up on the red lines of my buttonhole foot. I snug my buttonhole foot between the stitching lines on the buttonhole band so my buttonholes fall exactly in line and stitch from there. You can see a quick video of my sewing machine in action here. Let me stress that this is NOT the right way to do things. 

You should use proper markings to line up your buttonholes. A great example of this is a picture from one of the people I follow on Instagram - here.  Look at how Sarah has marked not only the start of the buttonhole but the length of it too.

I mark the way I do from experience. Although I will tell you that I start making my buttonholes from the bottom of the shirt and work up. This way if my first or second buttonhole sucks (it happens even after making a test buttonhole) I can remove the thread in an area that's not quite so noticeable.

My final tip is to use a chisel and block to cut open your buttonholes. Afterwards, I apply Fray Check to the front and back of the buttonholes. Also, I let the Fray Check dry before cutting the buttonholes open. I've found this method prevents those little flyaway threads that can occur when cutting buttonholes open.

Interfacing ~
My interfacing of choice is from Fashion Sewing Supply.  Pam has the best interfacing for garments. I used both the Pro-Woven Light Crisp fusible interfacing or Pro-Sheer Elegance Medium Fusible for my shirts. I highly recommend that you purchase an interfacing sample set from Pam so you can feel the different weights.

Otherwise, I apply interfacing following the pattern instructions. 

Making shirt collars ~
I know that Pam Erny who runs the Fashion Sewing Supply online interfacing store has a collar technique on her blog, Off the Cuff. It's the post that's dated, October 8, 2012. Sewists have successfully used her method to get great collars since she's an excellent shirtmaker so they come highly recommended.

However, I don't use her technique. I use a set of steps that I've done for years. I wanted you to have the professional way of making a perfectly pointed collar before I explained how I sew mine.

1. I sew the long side of the collar first using a 5/8th seam allowance.

2. Then I stitch each side seam also using a 5/8th inch seam allowance. However, I double stitch over the intersecting seam portion.

3. The corners are clipped.

4. Next I take the collar to the ironing board and press it over the pointed end of my clapper.

5. Then I trim the sides of the collar and the longer edge

6. I use my bamboo pointer and push the collar edges out as far as they will go

7. Another press to set the collar flat

This is my method. I'm sure others use a different method or Pam's.  Drop a comment in the comment section letting me know which method you use.

Matching Prints/Plaids/Stripes ~
You know I advocate a single layer technique when you need to pattern match. I also believe you should run your pattern pieces in the same direction to insure that you get a pattern match all the way across your garment. I've talked about this in numerous posts.

However, Gaylen of GMarieSews does an amazing job of pattern matching pockets on her husband's shirts. When we were at Sew Camp, we got to see the shirts she makes for her husband in person. So here are a few of her tips:

First - I trace my pocket pattern onto medical table paper (you can use any tracing paper you have on hand for this). I use this for my pattern work because it's easy to see through. I cut out several pocket patterns so I always have a fresh one to work with for each shirt.

Second - Once the left front of the shirt is cut out, I position the pocket pattern on the front where it needs to be sewn.  When I have the pocket where I want it, I take a pencil with a rounded point so I don't rip the paper and trace the critical elements of the design onto the pattern piece.

Third - I lay the pattern piece directly onto the fabric matching the print to my drawing, carefully pinning it in place, then cutting the pocket out.

Fourth - prepare the pocket as you normally would.  When you're ready to sew the pocket to the shirt, line up the print, pin the pocket in place and sew it down leaving the top open.

Gaylen's husband wearing the shirt

Design Changes ~
I don't know if this qualifies as a tip but I'm adding this.  I talked design inspiration in this post. However, I really want to encourage you to think outside the box on the details you add to your shirts. It's what makes each of them different and reflective of your personal style.

Embellishments like piping and binding, embroidery and ribbons can be used. Different fabric for the undercollar, cuffs and button bands really add a creative touch to shirts. The fabrics don't need to match, just coordinate which gives your shirts an artistic flair. 

Also, please realize that you can use fabrics that aren't normally used for shirts. I've made 13 now and used a variety of fabrics...polyesters, shirtings, cotton sateens. I have several more in mind that I want to make using linen, silk blends, some voile and cotton. Since you're the designer, you're not limited to standard fabric choices.

Simple Common Sense Sewing Techniques ~
1. Change your sewing needle. 
I changed mine after every two shirts. You want your stitching to be precise especially in the topstitched areas and a dull needle won't give you the stitch quality you want.  So change your needle!

2. Add a button to the side seam.
I add a button into the side seam of all my shirt makes. That way if I lose one I don't have to search through the loose button stash to find one.

3. Make sure you're using the correct foot to sew your garment. I noticed a huge difference in my stitches when I changed to a straight stitch foot and throat plate. So if your sewing machine comes with different feet try them out and see if they provide better stitches than just using the basic foot on your machine.

Sewing Library Suggestions ~
I always think you should own a book or two on sewing...or maybe even start your own personal sewing library.  To that end, I recommend the following books to help sew the best shirts you can:

1. Shirtmaking: Developing Skills For Fine Sewing by David Coffin

2. The Shirtmaking Workbook: Pattern, Design, and Construction Resources - More than 100 Pattern Downloads for Collars, Cuffs & Plackets also by David Coffin

3.  Easy Guide to Sewing Blouses: Sewing Companion Library by Connie Long.

For web inspiration, definitely read Pam's Off the Cuff ~ Sewing Style blog. It's a treasure trove of shirt making techniques and tutorials, as well as being chock full of inspirational sewing. There are pages of tutorials on Grainline Studios blog. You can access them here.

Hopefully something in this compilation of information will help you when you're making a shirt or deciding to make one. As you know there are quite a few shirt patterns out there - both from the Big 4 and from the Indies. Hopefully you will be able to develop a TNT pattern so that you can take creative journeys with your shirt pattern.

Next up on the blog is the wrap of Shirt Month...I've really enjoyed sewing these shirts. I hope you've enjoyed following along! always more later!


  1. Thanks for taking the trouble to wrote all this up - bookmarking it!

  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this information. Shirtmaking requires special techniques and skills that will transfer to other garments and sewists can really improve their abilities by taking the time to learn to make a good shirt. BTW, my favorite of your shirt collection is the orange one. This whole series is a real service to the sewing community.

  3. Thank you for pulling all this great info in one post! Already 'pinned'!!! :)

  4. Another thank you - so much good information in one place!

  5. That pocket pattern matching tip is genius!! Thanks!

    1. Thank you! The last shirt I made, hubby didn't think I put a pocket in - he couldn't find it :D gMarie

  6. I love all your tips - especially encouraging people to think outside their normal box and do what works for them! I make collars different from you, something I saw Nancy Z do on her show many, many years ago. It works for me. Looking forward to the next series! g

  7. This is awesome. Thanks!

  8. This are the greatest hits. What a treasure you are!
    I still point my collars the way I did before I got the clapper/tailor board. I iron the collar flat, then I pick up and refold the end so the end seam is lined up with the long seam. I finger press the seams open, and then I iron them. And then I trim and turn and reiron it properly. I use a knitting needle to turn on, as I am a ....I inevitably poke a hole with anything pointier like that turning tool. I should use a crochet hook. Overly enthusiastic poking.

    Thank you so much for this!

  9. The one thing about buttonholes that bugs me- when you cut them and the white interfacing shows. Does the Fray Check prevent that? great tips!

    1. I have much less interface show through and little fraying ends hanging out if I single cut (one clean cut with the chisel) and use Fray Check on both the front and back of the buttonhole.

  10. Thank you for sharing your expertise!!! :)

  11. Thanks for the tips!!

    And, I saw those shirts in person and was WOWED!!!!

  12. Great tips thanks for consolidating and providing references! I'm pinning this. Yes, those shirts are awesome, we oohhed and ahhhed at them because of how well they were made.

    1. Gaylen did a great job didn't she?! And the fabric choices really make them special too!

  13. DH gets a huge charge out of the "disappearing pocket" trick. He knows the pockets are there, but when other folks can't see them, it just tickles him.

    I agree with you, Carolyn (and others), that there is nothing like an intense stint of shirt making to yield an uptick in lots of sewing skills. In particular, my level of confidence in edge/top-stitching increased tremendously. (In the last few years, 28 mens' shirts and counting.)

    And Patricia, I do the Fray Check on the buttonholes, but haven't seen it help with the white interfacing that shows at the inside when the buttonholes are cut open. But, what does help is...coloring the inside of the buttonhole with a matching Sharpie. (If it fades, I just re-apply.)

  14. Loads of great shirt making tips here, thank you for gathering them all in one post!


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