Five tips for a classic cotton poplin shirt
I love a flouncy dress as much as the next person, but sometimes necessity nudges us in the direction of the basics.
I’ve been on the look out for a plain black shirt for a while. I know, I’m full of thrills. When I saw the Fabric Guys’ wonderful selection of cotton poplins, I knew the time had come to make my own.
I have a go-to pattern for a classic tailored shirt. Surprisingly enough it’s a freebie from Prima Magazine, but it’s soooo good! It has all the beauteous details of a man’s tailored shirt (collar stand, button placket, cuffs, yolk, etc.) but with bust darts and a curved hem that cries out for a French tuck. In this beautiful inky black poplin, perfection.
Making a shirt can be a little intimidating at first. There are a lot of steps and some of it can seem confusing on the first read. If it is your first foray into shirts, I would try an independent pattern as the instructions in a Prima pattern are scant to say the least.
I won’t give a blow by blow breakdown of every step here because a) that would be tedious for all involved and b) you can find everything you need to guide you through the process on YouTube and blogs. Instead, here are my five top tips to steer clear of the things that can really throw you off when you first start shirt-making. Avoid these early pitfalls and you’ll run straight to the finishing line in a blaze of glory.
Without further ado, here are my top five:
1. Measure twice, cut once
It’s an oldie but a goodie. Make sure you are absolutely accurate cutting out your pieces and with your seam allowances, particularly on the collar and the collar stand.
2. Easing is your new jam
Shirt making involves a lot of ‘easing in’. If you try and sew the collar or the sleeves in a wham-bam fashion you will have a tear-stained half-shirt. It will not line up.
3. Basting is not just for Christmas
Baste or tack your sleeves, your collar, pretty much everything that looks like it should line up but won’t. It’s amazing how a few gathering stitches in a shirt sleeve suddenly make it fit without any crinkles. If you don’t baste you may think you’re going to get away with it but as soon as it’s left the machine you will see tiny little gathers and cry your heart out.
4. Work out your own buttonhole placement
If you have a chest, even a modest chest, find the apex of your bustline and ensure a button will be on top of it. Work back from there to distribute the rest of the buttons. If you’ve added length to the shirt, add an extra button. If you would feel safer with the buttons closer together, add extra buttons. It’s up to you. You have the power! With my shirt, I changed the placement from 3” between buttons to 2.5” to ensure there was no gaping.
5. Burritos are tasty
Look up a quick YouTube video on the burrito method for finishing the yolk on your shirt. On a lot of trad patterns the advice is to hand stitch, but burrito-ing is quicker and gives a neater finish. This involves rolling up the shirt fronts and back inside the yolks and sewing them together (right sides together) then pulling the shirt fronts and backs out of the shoulder when you’re done. I find you can just shift the fronts and backs to the side out of the way and machine sew your yolks together that way. I’m not sure if this has a name. Burrit-no? OK, I’ll get my coat.
So, there you have it. Five failsafe tips to put the wind beneath your sails on your shirt making journey.