The Holiday Shirt, Part 1

I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that I am a slow sewist.

It’s not worth delving deeply into the reasons why: I have a busy professional life, I spend a lot of time researching sewing techniques, I go out of my way to make projects complicated….

But the fact is that by the time I finish a project, it’s usually out of season. And sometimes projects can be delayed by more than a year because I’m tied up with some other project and cannot start a new one at the right time.

But right now I have the opportunity to make a holiday shirt, one I can wear to parties and occasions during the month of December.  Starting now, I have a hope of making my goal.

But first, let’s make matters complicated.

A New Pattern

I’ve sewed lots of button-up shirts on this blog, but I’m sad to say I still don’t have a TNT (tried ‘n true) shirt pattern. It’s not for lack of trying.

My very first dress shirt, and the one I made to start this blog, McCall’s 2447, was great from the details standpoint but was billowy and blousy, especially in the sleeves.

McCall’s 6044 made a springtime seersucker shirt, but the pattern is pretty basic (it has no back yoke piece, for instance).

Kwik Sew 2000 is a nice “Sport Block” shirt that fit my partner Jim way better than it ever fit me.

I thought McCall’s 6613 was promising, but this pattern turned out to annoy me in several ways – the biggest being the pattern draft added WAY too much ease to the sleeve caps. And though I wear the finished projects from this pattern, there’s something a little dowdy about the styling.  The collars certainly look dated, but there’s something about the lines of the shirt that bug me.  Perhaps this stems from it being a unisex pattern, I don’t know.

At this point, I’m becoming disenchanted with the commercial patternmakers, at least as far as contemporary patterns go.  For this project, I’ve decided to clone a commercial shirt pattern, from a Famous American Shirt Maker, whose name I don’t want to reveal in print because I would rather not attract attention I am copying their pattern.


The Famous Maker offers four distinct cuts for their shirts. I purchased two shirts for this project.

The “Madison” fit is described as the Famous Maker’s “Regular” fit.  This blue Madras plaid is an example.


And the “Regent” fit is their slim fit cut.  Here’s the sample I purchased.  I likely will go with the “Regent” fit for my holiday shirt.


Copying a Shirt

I followed (as usual) David Coffin’s instructions for copying a shirt pattern.  He describes the technique in both his shirt books, Shirtmaking as well as The Shirtmaking Workbook.  He also has produced a YouTube video illustrating the technique.

Basically, you poke lots of holes with a pin at the seam lines, then connect them with a pencil and pattern drafting rule, or French curve.




A big challenge came from the tracing paper I used, purchased from the art supply store.  This paper is great for tracing patterns, but the pinholes I made in the paper were almost completely invisible.  I had to poke lots more pinholes that I probably would have had to with some other kind of paper, and I had to turn up the light at the desk as I worked with paper and pencil.  I would advise testing out the paper you use for pinhole visibility before trying out this method.

Also, with the Regent shirt I sometimes ran into difficulty pinning pieces totally flat.  Here, I ran into issues pinning near the back-armcsye-yoke intersection.


The shirt wouldn’t let me get into that upper corner with the rest of the shirt back pinned down.  I had to unpin most of the shirt to let me repin in that area before I could trace it out.

The Completed Trace

The end result of this process was a stack of sheets of tracing paper containing front, back, sleeve, yoke, and collar pieces for both shirts.


Traced on the seam lines, there are no seam allowances.  Seamlines need to be walked and trued. Pleats, for example the box pleat in back, have been folded out for the trace.  This trace will become a pattern block that will need a cuff draft, back pleats added, new front plackets, and optionally new hemlines.

I stuck two-inch alignment squares all over them, for scanning, assembling and digitizing into Wild Ginger’s PatternMaster software.

Differences between the Patterns

I’ll cover the differences between these patterns in detail in a future article, once they are digitized into Wild Ginger.  But one thing I noticed during the copying process is the difference in sleeves.

“Regent” fit has very straight sleeve seams.


With “Madison” fit, the sleeve seam curves into the armscye.  Presumably this offers a fuller sleeve.


Fabric Selection

For the Holiday Shirt, I’m using a remnant of high-quality Italian-made shirting I got from Britex Fabrics.


I purchased it during a 30% off sale, so I probably paid somewhere around $40 for this cut of fabric. I am very much looking forward to sewing with it.

The matching buttons also come from Britex.  I have front placket, cuff, and collar buttons but I am not sure I am going to use the collar buttons in the finished shirt.  We’ll see.


Next Time

I’ll get the pattern into the computer, and we might talk about fitting.

The Road to Pants, Part 7

Yesterday, I discussed the construction details of the wearable muslin for my gray Bonobos-clone chino pants.

So, how did the wearable muslin turn out?  It’s time to take a look.



To my great surprise, the finished pants ended up with too much circumference at the waist, by about 1 1/2 inches or so.  You can see it in the above photo right around the belt; the pants are bunched up.  I can’t wear them without a belt, otherwise they fall off.

I’ve been slowly putting on weight through the rounds of fitting and construction.  If anything, I was concerned the waist would be too snug!

I think the too-large waistband may have been present in the muslins, but I wasn’t aware of it because the muslins were all too snug at the hip.  When I finally added the proper ease into the hip area, the too-large waistband became an issue.

Pants Back

Here’s a view from the back.


First of all, I’m surprised by how poorly the shirt (a Perry Ellis RTW) fits.  Remind me to toss it into the incinerator after this blog post.  I need to take more photos of myself with the camera; it exposes fit issues in a way nothing else does.

I’m mostly happy with the back, but again the waistband is a bit bunched up from the extra ease there.


The white welts certainly make a statement; it’s amazing how just one detail can completely define a garment.  I’m not sure the welt pockets are a successful experiment.  For one,  the welts “pop” against the gray a bit too much; they basically scream, “Look at my behind!  Just LOOOK at it!!!!”

Secondly, they greatly limit the kinds of shirts I can wear with these pants, since the welts clash with most shirts that aren’t solids.  So this isn’t a very versatile item to have in my wardrobe. Still, I can wear these pants with a plain white T-shirt, or perhaps a solid colored polo.  Also, I think this is more of a weekend pant; though I wore it to work this past week, it is a bit strong for the office.

I may also consider raising the pocket welt by one-half to one inch.  It’s 3 1/2 inches below the waist, which is the maximum suggested by Roberto Cabrera’s tailoring book.  I basically didn’t want to have to shorten the dart.


Center Back Seam

Before we move on, I want to show you an outtake for the above photo.


There’s an unusual dip at the center back seam, caused by too much fabric pooling in that area.

I think there’s a glitch in the center back my pattern.  While working on the pattern in Wild Ginger, I noticed that through endless revisions of the crotch curve, the center back seam had gotten so straight that it actually went past the grain line and turned slightly inward to the center back. Compare the center back seam line to the green line I drew in, which lies along grain.


I think I can fix the pant by opening the center back seam, and restitching it along a shallower angle.  This will also take out some of the excess waistband ease.  The corresponding change will go into the digital version of the pattern in Wild Ginger for the next pair of pants.

Pants Fronts

Here’s a closeup of the pants fronts.  Though I pressed the pants immediately before the photo shoot, they still wrinkled by the time the camera snapped the photo.  There is still a bit of excess fabric at the bottom of front crotch, but as you can see here it is noticeable only by a fit nerd (like me).


And yes, the belt loops are too long.

Hem and Break

I deliberately chose a hem length to get a good break.  The pants taper and are pretty narrow at the hem, as is the current style for men’s pants these days.  The narrow opening causes them to catch on the tops of the chelsea boots in the photo, rather than fall nicely.



The pants are very comfortable to wear!  Other than the waistband being too large, I feel like the pants match the contours of my body.  I won’t say it feels like I’m not wearing pants at all, but there’s no cutting, binding or tightness while wearing them.

Where to from here

My next pair of pants will have the following changes:

  • Angle out the center back seam a bit, based on what works for the gray pants.
  • Take in the side seams right at the waist, tapering to the current amount of ease at the wide hip.
  • Look at raising the welt pocket and shortening the back darts a bit to keep the pocket from going through the dart.
  • Perhaps look at removing a bit more fabric from the front crotch curve.  But maybe not.

This pair of pants is the culmination of a years worth of effort, including acquiring the necessary fitting and pattern-drafting skills to alter the pattern to fit my body. They still need some work, but they are quite wearable.

Finally, I also appreciated the opportunity to work through the pants construction techniques in David Coffin’s book and Craftsy class.  I’ve enjoyed putting them to work and appreciating them in a way that a mere printed page or video demonstration doesn’t allow.

I’d like to move onto the next pair, partly to refine them further but also because I need pants to wear!  I will return to pants-making, but it’s back burner for now.  Time to get some other projects out of my system.

Next Time

Not Pants.

The Road to Pants, Part 6

Originally this article was going to be the conclusion in the Pants series – the wearable muslin is completed and I’ve actually worn it out into the real world.  But there’s so much to talk about in terms of construction and evaluation, that I’m going to split it into two parts.

Today’s article will cover the construction aspects; tomorrow we’ll look at the finished result and talk about how it went.  I pretty much followed the construction techniques detailed by David Coffin in his book Making Trousers, and his Craftsy class Pant Construction Techniques, in the Details.  Any construction issues are my fault, not his!

The Back Pockets

Part of my inspiration for the pockets on this wearable muslin is Bonobos pants, with welt pockets which skip the pocket facings and let the pocketing fabric be a design element.


I went one step further.  I seem to be fascinated by the juxtaposition of white against gray and black – my first experiment with this was the White and Black Hoodie.  So I chose a white fabric for the welts themselves, to see what happens when the welts ‘pop’ against the gray fashion fabric.  And I used a pocketing fabric with a gray plaid to harmonize with the whole thing.

The white welt fabric is a cotton weave – broadcloth? poplin? I can’t quite tell – which is a little drapier than quiliting fabric.  I interfaced the welts to give them some body to help the welts fold crisply and to help them keep their shape.

Interfacing the welts was a good idea; attaching the welts backwards was not. I had them all stitched in place before I realized that interfacing faced outward once the welts were turned. This meant I had to pull all the welt stitching out, after I had already cut the slits for the welt.  I did my best to match welts to the cut areas when reattaching them, but by this point any hope for welts with perfect corners was lost.

Here’s the results of my rescue job on both welts.



Both front and back pocket bags were finished with french seams.  The plaid design for the right pocket turned out a bit off-kilter, because I put in the right pocketing a little bit free-form and I should have paid more attention.  But overall I’m happy with them.

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The Front Pockets


I followed the Bonobos approach of leaving off the inside pocket facing.  I also chose to understitch the lining to the pocket, rather than topstitch the lining into place.  Nancy Zieman recommends a three-step zigzag stitch when understitching, which helps the fabric lie flat.  It’s interesting but visible in the finished pants.  I’m going to act like it’s a design feature.


Here’s the understitching from the other side of the seam.


The finished pockets are french-seamed, anchored to the side seam by stitching in the ditch along the side seam from the outside.  I went a litlle off-script from the order DPC constructs the pockets.  My method would have worked better to simply catch the pocket bag while sewing the side seam, like I have done in prior pants-making projects.  But my references – DPC and Roberto Cabrera’s tailoring book – recommend anchoring the side pocket this way.

I had to undo some of the pocket seam, and so you can see there’s a bit of a mess at the lowest bit where pocket meets side seam.


Here’s a view of the front pockets from the outside. The openings are anchored with bartacks.  The side seam is wavy; it is I think a result of being cut slightly on bias and looks better when worn.  There’s also some stitch-in-ditch at the waistband right at the side seam that’s off, and I fixed by redoing the waistband.


The Zipper Fly

The zipper fly went in without incident.  This time I got the overlap and underlap sides correctly identified; I marked them “O” and “U” to avoid confusion.  I put in the zipper with the teeth about a centimeter in from the center front line so they would be inset somewhat in the final product.





The Waistband

Waistbands are my least favorite part of making pants.  To me, they aren’t any less difficult than other parts of the pant, and when you’re done you have completed one of the least interesting features of the garment.  And then you have belt loops to worry about.


I decided to try David Coffin’s suggestion to use Petersham ribbon as the pants lining. I found 2-inch wide Petersham at Britex Fabrics, where I was schooled by the sales person about how Petersham differs from Grosgrain ribbon in general, and how to use it.

Petersham is part of the grosgrain ribbon family, but not all grosgrain ribbons are Petersham.  All grosgrain ribbons are woven with a distinctive ribbed structure, but only Petersham ribbon has a special undulating selvage at the edges.  I bought a small sample of regular grosgrain ribbon just for this blog post so you can see the difference.

Here’s real petersham.  Look at the little “U”-shaped loops on the selvage.


And here’s a grosgrain ribbon that is not Petersham.  Look at the flat selvage.


The selvages on Petersham are important, because it allows the weave to expand, so the ribbon can be shaped.

Here’s a piece of Petersham that I shaped to match the contours of the waistband pattern piece.  I was told to use a low heat (I used the lowest heat setting on my iron), and to gently shape the ribbon by pressing with the iron while tugging the ribbon.


I made an error with my pattern draft for the waistband – it was too short for the construction method that DPC uses to attach the Petersham.  In this photo, the waistband should have folded back as far as the fly shield, but it’s only just long enough to wrap around center front.


Since that’s exactly where the buttonhole should go, I decided I had to fix it. So I ripped off both waistbands and redid them from scratch, starting with a revised, elongated waistband pattern in Wild Ginger.

To construct the waistband, first the waistband piece is sewn to the pants.


The waistband is pressed up, edge folded over center front, and the Petersham is stitched to the top of the waistband.  I put down a line of machine basting right at the fold line for the top waistband so that I could position the Petersham accurately.


Here is how the waistband looks after the Petersham is attached.


At this point, you turn the waistband (I used hemostats as a turning tool just as DPC does in his books and videos), and voila – a waistband corner.


I machine-stitched a keyhole buttonhole.  The electronically-sensed Killer Buttonhole Foot of Death on my Juki F600 stitched the buttonhole through several layers of fabric, interfacing and Petersham without problems or complaints.


The front button came from Maya “the Button Lady” at Britex Fabrics.  I attached it by hand.

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I folded down the pants side of the waistband seam allowance, rather than folding it up into the waistband.  I finished the seam allowance with an overcast stitch on the machine, but it still looks a bit ragged and even though it is covered by the Petersham, I wish I had finished it with the serger like I did elsewhere.


Line Of Selvage

The belt loops were made with a strip of fabric, cut along the fabric selvage (the ribbed bit in the photo).


After a 3-way fold and topstitching, the selvage made a bit of a design detail in the outward facing part of the belt loop.


I followed this tutorial for attaching the belt loops. I think I found this from David Coffin, either on one of his Pinterest boards or in his Craftsy class.  The nice thing about this method is that the raw ends of the belt loops are fully enclosed, but it does require a little more work at the machine.  I set a narrow-width zigzag stitch and set the stitch length short, but not as short as a full satin stitch.

I used a pair of Levi Dockers city pants as a model for the length and width of the loops, but I think they came out too large and would definitely make the loops smaller on my next project.


The Hems

I had never done a blind hem before, and at every point I’ve chosen against visible stitching on the outside of the garment.  So I tried a blind-stitch hem for the very first time.  This turned out well, except for two spots around the inside seam allowance where the blind stitch didn’t catch the fabric and I had to go in to patch it up.  You can see me approaching one of those pesky side seams in the photo below.


Next Time

I’ll wear the pants.