Friends, with a mere three weeks before our Men's Shirt Sew-Along begins, it's time to think beyond patterns and fabric and focus on helpful tools to make shirtmaking easier.
Today's ripped-from-Cosmo title notwithstanding, we all have our ways of doing things, and the tools I find useful may not serve you. Still, I'd like to share some of the items I use most frequently when making shirts, along with a few others I've picked up on others' recommendations and haven't used much, but you might enjoy. Many of these are supplies I use for all my sewing projects; others are more specialized.
In no particular order they are...
1. One of my most treasured tools is my rotary cutter. I use an Olfa 60 mm; there are other popular brands and smaller sizes as well. Mine works well for me and I've had to change the blade only once in the last year and a half. I use it with a green self-healing cutting mat you've no doubt seen in my sewing photos. I rest it on the floor, which is where I cut my fabric.
For weights I just use stuff I have around the house like glass paperweights and even scissors!
2. I didn't think I'd use this Collins bamboo point turner much when I first bought it but I use it all the time. It's ideal for making collar points sharp -- anything that you sew inside-out and then turn (like a patch pocket) will benefit. Before I had it I used the edge of a letter opener and even (closed) scissors, but they didn't do the job as well.
3. I only recently purchased this straight stitch walking foot but it works great -- not only with plaids, but whenever you're stitching something where precise lining up of edges is essential (like stitching a collar to a collar stand). It's not necessary of course -- I did without it till last month -- but it's useful and at roughly $20, cheap.
You'll recognize this...
4. A tailor's ham is essential when pressing a shirt collar, imo. I bought a Dritz but if I had it to do over again I'd get one of Sunni's (The Cupcake Goddess) for sale in her Etsy shop. Looks like the shop is closed for vacation but let's see if we can get her to re-open!
5. A wood point presser with clapper (the heavy bottom) is also handy to have around when you're pressing or ironing. The clapper makes creases razor sharp and flat as can be. I use it more with wool than cotton, but it's a wonderful tool and oddly not so easy to find for sale.
6. Needless to say a good heavy iron is a must. I'm a big believer in the "sew as you go" adage. I finger press when I have to or when the fabric doesn't press sharply (like flannel), but it makes a huge positive difference in the way finished garments look.
You'll also want...
7. A sharp seam ripper (When's the last time you replaced yours?) and a seam gauge. These two tools are cheap and easy to find. Buy two so you never have to look for one in the middle of a project.
Now for some specialized tools...
8. Rolled hem feet are great for finishing shirt hems but I must admit I rarely use them. I usually just roll up 1/8 inch, stitch, and then roll up again. These feet require practice and since they won't stitch over a seam, you'll have to stop and start multiple times when finishing a shirt hem unless you hem the individual pieces before you stitch them together, in which case you'd better make sure everything's lined up beforehand. You probably own one of these already but to me they're not essential.
9. Ditto this felling foot. I bought it on David Coffin's recommendation and haven't used it though I've sewn miles of flat felled seams. We'll be talking a lot more about seams and maybe I'll give this little foot a shot. It wasn't cheap. It just sits but I can't blame David for that; I just don't see the need for it.
10. This little button sewing foot on the other hand is great. I rarely sew buttons on by hand, preferring instead my Viking zigzagger which has a low shank attachment for snap-on feet. I tape the button to the fabric first, which helps hold it in place.
I bought a whole set of snap-on attachment feet -- much cheaper than buying them one at at a time even though there are a few in the set I never use. You can find these sets all over eBay.
And speaking of buttons...
11. Nothing screams home-sewn more than oversized shirt buttons. I generally use vintage plastic shirt buttons but you can use new ones, obviously. Some might prefer shell buttons for a fancier look, but do keep them small. Look at an RTW shirt you or a man in your life owns to get the size right.
Which leads to...
12. I love my Singer buttonholer attachment. It makes beautiful buttonholes.
You may prefer a more rectangular (as opposed to oval) hole, which I've seen on more modern machines. You shouldn't have to struggle with buttonholes but I suspect many people do. I open up mine with a seam ripper but first I fill the little well (i.e., the inside of the buttonhole) with....
13. I HATE the smell of Fray Check -- it literally nauseates me -- but I can't deny this stuff works. I've made some buttonhole blunders occasionally and Fray Check has saved the day by making sure the fabric stays intact. It's something of a love/hate relationship, obviously. I also grow tired of sticking a pin in the top to keep it flowing. (After I apply it I let it dry, by the way, before opening the buttonhole.)
14. You've heard me go on about straight stitch sewing machines so I'll be brief. Nothing sews shirts better or more accurately. Want to know why? Watch my topstitching video. Given that you can often buy a vintage straight stitch sewing machine for less than you'd pay for an iron, I think it's a great investment for the garment sewer, but not everybody wants one or has room for one and I get that.
These are not rules, but merely suggestions.
Friends, that's it. Have I missed anything? Is there a tool you use regularly when making shirts (or blouses) that you couldn't do without? Do tell!
I'll have a few more surprises tomorrow, including an
Is this helpful? Hope so! Any questions? Just ask.
Have a great day, everybody!
PS - You still have till midnight tonight (EST) to enter my men's shirt pattern GIVEAWAY. See details in yesterday's post.