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Aug 8, 2018

Drafting a Men's Shirt Pattern From Scratch


Readers, it is time I drafted a shirt for myself entirely from scratch.

I haven't done a lot of this (outside of patternmaking class) because commercial patterns generally fit me well without a lot of alterations.  I generally shorten the torso a few inches; sometimes I do a sloping shoulder adjustment.  And I tweak here and there, particular when it comes to the collar shape if I'm using a vintage pattern.

I thought it would be a fun challenge to draft a shirt pattern from my own measurements.  I have a lot of pattern drafting books in my library but the one I decided to use is Dorothy Moore's "Pattern Drafting and Dressmaking."  I've used it a number of times over the years for various projects and it has always yielded good results.  Used copies can be found easily on Amazon (you might want to check Alibris too: I've often found better prices there).


You'll need a few basic tools to draft patterns: pattern paper (I like the plain white), an L-square ruler, a clear plastic straight ruler, a clear plastic curved ruler (a French curve will do), pencils, carbon paper, and a pattern tracing wheel.  That's about it.

There are only a handful of measurements necessary to draft a men's shirt: neck size, chest, waist, hips, back length (base of neck to waist), shirt length, wrist circumference, sleeve length, and back shoulder to shoulder width.  That's about it.

It helps to have some patternmaking experience but you have to start somewhere and I think Moore's book is a pretty good place to start.  Once you draft your pattern, you'll need to add seam allowances.  Mine are usually 1/2".  I add a 1/4" allowance only for the collar, collar stand, and neckline.  It makes it easier to sew.



I mentioned sleeve caps in a recent post about my double gauze shirt.  Moore's pattern drafting book gives you options for a higher sleeve cap, a medium cap, or a lower one.  Basically, if you want a high or medium cap, you divide the armhole circumference by 4 or 6.  If you want a low cap, you divide by 8.  The higher cap will result in a less bulky-looking armscye but it will feel tighter when you raise your arm over your head and you'll probably pull some of your shirt up with it.  The low cap means there will be more fabric at the armscye, but you'll have greater ease of movement.

I tried both sleeves.

The first one is the low-cap.  It's almost identical to the sleeve in the vintage Butterick pattern I used to make my double gauze shirt (my draft doesn't include the seam allowance).


Below, you can see my low-cap draft next to Vogue 8889, a commercial pattern I've used many times that has a much higher cap (just above it is the short-sleeve version).  The yellow shirt I'm modeling has the higher cap.



Here's the pattern I drafted yesterday with the lower cap.  I sewed just the right sleeve.



Today, I drafted the left sleeve with a higher cap and narrower silhouette.  I sewed it up in a vintage floral percale bed sheet.  It's definitely sleeker.  Do I like it better?  I believe I do.





There are a few minor tweaks I'll make on this self-drafted shirt pattern should I sew it up in real fabric, mainly having to do with the sleeve length (another inch would be welcome) and the shape of the collar--I want more of a spread.  I also think it's just an eensy bit too fitted at the waist.

But overall I'm very happy with the result and I recommend Dorothy Moore's method, even though her book is primarily geared to women and most of the designs are late-Sixties styles.  It's really not about the designs, however, it's the techniques themselves, and the ones she teaches are timeless.

Hope you find this helpful, readers.

Happy sewing!

15 comments:

  1. Bless you, Peter. I have a decent shirt pattern for my husband, but it needs tweaking, especially for the shoulder area. I was using a high cap and I think he'd really prefer the lower version. You've helped me today, that's a fact. THANK YOU.

    From-the-envelope patterns don't work well, much like RTW, they assume if you're tall, you're also big. He's not big. He's just tall and has some good shoulder muscle.

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    1. The important thing is that the sleeve fit the armhole (no added ease necessary). The shape of the cap is up to you.

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  2. ...since my space for pattern work is very limited, I depend on commercial patterns and with my knowledge of pattern drafting I can tweak them enough to get them the way I like....I'm still using the book I got from my classes at F.I. T. in the early 60's for inspiration & technique...........

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  3. The most important thing, to me at least, is to be able to move freely. Stretch fabrics are all well and good, but athletes and dancers know that the cut of a garment is the key.

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  4. My heart is full of nerdy happiness reading this.

    I'm not sure when I figured out drafting from scratch would be useful, but I learned sooooo much, and even if I had to toss that whole set (there were babies and chocolate and my 50s and I love them all), it was worth it, because I didn't lose what I learned. And every so often, I redraft the lot because because stuff moves and people change, and a gal can do a LOT with a bodice sloper and some other pieces and ideas.

    For a whole lot of palaver on cap height and range of motion, search on 'flamenco sleeve cap'. That helped me enormously.

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  5. Took pattern drafting in a university theater costume shop class, in 1980. We relied heavily on Moore's book ... it is the sine qua none of textbooks for pattern drafting. Great resource.

    Professor assigned us to analyze an 1860s bodice from Janet Arnold's "Patterns of Fashion" series (do you know these books?), using our personal measurements to compare ratios to those pattern pieces. Math, ugh! We had to then muslin the thing to see how well it fit us. Lightbulb moment for me came: "Oh! This is just a princess-seamed bodice! We could easily draft this from scratch!"

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  6. I have done this once, using the Aldrich book, and it worked well even though I made a few dumb mistakes (forgot to add ease, for one thing).

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  7. Spent over an hour yesterday at JA (big box) looking for a simple camp type shirt for my husband. Your tute today has sealed it for me. I can take one from his closet and tweak just as you did.
    Love your writings and information.
    Pegeth

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  8. I recently updated my shirt draft after trying to make a jacket and a waistcoat. I had already figured out (more or less) my low right shoulder but what I didn't spot until I tried make these other garments was the need to adjust the vertical balance. In my case this required adding nearly two inches to the length of the back above the level of the chest. This has transformed the fit.

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  9. Interesting! I love the sleeve roundup with explanations. I went to FIT and we used Helen Joseph Armstrong's Patternmaking for Fashion Design. The instructions look similar to the glimpse I've got of the Moore book, and that one is also gearing primarily to women's clothing.

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  10. I love that I can see a table and a couple of chairs covered in sewing crap in the background of these pictures. Now I don't feel so alone in my Insta-unworthy sewing room! Nice shirt, love the floral sleeve.

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  11. The little dogs so cute. Messy sewing room just the way mine looks when I am working a projects. I have a chihuahua who lays on the floor when I am sewing and looks hopeful that I will sit down so we can cuddle.

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  12. I have this book and love it. Glad you wrote about it and exposed more people to her!!

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  13. This is post has solved a big problem for me, thank you! Just made my first shirt for my husband, which was surprisingly good, except for excess folds around the armscye. I searched online and tried all sorts of adjustments on the toile, in the end writing it off to inexperience in my fit adjustments.

    Then I saw folds on expert makers' shirts, including your double gauze (thank goodness I follow your great blog!) and at last it's clear that the folds aren't a fault, they're down to a choice of sleeve cap!

    So, not exactly about drafting, but a very grateful beginner! Su

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