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May 1, 2010

Peter Revisits Shirt #1 (NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN PHOTOS!)

I realized on Thursday that I had just completed my fourteenth men's button-down shirt.  And despite a few flaws I (somewhat compulsively) pointed out to you, I was satisfied with the result.

So I thought it might be fun to revisit with you my very first shirt, completed last July.  I had been sewing approximately a month -- I owned only ONE sewing machine, can you imagine? -- and had purchased my very first men's dress shirt pattern, which would become one of my favorites.  This was before I joined Pattern Review, so this shirt has never been seen, peeps (needless to say I never wore it in public).  Wow!

I used a cotton-poly sheet I found at the Salvation Army (which would become something of a trademark), a solid pale yellow, and brown (brown!) thread, which I thought would show where I'd messed up and needed to improve.  Boy, did it ever.

So let's take a look:

First let me explain that I had no knowledge of shirtmaking terminology.  I'd never heard of a button placket (where the buttons and button holes are sewn on) let alone knew how to make one, and I found the instructions completely unintelligible.  I looked at this....

And read this...

And came up with this...

I never would get that placket right even though I re-did it about three times; I fudged.

A few other highlights:

I didn't understand the difference between edgestitching, topstitching, etc.  Can you tell?

Diana Rupp, in "Sew Everything Workshop" had recommended labeling fronts and backs of fabric pieces so you don't get confused.  Unfortunately I never could get the wax crayon off the front side of this shirt.

My first sleeve placket (groan):

A finished seam allowance -- so refreshingly childlike.

Inside collar -- bunchy and spontaneous!

Sleeve seam -- whoops.

And the result:  Well, it is a shirt and from a distance...

My point -- and I do have one -- is that you do get better, and it's great fun to revisit an earlier project and recognize your progress.  I'm often asked how one learns to make shirts and my answer is always, practice.  It took me more than a dozen shirts and I still screw up.

Two shirt-making resources I recommend are 1) David Coffin's famous book, "Shirtmaking," which I happen to prefer to his DVD; and 2) Margaret Islander's video (now DVD) "Shirts, Etc!" (part of her Industrial Techniques series).   The Islander method is a no-nonsense, quick-and-sort-of-easy approach; Coffin's is a much more detail-oriented method for those who want to make something on par with London's Jermyn Street.  

If you'd like to add other valuable resources you've used, please do.

So how about you, peeps?  Have you ever revisited an old project and noticed how your sewing had (hopefully) improved since then?   (If you haven't perhaps now's the time.)

Cher Share!


  1. Yeah it really takes at least 10 samples to start to get it right, especially something like a shirt that depends so much on sewing accuracy. But, the thing is if you don't push yourself with hard, you will never get to good. You're attitude is part of it too. Recognizing that each one you sew will be better than the last one and no one is going to notice the fine details like you and not obsessing over your mistakes. Onward and upward.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! As a sewing newbie, I need all the encouragement I can get, as my current project all end up looking like maternity dresses on me (???). I love checking out your blog. I think your shirt is pretty good for a first time!

  3. This is great! I've just started learning how to make shirts and can definitely relate to this. I made one practice shirt a while ago, but decided to read through David Coffin's book before my next attempt at shirt making. Thanks for sharing, love your blog.

  4. I can say that I started sewing around sophomore year in high school and now I'm a sophomore in college and I've just begun to sew things I can wear. Obviously, I just took awful shortcuts, like getting so tired of sewing I decided to super glue a lining together. The horror! I tell beginners it just takes practice, watching youtube tutorials, a good sewing manual, and a lot of patience. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Practice really does make perfect in sewing. Whenever I stop sewing for an extended period and then start back up, it takes me several projects before I once again feel like I know what I'm doing.

    The best progress I ever made in improving my skills was a span of years (not that long ago) during which I practiced patternmaking or sewing every day after work, and made the same things over and over again. I'm hoping to get back into that routine before long.

  6. Oh thanks so much for making me chuckle. I found the part about the wax crayon particularly amusing - thinking to myself "no he didn't!" and I scrolled on and there was the evidence. Hillarious. Really.
    I do find that my skills develop the more I repeat something... the only problem is I have no concentration span and flit from one project to another. Oh well.
    Even so - I think that shirt looks fantastic on. Designer whimsy perhaps?

  7. I, too, have looked back at some of the garments I have made and realized, as I reviewed them, that I have made progress in my sewing. Those first garments I look at them now and think: I went out in public wearing that! UGH! Thank goodness I chose sewing as a hobby over cooking - at least I haven't poisoned anyone with my sewing! Just provided some good fodder for reminiscing.

  8. this brings back memories! thanks for being brave for show & tell!

  9. I really am enjoying your blog! I check it every day.

    I used to sew, years ago, and recently started again. I was going to just jump in and start sewing things to get back to speed, but am finding myself so reluctant to "waste" time sewing things I won't wear. For me, the problem is mostly fit, plus the fine finishing details that the patterns don't explain very well how to do.

    Your enthusiasm is inspiring, though.

  10. Now I understand the labeling bit--'cause I do it myself especially when I have pattern pieces that look almost exactly alike.... But wax crayon? Peter! *shakes head in disappointment* Didn't you remember how hard your mom had to scrub to get that off walls? Now, I do know how to get wax out of fabric from batik experiments, if you're interested...

    Get out your iron and put it on the hottest setting. Now, take a sheet of newspaper and double it over and lay it on the wax. Now iron the newspaper. Repeat until all the wax is gone.

    I *know* you've learned better since last year. But... I pin paper labels to cut out fabric. It works great!

    As for looking back... yeah, I have. The first real people clothes I ever made were shorts. I only sorta knew what I was doing, because I'd been making doll clothes for forever. I didn't finish the seams at all, and had raveled insides that eventually destroyed the stitching!

  11. Hilarious! I have my own (fairly recent, having just started sewing at the end of Oct. 09) "refreshingly childlike" examples. My first skirt is totally scary when you look at the seams. I still wear it on occasion! It's my nod to performance art.

  12. OK, these comments are too funny. Rad_in_Brooklyn: maybe it's a sign?!

    Just to clarify about the wax crayon: I'm not talking Crayola, but rather those flat, waxy, sharp-edged tailors things they sell at notions stores. I've learned that a small dot of just about anything -- usually a colored pencil -- will do the job equally well. Oh, and if you mark the back, you don't HAVE to mark the front! LOL

  13. You've come such a long way in such a short time. It gives me hope that one day my stuff won't look terribly "homemade". Great post.
    Now I'm off to my own Epic Saturday of Sewing! :)

  14. Okay, this is so great! I'm an English professor and I was giving my students a hard time this semester because none of them--NONE--under the age of 35 had taken sewing in school. The only ones who learned to sew learned from family. (We were reading Pride and Prejudice so we were talking about sewing.)

    Anyway, when I was in junior high, twenty-five years ago, everyone, including boys, had to take a semester of sewing. We all made aprons. A quick Facebook survey confirms that most of my classmates still have their aprons too.

    My point in explaining all of this background about myself is just to say that if I had read this blog in junior high I would have been delighted. What a fabulous resource. Are there any home econ teachers reading your blog? You need a PBS show. Seriously. This little flashback was so fantastic.

  15. Peter, your sewing skills are improving at warp speed ... you are amazing.

    I have a box of "special" clothes I made for my kids in years gone by and I can see the learning curve as I figure out better ways to do things. Whenever they comment about a great garment I just made for them (now adults) I always give credit to their role in wearing my mistakes when they were too young to care.

    Love your blog, I always have a smile when I finish reading your latest posting....keep up the good work on all fronts.

  16. Oooh, I LOVE looking at older stuff I've made. Even things I made just a year ago, I'll look at the lining and say "eegads! I'd never do it this way now" but almost everything still looks fine from the outside so I wear them anyway. :-) There is one knit top that has bunchy neck and sleeve bands, but I just can't bear to part with it!

  17. Well I can't believe that the same person who sewed this shirt, sewed the Liberty print one as well - you've come such a long way!
    I don't have any of my first sewing projects - it's err, too long ago! I do remember rather over ambitiously attempting double topstitched jeans for my Barbie...

  18. My first sewing projects are long, long, LONG gone, though I do still have the first quilt I ever made, and the first smocking project I ever did. My sewing was perfect from day 1 though, so no need to be nostalgic. ;)

  19. this is so... empowering. can sewing be empowering? you made the jump to light speed in your sewing adventures, and i'm kind of glad to see you started somewhere imperfect! i've been wanting to tackle menswear for awhile. i haven't because i want instant gratification. seeing where you are now... maybe i'll give myself room for some trial and error.

  20. My friend and I *thought* we knew how to sew a few years ago when we started our theater company and started sewing in earnest to make costumes. Heh. NO. We just pulled out some stuff from 2006 that is downright SAD in comparison to what we are doing now. There was a shirt placket that was just. . . slapdash is a very kind way to describe it. But I remember the HOURS spent poring over the patterns . . . Even our mistakes look better than that nowadays. It's really cool though to see how far we've come.

  21. I am always continually amazed at how much my sewing improves with each new project. I've had a few people email me and say, "well, you know I don't sew because I sewed the sleeves shut on a shirt once." Hmmm...but when was that? Was that your first experience with sewing and so you just gave up? I'm so glad you brought up the point about practicing. I'm a musician (ps I think its awesome that Micheal is a vocalist as my mom is too) and practice is a strategy for life. That's what you do with everything right? I mean how do you get better at something unless you keep doing it and learning from your mistakes? This was such a great idea! I'm going to be pulling out some old projects and see just how far I've come along! Thank you for the inspiration!

  22. I used to think I was pretty good but gave up sewing for a couple of decades and now I am fairly certain I stink.

    Love your blog.

    It gives me hope! (besides being a great deal of fun)

  23. What an ambitious first project! And so kind and brave of you to share it :)

    I don't remember most of my early sewing failures, thankfully, but I know there were some doozies. Especially when "pattern making" before I understood patterns at all (beyond seam allowance). There was a jumper I tried to make with no darts, no curved seams, no flare in the skirt at all... It might have looked ok on a statue carved from a telephone pole. Now at least I know enough to know that I don't know how to make a pattern from scratch.

  24. I heart you for sharing that. Thank you.

  25. Thank-god! I've often read your posts and despaired at ever making something that looks as brilliant... What I would pay to see Martha Stewarts first hand-made. Although she probably made it when she was 3.

  26. Hilarious. Absolutely hilarious but oh so inspiring for me. If you can improve 100% in this short amount of time, then I too have a chance to become a fab sewer like you. *Makes mental note to not give up when the clothes don't come out perfect* Thanks and love your blog btw!!!

  27. Quite a few seasons ago, Prada (I think) did a series of shirts/coats in pale colours with topstiching everywhere stitching done in very dark, thick, long stitches, to give a kid of 'sketched' look to the pieces. Your shirt actually reminds me of that.

  28. Hilarious!! Bunchy and spontaneous..oh man, I am giggling at my desk. Thanks for sharing, you've made such amazing progress in less than a year! I wish now that I had early projects to pull out and examine, just to see how far I've come...

  29. I had the hardest laugh at the wax crayon mistake!
    Congratulations on your first year's journey. You've come a long way baby!

  30. Thanks for sharing Peter, despite the flaws it still looks pretty shirt-like! My first project was a loose pair of linen pants. I was so confused by the instructions I ended up with an oddly shaped skirt! My parents still tease me about it.
    I love to go back to earlier projects & see how my sewing style & techniques have changed, there's always something I'd try to improve on. As well as making me feel a little better about myself, it also often reminds me that there's a technique I've been wanting to try again to perfect & that ends up in my next project.

  31. Yes, Roarah -- always more to learn! :)

  32. Hi I'm HippyGeek and I'm addicted to your blog... i stumbled onto the site hours ago and I'm still here reading!
    This post is just what I needed. I started sewing last year (if you ignore other fits & starts at sewing that turned into nothing during my teen and early adult years). I now actually own my own machine (yes, ok, three of them...) but now I'm getting impatient and feeling useless. I have been so tempted to give it all up. I really needed to read this post - I feel heaps better and I'll give myself a chance before I give up!
    In fact, I wont give up at all :P
    Thanks for your fantastic writing, which shares your fantastic sewing, and offers inspiration to us all!


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