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Jan 20, 2011


Readers, we are a mere twelve days from our sew-along kick-off!  I know a large number of you have your patterns already, many have your fabric in hand, and a few know more about cotton chambray thread count than you ever cared to.  You're chomping at the bit, ready to get started.

What are you supposed to do while you're waiting? you're wondering.  Listen up!

1. Read your pattern instructions.  We will be cutting our patterns together.   In the meantime, read over your instructions.   We may take a few detours from the instructions as written, but familiarize yourself with them nevertheless.  The Negroni instructions are very detailed and there's a glossary of sewing terms included.  Take a look!

2. Choose your muslin fabric.  We will be working on a muslin together.  Do you know what you're going to be making a muslin out of?  (It doesn't have to be real muslin; a bedsheet will do.)  For those of you choosing fabric for your muslin, the easiest fabric to work with will be one that has clear "right" and "wrong" side, which helps to eliminate confusion.  It's not necessary (especially if you are an experienced sewer), but it is helpful.

3.  Pick up a rotary cutter. What are you going to be cutting your fabric with?  Last week I recommended rotary cutters used along with self-healing mats.  I think this is one of the best investments a sewer can make.  It not only speeds fabric cutting, it can help with accuracy.  Develop the habit of automatically locking the blade whenever you are not cutting.  Even if you are merely shifting position, LOCK THE BLADE -- it's very sharp.

4. Experiment with interfacing.  We recently discussed interfacing.   You are going to want to use some interfacing in this project and there are many kinds.  You can read about the joys (and frustrations) of fusible interfacing in last Friday's post.  For interfacing you can also use a piece of your fashion fabric (provided the fabric is not sheer), cotton muslin, or other cotton shirting fabric.  My preference is a weft-weight woven or knit fusible but some people prefer sew-in.  This is a good time to experiment with what works best for you.

5.  Pre-shrink and iron your fabric.  If you already have your fabric, have you pre-shrunk it yet?  This is the time to put it through the washer and dryer.  I always pre-shrink my cotton shirting.  You can even do it more than once if you care to. 

6.  Take your measurements (or those of the person who'll be wearing the shirt).  Any decent sewing guide will tell you the correct way to measure neck, chest, shoulder span, waist, etc.   Which size (as described in the pattern) are they closest to?  What kind of alterations do you think you will need to make to assure proper fit?

7.  Get comfortable with your sewing machine/sergerI know some of you will be working on machines that are new to you.  This is a great time to practice on them.  With more than ten days to go, take on a small project like a sewing machine cover, boxer shorts -- anything that will help you get comfortable with your machine.

You can use a serger when making a men's shirt -- though not a serger exclusively -- and tomorrow we're going to be looking closely at a Ready-to-Wear shirt whose seams have been finished with one.  This is not a traditional way to finish a shirt, but as we've seen, shirts can be made many different ways.  Many factors contribute to a shirt's quality: fabric, finish, and fit (The three F's).  We'll be talking about all three.

Is your recently machine oiled?  Is the shuttle race free of lint?  Do you know what the shuttle race is?  Now's the time to learn!

8. Join the Flickr group.  If you haven't already joined, now's a great time (before the initiation fee kicks in).  We're already discussing patterns, fit strategies, fabric, and more.  It's a great way to meet your fellow sew-along-ers too.  Take a look!


9. Experiment with buttonholesMost shirts have buttonholes and you will need to be able to make them.  Do you know how?  This is the time to try.  If you sew on a vintage machine, you can explore old buttonhole attachments -- much beloved by vintage sewing machine enthusiasts like me.

10.  Do you have the notions you need?  Re-read my 14 shirtmaking tools recommendations.  Beside the rotary cutter, which I've mentioned above, my next highest on the list are a tailor's ham for pressing and Fray Check for sealing a buttonhole's inside edges.

11. Shears and scissors.   I cut my fabric with my rotary cutter but I still use my fabric shears constantly.  I use 8" Gingher dressmaker shears but also a pair of Mundial embroidery scissors.  We will be clipping seam allowances up to the stitch line, especially when we're working on collars.  You will need a sharp pair of scissors that can handle this task: i.e. sharp tips.

12. Know your seam allowances.  Most patterns these days call for a 5/8" seam allowance.  You will also need to be comfortable stitching at 1/4" and even 1/8 inch.  If you'll be using a zigzagger, you might want to invest in some guide feet to help make your topstitching more accurate.

Learn what the parts of a shirt are called.  Before I made shirts I had never heard of a sleeve placket, a collar stand, or a yoke.  Making a shirt will be easier if you know what the components are.  The basic shirt is a back, two fronts, and two sleeves of course, but there are some piddly little parts (cuffs! collars!) we're going to have to deal with.

We're a big group and we run the range of experience from beginner to advanced.  For some of you this is old hat and for some completely new.  We're all going to learn, myself included, from both our errors and our successes.   To quote Emerson, "Life is a journey, not a destination."  (Or was that Mamie van Doren?)  It's going to be a fun trip!

Keep the questions coming, if you have any.

Happy Thursday, everybody!


  1. Hi Peter,
    I would like to join your group and have tried to email you but with no success. Would you give me your email so I may join?
    Thank you
    Marie Roche

  2. It is peterlappinnyc at gmail dot com

  3. Okay, just uploaded my pattern. :) My only departure from my pattern is the shirt pocket(s). I'm nixing the one from the pattern and using one from a different pattern.

    One thing they *never* tell you that needs measured, though, is your intended recipient's torso. I learned the hard way that if you don't do that, all your hard work may come to naught. So measure from the back of the neck to where you want your shirt to end. Especially if you're dealing with somebody tall who likes to wear pants slung low.

  4. Good point, Laura! As someone who is 5'7" I have the opposite problem.

  5. The suspense of waiting for Feb 1 is killing me. But practicing buttonholes is a good idea. I have a "new" Viking buttonholer arriving any day now. It's like the Singer Pro but has a Viking badge on it and was only $5, so how could I resist?

  6. Great tips, Peter. I'm excited about this!

  7. I apologize if this question has been asked but... do you cut your original patterns or trace? I have read where someone applied interfacing to their original pattern to preserve it, I thought that was a very smart idea, especially for TNT!

  8. Mmm. Wouldn't it be considered cheating to be doing something everyday -before- a sew-along? Wouldn't it totally blow the very idea of sew along??
    That said, some of us could finish up their corduroy jackets, so they have something nice to wear with their finished shirts :-).

  9. Hey, Peter, great list of tools! I suggest anyone not familiar with Fraycheck to test using it beforehand. Straight out of the bottle, it tends to spread far beyond where you want it to stay. I daub it on sparingly with a cheap children's paint brush, the kind you get 10 for $1. Of course, I learned the hard way. The first time I used it on fraying seam allowances, I ended up with a hard edge that ended 1/4" or so from the edge. It didn't show, but it made the thing I made unwearable as the stiffened seam edges were scratchy.
    Heather in Toronto (who should get going and just join the sewalong.)

  10. I am totally loving the Flickr group. The vintage patterns that are showing up are amazing. I've just ordered a walking foot and a edge stitch / stitch in the ditch foot for my Singer 301. I haven't been able to find a felling foot for a slant needle Singer, but you've assured us that it's not necessary. Can't wait to start!

  11. For the sew-along, I'd love to know... Do you plan to comment on how to match the pattern at seams and pockets?

  12. ... I meant matching the plaid or whatever pattern is on the fabric...

  13. Sondra, I will probably address individual issues like that on the Flickr site. I know a number of people are sewing plaid fabrics; we'll see how great the need is.

  14. omg, I'm READY!! except, I'm ordering diff fabric than i thought I was going to use, and I have nothing to make my muslin....hmmmm, ok, going to the fabric store tomorrow! ha ha!

  15. Thanks Peter! SO excited to get started!


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