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Jan 15, 2011

Elusive interfacing consensus + GAP shirt inspection!

Readers, I have concluded that the subject of fusible interfacing is a perfect metaphor for life itself: we all have our ways of being/doing/thinking that work for us and we're unlikely to change -- regardless of what others say -- unless forced by fate.  Do you know what I mean?

I would advise those who are happy with fusible interfacing to continue using it and those who are not to a) find substitutes (which most of you have already), and b) consider that some of your negative experiences could be due to improper application.

Let's move on!

My 1939 detachable collar Dubarry shirt is coming along nicely though for the life of me I can't quite figure out what is buttoning onto what.

The instructions clearly state that the removable collar stand is where the buttonholes go, and it wasn't until I'd sewn buttons onto the outside of the band (the band is attached to the shirt itself), that I realized that the collar stand (attached to the removable collar) should go inside the band -- the point being that you want to keep the band clean since it's not removable -- and have the stand next to your neck.  So I had to remove the buttons and sew them onto the inside of the band.

It all seems to work except for one thing: I'm guessing a shirt like this always would have been worn with the top button closed and a necktie.   Since I don't intend to wear it that way, I have an inside  button where an outside button would normally be on the right front collar band, to attach it to the collar stand.  Meanwhile, the left collar band has an inward facing button with no outside buttonhole to attach to the (nonexistent) button on the right collar band.  Does that many sense?  Long story short, if I did want to wear a tie with it there's no easy way to button that top button since there is no top button or buttonhole.  Restate that clearly and win valuable prizes.

Let's move on.

I want us to spend some time this weekend examining a men's RTW shirt.  I've chosen one we can look at together, a very sturdy, well-constructed men's shirt from the Gap.  It's not a shirt I particularly like -- the fabric is coarse, the cut boxy -- but it is very solidly constructed and has worn incredibly well over the last six or so years.

I have taken many photos of the shirt, archiving all the little details most of us -- myself included -- never even think about.

Rather than post a million photos here, please take a look at my Picasa file: GAP Shirt.  I think you'll find it interesting.  What I learned was that despite the "meh" cut and coarse cloth, the finish is professional in the extreme.  It's easy to take for granted how well mass-market menswear is constructed these days.  Later on we'll be examining much higher end shirts, including a few "custom" shirts. and see what -- if any -- the differences are.  Who knew shirts were this fascinating?

Meanwhile, we already have 50 people in our Sew-Along Flickr group, which is a lot of shirts to be made!

I received my Negroni pattern and I must say the instructions -- essentially a booklet on shirt construction -- look excellent and the whole presentation impeccable.  Very nice to see...

Especially after this mind bender.

And that's it.  I'm off to the flea market to distract myself from detachable collars for a while.  Then it's back to the sweatshop.

And what of you?  Are you dreaming about shirts yet?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. Wow. And all of that without deconstructing the shirt. Like you, Peter, I've learned quite a bit by taking RTW clothes apart!

  2. Regarding the collar and top button... It is possible you aren't supposed to have a top button, but instead have button holes for each layer, and then use a collar stud. Look here for a simple example:

  3. Of course this doesn't help you now but maybe for the next one...

    Would it not have worked to put buttons and buttonholes on the shirt where they would normally go and place the button and buttonhole on the collar where ever they needed to be. Does that make sense? I can see it but I'm having trouble putting it in words.

    I'm off to look at your Gap shirt now!

  4. Cool! Now I know what I'll be doing this afternoon---going through my hubby's shirts!

    Out of curiosity, is there any interfacing in the front button placket? had a post debating this a while back. :)

  5. Looks great Peter! Wish I could join in but got a lot of projects to finish before I could validate more fabric and pattern purchases.

    I have a hypothesis about the collar. When I an intern working in a museum's costume archives there were tons of assorted collars I had to catalog (did you know that Van Heusen used to be a pretty high-end label for collars?). I would find between the collars and the men's shirts there would be no buttons at all, just buttonholes. I later discovered in the archive huge box filled with little black studs links, I learned that you would pop the studs behind the neck and through the four buttonholes to close the top of the shirt. The instruction could be referring to putting a buttonhole in the middle of the collar and a sewing a button at the back of the collar? Ever see those movies when they're wearing a stiff collar, they pop it open and it flares out like the Flying Nun's hat? That's my theory, but I could be wrong.

  6. New to your blog. Love the detachable collar shirt. It reminds me of a high school teacher who wore shirts with cardboard collars - and it was in the late 1970's not the 1870's.

  7. "I'm guessing a shirt like this always would have been worn with the top button closed and a necktie. "

    I think I read that in David Page Coffin's book, but it was late, I was tired, and maybe I got it wrong.

  8. Like Anonymous and Sarah, I wanted to tell you about collar studs. Last year, my grandmother gave me a box of cufflinks and other things (most of which had belonged to her father). The cufflinks, I understood but she explained that other button-like objects were collar studs. Most in that box looked like a button with a tiny rod on the back which ended in a little ball. So, as the other ladies mentioned, you'd have buttonholes in all the layers, and pop one of those through to join them together and close the top of the shirt. (as far as I know (probably from David Page Coffin's 'Shirtmaking'), there can also be an added normal button at center back to secure the detachable collar.

  9. It is only after doing my own sewing that I do value and appreciate the skill that goes into making a shirt. These workers are very very talented people.

  10. Yikes, I'm confused, but the buttonhole placement *looks* cool at least.

  11. I read David Coffin's shirt-making book very recently and he does state that a shirt with a removable collar isn't suitable for wearing without a tie.

  12. I am directionally challenged but I would think the buttons would be placed where they were under the collar covered by the tie not next to the neck, which I would find uncomfortable. Am I wrong??

  13. On appearance alone, I think it would be fine to wear this w/o a tie. It looks kinda cool to me, in an unusual but good way. And who is really going to be studying your collar stand buttons close-up anyway? Besides us.

    It's coming along very nicely, Peter! Find any thrifty treasures today?

  14. Oddly, I find I refer to GAP garments in my husband's wardrobe when making construction decisions, precisely for the high-quality, hard wearing finish. He has a 6 or 7 year old pair of cords that started my obsession with welts and hong kong seams in pants.

  15. I'm trying to actually remember to tell people when they've been a good influence on me lately, and Peter, you have been. Now, I'm not sucking up to gain rewards here or in the afterlife, but, since I've been lurking(?) stalking(?) around MPB, I have gained two good habits:
    -I now make a muslin *always* before cutting into my good fabric. I've wasted too much fab fabric on ill-fitting garments that I've finally committed to making a muslin every time.
    -I preshrink all fabrics and interfacings *immediately*. No more puckery, bubbly, shrinky stuff for me!!!
    So don't let it go to your head too much, but thanks!

  16. There's a detachable collar mentioned in David Page Coffin's book, Shirtmaking -- you have that book, don't you?

    I spent most of the day tracing DH's Burda coat pattern, when I started to cut it out, DH called me upstairs, he'd cut himself pretty badly (through the nail) with one of his Japanese chef's knives while making dinner. I had to bandage him up and finish making dinner (under his direction) as well as clean up. No more sewing tonight, boo.

    I hope I can start working on the coat tomorrow. You have to sew batting onto the fashion fabric during construction, should be interesting!!

    I'm sorry I won't be joining your sew-along this time but I will be taking notes. Although I've sewn a number of men's shirts, all but one have been short-sleeved.

    Following along...

  17. Interesting how well made that Gap shirt is.

    On a different topic, have you seen the number of burgundy/merlot/beaujolais velvet trousers in the new D&G fall menswear collection How flattering for you. I assume you'll be contacting your legal team.

  18. I've never seen anything to confirm your reasoning that a separate collar should be, or was, worn inside the band, to keep that clean. Sounds somewhat logical, but that's not how it was done, to judge by every old shirt and every photo or movie glimpse I've ever seen showing how these were actually worn. The point was to cover the band completely with something clean and fresh, and washable/replaceable, not to keep the shirt clean. Same with removable fronts and cuffs. It was surface dressing, potentially and often concealing a less than fresh shirt.

    And, yup, no buttons involved, traditionally, on the band or collar. It was studs, and buttonholes for them, front and back, and very uncomfortable, too, in front after the tie was on, with that dratted stiff stud digging into one's throat. That's why I substituted a pair of buttons with a thread link in between, so I could stand it, until I gave up wearing ties and lost interest in the separate collar thing.

    But I did spend a long while exploring ways to make them work with collar open; see the drawing on page 145 for my best shot. And even tried the collar inside thing myself, with one shirt, a knit rugby-type one, and a soft collar, page 147; it was OK, but I reverted to wearing that with no collar, so I could leave it unbuttoned. And it was pretty snug, inside and buttoned up, suggesting the neckline and all associated patterns should be resized if that was going to be the strategy… Too complicated!

    The traditional set-up is what I was referring to when I claimed that separate collars weren't appropriate for wearing open, especially if stiffened. They just fall about awkwardly and look floppy and too loose, to my eye. But there's a couple of shots of guys (models, probably, doing what they're told) wearing them that way in google images; to each his own, and to every era its own styles. And by all means to every maker their own solutions and innovations! Why else bother?

  19. I put the button holes on the neckband and the buttons on the collar such that the buttons end up not next to your skin, rather facing out between the outside of the band and the underside of the collar. Does that make sense? Love your blog - I have gotten wonderful information on old machines, thank you!


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