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Jan 26, 2011

How should a man's shirt fit? Peter's 20-shirt challenge!

Quick -- name those celebrity lats!

Friends, with less than one week before our Men's Shirt Sew-Along formally begins, I've been doing a lot of thinking and re-thinking about shirts.  We already have more than 100 Sew-Along participants, with numbers climbing daily, many using the Colette Negroni pattern and many using shirt patterns of their own choosing.  The shirt button numbers alone are staggering.

The construction details we're going to be addressing are relatively straightforward: flat-felled seams, rolled hems, sleeve plackets, collar stand and collar, etc.  The fabric you'll be working with is of your own choosing, and I can see from our Flickr group that they range from traditional stripe to Sixties acid trip.

Yesterday I took some time to closely investigate my own shirt collection, a mix of ready-to-wear shirts I've accumulated over the years, and my own creations crafted from vintage shirt patterns.

I also spent a few hours re-reading David Page Coffin's take on fitting a shirt and self-drafting a pattern from his classic book, Shirtmaking, which I know many of you are familiar with.

I want accurate fitting to be a focus of our Sew-Along and I think you do too.  I put on my thinking cap and have decided to invite a professional into our Sew-Along project!  Starting on the very first day of our Sew-Along I will be working privately with -- I can't mention his name yet, but you know it.  And what I learn I will be sharing with you here and in our Flickr group as we work on fitting our muslins and our final shirts.  You can get by with pinked seam allowances and bargain basement fabric, but if the shirt doesn't fit it's going to be obvious to everyone.

Fit has to be a sewist's biggest challenge.  It's also one that I have managed to avoid on my upper half, having convinced myself that I can wear a shirt made straight from a commercial pattern.  The truth is that I can get away with wearing a shirt made straight from a pattern.  The fit, however, is never ideal.

I've examined and recorded the fit of twenty shirts and I can tell you with confidence that none fits perfectly.  Some are closer than others of course, but there's work to do.

Most are decent, especially in front, where I have fewer fit issues.


Others, well....  off to the thrift store they go!

If you have the time and the inclination to pore through more than 100 pics of me in 20 different shirts, you can see them all here.   Strong coffee and a comfortable chair are recommended.

I kid you not when I say that before I started sewing, I gave the fit of this Brooks Brothers's shirt nary a second thought.  It was just the way things were.

Things have gotten better now that I make my own shirts, but there is tweaking to be done and I am ready to tweak.

Friends, we are going to do this together and we will have expert help.  Life is too short to stumble in semi-darkness.

Sew-Alongers and Sew-Along fence sitters, your assignment this week is to take a close look at the fit of either your own men's shirt (if you're male), or the shirt of the person you'll be sewing for (if you're female), preferably on the person himself.  Everybody else, do what makes sense.  With regards to fit, what works for you (and him) and what doesn't?  What looks too loose, what looks too tight?

If you can, upload a pic or two to the Flickr group page, so we can see what the perceived problems are.  We are shame-free here at MPB, rest assured.

And now, I've much to do -- including contending once again with this.

Will it never end?

Have a great day everybody.  How are those men's shirt fitting?  What are the challenges?  Share!


  1. You have a nice trim body Pierre, dh however, does not. Will you or your celebrity guest be addressing those with a bit of a belly and fit? I hope so!

    Now when you mentioned the Sixties acid trip, you wouldn't be referring to my hip paisley, would you? :D

    Here in Ontario, it's supposed to start snowing tomorrow afternoon and continue snowing for the next FIVE days!!!

  2. Yes, yes, bellies will be addressed -- if not undressed!

  3. Taylor Lautner.

    Your self-made shirts do fit you the best.

    Things to keep in mind before over-fitting sets in:

    1. You need ease to be able to move. Sitting at a desk, for example, and reaching forward to write or type, or driving, requires more ease in the back than standing for ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-THREE PHOTOGRAPHS. OMG I looked at them all.

    2. You do not have to sew back darts where they are marked on the pattern. Sew them, if you do sew them, where your body needs them. As well as how deep or shallow your body needs them.

    3. Some of the fullness in the back of your self-made shirts is a length thing. Tuck 3/8" - 1/2" below armhole but above the waist. I'm guessing your back length is shorter than the pattern's. You don't notice this in the front because you don't have a tush sticking out in the front to impede the drape of the fabric. Women often miss this because a full bust will steal some of that extra, and then they think they need a swayback alteration instead of length reduction all around.

  4. Addendum to #3 - the tuck goes all around, so it would be to both the front and back pieces.

    I'm going to do this on the muslin of M6890 I'll be sending to Michael early next week. Maybe you can try it on too and see if it makes a difference.

  5. Yay! My man is trim, but has those annoying, um trapezoids? Is that a muscle? The muscley triangle from his neck to his shoulders!?

    I'm finishing my first Negroni - one sleeve on, perhaps even done by the end of the day (I'm ahead of the class, making it for the shop where I work as a sample) but will def. post pics on the pool! And I have some nice polyester ready for the sewalong (the boy isn't fond of ironing!)

  6. My better half is definitely not going to look good in his shirt without a few fitting tweaks.
    So looking forward to this sewalong.
    I'm really glad Debbie Cook is on board - I'm already learning stuff.
    P.S. Patty, those are trapezoids. They are pronounced on my man too and I've been perusing the literature on "sloping shoulders adjustment." Hoping to learn more here about that!

  7. Debbie, I always forget how much you know, especially about celebrities! ;)

    I'm going to do a self-drape of my back following the David Coffin method and compare that to the Butterick pattern I use so often. I like the idea of an overall shortening though, which I've just been doing by trimming off the bottom rather than raising the waist a bit.

    Thanks for the tip!

  8. I always forget what I know too. ;-)

    In case it's not clear to you or others, the reason why you don't remove length at the bottom of a shaped seam is that the shaping would still land in the wrong place since you've done nothing to alter that. The purpose for the tuck above the pattern's waist is to raise that shaping to where your waist actually is. On a very boxy shirt with no sideseam shaping, then it wouldn't make any difference.

  9. Peter, if I don't misunderstand your hints about your professional helper for fitting, I'm both star-struck and jealous. And, of course, wishing you all the best and looking forward to the coverage.

    Debbie, great you brought up waist length. I've been quite annoyed for a while now with the over-exposure of sway-back adjustment on women's sewing blogs. MANY of which look an awful lot like waist issues...

    If you ask me, there seems to be a lot of disagreement about how men's shirts should fit. I think some ease is both needed and more flattering but some waist shaping can work well for a slender figure. I know that, in his book, David Page Coffin campaigns against darts in shirts. And on the other hand, some high street stores sell men's shirts with both back and front darts/princess seams. And some men wear them and pick their size the way a lot of women do: 'if the buttons don't come off if I move, this must be my size'....

    I'm really looking forward to hearing about a professional's opinion ;)

  10. Ehm... some sway-back adjustments look like waist LENGTH issues. That's what I ment to say.

  11. Ehm, I ment to say: some sway-back adjusments look more like waist LENGTH issues

  12. For the record, that top photo of Taylor What's-his-name-Ask Debbie, is NOT the way I would want my shirts to fit in the back. WAY too fitted for my taste.

    The hair I wouldn't mind, however.

  13. Lauriana, I'm confused but that's nothing new.

  14. I have noticed this, and truthfully, it's an issue that I know I'll need to deal with. I realized it from the beginning, because the commercial shirts are like this too. My intended shirt recipient has a waist that's a size bigger than his chest. While my brother isn't particularly fat, he is carrying an extra pound or two around his waist that makes fitting a shirt for him a little challenging. His commercial shirts tend to bag a bit at the top and strain a little over his stomach.

    I think that 1) it shouldn't really be baggy anywhere, and 2) it also shouldn't strain and pull at buttons.

    So, Peter, how can I accomplish this feat of super-human fitting?

  15. I am just so, so enjoying reading your blog and will be closely following this sew-along. Unfortunately for me I don't have time to participate in the sewing, but I really appreciate the level of detail in your posts; I am already getting a lot out of it, even without sewing a shirt myself.

  16. My hubby has the traps and the lats, too, so I'm curious about fitting---I've been trying to research slope-shoulder adjustments, but I'm not sure how most of them apply to a yoke as opposed to a true shoulder seam. After ten years of buying smaller shirts, we've finally twigged that my hubby needs a large size to fit shoulders, neck, and arm length, but then the rest of him is swimming in them. (He's built rather like a pit-bull.) Hmm, now to wrestle him into letting me take pictures...

  17. i'm so excited for this sewalong - my sweetie has a hard time finding any commercial shirts that fit (he's a big barrel-chested bear of a man) - they're generally too short and as others have mentioned for their fellas, pull a little over the stomach. i had never before thought about the paucity of clothing available for plus size gents! so i'm excited to learn FBA (full belly adjustment).

  18. Okay appears from looking at these photos that my hubby has the same shape and is about the same size as you. Honestly I don't think he has EVER had a shirt that fit him properly. They are all too big. I am looking forward to sewing him something that fits and then I will try a pair of pants...There are not many men of his age with a 29-30 inch waist and it is always hard to buy RTW for him.

  19. @aliesje: ROFLAO, FBA - Full Belly Adjustment, I LOVE IT!!

  20. Well this is where I really pay attention. My bloke has a bigger chest to waist ratio than the guy in the first shot. Like Pterion I have used the sloping shoulder adjustmet to help get a good shape. I was dismayed to read that David Page Coffin says mens' shirts should not have darts. How on earth do men with large chests and tiny waists get shirts that fit if they can't have darts? I think particularly of body builders and athletes: to get a shirt that fits their chest they need to buy a very large size that then balloons around their smaller waist and makes them look fat which kind of defeats the purpose of all that gym work! I'm really excited to learn from everyone elses fitting issues.

  21. No, you will need darts. I was rereading Adele Margolis and was reminded that darts are what turns our two-dimensional fabric into three-dimensional shapes. If a man -- or woman for that matter -- has contours, something has to give that fabric dimensionality. Either darts or a seam that creates contours, like a princess seam.

  22. I don't think one can make a sweeping statement about whether waist darts belong or not. (I'll have to re-read that part of the book to see what he really says.) It depends on the body shape, the style of the day, and the wearer's preferences — all of which can and do change. Maybe DPC just has a preference and body shape for undarted and/or less fitted shirts. ??

  23. My guy is really big, chest measurement of 57 inches (yes, really almost six feet) and barrel-built, with a long back (six feet tall, 31 inch inseam) I'm going to be kibitzing with interest on this sew-along, but not joining, as I suspect that I'm going to have to do a lot of alterations; and I'm just not at that level of sewing yet.

  24. The comments on waist length are really helpful- thanks Debbie, and many thanks Peter for bringing the subject up

    Re adding room for the tum- I wonder if one can do for a man's shirt what I do sometimes for tops- just swing the centre front slightly off the fold/ straight grain towards the hem to add slightly to the circumference? Obviously it won’t work for stripes or plaids and I don’t know how it would go if you want to add a large amount, but it’s fine for fabrics like knits and adding small amounts of room say less than 2 inches. It seems to me that it would be easier than adding at the sides or slashing and spreading the front pattern pieces. I hope one of the experienced shirt wranglers can give some guidance on this one.

    I'll be watching developments (not sewing along, due to work commitments alas) with interest. Good luck to everyone who is purchasing patterns, buttons and fabric. May your choices be inspired and your threads never tangle!

  25. Cleverclogs, if you click on the photo I posted from David Coffin's Shirtmaking book, you'll see the right diagram is labeled, "Swinging out side seam to accomodate full waist." That's how it's done, basically. We'll talk about it more once we get started.

  26. Thanks very much Peter. I think I need a copy of the shirtmaking book!

  27. Sorry - no snow here in Oregon. Lucky us. We even saw the sun this afternoon.

  28. Pam Erny adds a "Prince Seam" to some of her shirts as both a design feature and a fitting adjustment....not traditional by any means but it looks good I think.

  29. i THINK YOU ARE GREAT love all your enthusiasm

  30. I am slim and work out, and I prefer a close fitting shirt without a lot of extra fabric. Back darts are a way to give the shirt a flattering shape, and I ask for back darts in all of my bespoke shirts. Some of my best Italian shirts have front darts as well. It makes for a clean, tailored and sophisticated look.


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