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Feb 8, 2011

Men's Shirt Sew-Along 8 -- Sleeves, etc.

Readers, leading a Sew-Along is often likened to parenting: there are some unpleasant truths that must be imparted and it's best to just state the facts.  So truth #1: Sewing a shirt can be hard.  Some of you realize this already.  I wish this weren't so but there it is.

Like old age according to Bette Davis, Shirtmaking ain't for sissies, not that sissy is a word I would ever use.  Wimps -- Shirtmaking ain't for wimps.  So if you're still with me at this point this much is clear: you're not a wimp.  I really should be raising children.

And now on with the show.

Our goals today are:

1. Trim (or grade) our facing edges and turn our facings right side out

2. Attach our pockets and pocket flaps (and make pocket flap buttonholes)

3. Attach our sleeves

1. Yesterday we attached collar and facings and enclosed our raw collar edges under facings and yoke.  Now we want to turn our facings right side out, but before we do that, we want to clip the corners and trim the seam allowances.

On p. 14, Step 3, of the Negroni instructions, we are told to clip corners of the facing seam allowance.  (Yesterday we already covered clipping the seam allowance of the neckline.)  There's an excellent definition of grading on p. 35 but here's a confession: I never grade, isn't that awful?  I trim and press and make the best of it.  If you wish to grade, please do.  If you don't, I won't tell.

Anyway, let's clip the corner of the top of the facing (both sides of course). When we turn this, we'll have made the top corner of our front sides.

If the instructions ever address the actual turning of the facings right side out, I missed it.  Before we do this, in addition to clipping the corner, trim or grade the seam allowance down the front of the facing. 

You'll then turn and press.  The top corner of the right and left front should be worked with a point presser as we would the corner of a collar.  We want this corner clean and as bulk-free as possible.

When you press the facings under, make sure that the right side of the shirt is pressed an eensy bit beyond the facing seam.  We don't want the facing peeking out if we can avoid it.

You should now have something you can try on -- sort of.  How does that collar look?

2.  I think this is a good time to attach pockets and pocket flaps now that the collar is on and the facings are done.  You may not want to bother stitching pockets and flaps on a muslin if this step is familiar to you.

NOTE: The wide facings extend beyond the point where the pocket and flap are attached.  I did not want my pocket stitching to catch the facing, so I pinned the facing back temporarily when I attached my pocket and flap.

The pocket flap needs a buttonhole.  I make my buttonholes with a vintage Singer buttonholer.

Now stitch your pocket and flap on the shirt fronts.  Refer to the circles from the original pattern and also eyeball it.  The pockets -- like the front buttons when we get to them -- should be at a height that works for you.  They should be equidistant from the front edge of the shirt and on the same plane.  Short version: they should match.

The Negroni instructions are clear; I haven't anything to add.  I think the flap is 1/4" wider than the pocket.  Keep this extra width balanced on either side of the pocket.

Confession: I attached my pockets after I'd attached my sleeves but I found it hard to maneuver my shirt fronts under my sewing machine with the sleeves attached.  Sarai has you attach them first thing even before the facings get attached.  When you make your final shirt you can do what makes most sense to you.

3. It's now time to attach our sleeves.  This is the moment you've all been waiting for: the flat-felled seam!  Read the instructions.  Sarai has a clever way of making these seams MUCH easier to create but you must follow her directions carefully.

Before you begin, are you 100% certain which sleeve is which?   Remember that with the sleeve right side up, the placket is always toward the back of the shirt, the same side as the two notches you clipped along the top (sleeve cap) edge of the sleeve.

With the sleeve RIGHT SIDE UP, press down a 1/4" hem along the top edge.

You are now ready to line up sleeve and armhole at the shoulder line.  The large circle should be aligned with the shoulder seam.

You will stitch this seam with a 3/8" seam allowance, from the center out toward either side.  Please match notches as you go.

When you're done stitching, fold out that 1/4" hem you pressed on your sleeve earlier.

You will be folding this hem over the 3/8" seam allowance of the torso side.  Before you do, however, you can trim this allowance down to 1/4".  I didn't, and the sleeve seam allowance folded over the bodice seam allowance perfectly well.

Press the seam toward the body/torso (away from the sleeve). 

Now, still working from the WRONG side, edgestitch that baby down, keeping your needle parallel to your original line of stitching (the shoulder seam).  As you move along, anticipate where you're going and make sure that shorter seam allowance is fully encased.  Take it slow.

With all this pressing and stitching and handling, I ended up with about 1/2" extra sleeve width when I was done.  I trimmed it off carefully.

If you have too much extra sleeve, you have a problem on your hands.  There is almost always a little extra ease in the sleeve cap and some of this can be eased in as you stitch the sleeve to the shoulder.  On some patterns the ease is excessive and the pattern may need altering.  (That's been discussed in our Flickr group, particularly here.)  The Negroni shirt is not one of them

Friends, that's all we're going to do together today.  Tomorrow we'll stitch closed the sleeves and torso.  You can flat-fell this but there are other ways to finish your seam allowances too.   As always, choose a method you're comfortable with.

We're past the mid-point and then some, do you believe it?

Then we have to assess our work and examine the fit of our shirt muslin.  That's also when I will be showing you how to draft a collar stand and collar for the Negroni, as well as a left front button placket and right front facing (the original facings are not suitable for a collar with collar stand), for those who are interested.  I recognize that dress shirts are put together quite differently than the Negroni shirt.

Hang in there.

Happy sewing, everybody!


  1. "equidistant" ;-0
    Wait for me!! I've got my pj top cut and interfaced only :(...
    VERY enjoyable series, Peter!! You're a born teacher.
    Rhonda in Montreal (PR)

  2. I hardly ever officially grade seam allowances (as in separate passes) - only when they're REALLY bulky. But if you hold your scissors at an angle while trimming, they will be graded automatically due to the bevel angle.

    I guess I'm going to have to break down and buy the Negroni pattern because you keep referring to the great instructions and I like to read great instructions. Plus, I STILL need to know every possible detail about flat felling. Did you do it differently than Sarai instructs? I have questions!!

    You sewed with a 3/8" SA, but is the pattern drafted with 5/8" SAs?

    Did you line up both raw edges? Or the pressed edge of the sleeve with the raw edge of the torso?

    I'm not liking that you came out with 1/2" extra and just trimmed it off. lol

  3. When pressing the shoulder seam on the sleeve, I used starch (1tbsp to 1ltr water in spray bottle) to get a nice crisp fold that held, I also used Steam-A-Seam so that I could top stitch the flat-felled seam on the right side of the shirt. This worked beautifully, the results were perfect.

  4. i'm not currently following the sew-along (no man in my life that i want to make a shirt for!) but i just purchased a gorgeous women's western shirt pattern from the 50s, so i definitely see shirtmaking in my future! i have been watching this series with great interest. i can't wait to make my own shirt :) thank you so much for these amazing instructions and photos!

  5. So serious clipping, spreading and easing isn't necessary when attaching the sleeve to the amscye flat?

    But it would be, right?, since you're still attaching a convex piece to a concave one? (Or is it vice versa? Oi.)

  6. Easing, yes, a bit. Spreading and clipping, no.

  7. One thing that I learned that helps me (and it seems like everyone does it)is to put the SLEEVE next to the feeddogs and sew on the armscye/shoulder side. They take up the ease on the shirt sleeve so the two fit together without too much "extra".

    Until I figured out to put the sleeve on the bottom when stitching them together I would either have to gather the top of the sleeve to add ease or just have a bunch left over, neither of which is ideal. I even asked my friends who sew what to do and they kept telling me to gather! errrgg! Now, I have nary a problem!

    So far so good! I just sewed my sleeves on, flat-felling and all. But, I haven't finished my collar. I'm going out of order (big surprise)

  8. Good thing there are two sleeves, which provides more chances for practice! Second one turned out much better than the first!

  9. I'm with Debbie Cook. I've read through the instructions several times, and, seems to me, with that 3/8 inch seam, it's no wonder you ended up with an extra 1/2 inch if the pattern had a 5/8 inch seam (1/4 extra at the shoulder and 1/4 at the underarm). I can see pressing the sleeve head down 1/4", trimming the armscye by 1/4", then stitching just the 3/8" seam.

    In any case, pressing that bit before attaching the sleeve is far easier than trying to press it after the sleeve is sewn in. No fighting trying to keep the shirt from falling off the ironing board and burning fingers folding fiddly little seam allowances!

  10. Thank god I just found this- I've just spent half an hour on a boiling hot day ironing a beautiful 1/4" turnunder on the wrong side and would never have noticed if I hadn't looked on here....

  11. Wow! Just what I was looking for! Thanks! I am also wondering, how would I combine this technique when making a XXL into an XL for my boyfriend? The armscythe is a bit lower and wider. Thanks for any tips!

  12. I’m so late to the party but if anyone is making this shirt and wants really nice pointed corners on the collar and the shirt front take a look at David Page Coffin’s article on Seamwork

    It explains a different method for turning out points which involves folding over the seam allowance rather than clipping it before turning out. It may seem a little confusing at first but now that I know it, I don’t think I’ll ever clip again!!


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