Shirt Making

Pattern: Cornell Shirt by Elbe Textiles, View B, Size H

Fabric: Green white/blue check cotton/linen from The Fabric Store

Notions: Rasant 120 thread, 1.2cm clear buttons from All Buttons Great and Small

Tools: Point turner, sleeve board, pressing ham, clapper.

I really enjoy shirt making. Something about nailing an even collar shape, perfect topstitching, and getting the buttonhole right in one go is extremely satisfying for me. Having said that, it almost never turns out exactly perfect, and this shirt had me taking a lot of breaks when I was frustrated or couldn’t quite see the best option.

I chose this cotton/linen check from the Fabric Store in the really bright pale green. The fabric has a really nice weight for shirts and doesn’t crease up as much as linen. I’m not usually big on prints but I do love checks (maybe it’s my Scottish heritage), but this does mean pattern matching if you want a really shmick look and for this one, I was going SCHMICK. Pattern matching does slow down the process at nearly every stage of making, so I was prepared this might be a longer make than usual.

I decided to do some initial alterations to the pattern. I added 5cm length to the body, shortened the cuff to about 2.5cm, and shortened the sleeves by 2cm. It was very difficult to see how long the sleeve would be without toiling the whole shirt first. I’ve made cuffed shirts before where it wasn’t a big deal if the sleeve was a little long because I’d be rolling them up most of the time anyway. But this shirt I wanted to have the fit right with the sleeves down and buttoned at the cuff. I ended up having to take out an extra 8cm from the sleeve! I took some from the cuff, some from the sleeve head, and ended up taking a tuck through the sleeve as well which doesn’t look great and definitely takes away from the schmickness. But these are the lessons I learn for not toiling! For future use I will probably size down and remeasure along the shoulder seam and sleeve length to get a more accurate fit.

When I altered the sleeve head/armhole, I also had to take in at the shoulder slightly. It was very clear that I was gathering the armhole slightly to fit the sleeve in place and it looked like an oddly puffy mess! No amount of steaming would reverse this error, so I had to take in the shoulder so no gathering would occur.

Redrawn shoulder line to take in armhole
My puffy armhole!

When cutting out the pattern and attempting to pattern match the fabric I found it easier to cut one piece, like the shirt front and lay it directly next to the back piece, folding back the paper pattern and making sure the check lines match at the side. When sewing and pattern matching it can be quite a process as well depending on the print. When sewing this check, I matched the lines and cross pined (put one pin on the warp grain and one on the weft grain making a cross with the pins), and sewed right up to the pins before removing carefully. 

Pattern matching at the side seam.
Mark out pattern on the paper to make magic disappearing pockets!

I was also keen to pattern match the pockets on the front, as I’ve seen Cornell’s with this feature and think it’s magic when the pocket disappears into the pattern! To get the pocket print to line up exactly I marked the position of the pocket on the shirt front fabric. I then placed the paper pocket pattern piece (!) over the fabric and drew the check pattern on the paper. This makes it easy to cut these small pattern pieces from scraps, which is what I had to do. 

I used a lightweight fusible interfacing and only applied it to one side of the collar and cuffs. I always do some tests with interfacing on scrap fabric just to see how it will feel under multiple layers. I also knew this shirt had more of a casual feel so too much stiffness was unnecessary. 

Basting stitch allows for easier and more accurate pressing.

Elbe Textiles had some really great tips and tricks in the instructions to follow and test out along the way. Shirt making is really aided by accurate pressing at every step of the process. Doing a basting line of stitching at the hems really helps to get an accurate and even press line. This also makes it easier to topstitch in places like the cuffs, button stand and collar.

This make definitely forced me to slow down at a few points and step away for a broader look at all my options. But I was glad I took the time to make the necessary alterations for a better fit. This shirt is definitely a bold colour and print choice for me but I’m so excited to introduce more pieces like this to my wardrobe.

My top tips for shirt making:

  • Take your time! There is nothing better than having that perfectly schmick finish to a shirt because you allowed the time for clean finishes like topstitching and button holes.
  • Tools are your friends. A point turner for perfect collar points or bagged out cuffs, pressing tools (sleeve board, ham, clapper) for shape or flatness.
  • Pressing is essential. In many cases you cannot continue to the next step without a crisp press. This also helps settle the stitching into the fabric.
  • When unsure, re-read the instructions multiple times. Like in the Cornell, pattern makers usually work hard to make instructions understandable and extremely detailed. If it’s still not making sense, Youtube!
  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or look right in the process, don’t be afraid to undo it and try it again. Redoing is not failing.

Leave a Reply