Challenge shirt

It all started with an Instagram post from mainlymenswear of a vintage McCall’s pattern he found. This pattern had an interesting twist to the yokes, and it therefore intrigued me. So I made a remark that I should try to find it. To which Duane said; “you could probably draft this yourself!”

And with that, the challenge was created. I just could not go and buy it without at least trying to make the pattern first. With only the photos of the front and back of the pattern sleeve, I set out to recreate this as well as I could.

This pattern has a front and a back yoke that extend into the sleeves. Those sleeves themselves are made of two pattern pieces. The front below the yoke is cut on fold. It has a type of a camp collar, without a collar band. The two front yoke pieces come together without overlapping and don’t have any buttons, other than the usual camp collar loop and button at the very top. The yoke in both the front and the back angle down towards the middle. This gives the impression of a diamond shape if you look at it from the top. Specially if you use contrasting fabric, as one of the examples on the pattern sleeve does. And it has a front pocket whose opening is hidden in the seam of the front yoke.

Starting completely from scratch seemed silly, so I pulled out a pattern that had a similar collar. First approach was to just make a muslin and then start drawing on that. The combination of an old bed sheet, unfamiliarity with this pattern, and rushing made for a poor and unusable muslin. So I decided to go with my tried and true shirt pattern, new and good quality muslin fabric, and make a new one.

The first decision was to see how low I should make the yoke in the front come down. This would be dictated by the front opening. I figured that I should be able to wear it with the button undone. For that, the opening should not extend too low. I measured one of my shirts and decided on 4½ inches.
Looking at the pictures, it seemed that the yokes should extend beyond halfway down the sleeve, but not much more. That gave me two points to base all the changes to the pattern on. I used my dress form and some string to draw straight onto the muslin. Then transferred the measurements over to the original pattern pieces, and create new ones based on that.
To create a straight seam across the front for the yoke, I found that a straight line was close enough. But on the back you actually need to make a curve to make the seam look straight.

As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes. With the front piece, I forgot that the original pattern piece had seam allowances included when I transferred the measurements. So you see two sets of new seam lines there. Figuring out how to align the sleeve piece to that back piece so I could draw the new seam is still a mystery to me. I just winged it and it worked.
Now I could take the muslin apart and use it to create some of the new pieces. The body of this first try came together easily enough. Now it was time to address what I had dreaded; the collar.

I have drafted new collars and collar bands. Some of my art shirts have quite intricate collars. But I had never created a collar without a collar band. And I’m not as comfortable sewing shirts without collar bands either. Using another shirt as an example to work from wasn’t an option, since this shirt would not have a front button placket, and all my camp collar patterns do have that. I decided on the trail and error method. Just use paper to sculpt something that is close, tweak it a bit, make a new one, and repeat until you’re happy. Then transfer this to fabric, and see if you can figure out how to make the corresponding facing.

I’m not completely happy with the collar, I think the points are a bit too big, but I’m not going back to change them.

Here are all the pieces I ended up with (without the pocket piece, I still had to make that one):

While I was putting the final muslin together, it occurred to me that there’s a lot more to this than just making the pattern pieces. I have no construction instructions, and it is different enough to have the potential for lots of additional mistakes. I didn’t want top stitching, so (faux) French seams everywhere. The hardest part would be the sequence of sewing everything together.

To attach the front and back yokes, I would have to attach the sleeve pieces to the front and back first. I would not be able to sew the front yoke until I sewed the facings to the yoke because of how the facing must be caught in the French seam. But to sew the facings, I would need to have the collar in place. And for that the shoulder seam must be sewn. Since the shoulder seam extends all the way into the sleeves, the yokes must be attached to the front and back. A circular problem.

I was glad I was thinking of the construction while I was designing the pieces, so I could actually devise solutions before I needed them. In the end I decided to attach the front yoke half way, and make part of the (faux) French seam. This allowed me to sew the full shoulder seam and attach the collar. Once that was done, the facing could be attached and the final parts of the front yoke seam could be finished. Below you see part of the seam finished, while the rest is still pinned.

For all the headaches that the construction of the shirt itself caused, the one thing that went easily, yet that I thought would be a problem, was the hidden front pocket. Both the design and the construction was straightforward.

I’m rather pleased with the end result. Does it resemble the original McCall’s pattern? I don’t know. All I still have to go by are the two photos of the pattern sleeve. It doesn’t matter all that much though. I set out to make a shirt that looked like that one, and I think I succeeded in that. I (or Duane) challenged me and trying to meet that challenge felt great. And I ended up with another shirt, one I’m wearing now.

PS. Making a muslin is a very good idea. The 4½ inches of front opening was based totally on aesthetics. It also turns out to be just about the minimal opening size that I can still get my head through. Good thing I could test this before cutting into the real fabric. It would have been really funny if I would have made a shirt I could not actually put on.

Thanks for reading!

Mondrian shirt – Completion

Now that I have the design turned into fabric, it is time to create a shirt.

While I was still making sketches, I considered continuing the design onto the back, and even the sleeves. And the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea. Since one of the design ideas was that it should be wearable, the sleeves would move, and with it any lines that I’d try to continue onto them. In my mind, this would distract, instead of add to the design. And the pattern that I used for this shirt, a loose-fitted one, has pleats in the back where the yoke meets the rest of the fabric. This is a good feature, since I want the shirt to be wearable. But it also means that those pleats would seriously distort any type of geometric design I could come up with.

So I ditched that idea. And considering how much time it took to create the front, I’m not shedding any tears over that decision. I think I would have given up on the project if I had to do the back and the sleeves too.

To make it not completely boring, I added a strip of black to the bottom of the back yoke. And while I was sewing that together I saw that there was one black line that ran all the way across the front. I couldn’t help myself, I cut the back where this line would match up and inserted another black strip of fabric. At least the back would some decoration.

The sleeves were rather easy. Make a cuff that looks like a colour block, and do the same for the placket. The plackets would be yellow blocks with black lines, and the cuffs would be one red, and one blue. And I completely forgot to take any photos of the process.

Now only one thing was left; the collar. And if you have been following me on this blog, or Instagram, you know that I have a thing for collars. I couldn’t let myself get away with something simple. So it was literally back to the drawing board.

One thing was obvious; even though the black lines weren’t very wide, they were too big for a collar. The simple solution was to just make them half as wide. This would not be as big of an issue as I initially thought. These seams don’t have to be finished; they’re completely hidden inside the collar and only need to be pressed open. I would not have to make faux French seams here.

Initial design

There wasn’t really a method to creating the design. I made a collar stand from paper and made a rough paper collar that I taped onto it. Then drew on that to see what I liked. Matching the lines up with the horizontal and vertical lines on the shirts was the most pleasing. And, of course, it had to be asymmetrical.

Transferring this design onto fabric was finicky. The precision required to make it look nice was even higher than with the front of the shirt. But I didn’t have to do the seams finishes, and there were a lot less seams.

Now the only thing left were the buttons. I chose small black ones, on both sides of the wide placket. This would not disturb the symmetry, while being as unobtrusive as possible.

This was a great project, because it required so many new things of me. I needed to sketch, quilt, draft, and above all, not become frustrated with the tediousness of it all. There are a lot of things I learned, and there are many things I would do differently if I were to make another one. Yet, I’m very happy with it, and it feels good to finally (a year after the thought entered my brain) have it be part of my wardrobe.

Thanks for visiting!

Mondrian shirt – Construction

With the initial design finally done, it still had to be turned into real measurements. The best way to do this would be to make a full-sized front pattern piece from my favourite shirt pattern. This would allow me to see what decisions would look like.

The sketch provided me with the overall layout of the lines and areas. Now I had to decide the exact measurements of all those parts. One of the key dictating parts was the centre front. I figured that this should be a placket of sorts, and could therefore not be too wide. Having the black line be part of the placket seemed best to me. For the first try I used black lines that were 3/4″ wide. That only allowed for a middle section of about one and a half inches, too narrow for the design. So I shrunk the black lines to half an inch and the middle section to 2. This looked more balanced.

A lot of measuring followed and eventually I got to a representation of the sketch in exact measurements. At the same time I made a couple of small tweaks to the design.

Final design

The next phase would be figuring out the construction of the actual shirt. I had some requirements that had to be incorporated:

  • The design must be made of fabric. No printed patterns.
  • The shirt must be wearable.
  • All seams need to be finished.
  • No stitches on the right-side.

I quickly realised that although the colours of my fabric are very vibrant, the white, and the other colours to a lesser extend, are somewhat translucent. This is not an issue in and of itself, yet at the seams it may be. I would not want a darker colour to be shown through the lighter colour. So all seams would have to be pressed open, or towards the darker colour.

With my self-imposed limitation of not having any stitches or unfinished seams, it would have to be constructed with French seams. But I didn’t think I could be as precise with those as I would need for this project. And some experimentation proved me right, I couldn’t make those seams with a precision of less than 1/16″. I would have to sew the seam first, and then do the finish to get an acceptable result. No other solution would give me the precise parallel seams that something this geometrical requires. So the solution would have to be a mock French seam. Sew the seam first, iron both seam allowances into the seam, and then stitch them together. It would be just like a French seam, but with the stitches showing on the wrong side. Initial testing showed that this would be doable.

Going back to the final design, and the width of the black lines, I realised I did not have much space for the seam finishes. Two mock french seams would have to be pressed towards each other and fit inside the half an inch the black lines are wide. Seam allowances of 3/8″ would give me finished seams of 3/16″, and that would fit. It would be small and finicky, but it would fit.

With all of these decisions made, I could finally start cutting the pieces out. First a whole lot of long black strips, both vertically and horizontally cut, to keep the grain correctly. Then the coloured squares and rectangles. And then the white ones. I quickly figured out that I would have to keep track of each white piece, and where it is supposed to go. I wrote letters on the final design and attached pieces of paper to the white fabric as I cut them out. A whole stack of fabric pieces appeared that somehow had to become a shirt.

Now it just became an exercise of joining all the pieces together in the right sequence. I figured out before getting really into it that I had to join certain pieces before others. Basically try to do short seams before long ones.

I never dreamed it would be this much finicky work. Almost constant concentration for long periods of time. In the end I decided that I would only do half an hour to an hour at a time. Then do something easy – a different shirt – for the rest of the evening.

Slowly but surely the mosaic started to take shape. And after over 430 inches – almost 9 yards! – of mock French seams, I had the two front panels done.

Now all the was left for the fronts was to cut them out according to the pattern. That took quite a bit of courage. And measuring twice before cutting. Or maybe three times? I probably measured a dozen times before I dared to cut into it.

Thanks for reading.

Mondrian Shirt – The beginning

Almost a year ago I travelled to The Netherlands to visit my mom. I had a lot of time by myself while I was there and decided to play tourist in my own (former) country. In 2013, the Rijksmuseum opened its doors again after 10 years of renovation. I had been there since, and seen all the famous pieces that draw in all the tourists. But the museum is big, and there are a lot of things you will miss. So this time I decided to go there, skip all the usual, and find all the hidden gems. In the brochures online I had seen that there was a dress by Yves Saint Laurent, inspired by Piet Mondrian, a Dutch painter. This seemed like something I should not miss.

It is displayed all the way at the top of the building, in a far-away room. Unless you know what you’re looking for, are dedicated to see everything in the museum, or you’re lost, you would never find it.

This dress is part of a collection that YSL made in 1965 and became very popular after being on the cover of Vogue.

But to be honest, I wasn’t impressed. When I think of Piet Mondian, I think of more complex works. And the chair Rietveld made. This dress just left me wanting.

I spend quite some time looking at it from all angles. And I kept getting back at the same thought; I can do this better, with a shirt.

Weird, thinking you can improve on a famous designer. Although I wasn’t going to set out to create a new fashion trend, like YSL had done, it did seem rather arrogant. Yet the seed had been sown, and there was no turning back.

As with any bold adventure, it is very difficult to take the first step. I just let it play through my mind every now and then. The easy way would be to take one of his paintings, distribute it across some pattern piece templates on my computer, have it printed by Spoonflower onto fabric, and make a shirt. I have done that a couple of times with different art shirts. This seemed like the easy way out. And I didn’t think this would produce the vibrant colours that Mondrian used.

The alternative would be to create the cloth myself out of individual pieces of fabric. For that I would need to find the five colours – white, black, red, blue, yellow – in the same fabric. Looking at a couple of quilt shops did not provide me with what I wanted. The online store where I normally buy my trousers fabric, SellFabric.com, did.

The right weight, nice drape, nice colours, good price. The later was especially nice, considering I would need a yard of each colour and two or so of white. The only issue I found was that it bleeds like crazy. I must have washed each piece at least 6 times separately, adding Retayne to two of the washes. Eventually it stopped turning the water the same colour as the fabric. I’m not sure I trust it enough to actually wash the shirt once I’m finished.

With this hurdle completed, it was time to make the design. What an opportunity to procrastinate! “Let’s think about this for a while.
Of course, you can only tell yourself that for so long before you get cross with yourself.
I took an image of a dress shirt, removed as much detail as possible, and made a bunch of copies. This would let me design straight onto the ‘canvas’ and see what it would look like. One of my daughters provided crayons in red,blue, yellow, and black. Perfect!

This is a lot harder than I thought. The right combination of coloured areas, and the distribution of them and the black lines on the shirt, turned out to be anything but easy. All the while allowing for construction of the shirt.
I wanted the shirt to have a normal opening in the front. That basically gave me three options; a narrow placket the size of a black line, a normal sized placket, or a wide placket the size of the neck opening (like a double-breasted shirt). Using a narrow placket seemed to be problematic. The black lines should be really narrow, and that would allow the front to open between the buttons and show your chest. So I considered only a normal sized placket, and a wide one.

These to the left were my first three attempts. None of them I liked at all. Now, I’m not an artist, so that should not really have been a surprise to me.

Although I didn’t really know what was wrong with each of them, they did help me to sort of intuitively improve with each iteration. I would make one new attempt every couple of days to a week. The wide placket variation, which you see on the right in the photo, was voted out pretty soon in the process. I just didn’t really like how that looked. The numerous tries after that decision resulted in a table full of attempts and one I was finally happy with.

By now I was 8 months into the project, and needed another (procrastination) break.

Faces

When I’m busy with a difficult project, I sometimes take a little break to make something easy and familiar. This was the case with my winter coat project too. I felt that I had done enough pad stitching and basting, and needed to finish something. With plenty of fabric in my stash, it’s easy to just start a quick shirt.

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I’ve had this fabric for a while now, and even found some contrasting versions of it too. So I figured I’d make a quick shirt, with a contrasting collar. Maybe a contrasting front placket too.

img_1443I cut out the fronts, making sure I would match the pattern in the front. Then cut out the contrasting placket, and matching that to the underlying front pieces too. To make sure I had everything lined up correctly, I laid it out on my cutting table. And then it happened; my brain started going off the deep end again.

“This looks really nice and symmetrical. Why shouldn’t I do that to the back too?”

“Surely the back of a shirt can have a placket!”

“That would create even more symmetry in the shirt!”

That didn’t seem too bad. I got the rest of the pattern pieces out of my envelope and started unfolding them. And then looked at the sleeve and sleeve placket pieces…

“Another placket! That should be contrasting too!”

“If we’re splitting the shirt into two halves along the front and back, shouldn’t we do that along the sides too?”

“Can I make a placket all the way along the sleeve?”

And thus another challenge was born. My mind seems to have this quality to make life difficult for itself. I had to figure out how I would make a placket in the sleeve that would run all the way up. Since the normal place for the placket is not in the middle of the sleeve piece, and I wanted the placket to run all the way up to, and beyond, the shoulder, it would have to be at a slight angle. And only the first 8 or so inches would have to be open, the rest would just lay on top of the sleeve fabric. I figured this would be best with a two-piece sleeve placket.

img_1448Of course, all of this would have to match the fabric pattern. So the challenge began of getting each piece out of the limited amount of contrasting fabric. With the placket on the sleeves being at a slight angle, that was not as easy as it initially sounded. I had to change how to cut the sleeves from the main fabric to accommodate what contrasting fabric I had left. And even then, trying to get the collar and collar band to fit in the remaining fabric almost didn’t work.

The construction of the shirt was relatively easy. The ‘placket’ in the back and yoke is just a strip of fabric that is top-stitched onto each piece. The part of the side plackets that’s on the shoulder is sewn into the shoulder seam on one side, and top-stitched on the other side. Getting the pattern-matching correct here took a little effort, but not too bad.

The sleeves were more involved. I first cut out a strip of fabric that would match where it would end up. The bottom part of this had an extension on one side to accommodate the opening part.

A sleeve placket is sewn on the wrong side of the fabric, and then folded into place. This placket had to then exactly match the underlying pattern of the sleeve. To accomplish that, I basted it first. This gave me the opportunity to check the vertical alignment. The horizontal alignment doesn’t have to be too precise, because you can adjust that with where you make the fold by the initial seam. Sew a little inside the intended line and you have some playing room. Top stitching needs to be done in two phases, one above and one below the opening of the placket.

I really like the contrasting ‘stripe’ on the back and the sides. It is not something I would do on all my shirts, but I think it works well on this one. A little splash of colour in the monochrome theme brightens it up some.

One pocket from the contrasting fabric was all that I could do, there just wasn’t a matching piece left for the other pocket. And I think that looks fine.

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Thanks for reading!

NY shirt

Earlier this year I went with the family to New York for some relaxation. Talking about relaxing and New York in the same sentence seems rather contradictory, but I’ve never been a guy who can lay on the beach and do nothing for more than a minute. Anyway, it got me away from my normal busy work and I got to see some Broadway musicals.

Of course, I arranged to have a whole morning by myself to visit the garment district and do some serious fabric shopping. No shopping trip should miss out on B&J Fabrics, and I made it my last stop. The two times I’ve been there I’ve always felt overwhelmed by the amount of nice fabrics I want to bring home. 2018-11-21_08h28_42While looking at the wall of rolls with samples, trying to find an interesting pattern, I saw this little piece of cloth that looked like a cityscape. It was a really small print, but I thought it could make an interesting pattern. Much to my surprise it was a complete border print. And when I saw it I knew I wanted it. Vibrant colours, interesting pattern.

Now I had a different problem. I know I need about 3 yards of 46″ wide fabric for a shirt. But that is if I cut it out with the pattern pieces oriented to the warp of the fabric. With this print, I would have to orient them to the weft, 90 degrees rotated. I had never done this and had no clue what this would mean for the amount of fabric I would need. I did know that I would never forgive myself if I left the fabric here, or if I didn’t get enough. Chest circumference is 40 inches, a little over a yard. That would be the front and back pieces. Two sleeves can be cut from a 45 inch wide fabric, so another yard or so. Then I need space to manoeuvre the pattern pieces around to align them the way I want. So let’s double that to four yards. I’m probably making a mistake here, so let’s add another yard. Before I could talk some sense into myself or look at the price, I told them I wanted 5 and a half yards of it. I think I suppressed the memory of what they said the total cost was, I honestly cannot recollect.

After months of gathering enough courage, I washed it and cleared the kitchen island to get a good look at how I could position the pattern pieces on the fabric.

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To make absolutely sure, I traced another front pattern piece. The cityscape pattern would have to flow from one side to the other, and figuring that out would be easier if I could just lay the pieces on the fabric. Now I had to decide which parts I wanted to make sure I would include on the front, what should be the middle of the shirt, and how high the black parts would have to be. I normally wear my shirts tucked into my pants, and I would want some of the monochrome parts to be visible. The sleeves would have to be adjusted to that decision, so that they would match horizontally.

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Although you can see the back yoke piece situated on the fabric in the photo above, in the end the layout I chose didn’t allow me to use that part for it. The yoke had to match the back piece, and the colour difference between that part and the top of the back was enough to have me look for a different solution. None was readily available, and I opted to go for a different solution; make the yoke out of separate pieces. It is made out of three pieces, allowing the colours to blend as well as I could arrange them. The inside yoke is just a piece of white cotton.

Then came the collar. I wanted the vertical orientation of the pattern to be reflected in the collar too, both in the front and in the back. That meant that the collar needed to be a three piece solution too. The dress form was a great tool to construct this. The seams were positioned as extensions of the shoulder seam, so they would be less noticeable.

I also changed the shape of the points a bit to make them more dramatic. Just before I started on the collar I read a blog post from Duane. In it, he referenced this video that has changed how I’m doing collars now. I’m still working on getting this technique as perfect as the guy in the video, but every one I made since has been a lot better than any I made before seeing that. It was a bit scary to try a new technique on something I was so invested in. Seeing how well the collar points came out took away all hesitation.

The rest of the shirt construction went smoothly. Just the standard adding sleeves, making flat-felled seams, add cuffs, and hem it.

And then; buttons. Oops. No buttons I had looked right. And I have a lot of different coloured shirt buttons. It occurred to me that no matter how long I would look, I would never be happy with a button on the front. I should have anticipated this. I should have created a hidden button placket. Too late now. I felt really down, having made such a stupid mistake. I felt like I couldn’t finish the shirt to my satisfaction.

Then I realised that there are other options. Ones I hadn’t tried yet; snaps! Some Google research led me to Snapsource, who had so many colours, there should be something I could use. The Color Sampler helped with finding the right ones. I was a bit worried about placing them and aligning the pattern. With buttons I just put the buttonhole in the right place, align the fabric and stick a needle and thread through the hole. Now the button will be exactly in the right spot. You can’t do that with a snap. Or so I thought. Turns out that since I used ring snaps, I can just push a pin through and then mark where the bottom part needs to go.

This worked really well on the test piece, and all the snaps on the shirt came together easily. Definitely something I need to remember next time I’m using snaps. I did use buttons for the collar and cuffs. Those being on a monochrome background made it easy to find appropriate ones.

And with that, the shirt had been completed. I’m tickled how well the project turned out. I’m not going to call it an art shirt, since I didn’t design the fabric, or did anything really special with the construction. Yet it will go to the special area of my closet, only to be taken out on special occasions.

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Thanks for reading!

 

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Another art shirt. This time without a special print. Just nice white shirting fabric.

It is one of those ideas that had been sitting and brewing in my mind for a long time. Thinking about it, throwing the concept around, and never daring to give it a go. For at least three years I didn’t think I had the skills to make it. Until one day I got enough courage to try.

When I just started making shirts I looked at all the parts that make up a shirt. And pondered why they all were the way they were. And how you could change them. Different collars, different closures, different sleeves. I started looking at where the collar meets the placket. And then it struck me that a collar looks very much like a placket. Could I make a collar that turns into a placket? Or a placket that turns into a collar?

Making this possible would require a lot of experimentation on the dress form. Start with a shirt and a lot of paper, and keep tweaking until you have something that looks like what is in your mind. That was the plan.

There were multiple things I could do with the placket; have it extend from the collar in a diagonal and let it disappear somewhere in the side seam, go straight down the front, or some thing else? Down the front would not work, for you would not be able to make the collar turn into a placket smoothly. Making it go into the side seam seemed to distract from the concept I was trying to create. So I decided on making it go in a slow curve that would go down the right side of the shirt, just 4 or 5 inches right of centre.

I started with the collar pattern piece of my standard shirt, took off the seam allowance, and pinned it in place. Then added some paper to make the right side point straight down along the centre front. Traced that onto a new piece of paper and added a large piece to the left side. Pinned that in place and started sketching where the natural sweep of the collar would end up. With that established, I could start sketching where the curve down the front would end up on a larger piece of paper.

The transition from collar to the front of the shirt presented some issues. It was rather difficult to get it to follow the contours of the form. To solve this I started from both ends, the collar on one side, and bringing the placket up from the other. Then join them where they would meet, at the junction of the shirt front and the collar band. This turned into an interesting pattern piece.

With the collar drawn, I could start transferring the parts onto my regular pattern pieces. Using the centre front of the shirt and the collar band as a reference, I just positioned them on top of each other and traced onto a new piece of paper. It is a tracing paper I buy from art supply stores that I use almost exclusively for my pattern drawing and tracing. It is not flimsy, easy to see through, and available in long rolls of different widths.

What I could not figure out well was the shape the collar band should get. The collar is supposed to flow from collar to placket, but the collar band cannot flow into the front piece. The collar band would have to remain separate. I decided to just leave extra fabric on it on the left side and sculpt it while it was on the form. Even using the muslin to figure this out didn’t give me consistent results.

I had some beautiful dobby shirting in my stash that seemed perfect for this project. Making these weird pieces was an interesting experience. Only the back, the yoke, and the sleeves were normal. All the rest made me feel like I was learning how to make garments all over again. Because of the weird shapes, it also took a lot more fabric than a shirt normally would. Specially the collar and the back of the right-side placket.

The construction of the collar band went a lot easier than I expected. I just kept tweaking the end of the fabric until it sat right. Then I marked the crease and sewed along the marked line. After that I could attach the collar / placket and I could continue with the shirt construction as normal.

This design of the placket created a hidden button feature that went well with the overall look I was going for. Figuring our where the buttons should be took a little experimenting. I didn’t want to have a button every half an inch, and their position alters how well the front sections follow the contours of the body. There is still a slight ripple from my right shoulder to the collar / placket that shows sometimes. I couldn’t get rid of that without adding more buttons, or introducing other imperfections elsewhere.

This was a very fun project to do. Having thought about it for so long before I actually began its construction made a lot of the details easily fall into place. It turned out pretty much exactly as I had envisioned.

Why the question mark? Throughout the project I kept thinking that the main feature of the shirt looked like one.

Thanks for reading.

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The Rainbow Shirt

Or the Skittles Shirt, as my daughters like to call it

Some four years ago, Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness revealed Micheal’s Crossword Puzzle Shirt. And I just knew that I have to have one too. Peter documented the name and manufacturer of the fabric well, so obtaining that was not an issue. I wanted this to be a fitted shirt, and my only fitted shirt pattern was McCall’s 8889. This has a hidden button placket, instead of a sewn-on placket in Peter’s version. Wanting to copy the master’s vision, I figured I’d set out to adapt my pattern to include a different placket.

This meant I would have to make a muslin to test the changes I made. Specially since this was in the infancy of my sewing days and I didn’t quite know what I was doing with pattern changes. The changes turned out fine and the crossword shirt was made.

I ended up with a great shirt, and a very fine muslin. A really well done muslin. Seemed like it would be silly to let it go to waste. Some short sleeves were added and it almost looked like a real shirt. But it was white. Very white. Boringly white. And I was not in the business of making boring garments. Something had to be done.

Since the whole shirt was already constructed, there wasn’t much I could do with pleats, bibs, etc. The only thing that I hadn’t finished were the buttons. And with that a plan was beginning to take shape; what if I use different coloured buttons?

This created a quest to find identical, but differently coloured buttons. That shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. Wrong. None of the fabric and quilting stores around here had more than 4 colours of the same shirt buttons. I even had my daughters go through pots of old buttons in one of the stores, trying to find matching ones. Nothing.

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All the way from Thailand!

I decided to continue the quest online and came across these at an Etsy store. Only being $6 for 100 buttons, I felt that I could not go wrong. Patience was required, as they had to come all the way from Thailand!

When they finally came, there were many more colours than I had expected. I was hoping for some 7 or so that would complement each other well. Here I was with over 20 different colours and all were fun. How to decide which colours I should use?

Many different combinations were created by each member of the family. One thing we figured out quickly was that we all had our own favourite ones. Then it came to me. Why limit myself to the usual 7 buttons down the front? If I have so many colours, why not use them all? And with that, The Rainbow Shirt was born!

Measuring the placket on the front and looking at how many buttons I could use, I came to the conclusion that 1 inch spacing would be good. This in contrast to the normal 3 to 3½ inch spacing you see on shirts. That would be a lot of buttons and button holes. And after 23 button holes and 23 buttons, the shirt was done.

rainbowI wore it to that year’s Christmas dinner of my partner’s company with some boring slacks and a sports jacket. Lots of remarks, and all very positive. Great evening, good company, nice food, and a lot of dancing.

The next day I threw it in the laundry, so it would be ready for the next time. And when that next time arrived I noticed something alarming. This was a fitted shirt. And the pattern fits me nicely. And I made the shirt precisely to the pattern. Using nice muslin fabric. That I hadn’t washed before using it! The shirt had shrunk quite a bit during the laundry. So much so that I couldn’t close the collar anymore, and there was absolutely no ease across the chest. I really could not wear the shirt anymore. After all this time spend on it (do you know how long it takes to sew on 23 buttons?) the shirt was relegated to the back of the closet.

That was three and a half years ago. Ever since the day I put it away it bothered me. It was a good shirt. It deserved a version 2.0! So a couple of months ago I finally bought some nice white shirting fabric and I set out to make the exact same shirt. This was a new experience for me. I had remade a RTW shirt, and remade design failures. But I hadn’t made a shirt I had already made exactly like the original. And I had to, I didn’t feel like there was anything about the shirt I should change.

The construction was a breeze. The only things I did differently from my normal shirt construction is that I added the button holes and buttons before attaching the front panels to the other parts of the shirt. With 23 button holes to make, it’s a lot easier to have a small piece of fabric to manoeuvre than the whole shirt. It just takes some precision to know where to start the first button and hole.

The only issue was that when I marked the top of the sleeve to align it with the shoulder seam, I grabbed a ballpoint that was not a frixion. How that pen ended up in my sewing accoutrements, I will never know. But my heart almost stopped when I saw that while ironing, the mark didn’t disappear. After some testing I found that Shout! and generous amounts of bleach will take care of it. The pen has been relegated to the waste bin.

I’m really happy with how this turned out the second time around.

And here are they both together:IMG_0908

Thanks for visiting!

Dogs

Time for another art shirt

It started at a dinner party last year. I was wearing my Singing Butler shirt and people were asking questions about it. My partner’s boss made a remark along the lines of “if I’d ever get a shirt like that, I’m sure it would be of the Dogs Playing Poker.” And so a challenge was started.

You see, this boss is a very conservative guy when it comes to clothes. Slack and sports jacket, maybe jeans and a sports jacket on Friday. My partner and I decided that this would be a great practical joke.

I didn’t really think this would be a art shirt, that painting is not something you think of when discussing art. Then I started to research it a bit and found out that it is actually a series of paintings, and some of them have recently been sold for well over half a million dollars. So I’m going to keep referring to this as an art shirt, even though it really was started as a prank.

I wasn’t going to spend too much time on making this a perfectly executed shirt, since it probably wouldn’t be worn very much. And it had to be a surprise. So with the help of his wife we took one of his shirts while he was on a business trip and took some measurements. With those I adapted a pattern a bit and started the design of the fabric.

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We decided that there wasn’t really anything smart and funny we could do with the arms. So those would be made of a different, solid coloured fabric.

That just left the back and the front to be made out of panels cut of the painting. To get a better distribution, I compressed it horizontally somewhat.

I did want to do something fun with the collar. So I found some photos of cards, tweaked, mirrored and shaped them somewhat. It could work, or I could use the fabric for the sleeves if it didn’t.

And after some weeks of waiting, the fabric came.

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The construction of the shirt itself was rather easy. No strange construction needed, just a basic shirt.

I was going to take more photos of the shirt by the person actually wearing it. But when my partner gave it to him for his birthday, he actually took the packet home and didn’t open it until there. Apparently, he has worn it for his wife and she liked it. I haven’t seen it other than on a bad mobile phone picture. So here is the only photo I have of the completed shirt (sans burttons):

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The Singing Butler

After my first Art Shirt worked out so well, I needed to make another one. I knew this even before I finished making the first. This is in stark contrast with the first shirt. I don’t really recall when I decided to try to make that one. It started probably with seeing the Great Wave painting and then slowly figuring out that I could make a shirt with that.

Since I already knew I wanted to make another Art Shirt, I had to find a subject. This turned out a lot harder than the the process of starting with a painting and moving towards a shirt. Obvious classics like Starry Night and The Scream didn’t appeal to me. Those have been used for too many things by too many people.

Then one night while browsing through classic paintings I came across The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano, and I knew I had a good one. Nice composition with the subjects in the middle, and enough flexibility for me to do things with.

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Just like with The Wave, there were items I could use for the collar; the umbrellas in this case. But where I could use a mirror image of The Wave for the back of the shirt, I didn’t think that would work well here. I didn’t want to have two couples on a beach. That meant that I would have to create an empty beach. This would add significantly to the required Photoshop work.

backAfter measuring I realized that if I would tuck the shirt in my pants, I would cut off the couples’ legs. More Photoshop work to add more beach at the bottom of the painting, including new shadows and reflections for everyone. The maid and the butler would be moved to the sleeves, and the umbrellas to the collar.

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Full 3 yards of fabric design

With those general decisions made, I could start with the design of the fabric. This phase went pretty well, and the way it is painted made tweaking it not all that hard.

Then I had to make a decision on what to do with the front closure. I considered having the two sides split between the dancers, with the lady on the right and the gentleman on the left. The way their arms were held made that too difficult. I figured I would put both the dancers on the left front of the shirt and have the closure follow the outline of the lady. Then how to close then shirt? Showing buttons on the front would ruin the image. Using something like velcro would never sit right. Hidden buttons it would have to be. But I also didn’t want to have any top stitching show.

After researching this and even asking for ideas on The Cutter and Tailor forum, I decided on making a double-layered front with buttonholes in the hidden layer. I tested this first with a muslin and it worked pretty well. Making the whole front a double layer keeps the buttons from pulling the fabric into strange twists.

Now I would have to wait a good three weeks for the fabric to be printed and arrive at my doorstep.

Since the button placket is basically the whole dancing figures, I interfaced that, and the band above and below it.

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Applying the interfacing to the right front. The additional inner layer is on the left.

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Joining both layers of the right front so I can treat them as one.

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Stitches within the seam allowance. This will be cut off once the shirt has been constructed.

For the left front I first had to make the inner layer, complete with the button holes in strategic places. This inner layer is partly made of a mirror image of the front. Once this was done, I could join both along the couple’s left side. Basting the layers together by hand first while checking the position of the layers, and going ever so slow on the machine made for a good result.

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Basting the layers together. Button holes are already made

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Small stitches and lots of patience.

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Draped the fronts on the dressform

Next task was the collar. Although this one was more elaborate than your average collar, it was still a lot easier than making the one for The Big Wave. One umbrella on each side and hopefully I had designed the distance between them correctly. This brings up an interesting tidbit; when you design the fabric for something like this, you have to keep in mind that the fabric will shrink before you get to sew with it. Knowing that your collar needs to be 19″ long, tip-to-tip means that you have to create the design to be 19″ times shrink-factor. Turning the collar was relatively easy.

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Cutting the interfacing

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Collar ready. Just over 19″, good enough.

And this is where the smooth sailing hit the cliffs. After attaching the collar to the stand and then to the shirt, I didn’t like the small, minimalistic collar stand I had envisioned. And the angle of the umbrellas didn’t look quite the way I wanted them. I was so upset with the result, the seamripper came out immediately and I took it off before taking a photo. Here is the offending item:

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Wrong, wrong, wrong.

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Two more yards of fabric

After putting that aside, I focused my attention to the sleeves. And found another set of cliffs. I had swapped the width and height measurements for the sleeve parts and designed the fabric wrong! The parts were wider than high, while the opposite is required. Now I knew I had to redesign the fabric and order some more. Things like this is why these projects always turn out to be rather expensive. I did make sure to include two new versions of the collar, some extra cuffs and collar stands.

Of course, this gave me some weeks to focus on other things before I could continue with the project.

When the new fabric arrived, was washed three times and ready for use, I had to decide how to mount the sleeves. Since I had to order two yards of fabric, I had designed the patterns for the sleeves with a lot of extra space around them. This way I could change where the maid and the butler would end up on the sleeve. To figure out the final placement, I basted the sleeves to the body without cutting the fabric out first. It seemed an easy idea at first, and turned into more work than I anticipated. Sewing without seam allowances to line up is harder than I thought.

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Following a hardly visible chalk line.

It took a couple of tries to get them lined up the way I wanted them. The rest of the sleeve construction went without a flaw. As you may have noticed, I forgot to include plackets in the fabric design. Luckily I could use the incorrectly designed sleeves to cut the plackets from.

Now that I had the sleeves in place, I had to decide on how to make the umbrella shafts. While going through the creation of the fabric, I had deliberately photoshopped them out of it. This so I could later add them when the placement of the sleeves and collar were finalized. While researching this, I came across a technique called ‘couching‘. One site I found said you could replace the bottom thread with the decorative thread, adjust some tensions, and sew it upside down. Never too shy to experiment, I tried this. First tries were not so great, but after playing with the settings some, I really liked the effect.

Since the decorative thread is on the bobbin, you cannot see the right side of the fabric while you’re sewing. I had to draw the line I wanted to follow on the inside of the shirt by poking pins in at regular intervals and connecting these. Then put it under the machine and hope for the best.

With the shirt construction completed, all that was left was adding the buttons in the right place. This is where my pattern matching obsession really helped out. I just had to look where in the pattern the button hole was and then just add the button in the corresponding spot on the other front.

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Closing the buttons is something to get used to. The buttonhole only goes through the first layer of the front, not through the second one. So you cannot manipulate the button once it is partly through the hole. Not extremely practical, but it looks the way I wanted it.

Here are some photos of the completed shirt.

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Happy shirt maker

Thanks for reading. Reactions are appreciated.