Although making a shirt for Joey had been mentioned casually before, it wasn’t at the top of my list until I found the most gorgeous checked brushed flannel in the Fabric Counter in Dublin during my annual city break with my sister. I knew there and then that the fabric was coming home with me, and it was going to be made into a Fairfield Shirt from Thread Theory for my lovely boyfriend. I purchased 1.5m, which came to 11.25 Euros (approx. £10.00).
The colours are so saturated, and it is so utterly, deliciously, scrumptiously soft that Joey was super impressed too. The holiday was at the end of February (Covid-19 was just becoming something that we were all rather aware of: an awareness that was starting to border on anxiety), and I am so glad we slipped in that holiday before everything that this year turned into.
Once home, I prewashed the fabric twice which must have been sheer enthusiasm, as I normally only prewash the once. However, during the second wash the fabric sadly piled. It possibly isn’t going to be the longest lasting shirt, therefore, or the hardest wearing, but it will be well used, I am sure. In fact, the day after it was finished it was already being worn: always a good sign.
Now, as I said, I holidayed in Dublin in February, but this is me only having just made the shirt in October. And the main reason for that is that I was nervous: I’ve never made a sleeved shirt before (I made a sleeveless shirt for myself several years ago) and it all seemed a bit scary.
Firstly, it was a case of deciding on a size. I settled on a medium around the shoulders, small from the armsyce down to the hem, and a large in the length of the sleeves (but a medium in the width). I kept the length of the body as a large too. It felt a bit pick-n-mix and without having made a shirt before, I wasn’t feeling very confident but in the end I just had to go for it. And so that’s what I did.
The soft fabric was a bit of a nightmare to cut out and I definitely made things harder for myself by choosing a check for my first shirt. I did what I could, and matched across the front, and up the back, trying to keep the balance of the colours right. In the end it’s not quite perfect: the back doesn’t quite continue into the yoke as intended, but there’s been some wins too. The continuation across the sleeve plackets was truly accidental, but looks great. With the front, although the check is cut off vertically, it matches horizontally and now that I know how it all goes together I will find my second shirt much easier to plan out. In fact, making it up in a check possibly educated me in terms of balance and proportion – I have gained an understanding of how that placket eats fabric and so on.
The sewing experience was great. The fabric was shifty, yes, but it pressed beautifully and the pattern just came together so nicely. The front placket is a thing of wonder, and it was so interesting to see how it all came together. I was very careful to pattern match the pocket and basted it in place after careful pinning – it is a bit low, but I really didn’t have enough fabric left to cut out another pocket that would match further up. When sewing the pocket in place, I carefully it so that it matched the pattern perfectly, and then decided to change to my walking foot, and ended up leaving this on for the remaining sew – it is a revelation, this walking foot, and, along with the knee lifter, has revolutionised my sewing. I highly recommend both bits of kit.
I basted the yoke to the back as the instructions recommend, and then discovered a real pattern cutting mistake: I had a narrow border of the adjacent square peeking through the bottom of the yoke. It looked really bad, so I decided to sew the yoke with a larger seam allowance (it originally called for 1cm) in order to have the yoke starting on a square. The seam allowance on just the yoke (I kept the back at 1cm) ended up being 18mm and I just crossed my fingers and hoped that it wouldn’t skew the sleeves / balance of the shirt too much. In the end it has not, although it may have contributed to my difficulties in setting in the sleeves, however I don’t think you’d ever notice. Despite the fact that the centre square doesn’t quite line up (le sigh) the yoke looks 1000x better than it did in the first place, so I am happy enough.
The pattern is great for breaking down into sections, each of which is an evening sew. I cut out at the weekend so that I could get some natural light, and then did the pocket over one evening, the back pleat and yoke (including fixing the shoulder seams) over the next evening, and as the next step was the sleeve plackets – another scary step – it made good sense to leave that for the following evening too. Thus my evenings passed. I traced out the markings for the sleeve placket on the Thursday evening, intending to get that ticked off on the Friday, but to be frank I’d had a really full on day at work and my brain just wasn’t in the right place. Saving it for Saturday meant I could concentrate and make serious progress.
Turns out the sleeve plackets weren’t the difficult part. I mean, my next ones will be better, but the flat felled seams around the sleeve was a nightmare. I think I may have stretched the sleeve head at some stage, or else the slightly reduced yoke could have played a part but whatever the reason I could hardly ease the left sleeve head in. Then, to get it to fold neatly and without wrinkles was almost impossible. The right one went in much easier so I am sure the mistake was mine.
After that palaver, I decided to do the side seams with the flat felled seams on the inside, to hide any messiness. This I did, but they went pretty smoothly so I think they would have been fine on the outside.. next time. One amazing thing about this pattern is that you’re left with not one single exposed seam. Everything is neatly tucked away and it gives such a lovely look overall.
A couple of mistakes were made: I missed, when the instructions said to stay stitch the neckline, the word scant which meant that I then had to make the seam allowance slightly wider to cover my stay stitching when I attached the collar stand. Unpicking wasn’t a real option as for the stay stitching I’d chosen a tiny thread length, and the colour of the thread perfectly matched some of the fabric strands and they were too easy to pull by mistake (ask me how I found this out). I have also misread the instructions – or had a brain flump – and sewn in the collar the wrong way up, which means that the under collar is now the upper collar, unfortunately. I only noticed once I’d finished the shirt, so the decision to leave it be (keep it secret: tell no one) was easy. Sometimes we pick our battles, and this is one I decided to sidestep around. No one will notice, I am sure.
What an experience though, because all of a sudden, I had a shirt! Joey picked out an ironic ‘This is the Back’ label from KATB (purchased from Guthrie and Ghani) for the back neckline, and then the hem and the buttons were all that were left. Phew! We were going on a mini-mini break at the weekend, so suddenly I had two nights to finish them in. Thursday night I finished the hem, which I actually reduced from length ‘large’ by 1.5cm, and then did a 1.5cm hem too – and then did the button holes on Friday and sewed on the buttons in front of a film. The gorgeous buttons are from Textile Garden, and are just sumptious. Perhaps it would have been more obvious to go for plain black, but I think the wooden ones are just perfect. I love the wee buttons on the sleeve plackets, and of course as nothing is plain sailing, I ran out of thread while sewing the buttonholes which meant that I got all but one of the body buttons on in the lovely red (Gutermann colour 369), and had to do the lowest buttonhole in a dark navy (colour 95 – this is one of my most used thread colours, it’s gorgeous and much better than a flat black) which I also did the sleeve buttons in. I added one in gold – colour 106 – as per Joey’s request. Most things I have made for him have a small yellow feature and he seems to want that to continue 🙂
The size seems perfect. On our mini break, Joey wore it with a short sleeved t-shirt underneath one day, and a long-sleeved t-shirt the following day, but the photos show it with nothing underneath. He said it fitted really nicely every which way, which is perfect. It’s so soft and warm-feeling that I imagine it will be reached for often as we come into winter, and to me the fabric is an absolute win: he suits it so much. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?!
Overall, I loved this experience. I just can’t quite believe I did it. I recently listened to the Love to Sew podcast episode about Maker Affirmations, and in it Maressa Fernandez talked about taking pleasure in the wee successes such as a nicely sewn seam etc. And, well, I couldn’t help thinking that this shirt making experience has been up there with the best. Every wee step, or every evening of sewing, seemed to result in tangible progress. I have gained such satisfaction from making this, and while I know it’s not perfect, I still look at it with utter adoration. If you’ve never made a shirt before and are tempted to try, I highly highly recommend it, just let me know if you do!
And a PS. A few of you have expressed an interest in hearing more about our trek that we did this summer. You can read all about it, and see more photos, on my writing website: www.heatherbeaton.co.uk. Enjoy!