The Longest Journey (of a shirt)

In which I draft a fitted shirt from a sloper…

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When I picked up sewing 3 years ago, the indie pattern companies glittered like a magical girl group, using their Hearts and the Power of Friendship to help me learn to sew. Supporting small businesses over corporations is important to me, but I took for granted how much work goes into a pattern and getting the right fit for a wide array of sizes.
(Click here to skip the intro)
I trusted the patterns I was buying were drafted well and made with care. But I kept running into issues that I attributed to my own naivete. As I gained more experience, and took more care with my projects, that notion bothered me.

Recently, I discovered my discontent wasn’t exclusive to me. Many others felt the same disillusionment, the same disappointment in the magical girl patterns as I did. The fit issues I’ve encountered weren’t due to my lack of skill (most of the time), they were due to problems in the blueprint.

I felt lost.

I know, there’s the Big 4, but I have a strong aversion to them from my botched Middle School attempts to make my own clothes. I really want to avoid using them. But who can I trust?

So I began the search for tutorials to make my own sloper. I landed on one from Madalynne, which was more visual than verbal, acting like a big geometry problem.

The tute was easy enough to follow, but my poor first round of measuring left me with a bad sloper. After another 2 tries, I had it right. I created a muslin complete with a zipper to test it out. I made a front, back, and sleeve sloper.

(I used another Madalynne tute to make the sleeves. I used a french curve ruler to make the initial curves but edited them by hand.)

The next step was taking that sloper and turning it into something. I really wanted a fitted shirt.

Converting the sloper to a shirt pattern was a bit tricky. I had no idea where to start.

****Warning: I’m no expert, I’m no drafter, the following could all be rubbish****

I knew I wanted to add a bust dart, so first I did a slash’n’spread to create the space for one. I rotated the side seam inward until it pointed toward the waistline. This also condensed the waist darts a bit.

To create the full diamond-shaped waist dart, I traced my existing dart, folded it in half at the middle, and traced again. Voila! A waist dart.

I ended up having to move the darts a few times to get the placement right on the front. For the back, I folded up the little shoulder dart before cutting my fabric and I doubled the back waist darts without changing their size or position.

Going through 4 muslins, I made the following adjustments:
-lengthened the front waist dart by 3″, further tapering the bottom point
-removed excess fabric between bust/armscye
-lowered the bust dart .5″
-added length to front armscye to match sleeve by adding curve and .25″ to side seam                   –reduced the sleeve cap height by .5″

Finally, I used a modified version of the Melilot’s collar pieces, placket allowance, and button placement for the deets.

Since then I’ve made 3 shirts from this pattern. Each has gotten progressively better, due in part to improving my technique for marking and sewing the darts.

I have begun marking the middle of the waist darts and the top/bottom edges of all the dart points with chalk. At about 1″ away from the dart point, I reduce my stitch length from 2.5mm to 1.4mm and begin to taper towards the marked end point. The goal is to have the last 4-5 stitches right on the fold of the fabric and still terminate at the marked end point. This has greatly improved the fit over the bust with no puckering at the dart tip.

I started this project around Thanksgiving and have only felt completely satisfied with the pattern now in February. It’s not perfect but I am so proud of myself. The shirt fits great and it looks like a shirt!

The really cool part, however, is I’ve used this pattern to make 3 other patterns already. They didn’t take nearly as long as the hard work of drafting and achieving the proper fit have been done. I’ll share those sometime, too!

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