Sewing the M&M Ellsworth shirt for Backstitch

The Backstitch store at Burwash Manor near Cambridge.

As one of the new team of Backstitch Ambassadors I relished the chance to go along to the gorgeous shop at Burwash Manor to browse their fabrics and patterns. It’s about 40 minutes from where I live and I love to go there whenever I get an opportunity, I’ve previously included it in this round-up of Hertfordshire based fabric shops. To be completely honest, I already had an idea that I would like to make the newish Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt but I had an open mind about fabric choice. In my head I was looking for a lightweight linen-type but as soon as my eyes alighted on the checked double gauze I was all in for that! It was folded on the bolt with the large check visible on the outside but when I discovered the reverse was small checks my mind was blown and I knew I could mix the two sides to create a unique garment. There are currently 4 colours available but I settled on the pretty shell pink variation. I took 2 metres as per the pattern instructions but after cutting it out (and as I’ve found before with M&M patterns) I had almost 50cms left over, even allowing for pattern matching. It’s very annoying when this happens and I’ve made a note for next time. I cut a straight UK 12 with no mods.

I loved the elliptical pearly buttons but there were only two of the pink shade left so I made do with two pink and four ivory. Backstitch have quite a wide selection of buttons, trims, and ribbons plus lots of other haberdashery and sewing equipment including Brother sewing machines.

The Ellsworth is quite typical of M&M’s aesthetic, it is a very wide and loose fit shirt with a stepped hem, a collar and button placket and cropped, cuffed sleeves. It will lend itself towards fabrics which have an element of fluidity and drape such as soft linen or cotton-types, light woollens, crepe, chambray or babycord. Some light- or medium-weight jerseys would probably be okay but I wouldn’t recommend ones with a lot of stretch. 

Another reason for choosing this shirt (apart from the fact I liked it anyway) is because I had seen a few makers on Instagram were having trouble interpreting the instructions for the placket. I hope what follows will give you a bit more information and guidance. 

Away we go…

Definitely give your fabric a wash first, its light loose weave will shrink a little (it will be very crinkly when it comes out of the machine but don’t panic, it will press flat again. You may ultimately prefer the crinkles but they will be hard to work with during the making process so press as you go for now)

If you are a person with no patience when it comes to laying up your fabric, or time is tight, then this may not be the fabric choice for you because it does need some careful laying up and folding to get the checks straight and matching [or you could cut every piece on the flat to save on the head scratching] There were a couple of places where, in spite of my best efforts I was bit off but I won’t tell you where they were and you might not notice anyway! It does have the advantage of the large check being 3cms square and the reverse is 1cm squares so a 1cm or 1.5cm seam allowance shouldn’t be a problem to follow.

The problematic placket is made first so here’s my interpretation of the instructions for you. Begin by interfacing all pieces as instructed (although I interfaced the whole placket rather than half as the fabric is quite fine and a bit unstable)

Mark the bottom of where the placket will be sewn on with tailor’s tacks or a soluble marker pen then stay stitch just within the seam allowance, at 1.4cm (14mm) to reinforce the area. For visual reference, the large squares are my right side, the small squares are the wrong side of the fabric.
Cut down the centre front line and carefully snip diagonally into the corners.
Fold and press each of the two placket pieces down the centre and then press in the seam allowance on one edge only. Trim this by half
Next, pin each unpressed edge onto either side of the slit, right sides together.
Stitch each side in position down as far as the tailor’s tacks, you should stop a little bit short of the bottom edge.
Trim down the seams by half.
Now flip the work over so that you have the wrong side uppermost. Press the seams in towards the placket piece on the left as you look at it then fold over like this, pin and tack in place. Now turn the work back over again.
Working with the right side uppermost, edgestitch the placket you have prepared.
Keeping the right unfinished placket out of the way, you need to position the left placket (the one you have just sewn) layered like so with the triangle at the base of the slit. Carefully stitch just below the original staystitching. This is with the inside of the work uppermost, neaten the edge and press downwards.
Now work on the right placket (it is on the left as you look at it though) Fold up the lower edge as demonstrated here, pin and tack in place. Edgestitch on the right side of the placket only as far as the bottom, do not sew across the bottom yet. Now work your buttonholes while the placket is still separate.
After working the buttonholes, lap the placket over the underneath one and stitch it in position like this.
You should now have a placket which looks something like this.

Next I moved on to the sleeve opening which is neatened with a very narrow bias strip.

I found the bias strip included to be incredibly narrow, especially for a fabric which is loose weave and a bit prone to fraying so you may want to cut your strips a little bit wider. I made the strips work but they were very fiddly. Instead of edgestitching as per the instructions I sewed them with a tiny zigzag which I hope will hold them firmly in place. Or you could slipstitch them by hand if you prefer. Next, fold the bias evenly in half and stitch across the top at a 45 degree angle, I’m not sure if the diagram intends you to sew through the sleeve too, I didn’t.
The way I’ve sewn it, once it’s finished, the sleeve opening and cuff looks like this.

The hem facings are sewn on next, then join the shoulders using French seams. This is a useful technique if your fabric is very fine, sheer, or frays badly, or if you don’t own an overlocker. Obviously you can sew a flat seam and overlock/zigzag if you prefer. You could also topstitch these seams if you want a bit of interest on them. My personal preference is to press shoulder seams to the front, this is so that the seam is slightly less visible when looking at it.

I found the collar instructions straightforward so I won’t go into them as well, I opted to catch the lower edge down by hand so that I had control over it and a really neat finish. I also added a label from Little Rosy Cheeks.

Inside the finished collar

The sides are then French seamed, be careful with the step at the lower edge and make sure you don’t take too much seam allowance on the seams because this could throw out the overlap at the top of the opening. I used the bartack stitch on my Pfaff to secure it as this could be a point of weakness further down the line.

I opted to sew two rows of edgestitching along the top of the hem facings, just to add a bit of interest.
Finally, the cuffs are sewn on and the buttons added.

all finished

I’m all in Merchant and Mills today, these are their Eve trousers in cream drill which I bought at their Rye store back in September 2021.

I cut a straight UK 12 with no modifications and I’m 5’5” tall but if you’re taller you might want to lengthen the shirt as it’s quite cropped at the front.

I’m very pleased with how the Ellsworth has come out, I’ve worn it with flat-front Eve trousers but it will look good with a skirt or even a dress under it for layering. I’m going to have a look through the stash to see what other fabrics I can make it in now!

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write for Backstitch because it’s a lovely little shop which I’ve been visiting for a few years now. It’s in a beautiful rural location and sells a really nice, well-considered range of quality fabrics and indie patterns and sewing books. As Ambassadors we are provided with gift vouchers to shop in the store, it’s entirely up to us what we make and how much of those vouchers we spend, the balance can be kept to spend on another occasion if we choose to. If you don’t live anywhere near enough to pay a visit yourself then Backstitch has a recently revamped website to shop through too, their range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns are all on there too.

I hope you have found my review useful, that’s always my intention, do write in the comments if there’s something which still isn’t clear and I’ll try to help.

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

15 thoughts on “Sewing the M&M Ellsworth shirt for Backstitch

  1. Thank you so much! I love your blog, but haven’t sewn for ages now as I’m bogged down with homework from my college course. You look fabulous in this shirt, I absolutely love it and you’ve inspired me to get sewing again!

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  2. I love the fabric choice for this shirt, and how it had two different faces which you used so effectively. Your construction details were terrific – as a former sewing teacher these details can be so helpful. While the body of the shirt is quite boxy, the connected sleeves look fairly fitted with not much ease. Do you think it would work well for someone who is buxom? Thank you for this post!

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    1. Hi Beth, thank you for your kind words. The sleeves are definitely quite slim (although they get proportionally bigger with each size of course) so it might be worth checking your forearm measurements first and adding a little extra if there’s a risk this could be a bit tight. I don’t think the bicep is so likely to be snug though.

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  3. Thank you Susan, love the Ellsworth you made. I’m just about to embark on the placket for my first make, so I’m extremely grateful for your blog. I feel much more confident now although I’ve been sewing for years and usually find M&M patterns relaxing, I was anxious about tackling that placket!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This has been very useful, thanks for sharing. I do wish you had included some photos of the collar construction, though. I realise it’s straightforward but I have only ever sewn one collar and I immediately found that the collar stand didn’t quite fit the under collar. Some pics for those of us who don’t find it so straightforward would have been very welcome! 😊

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