I’ve made loads of different clothes over the decades but actual shirts for myself have not tended to be among them. I’m not sure why, possibly because I had to wear boring school shirts for years and years, and for a while I had to wear a uniform when I worked for the John Lewis Partnership so my personal preference has tended to softer blouse shapes. That said, I love to see a crisp white shirt especially when it’s given an inventive twist. It’s a wardrobe staple and yet there’s always room for a new version.
Lucy at Trend Patterns has just released the first 3 patterns of what will become a shirt collection and each is available printed, as a PDF or as a complete kit with pattern, fabric and trims. TPCSH1 is a feminine Pussy bow top with shirt sleeves and a ruffle hem, TPCSH3 has stunning gathered ‘angel’ sleeves which really make a statement whilst the body is kept simple and traditional so that the sleeves do all the talking.
Lucy offered me the kit of TPCSH2 to try out, it is a box-pleated front shirt, deceptively simple to look at but those details take a little time to get right. It’s classified as ‘moderate/hard’ and I would agree, not because the elements in themselves are especially difficult but each of them needs some experience and precision to execute so I wouldn’t recommend this as your first shirt project.
The kit comes with enough good quality plain white cotton poplin to make up to the largest size of a UK 22, along with Trend-branded buttons (a nice touch) and iron-on interfacing. All you need to provide is your own thread!
I started off by taking my measurements and comparing them to the sizing chart, there is also a chart giving you finished garment measurements too which is helpful because it will give you some idea of how oversized the shirt will be when it’s finished. I made a UK 12 and as you will see from the finished photos it’s a very generous fit, to be honest, if you want a close-fitting shirt then this particular pattern won’t be the one for you.
I opted to trace off the pattern, there are two separate fronts, right and left, and a whole back plus sleeves, yoke, cuffs and collar. There is no pattern piece for the bias binding for the sleeve placket, you just need to cut yourself two bias strips approximately 30cms x 4cms. The right and left fronts are the same except for the extra on the centre front which creates the folded fly with concealed buttonholes. I traced off one front then, to save some time and to ensure they were identical, pinned it to more spot and cross paper before cutting them out together so that I had a mirror version with the additional front added. It’s really important to trace the front very carefully because of the three box pleats, if they are each a bit off you risk the pleats not sewing together accurately which will leave you scratching your head. There are a lot of drill holes to mark the stitching which will eventually hold the pleats in place, don’t be tempted to miss any out because they are also really helpful when you’re folding and pressing the pleats in position. You could choose to trace just half the back to save paper if you intend to always cut it on the fold anyway but having a whole piece gives you the option to have the fabric out flat, besides, it’s almost always more economical to cut fabric out as a single layer [this can be especially helpful if you ever need to do some tricky pattern placement or matching]
Because the fabric is plain, placing the pattern pieces and cutting out was a breeze-no pattern matching, yay! I spent quite a while making traditional tailor’s tacks for every single one of the drill holes. You could use a washable or some other kind of disappearing marker pen if you are confident that it definitely won’t come back to haunt you but I wasn’t going to take the risk on plain white fabric!
In the past I’ve occasionally found some of the earlier Trend instructions a bit tricky to follow but the more recent ones have illustrations rather than photos and I found this set very clear. My biggest piece of advice would be to read then re-read the instructions before you start, and to highlight anything that you know you’re going to have to really concentrate on, this isn’t a race after all.
Constructing the fly front and button stand first, including the buttonholes, was satisfying, I often feel like I’ve run out of steam by the end of any project which requires buttonholes and it’s a bit of a chore by then but this gets it out of the way nice and early. [I should add at this point that I started out sewing with a fine size 60 needle so as not to leave too many noticeable puncture holes in the plain fabric if I went wrong or needed to unpick. However, this size needle kept skipping stitches for some reason so I went up to a 70 and had no further problems]
My second piece of advice would be to press your pleats on the ironing board if you possibly can. I only have a small heat-resistant board in Threadquarters which meant I was constantly moving the fabric which was not ideal, it was so much easier on the ironing board because the whole piece fitted on. Do not rush this part, with pure cotton fabric you can have the iron on pretty hot but do be careful of your fingers with hot steam. Pin, tack or Wonder Tape the pleats in position once pressed if you want to.
The instructions are to stitch down each pleat according to the markings using a few stitches. I did quite a lot of testing using a variety of decorative stitches for this before I committed to the bar tack. The next challenge was getting each of those bar tacks (30 in total!) central over the pleat. My machine comes with a number of feet which are used in conjunction with the decorative stitches and one of these has horizontal red lines which proved very helpful in getting lined up for every bar tack. After making a few of these bar tacks I ‘got my eye in’ so I could tell very quickly where to start each stitch, having the needle stopping in the up or down position is an absolute essential feature on my machine for me and it was brilliant during this, being able to lift the foot to check I was sewing in the correct place without the work shifting was so helpful. The photos will hopefully make my method clearer to follow. It’s vital to take your time and be as accurate as possible during this stage because the box-pleats are the USP of this shirt and it will obvious if they are off-kilter. I sewed in white thread but you could use a colour, or even hand embroider to give your shirt a totally original look.
Incidentally, Trend will be creating a series of video tutorials to help so I suggest you check their Instagram account or the website for those. Also, there was a slight problem with pattern markings for the back box pleat which were incorrect. This has been rectified but if you bought a copy very soon after release you might find you have to scratch your head a little, the notches were in the wrong places. Check the website if you’re in any doubt.
I followed the order of construction to complete the shirt (I usually do the first time I make a pattern) but personally I would put the collar on after making the yoke. I like to do it before the side seams are sewn up or the sleeves are inserted, unless there’s a technical reason not to obviously.
Everything came together really well, I’ve always found Trend patterns are accurately drafted so I know the pieces will go together well without major discrepancies-this is why it’s so important to trace off carefully if it’s your preferred method, if seams or notches don’t match up you won’t know where the fault lies [the same applies to accurate cutting out too]
Clearly not everyone will want to make a shirt that is going to take a sizeable amount of time to construct, or to launder afterwards for that matter, but if we only made simple loungewear for ever then the art and skill of making our own clothes will be lost, just at a time when so many people have discovered, or rediscovered, the joy of sewing for themselves. There will always be a place for a classic white shirt and Trend has created a small but growing collection with original twists on the genre. The last year has been so tough for small business owners so I really appreciate being given this kit to try out, I wasn’t under any obligation to review it other than share some photos but personally I have no problem with sewing and writing about it. I will always try to give you a balanced view and if I can support a little business by giving them some positive exposure then I will. Alongside that I’m keen to demonstrate that a design-led style doesn’t have to beyond us ‘ordinary’ sewers either, if you like it then sew it!
I hope I’ve given you some idea of what will be involved in making the TPCSH2, if you’re looking to push your skills on a bit this could be a good project. Maybe you need/want a plain white shirt in your wardrobe [amazingly I didn’t have one in mine, just a couple of short-sleeved ones] I might layer this with a sleeveless tank top over it, or a waistcoat could look interesting. This is a typical cotton poplin shirting but you could use a variety of fabrics, you could have fun with graphic prints or stripes, try something soft like double gauze or a crisp linen? Or what about harvesting the fabric from several well-worn mens shirts to make a more patchwork look. Take your time though and enjoy the process.
I’ve got a long-sleeved T-shirt under it because it was a chilly day and it will be perfect for the day I can return to the V&A. I don’t know about you but I’ve really missed putting an outfit together to go on a nice day out, deciding which of the lovely garments I’ve made that I want to wear and how I’m going to accessorise them. It seems such a small silly thing to miss but I shall be so glad when I can start doing it again.
Most of all, thank you to Trend for giving me the opportunity to try the kit, until next time,