Starry Shirt

A Casual Shirt With Galactic Style

The whole shirt, folded

December, 2004

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With my free time over the winter holiday weekend, I finished up another sewing project. I used this pattern to make a "View B" (the center sketch) long sleeve casual shirt out of a "Starry Night" printed cotton fabric. I only made it with one pocket, because I never use right-breast pockets anyway. That was the only real change I made to the pattern besides using the serger on some of the seams and ignoring many of the instructions to baste things together for no good reason.

Close-up of the collar with better view the print pattern

The fabric is printed cotton, and is a "white stars with blue nebulae on black" kind of thing. I figured for the first shirt I make it should be something that I will be wearing as semi-costume anyway, and will be dark enough to hide any bad stitches. It worked! It looks pretty good, but only if you don't know what to look for.

I was talking to somebody recently about my new sewing hobby, and she said something about having heard shirts were very hard to make. I shrugged that off. Of course, this was before I got to the hardest part (the stupid, cuff plackets), but I realized why I still don't think it was very hard: I know what a shirt is supposed to look like. When I had trouble with that stupid placket, I went to my closet and pulled out shirts until I found an example of what I was trying to do. I had a whole reference library at my fingertips. With some of the garb I was sewing over the summer, I had no way of knowing if I was doing it right or not. I didn't have any surcoats in my closet! That makes it harder, if you ask me.

Anyway, I also figured out why I hate sewing patterns. A pattern doesn't teach you anything, really. You might pick up a technique here or there, but you don't learn much about why a shirt is like that. You don't learn anything about how to design a shirt, really. A pattern is like a hard-coded shell script that you run in your brain. When you're done, you have a whatever, but you don't have the knowledge you'd need to do it again from scratch. When I was sewing garb, I was working from theory, and building practice from there. I could start with a couple of yards of cloth, a ruler, a fabric marker, and a half dozen measurements, and draw my own pattern right on the cloth. It's true that what I was aiming for was much simpler, but I felt like I really understood what I was doing, not just following somebody else's orders.

They don't even give you any pointers on how to alter the design to make it fit you better. If I use this pattern again I will definitely taper the shirt towards the waist (I have a 36" chest and 30" waist) and move the pleats in the back a little closer to the center.

Also, it's like the pattern makers are in league with the fabric stores to sell more fabric and thread, which of course they are. This pattern had 5/8" seam allowances. Many of these seams were trimmed after sewing, or trimmed by the serger while sewing. In most cases, half that seam allowance was just cut away and discarded as waste. Also, all the instructions to baste (machine sew with very long stitches) parts of the pattern that I wound up just pinning together instead.

Lastly, I hate buttons. Is there like anything stupider or more annoying than sewing buttons and buttonholes? I think the next shirt I make will have a zipper, or maybe Velcro. The next sewing project on my list is to make a bathrobe for Sharon. That doesn't have any buttons or buttonholes, which will be nice.

Anyway, I really recommend a project like this to anybody who wears shirts like this. Every time I pull one of my shirts from the closet now, I find myself reviewing how it's designed, how it's sewn, and how those things relate to how it fits. I feel much better educated about my clothing now that I've built a piece from scratch. Many things are like this.

In January of 2005, I made another shirt using this same pattern, using a more "normal" light blue Oxford-type fabric. It came out pretty good, with a few exceptions that are too embarassing to mention. I don't think I like this pattern. The sleeves are too blousey and it's generally not as form-fitting as I'd like a custom-made shirt to be. I even tried tapering the body. When you're reducing a "small" pattern and it still its like a mitten instead of a glove, it's time to find a different pattern.

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