Posted in fabrics, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style

The “Perfect Shirt” Project Continues: Enter the planning of the “frankenstyle” test shirt

The quest for the perfect shirt has to be taken seriously, one step at a time, perfecting each component: style details, fabric and possibly most important of all, fit. At least that’s how I’m approaching this project.

When last we spoke (okay, I did all the talking) I had taken a trip down memory lane to view the iconic appearances of the button-up shirt on iconic twentieth-century women. From there, I reviewed the finer points of where and how a shirt like this ought to fit. Now it’s time I got started on one of my own.

As I mentioned, I had a look at the commercial patterns I already owned. On final consideration, I decided to use McCall’s 7575 as a starting point.

I begin with design details.

As I look more closely at the pattern, I realize that the first change I have to make is a basic style one: I want a clean front on my perfect shirt pattern. A clean front is more European. This means I have to get rid of the band running down the front and rework the pattern accordingly. I can always add a band for future designs.

Original line art

The next design detail I examine is those breast pockets. Can we talk about pockets for a moment? I’ve noted that many women say they love pockets but what they really mean is that they love pockets in a skirt (and trousers and jackets perhaps). The question I have is this: do they really like pockets in shirts where said pockets are essentially useless and often serve only to increase the visual aspects of one’s chest? I think not. I think that they haven’t thought their general love of pockets through. I’m not a big fan of breast pockets on women’s shirts or blouses in general. I certainly put one on my husband’s perfect shirt because he uses it to stick his glasses in and won’t actually buy a shirt that doesn’t have a left-sided breast pocket (except for the odd dress shirt). But what about me? No. Uh-uh. No breast pockets for me. So, I ditch the breast pocket – at least for this go-around.

Another design detail: Go back up and have a close look at the original line art. It shows a little bias strip as a placket thingy on the sleeves. I feel that this is a bit of a cop-out. There are so many wonderful shapes and types of plackets. I think I’ll change this.

Finally, still with those sleeves, I’m not a big fan of the one-pleat-on-one-side-of-the-placket (and the other one on the other side of the placket) design. This was the approach that I used on my man’s shirt project but it looks a bit odd to me on a women’s shirt. I could use gathering, but I think that style is more for flowing blouse fabrics rather than crisp shirting. Anyway, I prefer pleats – so much cleaner and crisper in general. I will also put both of the pleats on the back of the sleeve.

I think I’ll go with the shape of the collar for this first draft but I’ll revisit it later. And I’m keeping the yoke – for now. It’s a design feature that I like in some, but not all, shirts.

Here’s my cleaned-up line art:

So, now it’s on to the fit issues!

Still with those sleeves. Dear god – why do commercial pattern companies (and the indie pattern-makers are no better) seem to think we all need sleeve bicep measurement that would fit a Sumo wrestler? So, it’s onto the drawing board to recut the sleeve pattern to more suit my style – and size.

With the sleeve pattern recut, I just need to tweak the waist darts and I’m ready to move onto consideration #3: fabric.

Let’s face it, the term “wearable muslin” is a bit of an oxymoron – either it’s a muslin that you’re willing to cut apart and use for the final pattern, or it’s a wearable shirt that you construct from some kind of fabric you’re willing to be seen in in public. That’s my usual approach. So I’m going to call this a “test garment” rather than a toile or muslin. That gets me off the hook in case it is actually wearable. But I’m not willing to spend any money on this kind of test. Enter the remnant box.

I’m not a fabric stasher (*shudder*) but I don’t throw out reasonably-sized pieces of leftover fabric – that is, of course, unless it’s hideous to work with like the scuba fabric top that I never even wrote about in this space. I should since there’s much for me to learn, but I probably won’t because then I’d have to think about it again and that would seriously hurt my head. I digress. I need fabric for my test shirt.

So, as I examine the remnants I have I’m looking for pieces that have some kind of compatible aesthetic and that have compatible fabric content. I have to find a few pieces that are cotton or at the very least cotton with a touch of spandex (I happen to know that I have only one such piece). This is the fun part of the test shirt.

I love the idea of creatively putting the pieces together. This is the perfect opportunity to practice this kind of aesthetic exercise as I look for pieces of fabric for the body, the collar, yoke, undercollar, sleeves, cuffs and placket.

Remember Frankenstein’s monster? This is not to be confused with dear Dr. Frankenstein himself. He created the monster that was composed of pieces of other bodies. So, I plan to create “frankenstyle” garment.

I decide to use the following pieces:

I have a largish piece of cotton sateen that has a touch of lycra for a soupcon of cross-body stretch. It’s little enough that it passes for a non-stretch woven.

Blue cotton sateen from the sloper in progress

I have a very small piece of leftover Italian cotton from my husband’s shirt and since it cost $80 a metre, I kept it anyway. I will use this for small parts.

I also have some black and white-black striped shirting from a previous shirt-type project.

It’s a very interesting exercise to think about which fabric will be the body – front and/or back. Which one the sleeves, which one would look best as the collar? Undercollar?

Old line art!

Well, I figured it out and proceeded to cut and sew. I’ll reveal the final result next time! Now I’m off to warmer climes for a few weeks!

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Shirt-making, Style, Stylish Books

The “Perfect Shirt” Project Begins

There’s not a single style manual on the planet that doesn’t suggest to all of us that among the essential wardrobe staples we should have in our closets is the button-up shirt (as opposed to the button-down shirt which I’ve discussed before!).

American “style expert” Lloyd Boston lists “the white shirt” number one in his book The Style Checklist: The Ultimate Wardrobe Essentials for You. He specifically suggests that this fashion must-have should be white. And I’m sure that we all have a few white button-up shirts in our fashion arsenal, but I think it’s safe to say that we also need other colours.

Dearer to our hearts perhaps (at least for those of us who create some of our own fashion pieces) Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr authors of the recent book A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing include the shirt among their 30 timeless garments and they include both styling tips and sewing tips. They also don’t confine this classic to white and consider that we ought to have a few in different colours in our wardrobes.

Why is the shirt such a universally appealing wardrobe piece? I think because it is endlessly versatile.

A shirt can say corporate meeting. It can say casual Saturday. It can say sexy Saturday night. Youthful, put-together, classic, chic, tasteful, refined and classy – these are all words that come to my mind when I think of a classic shirt. And throughout the twentieth century, a variety of iconic women made the shirt an icon all on its own.

Who wouldn’t swoon over Lauren Bacall in Key Largo in her ever-present button-up?

See the yoke and the men’s styling features? Wonderful! And so versatile

Or the ever-chic Audrey Hepburn? Sexy and buttoned-up all at the same time!

More recently, remember Uma  Thurman in Pulp Fiction? Even if you didn’t see the movie, I’m sure you saw the stills where she is smouldering in her white button-up with French cuffs.

Then, if you still think a button-up shirt is too prissy for you, may I reintroduce you to Marilyn? You can never see a classic shirt the same way again once you’ve seen one on Marilyn.

Unmistakably Marilyn!

There doesn’t seem to be any agreement on precisely when women started wearing button-up shirts. Some sources suggest it was in the 1950s when women in movies would wear their partner’s shirt (i.e. a men’s shirt) after the suggestion that they had just had sex. But that can’t be right because women in the armed services wore shirts long before that and we’ve seen photos of women in the late 1800s wearing what appear to be collared shirts with ankle-grazing skirts.  

In the 19th century, these early women’s “shirts” were often referred to as “shirtwaists.” This is the term we now use when referring to shirt-dresses.

The problem with many of the shirts on offer to women in ready-to-wear these days is that they don’t fit very well. The darts are often in the wrong places. The fit over the bust is often a problem in general. Enter the gape! They are often too wide across the shoulders and nip in too much at the waist. Or they look like bags all over. A smart button-up shirt ought to fit perfectly, n’est ce pas?

I enjoyed Justine Leconte’s tips on how a shirt should fit and found it very useful so I’ll use her approach when I check on the fit of my own perfect shirt…

This is right up my alley, although I often wonder what women whose foundational style is artistic boho think about this. In any case, who am I to argue with the wardrobe police? I agree: everyone looks terrific in a shirt. But it has to be perfect. Enter my new project.

After I finished my husband’s perfectly-fitted (and very expensive) shirt project, it occurred to me that I ought to have a perfectly-fitted pattern that I can use for both a shirt and a blouse. And there is a difference between a shirt and a blouse in my mind. The fashion police suggest that a blouse is a type of shirt (because it blouses?) but a shirt is not always a blouse. A shirt is crisp while a blouse is drapey. At least that’s how I’m going to define them. I plan to start the project by creating the perfect shirt pattern then modifying it for blouses.

So what does my perfect shirt need?

  • It needs to be fitted either with darts or princess lines. I think I’ll start with darts because princess lines are really just a variation on that and I can always manipulate darts into a princess seam if I want to do that in the future.
  • It needs to have a collar. Kind of a no-brainer since this is part of the definition of a shirt. However, there are different kinds of collars and I want this to be a collar with a stand.
  • It needs to have well-fitted sleeves. I find that commercial patterns often have sleeves that are very large around the bicep. They seem to think we are all stevedores or wrestlers.
  • It needs to have nice cuffs with a nice placket. This is a skill I will need to learn more about since I see so many different kinds of plackets around.
  • It needs to have a back yoke. Yokes support the material in the shirt. I can always manipulate this out if I choose a blouse-type approach in the future.
  • It needs to be the right length. I’ll figure that out as I fit the test shirt.
  • I don’t necessarily want the shirt to have any breast pockets, but that’s an option I’ll keep in mind for variations.

Where to begin? I decided to start with an examination of commercial patterns. I own a couple, none of which is perfect.

McCall’s 6649 (copyright marked 2012 and now out of print it seems) seems to tick all the boxes, as does McCall’s 7575 (a 2017 addition). In fact, they are so similar as to make one wonder why they got rid of one and created another one just the same. I also picked up Burda 6908 in the discards box at a Fabricville outpost in Muskoka during our fall road trip. This pattern is dated 2014 and is a bit different from the previous ones in that it is more of a tunic style – no darts, quite long and very balloony. Not quite what I’m looking for in a basic pattern, but I do think I will make it as part fo this project.

So it does seem as if I’m going to have to really work on my own pattern. I’ll start with M7575 and modify it for fit and style. And what about fabric?

Well, these classic shirts are by definition fabricated from wovens, usually 100% cotton or a cotton blend. Obviously, they have to be fairly lightweight – just imagine what these shirts would look like made from canvas. Not the image I’m going for. Eventually, I’d love to have a fine Italian cotton, but for the first go-around, I’m going to see what I have leftover from other projects. Stay tuned for my test shirt – a kind of “Frankenstyle” design while I test out my pattern details.

I’ll give LB the final word…

Posted in Fashion, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In Love with Knit Jackets (not hand-knit!)

When I was a little girl (so many years ago!) I remember the popularity of “knit” jackets. Jackets that someone actually knit. With a pair of knitting needles. Knit jackets were a ‘thing’ back then.

The ones I remember most, though, seem to be men’s hand-knit jackets (and machine-knit jackets were the same). I remember them as being heavy, chunky, usually with a very large pattern of some sort on them, and they almost always had zippers. How times have changed!

These are the knit jackets I remember! This one is from the 1960s. Hand-knit.

There was a time in my life (back in my twenties if you can believe that) when I, too, succumbed to the lure of the hand-knit sweater. Yes, it was the years of the Lopi sweater craze.

This was the first of many Lopi sweaters that I hand-knit back in the day. Then, as quickly as the desire to make them came over me, it disappeared and I haven’t picked up a set of knitting needles in years. Perhaps that’s because my style changed.

In the years that followed grad school, I was the proud owner of a closet full of suits. Canadian designers Alfred Sung and Simon Chang, along with American designer Calvin Klein, all shared closet space with dozens of pairs of shoes. I loved the tailored style and that has evolved to be the way I prefer to dress.

Simon Chang featured in the Canadian fashion magazine Flare in the 1980s. He was a bit funkier. I think I owned the one in the centre!

But now I find that I have little use for finely tailored jackets. I have a couple that I wear regularly – my black cashmere, silk-lined Brooks Brothers one is a favourite – with jeans or when I have to give a presentation (*sigh* I still find myself behind a podium from time to time). A tailored blazer is a fantastic piece for any wardrobe (and I have a whole design and sewing project on them planned for later this year – stay tuned). The reality, though, is that a softer version of the tailored jacket actually works better for me these days. But does that mean I really want sweaters? I think not!

So, what’s the difference between a sweater and a jacket? They are both designed as garments that are worn on the upper part of the body. Sweaters can be either pull-overs or can open down the front (or even the back for that matter).

Jackets, by definition always have an opening down the front. Given the design freedom we have these days to create anything we desire and call it anything we choose, the traditional main difference between a jacket and a sweater is a function of the materials it is made of. Sweaters are made from knits while jackets are made from wovens. Or, at least they used to be. Enter the “swacket” an odd moniker if ever there was one.

I haven’t been able to find out who actually first started using this stupid word, but a “swacket” does seem to be a thing now. In 2016 the clothing company Under Armour first marketed something they called a swacket.

Just looks like a jacket with a zipper to me.

It looks just like any other athletic jacket to me. Evidently, it feels soft and lightweight (like a sweater) but looks like a jacket. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s a soft, lightweight jacket. What am I missing here? Anyway, I do love a soft, lightweight jacket and that, to me, means a knit jacket – as opposed to a heavy, hand-knit jacket.

I’m talking about a jacket that is sewn together from loomed knit fabric. Obviously, it’s not likely to be made from something flimsy because a jacket by its very nature seems to need some structure. Having said that, remember Coco Chanel, the originator of knitwear for women? Here she is in one that really does look like it might be the jersey fabric that she introduced to women’s fashions around the time of the first World War.

Anyway, since my lifestyle doesn’t require Alfred Sung or Simon Chang in it anymore, knit jackets seem like a no-brainer for me.

Recently I made two – one of which doesn’t really have any sore of tailored look while the other does. They are both incredibly soft and comfortable, just what you want in a knit jacket. I used commercial patterns for both.

The first, quite unstructured piece is fully lined with stretch lining, something I’d never used before. I also added a small chain inside along the hem to help it to hang better.

I used McCall’s pattern #7332 and added flat piping to the angled waist seam. This is really the only design feature of this easy-to-create piece. I found that the open front was a bit of a problem. It just kind of hangs there, which, of course, is a function of the knit fabric itself. So, I surfed over to eBay and found myself a source for interesting closures. Naturally, that source was in China so I waited two months for them to arrive, but arrive they did!

This is such a comfortable piece – feels exactly like a sweater. But I have to say that it has been hanging in my closet for some time now and I haven’t found any occasion to wear it! Enter the second knit jacket.

I really loved the look of McCall’s pattern #7254 with its shawl collar and sleek peplum.

I liked that it’s very fitted and a bit short. I found a piece of shadow-striped ponte and combined that with plain black then added a button from my collection (this one found at a Fabricville store that I only get to visit when we are on a road trip to smaller towns outside the big smoke).

Despite the fact that these knit jackets are intended to be softer than their more tailored cousins, I loved the fact that I interfaced the shawl collar for a crisper look. This piece is still very comfortable and the truth is I’ve worn it a lot. Even on an airplane, it gives me a bit of an elevated look while still wearing comfortable knits.

All in all, I’d have to say that I’d design and make a few more if I had any use for dozens of similar wardrobe pieces. But I don’t, so I’m moving on to my perfect shirt project. Talk soon!

(As an aside, I had to look up the past participle of the verb “to knit” to discover that ‘knit’ is the traditional past tense but ‘knitted’ is also in use these days. Sorry, I’m a grammar nerd!)

Posted in Men's Designs, Shirt-making, Style

My Bespoke Shirt Project: The final product

As 2020 draws to a close, I’m tempted to write a recap of my favourite design and sewing projects of 2019 just to see what I’ve learned. I’ve never done that before, but I think that I learned a few important things this year and need that recap for myself. But that will have to wait. I need to finish the story of the bespoke shirt adventure – my last sewing adventure for 2019.

After fiddling with a commercial pattern (Vogue 8759) and making the design changes required by my client (my husband!) it was time to consider fabric selection. The first thing I did was find some cotton shirting fabric in the buy-1-get-2-free sale online at fabricville.com.

The “cheapie” fabric for the test shirts.

This would give me enough fabric to create a complete muslin for fitting and a bit more to do the neckline and collar again if needed. But there was more to the fun of fabric selection than letting my fingers do the shopping. I discovered a new fabric store. But let’s go back a bit…

What are the two most important aspects of a bespoke shirt? As far as I’m concerned, they are the perfect fit and the perfect fabric. The perfect fit is a matter of careful measurements of both the body and the patterns and continuing on-model fitting throughout the process of making the test shirt. The perfect fabric is an altogether different story.

Fabric selection is mostly a personal choice as long as the fabrication itself is suitable for the kind of design. For example, you wouldn’t make a man’s dress shirt from flannel (if you did, it would no longer be a dress shirt by definition anyway). Or you wouldn’t make a man’s dress shirt from a knit. Just imagine how tacky that would be! And how difficult it would be if the man in question wished to wear a tie! So, how do you choose?

According to Jos. A. Bank, purveyors of dress shirts and lots more, there are three suitable fabrics. First, 100% cotton which is, according to them, “the most breathable, durable and comfortable of the three.”

Second, they suggest a blend of cotton and polyester, of which they seem to take a dim view. They suggest that most people gravitate toward these blends to save money which is why so many mass-market shirtings are this kind of blend. Polyester does reduce wrinkling (but 100% cotton is not all the same either. The cheaper it is, the more it wrinkles anyway). Their bottom line on polyester-cotton blends is this: They are “…far less breathable than other materials and less comfortable against your skin, and some people think its slight shine takes on a low-quality appearance. As a general rule, if you can afford it, steer clear of shirts with high polyester content and look for blends with 80% or more cotton.”

Their third selection is silk. I do love silk and there are so many different types of silk, many of which I know would not be suitable for my husband’s shirt. Silk charmeuse – I love it and even love to work with it – is one of my personal favourites for women’s blouses (I’ll talk about the difference between shirts and blouses in a future post since it’s one of my 2020 projects). But on my husband? Not a chance. Jos. A Banks reminds us that silk feels wonderful against the skin, but has its drawbacks for shirts namely these shirts “…tend to cost more, wrinkle easily, and they must be hand-washed (even dry cleaning can damage them) to maintain the material’s integrity.” Since neither my husband nor I have any intention of hand-washing his shirts, this one is off the table.

All of this leaves me with the conclusion: the shirt will have to be 100% cotton. But there are lots of varieties of fine 100% cotton. There is poplin/broadcloth, twill, Oxford cloth, chambray, dobby, end-on-end, seersucker etc.…they all work for the structure necessary for the shirt.

But where does the best cotton shirting come from? Some of the best shirting comes from Italy (no surprise here – they design and weave some of the finest fabrics in the world) often made from Egyptian cotton but woven Italian style. This seems like it might be a good choice for my husband’s bespoke shirt, but where to get it and what will it look like? Enter the fabric shopping adventure.

I usually buy my good fabrics on Queen Street West in Toronto where there continues to be a fabric district. But I wanted to explore a fabric store uptown in an area close to two very high-end residential districts. A bespoke shirt should be made from a fabric chosen by the eventual wearer of said shirt so my husband and I got on the subway and took the train almost as far north as it goes, got off and walked for ten minutes until we reached Maryam’s Fabrics.

A small, well-curated store, Maryam’s, which describes itself as “Toronto’s High End Imported Fabrics Store,” specializes in seriously high-end fabrics from cotton shirting, through silk knits to bouclés for Little French Jackets. We began to explore.

I first noted the “sale” fabrics in a bin near the front of the store were all over $25 a metre. This is a good way to get your head around what will come next. I lovingly caressed a few silk knits that clocked in at $40 a metre. Then I happened upon the most expensive fabric I had ever seen: marked “Chanel”, it was a bouclé that will set you back $500 a metre. Yes, five hundred dollars a metre! But it was divine.

Just look at those sumptuous bouclés !

The sales associate, an older woman who knew her fabrics, brought out three bolts of Italian shirting that they had special ordered in for a client who had all his shirts made for him. Among the three, my husband fell in love with a black fabric sporting white galaxies. A bit fun, yet tasteful.

My husband shopping for his Italian cotton at Maryam’s.

And did it feel wonderful! Well, dear readers, are you ready for the price tag? The selected fabric was $80.00 a metre. Yes, eighty dollars. So, of course, we immediately bought two and a half metres. This was, without a doubt, the most expensive fabric I would ever cut into – which is the reason I did not one but two test shirts before even cutting anything more than my four-inch test square for laundering (and I panicked even at that!).

Is this not extraordinary? And it feels wonderful!

So, I began the test shirt with the grey-striped cotton fabric that had cost something like $15.

When I did the fitting, I found that the neck was a bit too big for my husband and the collar which had to button down needed to be enlarged slightly. That being said, he actually liked this shirt and wears it.

I had enough of the striped fabric to do a short-sleeve test to get the neckline right. Then it was time to cut into the main attraction. I finally had to hold my breath and just do it.

I have to say that the fabric was a dream to work with. Although most bespoke shirt-makers will tell you not to use fusible interfacing (and I bought some muslin specifically for interfacing purposes), I ended up fusing interfacing and it worked beautifully.

I referred often to David Page Coffin’s book (which I talked about in part one of this project) as well as one of his Bluprint video classes. After trying it two or three times on test pieces, I learned to use the “burrito method” for attaching the collar and stand to the neckline. This gives a finer finish to the front of the shirt and obviates the necessity for hand-sewing the inside of the collar stand to the neckline as per most of the commercial pattern instructions.

In the end, we were both very pleased with the results. Here’s a look at the finished product in action…

The festive season was the perfect time for him to wear it – and to tell everyone that I made it for him. One of my proudest moments!

Happy New Year everyone!

Reference:

https://www.josbank.com/dress-shirt-materials-an-introduction

Posted in Men's Designs, Style

An Unexpected Design: The man’s shirt project

Well, I never thought I’d ever write or even utter these words: this is the beginning of my man’s shirt project. It’s the last “project” of 2019 and it was unexpected, to say the least.

Anyone who knows me knows that my design and sewing projects are pretty well confined to me, me, me. My love of female dress and design always nudges me away from any other kinds of projects I might consider – or those I would never consider. For example, I have yet to think of a single reason why I would make a handbag or tote bag. Blecch! I really hate those wildly-printed monstrosities that the pattern companies seem to foist on avid sewers. (I apologize if you love these; but my blog, my views. You are perfectly entitled to make or wear whatever you want.) And just lately I saw a sewing blogger I follow encouraging people to sew their own shoes. Joke, right? For me, it would be. I love shoes or to be more specific, I love high-quality shoes. Ergo I wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of shoes I made myself. If you’re a cobbler and into bespoke shoes, well, that’s a different thing. But feel free to make your own espadrilles. But I digress…

Why in the world did I start a man’s shirt project? Well, my own personal style runs to the classic, tailored look so I do love a collared, buttoned-up look for myself. I really love a Brooks Brothers women’s shirt, for example.

And I have also made shirt-like pieces in the past and enjoy the process. Add this to the fact that I always like to have a project on the go but I don’t always need a new piece myself.

Not exactly a button-up “shirt” but my last related project.

So, I was feeling magnanimous one day and asked my husband if he ever thought he might like me to make him a shirt. He respectfully declined. This is a man who already owns sufficient shirts for his lifestyle.Ya think? And besides, I really think he harboured the feeling that a home-made shirt might, well, look homemade in spite of the fact that he often marvels at the pieces I make for myself. Anyway, I moved on. Then, a few months later, we happened to be talking about bespoke shirts and other things and he said something to the effect that I had never made anything for him. I reminded him of our previous conversation of which he claimed no memory. In any case, it seems that the idea of selecting his own fabric and having a bespoke shirt crafted for him now had an appeal. I jumped on the chance to create a well-fitting, truly unique shirt for my very best friend in the world – my husband. And so, we were off.

My husband does have a substantial number of shirts.

I don’t know about anyone else, but whenever I start thinking about a new design and creation project, I start to do some research. Mine started in my husband’s closet, examining the fine details of the shirts he already has. I looked at yokes, cuffs, cuff plackets, front plackets, buttons and buttonholes, counted buttons (did you know that there are eleven buttons on a regular shirt and that doesn’t count the collar buttons if you use them which I would have to since that’s the kind of shirt he likes). I examined the top-stitching on a number of his shirts and scrutinized the seam finishes. I noted that the more he paid for a shirt (a Robert Graham versus a Landsend shirt), the more likely it was to have not only French seams but also to have the armscye seam bound. So many things to think about! I even started doing this kind of research as we browsed through the men’s department at various local stores: Hudson’s Bay, Nordstrom and Saks in particular.

All this hands-on research got me wondering about the provenance of many of the details. Why do men’s shirts have the kind of construction details that are so important?

When I made my own button-front shirt-like piece over two years ago, I did some research on these shirts. At the time, I wrote the following:

I’m sure you enjoy a well-dressed son as much as I do! The Armani tux…

“… I need to clarify a bit of terminology. My well-dressed son who loves his Armani tux (which he bought on sale ten years ago and still wears) as much as he loves his jeans and sneakers, loves a button-front shirt. However, he and his friends all call them “button-down” shirts. This had always bugged me since my understanding was that only shirts whose collars actually button-down were correctly called this. It turns out that I am, indeed, right. So much for the millennials and their terminology! It seems that collared shirts have been a part of men’s wardrobes for centuries. In fact, the terms “white collar” and “blue-collar” actually do originate in the difference between the colours of the collars worn by men who worked in more clerical, office-type and executive-type positions versus those who toiled as labourers. As you may be aware, before the early 1900’s men’s shirt collars were not, in fact, attached to the shirts at all. It was only after laundry became more accessible and clothing manufacturing became more sophisticated that different fabrics and colours and attached collars became a fashion item for men… The actual button-down collar has an equally interesting history. In 1896 Brooks Brothers started producing soft button-down collar shirts inspired by the shirts worn by polo players at the time. These days we tend to think of the polo shirt as having a collar that flops around, but it seems that polo players back at the end of the nineteenth century didn’t’ like those floppy collars and began buttoning them down. Still these days the buttoned-down collar is considered to be more casual than one that is not: a button-down is likely to be considered to be a sports shirt while the non-buttoned collar may be on a dress shirt – but as you know, everything is changing in our casual world!”

I noted this and recognized that casualness notwithstanding, my husband is not a lover of the floppy collar. He prefers it to be buttoned down either where it can be seen or on the underside. Check.

Okay, so that reviewed for me the history of the button-front shirt but since I wasn’t making a man’s shirt at the time, I didn’t research those other details.

It seems that yokes first appeared in the 1880s or 90s and although I can’t find details about this, I’m guessing that it was in the Wild, Wild West in the U.S. Think: cowboy shirt. But the yoke does have a more practical purpose.

According to David Page Coffin writing in his wonderful book Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, “A yoke is vital to a shirt. It provides extra strength in the area bearing the weight of the shirt…conceals seams at the shoulder…” where they might otherwise “rub uncomfortably.” [page 21]. I forgot to mention that when I decided to embark on this project, I thought I better get myself some professional help so immediately surfed over to Amazon and purchased his book. He’s a bit of a shirtmaking guru and the book is a must for anyone wanting to up their shirtmaking game.

As far as front bands are concerned, according to Coffin, the use of the front band is actually an American standard with the cleaner front more European. Duly noted. My husband’s style would skew more European than American if we had to judge.

And what about cuffs? I do love a French cuff – the ones that are folded back and fastened with a cuff-link. But they always say “formal” to me. What I didn’t know was that the non-French cuff is actually called a barrel cuff. So, since this is to be a less formal shirt, a barrel cuff with its simple button closure it will be.

Cuff illustration: https://georgehahn.com/essentials-the-great-white-dress-shirt/

As for silhouette, my husband prefers a trim fit rather than a big box, but he also doesn’t want a shirt that is too tight. And that goes for the sleeves as well. Have you noticed how balloon some shirt sleeves are these days? I knew I’d have to be careful about the sleeve volume.

With all of this in mind, I began searching for the perfect commercial pattern for this shirt. Well, naturally, the perfect pattern does not exist. So, I ordered a Vogue 8759 measured my husband and began fiddling with the details of this pattern.

What I liked about it was the fact that rather than a pleat or two at the yoke, it has a three-panel back and you know that the more seams there are, the better fit you can accomplish. I also liked the two-piece sleeve, not that common on everyday shirts. And as for the front placket? None, so it has that clean European look. But what of the collar? Not what he really wanted so I knew that in the first-draft of the project, I would have to redesign it.

Then all I needed was fabric…or should I say fabrics. We were going to need to do one or two trial runs of this sucker before landing on the right size and design. In that process, I found a new fabric store far from the usual Toronto fabric district. Its divineness has to be experienced. I’ll share that experience with you in the next installment.

Cuff illustration: https://georgehahn.com/essentials-the-great-white-dress-shirt/

Posted in fashion history, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

When a design gives me headaches, I give it…buttons!

Buttons from my collection – individual pieces just waiting for the right place to embellish something.

I’m not a fan of stashes. In fact, I truly believe that “stashing” away fabrics is akin to hoarding. I’m kind of a minimalist that way. (No judgment here – it’s just not my thing. Well, maybe a tiny bit of judgment.)  In fact, the term “stash” actually means something that you put away in a secret place for future use, so this notion of a secret implies that you are trying to hide it from someone. That leads me to wonder who everyone is hiding their stashes of fabric from – themselves? Anyway, I don’t stash fabrics, but I do have a stockpile of buttons. Isn’t that a better word? Let’s start by backing up, shall we?

Buttons are extraordinarily functional little things, aren’t they? If you went into your closet this very minute and began counting the number of buttons adorning your various pieces of clothing, I’ll bet that you’d be astonished by the number. And what would happen to all those shirts and blouses, not to mention blazers and coats if there was no such thing as a button? They’d all have zippers and that would be aesthetically boring in my view. And this brings us to the history of the button.

Buttons were largely decorative when they were first used. The earliest buttons that history offers us date from the Indus valley in what is now Pakistan from the late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age – which would make them some 5000 years old – and were made from some kind of copper alloy. These buttons had to be decorative since the buttonhole as we know it today wasn’t invented until the 13th century.

Buttons as closures really came into their own in the Middle Ages when clothing evolved to become more form-fitting. This required some kind of fastening to keep those breeches and vests closed – and close to the body.

Listen to fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi talk about buttons…

…notice he suggests that buttons are a fashion statement? Well, that’s where I come in. As far as I’m concerned, buttons are first and foremost decorative. And they are endlessly variable. They can be made of metal as the earliest ones were, plastic, resin, wood, mother of pearl, glass, crystal, leather, fabric and just about anything you could imagine.

So, when I add some buttons to my collection, I look first to their aesthetic value and second to how utilitarian they might be at some point in the future. I buy buttons regularly whether or not I have a design in mind for them. There are several avenues I use for button collection.

First, of course, there are button shops – or at least portions of shops that are devoted to buttons. Downtown Toronto in the fashion design district, there are a couple of shops that offer this vast array of oddities in the button world (of course, alongside the purely functional ones).

This is a free Pixabay image but it might as well have been taken on Queen Street West in downtown Toronto — my favourite button shop looks exactly like this!

I also keep all those little extra buttons that come along with ready-to-wear clothing. You’d be surprised how that kind of collection can enlarge over the years.

Fishing tackle boxes from Canadian tire make surprisingly good storage containers for keeping buttons organized. Most of these are ones I have collected over the years from those “extras” that come with ready-to-wear pieces.

But my favourite way to collect buttons these days is from eBay. Yes, I buy lots of buttons online. If I have a specific project that I’m seeking buttons to complete, I don’t mind paying a good sum for them. However, when I’m just collecting, I’m looking for inexpensive, funky, different. And sellers from Asia – largely mainland China and Hong Kong – offer cheap buttons and free shipping, although shipping usually takes two to three months. But these are really interesting design features

Just a small sampling of my EBay buttons. Each set of about 10-50 buttons runs me less than $2.00 (Canadian) and with free shipping that I look for, it’s a bargain! You have to admit they’re inspirational, yes?

 The fact that they are also functional is largely secondary in my “design” experience.” As a result, I tend to pull them out when I’m stumped in the final stages of the design process. And occasionally they offer me both aesthetics and functionality – buttons can cover a multitude of sins. A case in point: my recent fall/winter party top project.

I began with a commercial pattern: Vogue 9270. I love the idea of a fancy tunic-like garment for entertaining at home over the festive season and I thought that this one might fit the bill.

I  had this fabric that I bought at the beginning of the season, inspired by my design board that I created for this season. The fabric has a bit of sparkle and a really drapey quality to it. Of course, this is where it all went so very wrong.

The first change I had to make to the pattern was to widen the neckline. Why in the world do so many pattern designers insist on making necklines that creep up to the high neck points? Wider necklines are more flattering on almost everyone. So, I made that small change in the design and carried on.

The fabric. I wish you could see the tiny sparkles all over it. They’re subtle, but festive.

The fabric was a nightmare to sew. I used a titanium ballpoint needle and still had trouble at the beginning of every seam getting it to feed evenly even with the walking foot. But once I fitted the princess seams and installed the largely unnecessary 20-inch zipper (this baby pulls on over the head), I kind of liked the way the fabric fit from the bust-line up. The seaming down from the bust to the hemline was another story. I could not get it to hang properly. (I refused to even take a photo – it was that bad.)

Of course, it was my own fault since I had chosen a fabric that didn’t have nearly enough body to hand the way it was intended to hang. In addition, just as I had feared from the beginning, the tunic was far too long. Long tunics kind of cut off your legs. Not a good look. I knew that I’d have to do something to salvage it so I began cutting length off the bottom, cut a slit part-way up the centre front. I started experimenting with centre-front knots, centre-front wrap overs, off-centre knots, off-centre wraps, a blouson style. Then I cut a bit more off. I would have to make a decision before I was left with a midriff-baring piece. I finally decided that elastic on the bottom would be useful and installed it.

So, those sleeves look like they should be a nice design feature? Not so much.

That decided I had to tackle those bell sleeves. Why in the world did I think I’d like these? I did not. They were miles too long and they just kind of flapped around like bat wings that would certainly not have been functional in the least for entertaining. So, elastic to the rescue again. So, was this little number finished? No.

I looked carefully at the front “wrap-over” and decided that it looked weird. This is when I pulled out my button collection and began the fun part.

Here are two accent buttons I considered. I finally settled on the black with the gold bar.

After a significant number of failures, I finally settled on a button that would cover the little imperfection in the front and that would be an aesthetic addition to a piece I hope to wear at home over the holidays and on a cruise next year. Since I wear yellow gold jewelry almost exclusively, the black button with the gold bar would work. I think I love it just a little. 

What do you think? It doesn’t look at all like the original but I think I look ready to cook a turkey! Talk soon.

Sources:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/design/2012/06/button_history_a_visual_tour_of_button_design_through_the_ages_.html

Posted in fabrics, Fashion Design, sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Festive Season is Coming: Finding the right party look

It feels a lot like winter today here in Toronto. In fact, when I raised the blinds this morning, there was some of that “white” stuff” on the rooftops some stories below. Thankfully, there wasn’t actually any of it on the streets or sidewalks. It’s too early for that! What this always means to me – and in spite of the fact that the calendar says it’s nowhere near winter yet – it’s time to consider what I’ll be wearing to those inevitable Christmas get-togethers whether I like it or not. When I started planning this season’s little collection, I was inspired, at least partially, by a couple of fabrics that I bought on my early fall pilgrimage down to the fabric district along Queen St. West here in the city.

Fabric shopping in that district always has to be planned in my view. First, it has to be just off the high tourist season. Queen Street West is a zoo during tourist season in the summer. Second, I always walk. That’s non-negotiable. But since it’s a good forty-five-minute walk, the day has to be just right. It can’t be raining or, god forbid, snowing. Then, I always take along my fabric-buying assistant (also known as my husband) who is a great scout if I give him a few guidelines suggesting what I might be looking for. On the early September day we chose, the walk was particularly nice and I actually came home with a few pieces of fabric that were inspired by my fall/winter mood board.

I hadn’t been looking for special-occasion fabrics specifically, but that’s what I came home with. I had been thinking about textures and colours for my inspiration…here are two that inspired me this year…

Two of the fabrics I bought as inspired by my original texture samples.

Another texture that inspired me was a pair of SJP shoes that I actually happen to own. There’s just something about a pair of sparkly shoes that dresses up even a pair of skinny jeans…but I digress.

Here are those shoes in action…

I am no slave to fashion trends, always preferring timeless classics (except clearly in shoes), but I do like to be modern. So, I love to see what the industry is suggesting might be the in thing to wear to festive parties this season.

According to Vogue magazine, arbiter of all things fashionable (arguably, I’m sure), “fabulous dresses and practical bags” are the way to go. I suppose in some world this dress might work…

…but in my world of Christmas parties, I can’t quite see this as I prepare the ham for a family Boxing Day dinner, or for drinks with the neighbours in our condo building. Not going to happen. Good Housekeeping (god love them) on the other hand is suggesting dowdy…

…and dowdier.

I find that this length they’re all suggesting this year is one of the most unflattering ones for just about any woman. There is a way to avoid that conundrum, though, wear pants. They are my go-to. And the truth is, these days, anything goes. So, what can we do to dress up a pair of pants (other than adding a pair of sparkly SJP shoes, of course)?

I’m often inspired by old movies with those fabulous costumes. Some months ago, my husband and I happened to watch the1956 film “Written on the Wind” starring the incomparable Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone. Oh the costumes! In one scene the two of them are drinking and arguing, and Dorothy Malone is wearing an Asian-inspired blue silk jacquard jacket, which would probably be called a smoking jacket if it were on a man.

Isn’t this fabulous?

I have no desire to recreate their pieces, but I do think that using them as design inspiration can often meld the old with the contemporary aesthetic. So, I began sketching and my design ended up a bit like this…

So, I began to create the pattern and put together a muslin.

Work was going well, so I bought some velvet to make a contrast collar. I thought that the silver and black fabric would be wonderful. This is where I ran into my first problem. The fabric was all wrong for this design. It was not wrong from an aesthetic point of view, but it was so wrong when it came to fabric properties – especially drape. It had too much. I loved the fact that this was a bit like liquid silver, but the design I envisioned begged for something like silk jacquard, something stiffer. It occurred to me (after discussion with my dear husband and style consultant) that a bomber-style jacket might work.

I scoured the commercial pattern offerings and found Butterick 6181 that also had a version with buttons rather than a zipper which seemed a better party design for me. I did some pattern fitting and found that the design had just a bit too much “blousiness” in both the body and the sleeves. I had to take out 2 inches of volume in the sleeves or I would have drowned in fabric. I also removed some from the body.

I thought I might use the velvet I had bought to make a contrast collar. That was an unmitigated disaster. Note to self: learn how to mix wovens with knits (did I mention that the silver and black fabric is a knit?) so that you can avoid the mess I ended up with. My trusty surgical-steel seam ripper came to the rescue.

My next design decision was about buttons. I had a set of funky silver buttons that I had in mind. However, when I compared them with a self-covered button, it was no contest. The covered buttons were much classier. So, I did something I hadn’t done in some forty years: I did that fiddly button-covering thing.

Finally, I have a party jacket for the season, but I also have a pattern for a more form-fitting one that I will not give up on. I’d love to make that one but I have one question: how many party jackets does a girl need? 

On to the next project…


Sources:

https://www.vogue.com/vogueworld/article/valentino-fall-trend-holiday-dressing-ideas

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/uk/fashion-beauty/g538763/christmas-party-dresses/?slide=1

Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

In Search of the Perfect Wrap Top: Fall/Winter 2019

Have you ever found a silhouette that you just love? For me, it’s been the pencil skirt, the skinny pant and the wrap top. I don’t wear skirts all that often (with the exception of my cruise collection 2019 skirt) so searching for a pencil skirt is a bit of a time-waster.  I have actually found my perfect skinny jeans (Paige denim – no, I do not make jeans and will never make my own jeans as long as Paige continues to exist).

But…I have been searching for the perfect wrap top for years and this season wanted to add one or two perfect ones to my wardrobe.

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve experimented with a couple and my desire to create one in (expensive) silk knit set me off on a quest to ensure the perfect silhouette, the perfect wrap and the perfect fit – before I take the plunge into an as-yet-unpurchased piece of (expensive) silk. But first, where did this little gem of a piece of clothing begin? It’s a fascinating history.

Of course, Diane von Furstenberg has been credited with “inventing” the wrap dress more than 40 years ago back in the 1970s (not all the clothes during that decade were hideous), and we can all be forgiven if we believed, up until this minute, that this is where this silhouette began. It did not. If you look closely, you might even conclude that DVF borrowed the idea from an American designer who preceded her by some 40 years.

Original Charles James wrap dress

According to most online sources, the wrap silhouette can be traced back to American couturier Charles James in the 1930s when his body-hugging designs were just short of scandalous. Of course, he was also known for his extraordinary ball gowns, but it is the wrap silhouette that is the most avant-garde as far as I’m concerned.

Until I began looking into the origins of the wrap design, Charles James hadn’t even registered with me. But there he is. This little video, hosted by none other than Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, provides a terrific overview for those interested in the history of fashion. But CJ’s wrap creation doesn’t really appear here.

However, if you have a few moments and the interest), you’ll notice that buried among all his other voluminous creations, the CJ wrap dress appears (at about 3:27 of the video is you want to skip ahead).

What’ really interesting about the design as far as I’m concerned, is the way it wraps. And not every one of his wrap dresses had the same inner construction. The one featured in the videos above is actually a wrapped skirt.

The above dress opened out

If we move forward into the 1950s, you can see that even the pattern companies were offering home sewers options. The silhouette in general is a very ’50s look the way I see it.

I started my own wrap journey with a faux-wrap tank top that I designed based on a favourite top from, of all places, Landsend. (I wrote about it here.)

It’s kind of cute, but not the real deal. I do like the fact that with a faux-wrap you don’t have to worry about a wardrobe malfunction, though!

Then I moved on to Butterick 6517. (Note the same striped bamboo jersey).

I liked the outcome, although I did think that the wrap-over bit at the front was a tad bulky. So many folds. Nice, but not worthy of (expensive) silk jersey.

I finally hit upon Butterick 6628 and with a few tweaks I’m happy to say that it became the first piece of my 2019-20 F/W wardrobe. You might remember my inspiration board for this season along with its colour palette.

I picked up a drapey synthetic for the purpose of trying out this pattern before the (expensive ) silk knit that I plan. It turned out better than I had expected and this will be the design for the final product when I find the right fabric.

In the meantime, I’ve put this one into the fall/winter rotation and am still searching for the perfect silk knit. On to the next design!

More images of the Charles James wrap dress: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/171965

Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Fashion Journalism, Style

Fall/Winter Wardrobe Planning: Design inspiration and a few trends

It happens every season: fashion pundits cobble together the trends, tips and colours of the season so that the rest of us might fall into line and get behind those trends. Personally, I do enjoy seeing the new trends and figuring out which of them (if any) might actually work in a real life in general, and in my real life in particular. Add on to that a serious consideration of whether or not I really NEED any new pieces of clothing, and you find me mulling over my fantasy fall/winter 2019-20 design inspiration. It’s partly fantasy because I don’t really need many new pieces and because I prefer style classics, but it’s also partly reality since I will, indeed, use it to figure out what I will design, make and buy for the season.

When I say that I don’t really need any new pieces, I really mean that. Since it’s the beginning of October and the fall chill is beginning to put the run to summer weight wardrobe pieces and bare ankles (so sad to see them go, but I do have two new pairs of boots that I look forward to wearing), I took advantage of some time over this past weekend to begin the changeover from summer to winter clothing. Of course, there’s a bit of crossover at this point in the the year. One day last week hit 27 degrees Celsius (something like 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the centigrade-challenged), so those cashmere sweaters just don’t cut it.

Anyway, during the great-closet-turnover of the fall season, I discovered that I have plenty of clothes. In fact, if I went on one of those year-long clothing-buying boycotts, I’d be okay. I wouldn’t have to leave the house unclothed. But I would really enjoy a few new pieces. I just have to be judicious about what I buy. For example, I’d love to have three new coats, but I cannot justify this on several levels.

First, I’d need more closet space – not going to happen. Second, I’d need to look beyond black, other wise what’s the point? This isn’t going to happen either because I live in Toronto and black is de rigeur for the winter. Just take a walk down Bloor Street past D & G, Holt Renfrew, Louis Vuitton and the like and you will see a sea of black. Even down on Bay Street among the financial towers. Black. Yup, everyone is in black. Oh, wait. Do I see a rust-coloured parka? Well, yes, I do. Rust is fine these days, but still an oddity.

Anyway, this is where I begin my rumination about this year’s wardrobe.

My second stop before beginning my own process is to take a look at those fashion pundits and their narrative about what we will all be wearing this year. I love to start at the colours.

As usual, Pantone (the paint people of all things) seems to lead the way on this front. Or so they’d like to think. Evidently, this season’s colours include the following…

…as well as a few more that are grossly orangey and/or the colour of guacamole. They are too putrid to even consider on me.

According to Harper’s Bazaar, we should all save our black ensembles for next year in favour of…

Yes, pistachio, shades of purple, bright orange, shocking pink (fuchsia to me) and neon. First, I have to say that in my view only one of these colours could actually be worn from one season to the next. There is only one that wouldn’t cause me to feel slightly nauseated every time I passed a mirror. That colour is fuchsia. It’s a cosmetically-flattering colour and I think it can be worn by lots of people, especially those of us who have embraced our natural silver and platinum locks. So, I think that could be a keeper. My palette this year, then, reflects only a few of the so-called on-trend colours…

… and I’m planning to use a hearty dose of black and grey to ground the collection. Because that’s who I am. And it has to be said that Chanel presented a lot of black and white this season. Love it!

So, I considered the style trends as well. According to Elle magazine, the 90s are back as are the 70s and 80s. Dear god, do those of us who lived through this the first time have to be subjected to another dose of Dynasty shoulders and bell-bottomed pants? In a word, NO! There is an old saying that if you lived through a fashion trend once and it comes back again, just step away. It’s not for you. I don’t’ know who said that, but I’m sticking with it. There will be no bell-bottoms entering my closet. I think that older women are so much more sophisticated than that.

An what about that “lavender trend” that they talk about? Think about older women, then think about lavender. What does it conjure up in your mind? Arsenic and old lace? Lavender-scented, dark, musty rooms? Hankies? Not happening here in my household.

And what about capes?

The prom cape! Oh, and all that hair!

(I actually think the model on the right is wearing a blanket from her grandmother’s sofa, but I digress.)

The last time I wore a cape was to accompany my prom dress when I graduated from high school. I was sixteen, made both the dress and the matching (*gag*) cape, thought I was something else, and will never wear a cape again. It’s just not me.

I do, however, like that suiting is back. I love tailored jackets and suits. It’s just that my lifestyle doesn’t’ really require much in the line of suits these days. I suppose I could wear one when we go out for dinner.  

As usual, I’m inspired by Audrey Hepburn and the 1960s style but interpreted in a more modern, grown-up way. So, here is my design board for this season. I’m working on pattern design at this stage and will be using a combination of commercial and personally-designed patterns as I move toward figuring gout what to do with the three or four pieces of fabric I’ve that have inspired me this season. Net time: the fabrics and shapes of the designs.

What are you wearing this winter?

Photo sources:

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/trends/g28787858/fall-color-2019-fashion/

https://www.elle.com/fashion/trend-reports/a26147021/fall-fashion-trends-2019/

Posted in Fashion Design, Pattern-drafting, Style

In praise of the bateau (boat) neck!

I am so easily distracted these days. So many projects, so little time! My usual approach to life is to streamline my projects so that I have two to three (at the most) major projects ongoing at the same time. These days, however, I am finishing a publishing project, working on two books simultaneously (not so uncommon for me – I write both nonfiction and fiction and do like to have one of each going on to balance off against one another), and I have a number of design/sewing-related projects that are edging ever closer to the front of my mind. I have plans to move forward with my fall-winter wardrobe blueprint, yet I find myself with a few left-overs from the summer to complete.

Recently I seem to be stuck on tops with waist definition (as I discussed in my last post), and have finished another one in a woven rayon fabric. (I picked up a Simplicity pattern when we were on our summer road trip in upstate New York. Can’t get them any longer in Canada.)

 

 

I do love how it drapes, and I will pick up some silk twill this fall (I hope when we visit New York) to add to that unfinished design board, and perhaps make it again. But, what about that neckline? I’ll have to do something about that.

It’s something of a “bleh” neckline, n’est ce pas? It’s more than a crew neck, but not quite that true bateau neckline that is my favourite.

Two summers ago, I spent months perfecting my “perfect boat-neck” T-shirt pattern. (This was before anyone had even an inkling that Meghan Markle would choose this neckline for her wedding dress.) It wasn’t that the T-shirt was a challenge: the challenges was getting that boat neck to be precisely the right width and depth for my personal fit and style preferences. Why, oh why, do I seem to be wanting to make everything with a boat neck these days? I thought it might be useful (and fun) to have a look at the history of this oh-so-appealing design feature. Then I’ll tell you why getting the pattern just right is a matter of both mathematics and squinting. Anyway…

Boat neck. Bateau neck. Sabrina neck. Are they all the same? Well, it seems that there are a few differences. (Well, bateau is French for boat in case you’re a bit French-challenged!) But it all officially started back in 1958 in France when the now ubiquitous white and navy striped shirt became an official part of a French sailor’s uniform.

french sailors
French sailors back in the day…

Rumour has it that the stripes were supposed to make a man-overboard easier to see in the water. As time went on, the so-called French sailor shirt – or Breton shirt – became a wardrobe staple made even more famous by iconic American actress Jean Seberg who spent half her life in France, artist Pablo Picasso and the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

jean seberg
Jean Seberg does it right.

Not to mention Jackie O. and Coco herself. But it was all about the stripes in the early days. What about that neckline? (Jackie’s boat necks helped it to move along past the stripes.) 

 

 

If you examine the original design on the French sailors closely, you can see that the neckline was widened slightly. When you see an homage to the Breton shirt on Jean Seberg above, you can see the allure of the widened neckline exposing much more of the collarbone.

Then, of course, there is my personal muse, Audrey Hepburn. According to legend, Audrey didn’t love her neck or décolletage. So, many of her necklines were high and wide, exposing just that touch of collar-bone that is so sexy on almost every woman. However, when she was doing the film Sabrina, the boat neckline came up even slightly higher, thus creating a new kind of boat neck now and for all eternity to be called the Sabrina neckline. It isn’t clear whether Givenchy (who designed many if not most of Hepburn’s film wardrobes) or Edith Head (personally my favourite costume designer) who actually designed it since they both worked on the film. [The Sabrina neckline, higher and straighter than the others is on Audrey in the upper left photo below. On the lower right photo of Jackie, hers is almost a Sabrina.]

Jacki & Audrey

Anyway, stylish women have been picking it up ever since. *bats eyelashes*

I learned about drafting boat necks from the pattern-making course I took online from Suzy Furrer. What haunts me most about them ever since is trying to ensure that the back neckline is taken up just enough to ensure that the front of the neckline doesn’t gape. She has a rules she calls the “wide neckline adjustment rule.”

Inkedsuzy furer_LI
Original neckline at high neck point on the left. Newly drawn boat neck on right exposes the shoulder. As much as the designer chooses.

According to what I learned, if the front and back of the boat neck are the same measurement, the front will gape. And the truth is, I have noticed this on some of the ready-to-wear pieces I have picked up over the years. It’s usually a small bit of gaping, but gaping nonetheless. And if I am going to design and make my own pieces, they have to fit perfectly. So, I learn the rule.

Here is an example:

IMG_2280

When I altered the original neckline of this pattern I made (I didn’t like the shape of depth of the original), I decided that it would be better if it were 1/2″ wider on each side in the front (I also brought it up 2″ but that doesn’t affect the shoulder adjustment). So, after I made this change on the front neckline, of course I had to true up the shoulder seam by making the back neckline 1/2″ wider as well giving me a 2 1/2″ shoulder seam which I like with a boat neck. But, as  you can see in the photo below, I also shortened the length of the back neck by 1/8″ by lowering the high neck point.

IMG_2279

If I create a boat neck from my original sloper where the neckline is right at the high neck point, and I want my perfect boat neck which gives me that 2-2 1/2″ shoulder seam, I generally have to shorten the back by as much as 5/8″. In the case of the above example, the point I moved was already a distance from the high neck point (hope this makes sense!).

The point is that the farther out the neckline is from the high shoulder point, the shorter the back needs to be to prevent that gaping – up to about a maximum of 3/4″. Now, I always check these measurements on commercial patterns with boat necks, too.

 

 

[Two of the designs from the GG Collection basics from last year when I was perfecting my perfect boat neck!]

As I doodle toward my fall designs, I’m noting that this neckline keeps popping up there too. Good thing it works in many fabrics in all seasons. So, now I’m back to my design board. Talk soon!

The patterns…