YOU Can Sew a Button Up Shirt!

Ah, January, so full of hope and ambition and goals and all that jazz. Aren’t we all just raring to go and ready to conquer the world? Or at least our own little corner of the world. That’s how I often feel this time of year. THIS year I’m having a hard time finding motivation, if I’m honest. We’ve got some home renovation projects that are sort of sucking all my energy these days, and we were all SUPER sick and of course crazy busy in the month of December, so I’m not as filled with vigor and vim about my 2018 goals as I would like to be.

LAST year, on the other hand, I made SO many resolutions. I was gonna do ALL THE THINGS, man. In December, just a few weeks ago, I turned 30 (yay! Or…yikes? I dunno…) and at the beginning of 2017 I made a list of 30 goals I wanted to accomplish before I turned 30 years old. They ranged from house goals, to family goals, personal ones and spiritual ones, frivolous ones and meaningful ones. There were a lot of ambitious sewing goals on that list as well. I crossed a lot of big things off that list, and I’m proud to say I accomplished all but five of my 30 goals. I could spend this whole post, or several, expounding on my 30 before 30 list, but I specifically want to talk about one of those sewing goals today, which was:

SEW A BUTTON UP SHIRT

Archer Button Up

In my mind, sewing a button-up shirt is one of the major milestones in garment sewing. It seems so scary and technical but like a bridge we all must cross to be considered an accomplished sewer. This was a huge reason I wanted to learn to sew one. Another was the fact that button-ups NEVER look good on me off the rack; I’ve bought several over the years and then promptly never wore them. Another still was the fact that my husband kept begging me to make him a men’s shirt. I told him once I had a better sewing machine, I would. Well, he bought me a new sewing machine a few months ago, so I couldn’t hold on to that excuse any longer. It was go time.

So, after lots of rambling and probably unnecessary backstory here (I’m chatty, sorry guys), I want to tell you about my journey sewing not just one, but FOUR button up shirts last year, and give you some advice if sewing a button up is that scary goal on your list in 2018. Away we go!

Tip #1: Start Small (and I mean that literally)

Sketchbook Shirt

The first button up I made this year was the Sketchbook Shirt by Oliver+S and it was the perfect introduction to shirt making. I made this for my little three-year-old son (though the pattern is unisex!) and it was a fast and incredibly satisfying project that gave me the confidence I needed to tackle this whole button up shirt thing. I let him choose the fabric for a special fashion show we did at Harmony Provo, my favorite local shop, and he picked these darling alligators in Cloud 9 organic cotton. The following photo is from the fashion show, and I think it needs no other commentary:

Harmony Fashion Show

I mean, right? I confess I didn’t get the buttons or buttonholes on his shirt in time for the fashion show, so he wore it open, but I went back and finished them and they were not at all as scary as I’d feared. The hardest part for me was sewing the collar on this shirt, but it was the first collar I’d ever done, so I was happy with it even though it wasn’t perfect. Which brings me to…

Tip #2: Start with a one-piece collar.

This just means the collar is sewn directly to the neckline of the shirt. Traditionally tailored shirts have a collar stand. Collar stands ARE NOT that scary, but it is an addition step that intimidates some sewers, so a good way to start out is just using a pattern without one. The Sketchbook Shirt is like this, but if you’re looking for other patterns that don’t have collar stands and you’re not really interested in sewing for kids, try the Willamette Shirt by Hey June or the Penny Dress by Sew Over It. There are so many great options for shirt patterns! If you’re not sure if the pattern you want to make has a collar stand, the description might tell you, or just go ahead and ask the pattern designer!

Tip #3: Skip the cuffs and sleeve plackets!

At least, at first. I opted to make my first couple shirt-making projects short sleeved, to save on fabric and time, but also because I was a little wary of cuffs and plackets. My second button up is a pattern I’d be dying to try for over a year: the Archer Button Up by Grainline Studio. I made two Archers this year, and for my first one I was in a time crunch so I opted for short sleeves.

Halloween Archer ShirtIt’s this cute cute Spellbound fabric by my favorite Cotton and Steel, and it came together so quickly and beautifully that I almost couldn’t believe it. Going easy on the sleeves allowed me to really concentrate on getting a perfect collar (this one is the traditional two-piece collar with a collar stand) and I was really pleased with my results.

I will say that the short-sleeve Archer isn’t quite the silhouette I was hoping for; it looks a bit like a bowling shirt on me unless I wear it with a cardigan or tucked in, but I will still wear it proudly every Halloween! To get the more feminine short-sleeved collard shirt I’ve been dreaming of, I’m soon attempting both the Mélilot Shirt by Deer and Doe Patterns and the Sara Shirt from By Hand London. I’ll keep you posted on those beauties!

Collar Closeup

But I’m not finished talking about the Archer Shirt, as I made two, I’ve got more to tell you! If you want to make a traditional shirt with all the bells and whistles and you want a pattern with really great, clear instructions, then the Archer is for you. It is a relaxed, almost boyfriend-fit shirt, and it comes together really well. There are great illustrations and the pattern even links to detailed tutorials on how to get that collar on perfectly and do other cool shirt making tricks, which leads me to…

Tip #4: Slow and steady makes for beautiful shirts.

I can tell you right now, that button up shirts are not even really difficult, so much as they involve a lot of techniques that require time and careful sewing. Sew that collar slowly and carefully. Press everything really well. Opt to take the time to top stitch. Definitely give flat-felled seams a try, maybe not on your first go, but especially do it on a shirt made with special fabric or one you know you’ll wear often. It takes a little more time and effort, but man, what a beautiful and clean result! In flat-felling my seems, I realized that shirt making is about dedicating your time and attention to detail. It wasn’t instant gratification, but the slow sewing was a really lovely and enriching process.

Gingham Archer

Tip #4: Be Mindful of Pattern Matching

I made my second Archer from the Robert Kaufman Carolina Gingham and I wear this baby ALL THE TIME. As my first shirt with cuffs, plackets, and a full-blown collar, it took me some extra time especially given that I had plaid matching to deal with. If you’ve got your heart set on a plaid button up shirt (which, why wouldn’t you? It’s an American classic, after all) then by all means, go for it! Just realize it’s going to take more time and fabric to match that pattern.

One handy tip is to cut your button placket and your yoke on the bias. This is both visually interesting, and makes it so you don’t have to match on those areas. Do make sure your plaids run nicely across both front pieces and do your best on the side seams, but also realize that it’s probably going to be impossible to get it to match perfectly everywhere.

(Warning: when cutting on the bias, the fabric will stretch! The button placket is interfaced so that will help with this, and when I cut my yoke pieces for this Archer, I cut the outside piece (the one that shows) on the bias, but I left the inside one on the grain, so that it would stabilize the one on the bias and keep it from stretching out of shape. I tried to have my cuffs on the bias, but they stretched out terribly, so I just cut new ones on the grain and let go of that idea.)

Gingham Archer Button Up

I really can’t recommend the Archer enough. If you want an intermediate pattern that will stretch your sewing, but give you the resources to succeed, then Archer is the shirt for you.

Tip #5: Put some pressure on!

My bargain with my husband to make him a shirt was pretty effective in getting me to tackle button ups. I wanted his to be really good, so I started with my son and me as practice before I dove in to his shirt. He chose this awesome Cotton and Steel Bluebird fabric, and he chose the short sleeves, which was a nice shortcut for me, but he did bug me relentlessly to finish his shirt, so that kept me going!

Agree to make a shirt for someone else, or agree to make one at the same time as a friend. The support (or the nagging, whatever) will really help you!

As for my mister’s shirt, it’s the Fairfield Button Up by Thread Theory and it is an incredibly thorough pattern! There are a few options on fitting and the instructions are really detailed and helpful. I have only used Thread Theory for the few menswear items I’ve made, and I can’t say enough about how awesome they are. Especially if the men in your life like a slim fit, like my husband does. I am really happy with how this shirt turned out, notwithstanding…wait for it….

Fairfield Button Up

Tip #6: Embrace the mistakes.

Picture this: I stayed up late sewing the buttons on this shirt so my husband could wear it the next morning. It’s not the most seasonally appropriate for our cold Utah winters, but he was so excited to wear it. He was getting ready for work in the morning and I, still abed, groggily told him that his shirt was finished. He was so excited and put it on right away. Then he says “Um…I don’t want to be that guy, but did you sew the buttons on the wrong side?” I’m a very rageful person in the morning, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but basically it wasn’t nice. After he left I went to check my pattern pieces and realized that I hadn’t cut it out correctly and that indeed, the buttons were on the wrong side. So, in the style of ladies’ shirts.

Fairfield Button Up DetailI was really mad, and I was really embarrassed. This was supposed to be the crown jewel in my conquest of shirt making! How could I have failed?! It was a very depressing morning. To be fair, mornings are like poison to me in general, but this was particularly painful.

A few hours later, my husband called me and told me that everyone loved his shirt and simply could not believe that I had made it, and that nary a soul had noticed the buttons. So I decided to swallow my pride and just rejoice in the fact that I made a really awesome shirt that my husband loved. Even if I did make a mistake. He wears his lady shirt proudly, like Michael Scott in his bargain-bin lady’s suit. (I tried to find a clip of that amazing scene from the office, but I couldn’t right away and didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of Michael Scott clips.)

Fairfield Button Up

“This is what you do when you’re modeling, right?” Um, okay…

I know this post is long, but if you’re still reading, I just want to leave you with one last tip about making shirts, and that is:

BE BRAVE!

If there’s one piece of advice I can give about sewing in general, it’s don’t be afraid to tackle something that scares you. Yes, work your way up to it, and yes, take things one step at a time, but don’t ever let yourself think the words “Oh, I could never make that.” You could. You can. AND YOU WILL. Sewing a shirt is an incredibly satisfying project that will teach you so many new skills and make you feel so proud of yourself. It’s not the easiest thing you’ll ever make, but it’s not scary, it’s not impossible, and it’s really quite fun if you immerse yourself in the process and let it take your skills to new heights. Good luck to you, aspiring shirt sewers, and may 2018 be the year you sew a shirt like a rock star!

Guess Who Teaches Sewing Lessons?

It’s me, I teach sewing lessons! I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, but I’ve been too nervous to do it and afraid that no one would really be interested in me sharing my knowledge. I teach the 16 and 17 year-old girls at my church and in December we were talking about sharing our knowledge and talents with others. One of my dear girls sent me a text message the next day and asked me if I’d ever be interested in teaching sewing lessons because her little sister wanted to learn so badly and their mom didn’t know where to take her. It was just the push I needed to get my act together and get started.

My first class began in January. I have a small group of cute little ladies ages 10-12 and we have been having so much fun working on sewing projects. We meet twice a month and I’ve put together a little syllabus of projects and it’s been a great learning experience for me as well. There have definitely been some things I’ve needed to work on as a teacher (like determining how long it will realistically take to complete certain sewing projects. I’m really bad at that.), and it’s helped me figure out how to go about teaching others to sew.

Sewing Lessons

Here we are working on our little half aprons. We do our sewing lessons in my house and it can be kind of crazy sometimes (three little kids and two cats offer up lots of distraction for excitable girlies) but we make it work. So far we have made drawstring bags using this great tutorial, little Gingermelon dollies, pillowcases (this is the easiest way to make pillowcases!), and aprons I just taught without a pattern or tutorial. Down the road we’ll be doing zipper pouches, skirts, headbands, clothing, and whatever else I can come up with that they want to make. I’m hoping to take on more students in the future as well. It’s really just so fun to see the fabrics they choose, and to indoctrinate young people with the joys of fabric hoarding, bwahahaha!

Sewing Lessons

We have our cutting and pressing station and then a table for our sewing machines. Figuring out everyone’s different machines was scary for me at first, but luckily we haven’t had too many issues. We like to listen to music (mainly the Trolls soundtrack, haha!) and have entertaining preteen conversations. Mostly about my cats, future sewing projects, and sometimes American Girl dolls, about which I know nothing, so that’s educational.

Sewing Lessons

My own little lady (who is only five) absolutely loves sewing lessons. She always wants to do exactly what the big girls are doing and she tries really hard to impress them. They are sweet with her and I try hard to be patient and teach her along with them. These little sewing lessons are making me really excited for when I can fully teach her to sew in a couple years.

My little students are adorable. They always come and tell me what they’ve been working on at home and it just makes my heart swell with sewing pride and gladness, I tell you. Teaching a new generation of sewing enthusiasts is a dream come true, really.  Teaching people to sew is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so it’s exciting to finally be doing it! We have a lot of fun at our sewing lessons, and I feel like it’s helping me be an even better seamstress myself.

Sew Your Own Clothes

Exciting news! I’m teaching apparel sewing classes! I get asked about this often and it’s been in the works for a few months so I’m really excited to announce that registration is open for my first class. I’ve linked here to the registration page, but I wanted to talk a little more about it. The class is called Sew Your Own Clothes and it’s the perfect intro into the lovely world of apparel sewing.

Scout Tee in Cotton and Steel Tiger Fabric

When: April 4th or April 8th. We wanted to give everyone the option of a weeknight or a Saturday. It’s a three hour class.

Where: Thimbles and Threads in Draper, UT. If you’ve never shopped for fabric here, you are seriously missing out. It’s an incredible place with a huge selection!

What: We’ll be making the Scout Tee, which is a fabulous pattern by Grainline Studio. It’s one of my favorite patterns ever because it looks good on everyone and it’s easy to sew but still teaches some fundamental garment making techniques that look really professional. There’s no complicated fitting, no closures, nothing that typically scares beginners away. And it can be made from quilting cotton (or any light-to-medium-weight woven fabric) and the selection at Thimbles and Threads is fantastic.

Who: Me. And hopefully you! And my mom and my sister, because I told them they have to come.

Scout Tee with Flutter Sleeves in Lizzy House Double Gauze

We’ll also be chatting about how you can customize patterns, choose fabrics, measure yourself, how to care for handmade clothing, and any other questions you have for me about how to sew your own clothes. If these two classes are successful and well attended, there will possibly be more and I may be able to teach future topics and different types of patterns and clothes, so I’m hopeful and excited about this new teaching thing. Sewing one’s own clothing is freeing, empowering, and beyond rewarding, and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with other people.