The Campish Shirt

Every summer for the past I’ve-lost-count-of-the-number of years, I’ve wanted to make a camp shirt out of this lovely lightweight linen. This year, as summer was drawing to a close, the stars aligned for me to tackle this project.

Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.
Oops. Forgot to button the bottom button.

So why “campish” and not camp shirt? Because I decided that I didn’t want to use a convertible collar that is found in camp shirts. I also didn’t want a patch pocket over the breast. I mean, it’s not as if women are going to put anything in that pocket and I don’t think it really adds anything to the look.

The finished product is not everything I hoped it would be, but I learned some things in making it and now I can share those with you.

First, I learned that the name for the weave of this fabric with the extra texture scattered about is dobby. This particular fabric is pretty loosely woven, which presented some challenges in getting it on grain for cutting and then surprised me by stretching out of shape in one tiny segment of the neckline. More about the headache that created later.

For the pattern, I started out with my no-close topper. I drew a new neckline, added an extension for the button closure, shortened the pattern and added a curved shirt tail hem. When it was finished, I discovered I had shortened it a little too much. This version is wearable, but I’m going to lengthen the pattern before using it again.

I drafted new front and back facing pattern pieces and used the rolled collar and short sleeves with split hem and button detail from the linen version of my shirtdress.

The shirt went together without a hitch, which should have alerted me that there was a problem lurking somewhere. I didn’t mark where the collar was supposed to end in the front. The center back and shoulders were marked and that segment fit perfectly. When I held the collar-to-extension seam sections together they matched after both pinning and sewing, so I thought all was well. I was wrong.

When I put the finished shirt on I wasn’t happy with the way the front neckline looked. Something seemed off about the bit between the end of the collar and center front. I showed it to Sarah Veblen during our next mentoring session and she agreed something was wrong. She compared the pattern piece, which had the end of the collar marked, to the finished shirt and discovered that that little segment of the neckline had stretch more than half an inch. Surprisingly, the interfaced facing had stretched the same amount.

Aug - 2

Sarah’s advice was to unstitch, steam both the fashion fabric and facing into their proper shape and restitch. That included unstitching understitching, removing the top snap and sewing the very last bit at the extension by hand. Can I tell you how much I didn’t want to do that after thinking I was done with the project?

The unstitching wasn’t terribly painful once I got started. It was helped by the fact that I did it with my feline sewing assistant in my lap. The steaming was more of a project than I’d anticipated. It took several rounds of pinning to match the pattern, transferring the pins to hold the fabric to the ironing board cover without the pattern, steaming and leaving it to cool and dry. Little by little, the fullness came out. Then the entire process ¬†had to be repeated for a total of four segments – both sides of the fashion fabric then both front facings.

Aug - 7

One thing I did for the first time with this project was make horizontal buttonholes. I know the “rule” is that you use vertical buttonholes on blouses and shirts and horizontal ones on jackets and coats, but Sarah Veblen encourages her students to ignore that rule. I think she’s right from both a practical and an esthetic point of view. These buttonholes won’t splay open when I move and the buttons won’t come out the way they sometimes do with vertical buttonholes on a fitted blouse. The bonus is that I really like the way they look. I’m sold on using them.

Using the horizontal orientation also meant that I could use keyhole buttonholes for my buttons, which have shanks.

Aug - 6

In looking at the finished product critically, Sarah and I decided on some changes to the pattern before using it again. Besides lengthening it, I’d like to move the tucks out toward the shoulders so they are away from the collar. Sarah also suggested bringing the front armscye seam in just a smudge, which I’ve done. I’m also going to change the shape of the front neckline slightly and widen the collar a bit at the ends so I can get more of the graceful curved shape in front.

Sarah also advised that I modify the way I interface the front facing when using a fabric that might need some extra control. She suggested piecing the interfacing at this line so that this area can be on grain.

Interfacing Diagram

These imperfections aren’t going to stop me from wearing this campish shirt. It’s light, cool, casual and the color is very me.

Fit Odyssey

canstockphoto4015708At first, it sounded straightforward. Not difficult at all. All I had to do was measure my body at prescribed points, compare those measurements to a pattern for a basic sloper, do the math and adjust the pattern to reflect my own measurements. Simple, right? Hardly.

The first problem, of course, is where to measure. Where is the shoulder point, anyway? Is that exactly at the waist? Should the hip measurement be here, or a little lower? Is the tape measure straight?

Okay. So I got a set of measurements. Several sets of measurements. At different times. In different classes. Using different books.

Starting with vertical adjustments, I lowered the bust point (is anyone other than a 14 year-old as “perky” as a commercial pattern?), shortened the waist and raised the hemline. I followed the advice to use a pattern size based on high bust so the shoulder length would be right (more or less). But the shoulder length wasn’t correct. Later I found out that the shoulder angle wasn’t correct either.

Moving on to circumferences was when things got really dicey. Teachers and books instruct us to slash the pattern open and spread it to fit, then fill in the gap with paper. The problem with doing that when you are shaped like a pear is that the side seams become so distorted that the original shape of the design is lost. So I tried to create a curve that allowed the side seams to follow their original direction using the seam-only method and ended up with ugly “wings” or flaps of fabric.

What about making the transition at the armscye? Tried that, which meant spending hours trying to make corresponding changes in the sleeve. Just about every time I corrected a problem with a pattern adjustment, two or three other problems seemed to crop up. I was going in circles.

To make matters worse, this process brought all my body issues front and center. Comparing my measurements to the “ideal” I saw in the patterns made me berate myself for every pound I had gained since I was in my twenties. I even had an instructor point to me in a workshop as an example of an “irregular figure”.

At one point I thought draping might be the answer and I made a dress form that was supposed to be an exact duplicate of my body. It turned out that the dress form and I were not really twins. I still don’t know what went wrong there. What about tissue fitting, you might ask. Tried that, too.

There were many times that I asked myself why I was spending so much time and money on something that was making me so miserable, but I was too stubborn to admit defeat. So, I persevered and joked that I was an artist who worked exclusively in muslin. The only garments I finished were knits and the occasional loose-fitting woven. I even managed to make some pleated trousers that looked pretty good until you got up close and saw that the side seams weren’t straight. I was sure there was an answer out there. I just had to find it.

Yes, there is a happy ending to this story. In 2009, I signed up for a class on PatternReview.com called “All About Set-In Sleeves and Armholes” taught by Sarah Veblen. Once I started reading Sarah’s class materials, I knew I had found a teacher I wanted to work with. I went to her web site, read about her workshops, learned that she is an expert in fit and decided I had to not only take more of her classes but share her with my ASG group.

The first time we talked on the phone I learned that Sarah was working on her book, The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting. Using the words “complete” and “perfect” means this book makes some pretty big promises, but Sarah delivers on those promises.

The foundation of Sarah’s method is draping. She has her students make up a muslin with regular seam allowances. Like other teachers, Sarah will “read the wrinkles” in the muslin, but where she differs is that she also uses a grid to help identify areas that require changes and to indicate when the problems have been resolved. The grid is formed by marking the center front and center back as well as one or more perpendicular lines called horizontal balance lines, or HBLs.

After Sarah pins the changes, she has you transfer the markings back to the paper pattern, following the rules of flat patternmaking so that the pattern is accurate and reusable. There is a learning curve, which she patiently guides you through.

Not only does working with Sarah give me the result I had been striving to achieve, but Sarah’s approach frees me from comparing the contours of my body with the dimensions of a pattern. Once I’ve made all the changes, I make a fresh pattern and that becomes the standard, not some set of measurements that represent an average of some unknown number of women who look nothing like me.

IMG_1081

In the next post, I’ll tell you about my first workshop with Sarah and how working with her has transformed me from the disappointed would-be garment sewist stuck working exclusively in muslin to the happy camper who is cranking out garments that flatter my curves.