Monday, September 21, 2009

The Perfectly Fitting Shirt - Part I

As I do this time each year, I went through my closets and drawers to identify what I have and what I need to complete my fall wardrobe.  I have pants and skirts galore (OK, more like eight to 10 of them), and several dresses, but very few shirts (and even fewer shirts that fit me well).  I have decided that my priority for sewing has to be developing a TNT blouse pattern so I can whip up a half dozen or so new shirts for the fall (which officially starts tomorrow, BTW, so I'd better get cracking).

After reading several reviews (in particular, Debbie Cook's - you're fabulous!), I have decided to use Butterick 5300 as my starting point:

Like Debbie, I find the Connie Crawford patterns rather "blah" at first glance.  The sketches really don't do her designs any favors. I was looking at some of her patterns on her website yesterday, and I was really impressed with the photos of live models, particularly the ones that show the same design on two different size women.  I think Connie really has a gift for plus size designing - the clothes look just as wonderful on "fluffier" women as they do on the more slender gals.

For my first attempt, I used a lightweight, taupe-colored linen (or maybe linen-look, I can't tell) fabric from my stash.  I figured if I really got lucky, I'd end up with a "wearable muslin" (sorry, Ann!).  In any event, it wasn't doing anything just sitting there in my stash, so I figured it might as well be used for something.  I chose View C, which has a faced V-neckline and 3/4 length sleeves with slits at the hem, and started with the D/DD front pattern piece.

I have to say that it fit pretty darn well right out of the envelope compared to most Big 4 patterns, and had I made no adjustments, it would probably fit as well as or better than most of the RTW shirts in my closet.  However, since my quest is for the Perfectly Fitting Shirt™, I started tweaking it.

I had a bit of a problem with the front neckline gaping (which I plan to address in more detail in another post).  It was particularly noticeable on the right front, because my right shoulder is lower than my left (thank you, scoliosis!).  To correct this, I'm going to take a little wedge out at the shoulder seam, tapering to nothing at the shoulder point, which falls exactly where it should be.  Additionally, I noticed that the shoulder seams are clearly visible from the front - they need to be moved towards the back, which means adding length to the back and back facings, and removing length from the front and front facings.  Again, since the shoulder point is in the correct location, I need to add/remove wedge-shaped pieces of fabric, about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch (for left and right fronts, respectively).  Since I am planning to use this pattern again, I'm going to draft separate left and right fronts (and left and right front facings) so I don't have to fiddle with the right side adjustments each time I use it.

The bust darts are a little too high, and too close to the bust apex.  I need to shorten them by about 5/8" and lower them by the same amount. I'm a little nervous about shortening the darts - they already end in a rather sharp point, but I was able to press the point into a smooth curve on the linen fabric.  I'm concerned that shortening it will increase the angle of the dart, and depending on the fabric I use, it may be harder to press into a smooth, curved shape.  (Does anyone have a suggestion as to how to handle this?)

I should have taken Debbie's advice about the fisheye darts on the front pattern piece right from the start - they were indeed far too close to the CF.  Both the front and back fisheye darts need to have the widest point (waistline) raised about 5/8 - 3/4".  The total length of the darts seems OK, but the pattern's waistline is lower than my narrowest point.  I haven't quite decided if I need to petite the pattern through the upper back as well.  I  like the length of the unhemmed shirt, so I'll need to add another inch to the fronts and backs for hemming.

Finally, the sleeves could be longer.  I usually need to add an inch (or two) to full-length sleeves, and the 3/4 length ones were no different.  I made the mistake of taking out 1.5 inches in the width of the sleeve the first time I cut them out because the finished biceps measurement printed on the pattern was 2.75" larger than my arm measurement, and I thought that would be too much ease.  I generally prefer closer-fitted sleeves, but after trying the sleeves on, I realized that my arms really need the total amount of ease for movement.  I thought the amount of ease in the sleeve cap was reasonable, and the sleeves were fairly easy to set in to the armhole, even though the pattern has you sew the underarm seam first and set them in "in the round".

I'm going to re-draft the pattern this afternoon and take another swing at it in a different (non-muslin) fabric.  Wish me luck!

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