The Essentials: The button up shirt

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** This post is part of the 'The Essentials' series. See the index for the full list of posts, or the introduction to understand the concept of the workwear capsule pattern stash. ***

The button up shirt

Is there any garment more versatile than the humble shirt? Although it might seem intimidating to sew one from scratch, once you’ve had a go you’ll probably realise it’s not so scary at all. The trickiest bit is typically the collar, but there are lots of great resources around to help with neat collar construction.
There are various shaping/styling options which can contribute to the fit of a shirt. Shirts with a single small side or French dart are generally fitted through the shoulder and bust and then have more ease through the waist and hips. Princess seamed shirts are great for more fitted styles, and provide you with more seams which you can use to tweak the fit. They're also great for ladies with larger busts, who require more shaping than a single side dart can usually provide.
One thing to consider carefully is the placement of the buttons on the shirt. You may need to adjust the position and number of buttons to suit your frame and avoid gaping at the bust - ideally you will have one button right in line with the fullest part of the bust. When your shirt is made up, use a pin to mark where this button should be, then mark the location on both sides of the button placket (for the buttonhole and the button). Then take off the shirt and work out an even spacing of buttons between the one at the collar/neckline (depending on the style of shirt) and the bottom of the shirt. You can then copy the new button placement marking over to your pattern pieces for future reference!
Once you have a shirt pattern that fits well, and that you love, it’s hard not to imagine making it over and over again. Shirting cotton or linen will make a clean, classic shirt, but they also look elegant and feminine in soft and drapey fabrics like silk or rayon, or in sheers such as chiffon.
Think French side seams, immaculate shirt yokes with crisp pleats, contrast collars or button plackets, and precise patch pockets. There are so many ways to both personalise and professionalise the look of your handmade shirts!
Pattern inspiration:
Hack it!
  • Once you have a well fitting pattern, sleeves are an obvious area you can hack to make lots of different variations such as short sleeves or three quarter length sleeves, omitting the cuffs.
  • Try adding embroidery/appliqué to a plain shirt for interest - you could embroider the sleeves, yoke, or one side of the bodice, for example.

  • Experiment with different styles and shapes of collar - omit the collar and use the collar band to make a mandarin collar, or vary the width, shape and length of the collar points to make Peter Pan collars or deep-pointed collars.
  • Extend the length and play with the shaping to make a shirt-dress or a casual midi shirt for layering.

  • Add ruffles to princess seams, sleeve cuffs, the shirt collar ... wherever you fancy!

  • A good sewing reference book will walk you through the finer points of constructing shirt collars, with tips for getting a clean and crisp collar.
  • David Coffin is a widely respected author of several sewing-related books on shirtmaking and other topics. In particular, he authored the following highly rated books on shirtmaking:
    • "Sewing Shirts with a Perfect Fit"
    • "The Shirtmaking Workbook"
    • "Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing"

general / opinion

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