how to take in a dress shirt, part 2

I’m back with part two of how to take in a shirt! This post is a little more specific to dress shirts and their construction than my previous post on measuring and marking. I hope you guys find it useful!

howto_shirt_hemBefore we get going, make a note of how the seams are constructed. We’ll be putting everything back in the same way, so we want to note down how big the seam allowance is, if the seams are pressed to the front or the back, if one layer of fabric has been trimmed back or not. Jot it all down! This will be happening both before you start seam-ripping, and during.

Now we’re on to cutting, seam-ripping and re-assembling the shirt. Making sure you’ve removed all the pins, go ahead and seam-rip the side seams to within 3 or 4 inches of the cuff seam on the sleeves. Trust me when I say it’s super difficult to get close to that cuff seam on a sewing machine! The topstitching can be seam-ripped back a little further, as we need the fabric to lay flat to join the old and new stitching, and the topstitching is in the way of doing that.

howto_shirt_sleeveYou can see with my sleeve that the two layers have been cut to the same width, and folded under before topstitching. You can also see I’ve put my final pin right where I’ve stopped ripping the structural seam, while the topstitching is undone a good inch or two further.

Oh, the fun part! We are going to do the whole business with the pins one more time, just in reverse. Mark every two inches as before, and measure in at each point the amount you determined in the last round of measuring and note-taking. I like to pin with the pins pointing towards me, so that when I’m cutting the head of the pin isn’t in the way of the scissors and I can cut just on the inside of where the pin is. When I get to the point in the picture below I pull out the pin and aim for the next one. Try to maintain a smooth cutting line. If you’d rather use chalk or something instead of the pins, that’s totally fine.

howto_shirt_cutBut wait, I hear you say, what about the seam allowance? What if it isn’t the same as the shirt I’m showing you? Actually, it doesn’t matter one bit! As long as you resew with the same seam allowance as the original was done, you’re good. Since the original measurement was from the sewn edge to where we want the new sewn edge to be, that exact measurement still holds true when we measure from the original cut edge to the new cut edge.

By the way, in the picture above you can see that I move the pins marking the 2 inch points to the new cut edge after I’ve cut each section. I still need to keep my layers together when I sew the side seams!

howto_shirt_dart2At some point you’ll need to sew the two darts in the back. I don’t have a strong preference on when I do this; as the first thing; after seamripping; after sewing the side seam… Whenever you want to is fine – shirts are big enough that it’s not too much easier to do this flat than when the shirt is sewn up. Same procedure here as earlier – re-mark the measurements you calculated earlier, and sew.

howto_shirt_flatfelled_downloadBack to the side seam! I’m demonstrating how I’m folding my seam allowance in half and pressing under, in preparation for the flat felled seam to come. The picture isn’t quite accurate, as I went back and trimmed down that inner layer to about half the width. I found it difficult and lumpy to do both layers! I know that’s the way it was sewn originally, but factories have special machinery that does all the work, and I don’t. So I just find a way that gives as similar as a result as possible.howto_shirt_armpit-e1392730229537

If the shirt has a staggered seams (as in, one seam has already been trimmed before being sewn) you can either trim each layer independently the same amount, and then layer them staggered before sewing again, or you can measure in from the outermost cut edge, trim away the excess, sew, and trim down the inner layer before continuing with the flat-felled seam.Here is a tip, which is related to not having factory-style equipment as home sewers: Trim away a triangle from the inner layer, right at the underarm seam. There are so many layers of fabric at this intersection of seams, that trimming away one of them allows the other to fold over much more neatly. This is a matter of “turn of cloth”-allowance, which Sherry has written about on her blog.

howto_shirt_sewWhen you’ve pressed under the seam allowance you can take your nearly finished shirt to the sewing machine, and edgestitch the pressed under edge. You should be sewing this from the inside of the shirt, at least with traditional flat felled seam construction. The final step will be to resew the hem across the side seams – same goes here as with everywhere else, which is to sew it back the way it was done originally.

Step back and enjoy the results of your hard work! Model checking himself in the mirror optional…

john_shirt_front_after3I’d like to add on a “part 3” to this at some point, showing how to deal with the shoulder if it needs to be moved up. I’m not sure when that would be – John and I will have to inventory his shirt-collection and see if we find a candidate.

I hope this is useful information to those of you wanting to make this kind of alteration, and please do ask if you have any questions!

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