how to take in a dress shirt, part 1

As I mentioned, here is the first part of my tutorial on how to take in a dress shirt! At least, the methods and tricks that have worked for me the last few times I have taken in John’s shirts. I’ve separated this into two posts; this one on pinning and measuring, and the next on cutting and general tips.

Let’s start! You can kind of tell that I’ve pinned in the sides in the picture below, but I also added another to show where the pins are. I pin the shirt in while on the person of course, making sure to make it as even as possible from side to side. For the sleeves I taper from the elbow down to a point 3-4″ up from the cuff seam, since it is very difficult to get close to that seam with a sewing machine. Make sure to always put the pins in pointing to the floor – it’ll reduce the chance of the person wearing the shirt pricking themselves! The whole point of taking in a shirt is of course to make it slimmer, but keep an eye on draglines.

There is a limit to how much you can take in without distorting the fit, so I’d recommend not taking in much more than 4 inches total at the armpit / side seam intersection. If you need to take in more, you might want to think about reshaping the armscye and sleeve head (not covered here).

howto_shirt_pin howto_shirt_pin_text2

I find that the biggest job in taking in (or letting out) any garment is this next step of recording the points you’ve pinned, then averaging those numbers out. This is the same technique I used when working in the bridal shop, and in pretty much any setting where I need to let out or take in seams equally on both sides of a garment. It makes sure you get a smooth line from top to bottom, and of course – being the same on both sides!

You’ll need:
– your pinned shirt
– pen and paper
– measuring tape or ruler


I start by measuring out every 2 inches (or every 5 cm if you think in metric) starting from the hem and working my way upwards. I mark each point by a pin perpendicular to the stitching line. When I get to the armpit I mark that seam with a pin even if it isn’t quite at the 2″ mark from the previous one. I start counting from zero at the armhole, moving towards the sleeve cuff. Repeat this for the other side.


Next I revisit all the 2″ marks and measure how far in the pins are from the original side seam. If the 2″ mark is between two pins, just eyeball it the best you can. Note down the distance for each point, first for one side and then the other. As you can see, I curiously marked points in 2-inch segments, but I measured from the side seam in centimeters! I find centimetres much more accurate for smaller distances, but whatever floats your boat works.

Now get in touch with your mathy side. Again, I find the next step easier to do in centimetres, mostly because I can so easily see where the midpoint between two numbers should be. For example, if I’ve measured a particular point on the left side to 2.4 cm and 2.8 cm on the other side, I average it out to 2.6 cm.


I average out each point individually first, and then I work my way down and make sure my new line won’t resemble a zig-zag, darting in and out. You can maybe make out in the picture above that I changed the average number for the 8″ mark from 1.9 cm to 2.0 cm. Looking at the big picture I can tell that the amount taken in increases steadily from the hem to the armpit, and then back down, so it makes no sense to dip down at the 8″ mark when the big picture tells me otherwise. So I changed it! This is the time to smooth out all these lines, and to trust your eye, your gut and your experience.


The process is pretty much the same for the darts I took in. The darts are more freestanding in the middle of the shirt back piece, so you’ll have to get some important measurements recorded and evened out. They include how far up from the hem you start the dart, the length of the dart, the deepest point of the dart, and the distance from the side seam to the bottom of the dart. You can see my drawing in the picture below. As with the side seams, I measured out 2″ distances, recorded the pinned in amount at those points, then figured out the averages.

howto_shirt_notesThat’s it for today! And quite honestly, it’s the part requiring the most concentration, and is the groundwork for everything coming after. The hard part is now done! I’ll have the next post on cutting, sewing and general tips up later in the week.

I ♥ reupholstery class: making a seat


Welcome to another round of red pictures! The light in the basement where we work is pretty terrible, but at least the pictures are consistent in their red glow. Anyways! The last two or three sessions has been about rebuilding the seat. By last post I had the springs all in place, and in the picture above you can see the stitches from attaching each spring at four points to the jute webbing. It reminds me of a funky houndstooth pattern!



And…. more tying up the springs with rope and string. The first pass was from the back to the front in the middle of each column of springs, then another pass left to right in the middle of each row of springs. Then a repeat of that between the springs (on both the rows and columns) between the springs, attaching to the rope itself. And finally, a metal wire frame at the top edge of the springs, kept in place with more string. These springs are securely in place now!



Next a base layer of burlap covers the springs, and are attached with more string and knots. First, around the edge of the metal wire frame, and then across each row of springs catching each of them at 3 spots (8 o’clock, 12 o’clock and 4 o’clock). I took that picture to help me remember the locking stitches used for both these steps. It actually reminds me a lot of a regular blanket stitch (here is post at Colletterie with a tutorial and variations).


My original “wood-wool” (that’s really what they call it!) cushion was pretty intact, so I got to reuse that. It is just positioned over the burlap covered springs, filled with more wood-wool if necessary, and then some running stitches with a crazy giant double-pointed needle secures this cushion to the burlap fabric underneath. Pulling tightly you start getting a bit of a “buttoned pillow”-look, but I think this is all being covered with shredded wool (real this time), so it won’t be apparent in the finished seat.


There are still quite a few steps before the seat is finished – the sides are all being filled in with more wood-wool and secured down, the burlap top is sewn to define the edge, the real wool is piled on top, then a layer of muslin, and… I think, at that point finally the real fabric. I was surprised to learn that we are finishing the seat completely before even taking the fabric off the back, so I guess I have to live with that old, red, sort of terrible fabric a little while longer!

refashioned custom dress


Fabric: Original dress made in a polyester two-tone satin faced taffeta. The matching fabric I think is a satin polyester, and poly lining.
Pattern: Self drafted with princess panels, dropped waist, and sewn in belt.
Techniques: Invisible zipper, fully lined, understitched neckline and armholes, sewn in bra-loops.


Every once in a while I take on sewing projects for customers. A month or so back, I was contacted by a lady who wanted to have her dress resewn. The strapless gown had become too small, and she wanted somthing that would be more versatile. She liked the idea of refashioning this dress – especially since she had shoes dyed to match especially. She was picturing a sleeveless dress with a straight silhouette and a dropped waist.

I sketched out a panelled dress with a contrasting sewn in waistband, keeping a bit with the original dress. The first task of this refashion was to figure out how much of the orginal dress could actually be used for the new dress – or in other words, how much dress could I make out of the original gown? It turned out, unfortunately, that all the pieces of the new dress simply could not fit on the pieces of the gown.


The customer lady and I decided on supplementing with a new but matching fabric for the bodice, which made for a three-tone dress. The contrast belt in the middle is actually just the back side of the main skirt fabric! The gown had gotten some bad water stains, so even with just needing the skirt and belt from the original fabric it was a bit of a challenge cutting around the worst spots. A good thing then, that I had the wiggle room to avoid them! The dress is fully lined, with an invisible zipper at the side seam.


The customer lady was very aware of what suited her and her body, which in many ways made my job easier. She looked great in the finished dress, and I was so thrilled to see her happy with the final result!

I ♥ reupholstery class: sanding and staining

I love reupholstery class – at least, I’m coming back around. I spent several weeks carrying this chair a mile back and forth between my apartment and class, so that I could get the sanding and staining done on the woodwork. That’s been quite the pain, and taken much longer than I expected, so I haven’t been unequivocally in love with the project for a few weeks!

Now I’m back on track, and I figured I’d show the work on the springs, and then the sanding and staining pictures.

imageThe springs are sewn with thick thread to the jute webbing, which is attached in a woven pattern. Looking at this from underneath, the second set of webbing should overlap in the center to be on top. That makes for a more stable foundation to attach the springs to.

imageThe webbing attached first with staples (that’s an  air pressurized staple gun I’m using!) at one end, then you use a stretcher to pull the webbing taut, and then staple the other end. Finally it’s secured with two nails at either side of the folded over webbing. I didn’t take a picture after that and the springs being sewn on, but I’ll do that for the next post.

imageThen the fun part! Actually it’s really confusing, and a little hard. But this is the part of the process where you both get to see exactly how much knowledge and work goes into upholstery, and the start of a real seat shape to the chair. The jute rope is tied to the springs in a very specific combination of different knots at different points, to stabilize the chair seat and prevent the springs from moving too much towards each other and potentially squeak. This also controls the height and shape of the seat. I feel like a rookie boy-scout learning these new-to-me knots!


imageWhat has taken up most of my time has actually been sanding and staining the woodwork on the chair. First I used a straight edge knife to shave off as much old lacquer and stain as possible. And there was a lot! There are a lot of nooks and crannies in the profiled woodwork, so I also used a chemical lacquer and paint-remover. I suspect it didn’t work optimally because of the old age of the varnish, or maybe the too-cold basement I was working in. Either way, I had to do several rounds of scraping, varnish-be-gone goo, more scraping, and goo, then a good sanding to get the wood prepared for staining.

imageThe goo covered in aluminum foil so it wouldn’t dry out while waiting for it to work.

chair_sanding_fullAnd this is what it looked like after all that varnish was removed! Before, and…..

chair_stain_full…after! I used an oil based stain. I considered a lacquer based stain, but I didn’t want a shiny and hard finish on the woodwork like a varnish would provide. The oil based stain and finishing oil can be applied with a rag instead of a brush, and I like that aspect of it. The oil brings out the woodwork beautifully too!


chair_stain_detailI used a brush to get all into the little crevices of the cut out profiles, trying really hard not to get dark brown stain on the parts I meant to keep natural wood-colored, since it would be hard to remove it again. It took a whole lot of work, very much so worth it now, and I’m so happy to be on the after-side of fixing up the wood!

how I dress for my strong shoulders

Me-Made-May is right around the corner, and as I mentioned in my last post on MMM, this excersise is more of a personal style challenge for me than anything. This has got me thinking about how I put together outfits, and what I’ve discovered and learned from that.

So, here’s the deal: my shoulders are prominent. They’re wider than my hips (for those who use those things to categorize), and they are angular. They are one of my most pronounced features, but quite honestly, sometimes I don’t want them to be quite so much. That’s when I do one of the following things:

• Duck and run for cover

Cheat. Blur the lines of where your shoulders actually ends. I tell you, this is my most used trick. Usually, tops and shirts and jackets should have their sleeve seam hit right at the tip of your shoulder, but if I followed that, the fit would be too big elsewhere. This means the seam is further in on my shoulder, but that’s ok! It actually hides my wide shoulders through an optical illusion (or the power of social norms – take your pick!). A yoked dress or cap-sleeve shirt are other examples for big-shoulder hiding.

• Vertical lines 

Vertical lines take attention away from horizontal lines – at least that is my reasoning and experience! I love wearing cardigans for this reason, and deep v-necks as well.

• Balancing out the hips

By creating volume at the hips, the shoulders don’t look as wide in comparison. There is a reason I love my Marie-skirts! Another way to do this is to wear a layer (like the outfit with the cardigan in this post) ending at the widest point of your hips to emphasize them, or to wear brightly colored shorts.

• Flaunt it!

They’re there, make them the focal point! By the way, the type of sleeve that this top has will work to hide the real width of your shoulders as well, oddly enough.

Now finally, part of me struggles a bit with this – there is a constant battle between the part of me that wants to feel like I look nice, and the part of me that feels I should be accepting of what my body looks like, and not try to “hide” any parts of it. I don’t know if I’ve come to any conclusions, but I’d love to hear other people’s comments. Is it possible to hide things in a “good” way?

reversible biking hat – alterations

The autumn hat I shared recently is one I based on my pattern The Reversible Biking hat. I’ve made a few of them now, so knowing the pattern pretty well, I wanted to change it up a bit. And altering knitting patterns to fit your own needs really isn’t that hard! Here is what I did/what you can do:

First, I used a different yarn, which usually means a different gauge. The gauge in the original pattern is 24 stitches per 4 inches, or 6 stitches per inch. My gauge for this new yarn was around 17 per 4 inches, or 4,3 stitches per inch. How many stitches do I need to cast on to make the same size? (hmm, I sound like a math book problem!)

The circumference of the hat is 18 inches, and with 4.3 stitches to the inch of my gauge, I simply multiply the goal number of inches with the amount of stitches per inch my gauge is:

18 x 4,3 = 77,4 (≈78)
goal # of inches x your stitches pr inch = amount to cast on.

At this point, you might have to make some adjustments to your cast on number. If there is a repeat pattern, the number for your cast on has to be a multiple of that. In this case, the repeat pattern I used is 6 (p1, k5), and 78 is divisible by 6, so I’m all set. Alternatively, if you have a cuff or a brim, you can adjust the number of stitches up or down in the first round after the cuff.

reversible biking hat

Another thing I did to change the look of this hat, was to stagger the 5-row repeats and create diagonal lines instead of straight lines. This is also quite simple; at the first round of the repeated section, knit the first stitch, then do the section as normal. You’ve effectively just nudged the pattern over by one stitch, and when you keep nudging at the beginning of every repeat, you get diagonal lines!

Reversible biking hat

When you tweak the number of stitches, one thing is to be aware of the stitches in each repeat. The other is to be mindful of the decreasing. The Reversible Biking Hat is pretty simple in how it decreases, so the major thing to consider here is that I have an odd number of repeats (13) instead of an even number of repeats (24) like the original has. This means that while most knit stitches in the very last row corresponds to two whole sections, there is one left over that corresponds to the last, thirtheenth section. That is ok – you can cut the tail and loop through the rest of the stitches that turns out to be 14, instead of 12.

The more intricate the pattern and the decrease design, and the longer the repeat is, the harder it is to substitue numbers. But for relative simple designs like this one, all you need is a little math!

If you have any questions, or if something was unclear, do please ask!

sewing underwear

Final update, January 2017 – I have decided not to do any more work on this underwear pattern, and in extention I won’t be making the old pattern available again either. The reason for this is two-fold. First off, I’m was no longer comfortable sharing the pattern when I stopped being happy with the quality of it. I had every intention of working on and improving the pattern to share it again, but life. Which is the second reason. I am in a different place in life and I have taken a new direction with my job (teaching! Loving it!), and I am simply no longer as driven or interested in working on sewing patterns to be shared and potentially sold, like I was a few years ago -when this was a fun and learning-driven side-project for me.

I sincerely appreciate all the interest you guys have shown in using the pattern, and I hope you will find another pattern to help you among the many that are available online. Please also consider buying a pattern from one of the talented drafters who put a great deal of time, effort and care into their products. :)

Underwear. Knickers. Pants. Undies. Whatever you call them, I have a free pattern for sewing your own underwear that I want to share with you! I’ve included several sizes; XS, S, M, and L – so I hope that is helpful!

I’ve been making underwear from t-shirts for years. My first undies-sewing attempt taught me that I should follow the grain of the fabric. The second time I discovered that twin needles are awesome. Most recently I’ve been playing around with different kinds of elastics to finish the underwear, and I’ll be showing that soon!

The “t-shirt underwear” pattern I’ve made is in the bikini brief style, but it can easily be tweaked to fit you perfectly. It’s graded in four sizes; extra small, small, medium, and large. I think the sizes should be pretty standard, but do let me know your feedback!

So if you want to make your own underwear, click the image above or the link below to download the pattern! The pdf includes the choice of 1 page in the 11″ X 17″ format, or 3 pages that you line up and tape together (it is formatted to work for both US Letter and European A4 – just make sure there is no resizing when you print).

I’ll be doing a couple of posts on sewing the underwear, the basics of how to sew them together, and then some options of how to finish them with different types of elastics. So be sure to come back for that!

*     *     *

Did you miss a post in this underwear-making adventure?

• Sewing underwear: the basics
• Sewing underwear: the extras

If you make a pair (or five?) from this pattern, please share! Comment, link back, and show off!