October 11, 2011

So I started a blouse pt. 6

The last shirt I made successfully was in college. I used The David Page Coffin book, Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, which had just come out. My college teachers were all enamored with it and so it became my go to book as I made my shirt. Coffin also released a companion DVD (2009), which I have not viewed.

So I ordered a copy of the book through inter-library loan at my library. Now that I have started to relearn how to make a shirt, I wanted to review what I had learned in the past. My difficulty with this shirt project is resolving what I think I know based on my instincts and skills and previous shirtmaking experience (sketchy as it is) with how things are truly done. I had to reread Coffin's book to understand and compare where I was with where I am now.

The following are my thoughts and reactions to various parts of Coffin's book*. These notes are to help me remember details of this book, though it may be helpful for others. My notes are presented in the order in which I read the book.

In the intro Coffin describes his journey of learning how to make shirts by searching libraries, books, and magazines - looking for that hidden wisdom kept from the home sewist. Those sources are only one part of the puzzle. A better approach would be to head to his local thrift store to find some shirts to take a part.


Coffin suggests only natural fiber fabrics for shirts - cottons, linen, silk, wool. I agree with Liana, use what fabric you like. The shirt I am making for this project is poly-cotton because it was what I had and I think it is turning out ok. Coffin spends 2 pages describing how to prepare your fabric, which is the usual pre-wash and iron advice common among home sewists. The advice is not wrong. You should pre-wash a sample of your fabric before cutting. We do this in industry. Cut a large fabric swatch, measure it, wash it, measure it again, calculate shrinkage, check for bleeding, fading, etc. We also test compatibility of components, say interfacing and fabric. Will they work together? But rarely do we actually pre-wash yardage. To be fair I have pre-washed yardage in my home washing machine and ironed it before sewing. I rarely do it anymore. I hate wrangling it on the ironing board not to mention how much time it takes. Buy extra yardage and wash a swatch. It will save your sanity.


There is a myth in the home sewing market that thread content should match the content of the fabric to prevent shrinkage issues. Coffin recommends cotton embroidery thread to sew shirts, which he admits is a weaker thread. I have no idea where you buy this stuff? I no longer use the Coats and Clark dual duty thread either - that stuff is hard on your sewing machine besides being unsightly. Throw it out. I use serger weight polyester thread in my vintage Singer sewing machine. It works better and looks better and there are no shrinkage issues.

If you really want to take the time to make or preserve your tissue patterns, Oaktag is best. Poster board works in a pinch but should only be considered a temporary solution. Poster board doesn't have the strength needed for heavy use - the edge will get soft and wear away leaving you with an inaccurate pattern.

Construction Details

Coffins rants about back darts in a shirt. He's clearly referring to men's shirts. I don't know that back darts in a men's shirt is evidence of a poorly shaped side seam. I think back darts are a styling and fitting decision.


Better drawings and photos would have helped here, but that is a problem in nearly all books about fitting.

He is right that a tie, type and style, should be considered with the collar fit. With all the variations of ties and how they are tied, how do pattern makers (of shirts) consider this?


All I can say about this section is that it is incomplete. I recommend consulting other sources as well because it left me a bit confused - I make patterns for a living.

He did catch on that sleeve cap ease is undesirable in a shirt.

I am so confused by his collar drafting instructions. The shapes don't correspond with my expectations. How does he match up a collar band draft with the neckline of his shirt? It seems like he is starting at two ends of a stick and trying to magically meet up.

His catalog of pattern details primarily featuring half drafts of collar bands and collars is interesting. There are a lot of shapes. They confuse me a bit because the shapes are again not what I expect. The only way for me to know if they work would be to trace them out, sew, and test fit. Not likely to happen. I think some of the shapes would cause the gaposis problem just below the top button (a recent discussion in the Fashion Incubator forums).

Construction Process

Most of the instructions are meant to make up for deficiencies in a pattern. I think they are a mash up of instructions from a variety of sources. They probably work for him, but would drive me nuts. Stay stitching, clipping, trimming - I hate doing them all. I never stay stitch and rarely do the others anymore.

I've always been confused by the instructions to cut the undercollar smaller and stretch it while sewing. This technique is especially difficult if you cut the collar along the straight grain rather than the cross grain. Kathleen comments on this idea and also suggests another. Which method is used depends on several variables. More on this later.

Eased seams? Really?

I would really love to sit down and observe a master shirtmaker as Coffin did. I suspect Adriana worked in a custom clothier shop rather than a factory. Still, I would love to see her work.

Fashion history

Interesting if you wish to further explore the design of men's shirts.


Out of date, though some companies still exist. The book references are interesting. I'll have to look for some of them.

*David Page Coffin is a self-taught sewer with a particular interest in sewing shirts. With that in mind, his audience is primarily targeted to home sewists that wish to achieve one of sewing's holy grails of shirt making. I don't intend to be overly critical of Coffin because our perspectives, goals, and intentions are completely different. His book is useful within a certain context.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your comments on DPC's book they confirm what I feared and I'm glad I did not buy the book. I don't to be too negative about it, it's only not what I am looking for.