Double denim shirt success: tracing my own pattern

I’ve cracked it!

At least, I think I have. I’ll let you decide. Here’s what I’m talking about:

alex double denim

I’ve finally managed to make a shirt for my husband that fits.

You might remember my first attempt was not a success. After another failed muslin of Burda 7045 I decided to give it up as a bad job and trace one of his existing shirts.

This was a solution suggested by the shirt guru David Coffin who actually commented on my original post, but I have to admit I was dubious I could make it work. I just didn’t trust my own tracing skills. I also suspected it would be deeply tedious and fiddly, so I put it off for a couple of months before giving it a go.

I used the method David explains in this video tutorial.but with cardboard instead of foamboard because it’s all I had lying around.

photo (2)
Yes I do have to trace and cut out all my patterns on the floor, which is not doing wonders for my posture.

Do you know what’s weird though? I really enjoyed the tracing process. It was like taking an omelette and turning it back into a fresh egg. I’ve always seen the process the other way round and couldn’t quite believe it worked in reverse.

The fabric I used is a lovely denim that Rosie from DIY Couture kindly sent me when she was having a fabric clear-out. The buttons were 10p each from Ultimate Craft. And the pattern was, obviously, free. So this was a thrifty project.

shirt front
I now see I’ve sewed that left button on too high. Hmph.

This was intended to be a muslin but the fabric was so nice I couldn’t resist doing it properly, although some bits are slightly wonky.

I saved time by using this method to do the plackets, although really this fabric is far too bulky for it. It worked out okay, but for the next shirt I’m going to tackle a proper placket.

shirt placket

I did do a lovely clean finish on the yoke, using the ‘burrito’ method. It’s hard to describe but very easy to do, and it looks so neat.

shirt yoke

denim shirt back

I probably should have ironed the shirt before forcing Alex into a photoshoot. Anyway, I think the fit is okay, but I’m not sure if I should bring the shoulders in a bit? There’s some alarming wrinkling round the armscye area but I don’t know if this is normal for men’s shirts. What do you reckon?

The sleeves are the only bit I’m not sure I traced correctly. I should have marked the shoulder point, as the yoke is coming too far back. The top button on the stand is also straining a bit, so I think it might need more room added to the armhole. 

shirt pocket

This uneven two-button pocket was my only artistic flourish. Predictably, Alex doesn’t like it, but that’s tough. If you’re getting a shirt for free, the shirtmaker decides on the design, that’s my thinking.

Overall, I think this counts as a DOUBLE THUMBS UP SUCCESS! I also enjoyed being on the other side of the camera for a change and bossing Alex about.

alex double denim 2

The only issue is that Alex really doesn’t need any more denim or chambray shirts. I just counted and he’s already got 5. At least he’s a man who knows his own taste. The next one is going to be a plaid, so I’m limbering up my check matching skills.

I need a short break from shirtland first though. This one was made in an epic weekend sewing session, and I don’t want to see another buttonhole again for a while.

28 thoughts on “Double denim shirt success: tracing my own pattern

  1. LinB February 26, 2014 / 4:59 PM

    IS there such a thing as “too many denim shirts?” I’m not sure. Sounds as if your Alex does not think there is such a thing.

    Remember that, if plaid matching proves too difficult or takes too much fabric, it has long been the resort of amateur and professional alike to turn some of the shirt elements on the bias. Esp. useful for button band, cuffs, collar and collar stand, yoke (although do line the yoke with something on-grain, so that it does not stretch out to engulf the entire neighborhood. Don’t ask me how I know this).

    • yesilikethat February 28, 2014 / 6:06 PM

      Thanks, great tip! I have stalled on the next shirt as he hasn’t worn this one yet….definitely not making another one until I have proof it’s going to be worn 🙂

  2. abinadressmaker February 19, 2014 / 5:29 PM

    Wow! Amazing work on the tracing. And as for the armpit wrinkles thing, it’s normal on a casual shirt for mobility, as senjiva mentions – a fact which I learnt from my own mistakes (when the recipient couldn’t lift their arms) and from this incredibly useful PDF I found on sleeve cap heights, which I have been dying for an opportunity to share!

    • Andrea February 21, 2014 / 4:50 PM

      Ooh thanks for the link. I just printed out this document for future reference. I typically remove a lot of ease from sleeve caps of commercial patterns because it seems they generally draft for too much, but I never really knew how it would affect the rest of the fit of the sleeve.
      And yeah, Kathryn, the wrinkles on the back of the armpit are fine and necessary so he can lift his arms up and forward!

  3. Katie February 18, 2014 / 3:32 PM

    It looks great, well done for persevering. The shoulders look spot on – I think they should hit the very widest point of the shoulder on a man which yours seem to do. I tried narrowing them on Josh’s first toile and it looked ridiculous and he couldn’t move his arm so freely. I might try this tracing-off malarky sometime too, I wonder if it would work so well for trousers. Also, good pictures! Tell Alex to make more effort when it’s the other way round 😉

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 5:29 PM

      Ha ha, my blog pictures have been particularly poor lately. This is pretty much the only blank space in our flat, and it only gets good light between 2 and 3pm so catching it is pretty hard. I will pass your comments on and hopefully the in-house photography service will improve.

      I made the same mistake with the shoulders for my second toile, trying to fit them like a woman’s fitted sleeve, and also had the ‘can’t move arms’ feedback. I reckon tracing would work really well for trousers as there’s no darts!

  4. senjiva February 18, 2014 / 2:23 PM

    Looks great! Don’t worry about the little bit of wrinkling at the back armsceye. It’s a soft garment and he needs room to move. I think you’ve got it on the nose!

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:56 PM

      Thanks, that’s very reassuring to hear!

  5. gingermakes February 18, 2014 / 2:17 PM

    Wow, that looks so great! I’m really impressed! I’ve got a buttondown cut out for my fella but not sewn up yet (after matching all the plaid, I was thoroughly exhausted!). This fits so beautifully! The more I scrutinized men’s shirts going into this process, the more I’ve noticed that it’s rare to see a guy in a great-fitting shirt. They’re usually just OK and often pretty bad (I keep seeing guys whose shirts pull terribly at the chest). So this is just about as good as it gets!

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:56 PM

      Cutting out plaid is definitely a full-on session, I can never face sewing after doing that. Have to leave it for a few days!

      I agree that most men wear really ill-fitting shirts, you start to notice these things when you’re making them. Most of Alex’s shirts seem way too wide at the shoulders but I think the one I traced is a bit better, probably why it’s his fave.

  6. nicoleneedles February 18, 2014 / 2:05 PM

    Its excellent! And great topstitching! I find that tracing mens shirts is the only way to get one that fits properly – I’ve used commercial patterns and the fits are usually horrible. I also find the sleeves a bit tricky to trace – I’m just in the process of making another one for Mr Needles, and I think I’ve finally cracked it!

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:55 PM

      I think you’re right, it’s strange how bizarrely shaped and fitted most commercial menswear patterns are. I’m tempted to try one of the 70s ones, Peter at Male Pattern Boldness has made some great vintage shirts.

      I made the bottom of my sleeve too wide somehow, and had to make massive pleats, so must have traced something very wonkily at the end! Good luck with your shirt for Mr Needles, look forward to seeing it.

  7. ltinuviel February 18, 2014 / 1:37 PM

    Great job! I am bookmarking your post for future reading. I plan few trips to shirt land and your post will be very helpful 🙂 thanks for sharing your experience 🙂
    I like the shirt very much. Also, men’s wear is unknown land for me, so your result is huge success 🙂

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:53 PM

      You should also check out Andrea’s blog at Four Square Walls, she is a shirt-making guru and has lots of useful tips. I am definitely going to get an edge-stitching foot after reading her latest post.

    • ltinuviel February 18, 2014 / 7:49 PM

      Thank you, I will 🙂
      I googled “edge-stitching foot” and I didn’t know that I already have it, but never used it. I didn’t know what it is for. Maybe I have waited to read it in pattern instruction “Now change your walking foot with edge-stitching one..” 🙂
      I have to give it a try, it will be fun 🙂

  8. Miss Demeanour February 18, 2014 / 1:23 PM

    Doll this is epic! It looks a treat. He’s a lucky fella indeed. I mean he gets you and a handmade shirt what’s not to love 🙂


    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:52 PM

      Thanks lady, I will remind him of this tonight! 🙂

  9. helen February 18, 2014 / 12:54 PM

    Looks really good. Thanks for the placket method. I struggle trying to get a point at the top the way I do it and end up just squaring it off as I can’t control the raw edges. I did a check shirt for my self recently and really enjoyed it but then made the mistake of going into a second one (still check…) and I’m finding it a chore, I really am all shirted out. My buttonhole stitch is a bit tempermental which adds to the stress. I’m glad you have found success with your own pattern!

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:52 PM

      It’s a great placket for fine materials. That pesky point is always an issue though.

      I do like sewing shirts but they are very exacting, just lots and lots of processes and almost no easy seams to sew until right at the end. Definitely need to make a jersey top or something super-simple next to clear the palate!

    • helen February 18, 2014 / 8:48 PM

      Yep, I have two very basic tees lined up and then a Renfrew top. No more shirts for a while.

  10. Kirsty February 18, 2014 / 12:52 PM

    Congratulations on a definite double thumbs up result.

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 10:58 PM

      Thanks Kirsty! I have a fun Liberty print project coming up soon that I hope you will like too 🙂

  11. Eva February 18, 2014 / 12:43 PM

    LOVE! Such a great outcome, also I think the two-button pocket detail is really cool.
    I think no-one would see the things you list about the sleeves/armholes. Maybe see how the armhole fits when he extends his arms all the way out in front of him. One thing you could do when diagnosing potential problems is mark the grainline down the entire length of the sleeve with chalk , then see whether this line is exactly perpendicular to the floor when it’s being worn.
    I just copied a pair of jeans for my boyfriend. He wears them all the time, but I am so done with denim and topstitching for a long time! Ugh it’s a lot of work. Can’t believe I have a working pattern though!

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:51 PM

      Thanks Eva! I think the main issue is the top button at the front which is pulling and keeps coming undone. This is also because I made the buttonhole way too big, so might try closing it up a bit as a temporary solution. Hoping that adding a bit of room to the front armscye will fix this on the next one.

      Great tip about the grainline! Never thought of that. Also can’t believe you copied a pair of jeans for your boyf, that really is going above and beyond.

  12. sewlittletime February 18, 2014 / 9:52 AM

    it looks great! i took one of hubby’s shirts apart (it was falling apart anyway) and traced it, but i think using something very old for the tracing meant the pieces didn’t come out well and a lot of them aren’t symmetrical ( like the collar – not ideal and i’m not sure how to fix it). i have ordered the pattern making for menswear book so i think i will consult that before cutting into my jasper conran fabric (also the sacrificial short was short sleeved and he wants long). and umm, the muslin still doesn’t have buttons or buttonholes. oops!

    sew maris posted a great sleeve placket tute tho and the off the cuff blog is great!

    • gingermakes February 18, 2014 / 2:18 PM

      The menswear book tells you how to draft a new collar and stand, so as long as the neckline measurement is OK, the collar is an easy fix!

    • yesilikethat February 18, 2014 / 2:49 PM

      I’ll check out that Sew Maris tutorial, thanks! I think I’m going to try the two piece placket from Off The Cuff. That book sounds great. It’s such a lot of work to get a pattern but at least it’s something you can make over and over. A classic!

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