Friday, 31 July 2015

Going Through Shirt Therapy, New Look 6232

For quite a long time I have not bought or worn a tailored shirt.  I like seeing them on other people when they've been styled well, and I like the idea of wearing them, but I never do.  Until this week that is when I wore my first handmade shirt to a meeting in London.  It's been dull and rainy here this week so I really needed some sunshine in my threads - yellow and blue to replace the missing sunshine and clear skies!

There are two reasons I haven't worn a proper tailored shirt for a long time.  The first one is that I appear to be the wrong body shape for most standard 'fashion' shirt or blouse cuts, that is I have a broad back around the shoulder area and a slightly swayed back (curvy spine) lower down.  This translates into shirts that gape at the front buttons around the bust and bunch up around the waist, which is both annoying and uncomfortable as I'm constantly pulling the front together, or pulling the whole thing down all the time.  There is another, more subliminal reason though, that I think might have put me off trying harder to find a shirt that fits properly.  That reason is that for many, many years I had to wear suits to work, and this has resulted in suit and shirt fatigue.  

I work in a field currently that doesn't require a dress code and is extremely relaxed.  I mean like horizontal.  For a start I often work from home.  But also you could probably walk straight into my office from a weekend in Glastonbury and nobody would turn a hair.  While I'm not suggesting this look is actively encouraged in our office, there is absolutely no dress code whatsoever and I revel in the fact that I can wear exactly what I feel like, when I feel like it.  However in my previous job, there was a very strict dress code that was enforced with vigour.  Suit or smart, tailored coordinates, muted colours, modest cut.  Nary so much as a footless tight crossed the threshold without questions being asked or comments being made and even the smallest amount of creativity in ones attire was looked upon with a certain amount of suspicion.  My favoured look at the time was a tailored trouser suit and usually a shirt from Thomas Pink (whose shirts seem to be one of the few styles that fit me).  The result of this is that it has taken me quite a long time to be able to wear a suit or shirt ensemble again without feeling like I might explode with pent up frustration and burst out of it in a tearing rage, like the incredible hulk.

Of course there are still professions and organisations that are strict about what staff and those representing the company wear when they are 'at work'.  I mean apart from actual uniform that is, which is another thing altogether.  I'm thinking about where you have a certain amount of freedom to choose your office or work attire, but are bound by rules or codes (either explicit or implicit) and there is often a fine line to tread, where being creative can be a trial and error thing.  I'm not sure this gets any easier as you get older either, because although I feel more confident in what I choose to put on these days and am also less likely to care so much about negative comments (or at least less likely to look outwardly like I care), I am also aware that people can impose expectations about what women of a certain age can and can't wear.  Also you only have to look in the media to see that how a woman should present herself, professionally or otherwise, is a constant source of public debate that only amplifies with age.

So anyway, making a shirt is a fairly big step for me in revisiting this look.  It is a chance to make one that fits properly to my proportions and is going to stretch my sewing skills a bit, what with having to be neat and tidy with those collars and cuffs and rows of buttonholes. It also might be therapy and bring me 'shirt-closure' on those years of being all buttoned up at work.  

This pattern is New Look 6232 and is a unisex pattern that gives a lot of options for cut and style, which is great.  The fabric is the lovely grey cotton lawn bought from Lincoln (see this post) and has pale pink, yellow and blue within the design.  Piecing together the pattern was fairly straightforward and, having done a quick measurement of the pattern pieces and my own body and putting a few adjustments in place, I went straight in without doing a toile.  I was fairly confident I could further adjust the seams and darts as I went along too, as it's quite a relaxed fitting pattern.  A tailor's ham came into its own here, where the seam line around the armhole could be pressed on the curve very nicely. I have shaved about an inch off the width off each sleeve seam allowance, as personally I like a slimmer fit on the arm than the cut offered by the pattern.  This was easy to do as the armholes didn't need adjusting, I just shaved the desired amount off the seam after the sleeves were attached to the body.  I'll adjust the paper pattern now that I know how much to safely cut away.

Despite being a bit nervous about the cutting and sewing of immaculate cuffs and collars, I've taken my time and slowed right down on the top stitching in particular for accuracy.  I'm pretty pleased with the results.  I added one contrasting button in pink to the front to break up the line a little and the rest of the buttons I already had in my button box.  I have a good stash of buttons, including those I have cut off old clothes before they are thrown away.  I've a feeling these ones came from an old shirt discarded years ago.  I nearly did the buttonholes themselves in the same grey cotton as the topstitching, but in the end I chose white cotton thread.  I decided not to make such a feature of them and have them blend into the background, which I think was the right decision even though they actually came out surprisingly neatly in the end considering I haven't done so many in quite a long time.

Sewing a shirt has not been a speedy project for me and this has taken some concentrated effort over the last few evenings, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  There is something satisfying about making crisp, clean lines and turning out perfectly pointy corners.  Concentrating on a good finish is a discipline that sometimes evades me in the mad race to get something completed so I can wear it asap, but patience paid off in this case.  The inside collar stand is in a contrasting blue to add interest and colour to the neckline.  This was a bit of an after thought and I just swapped over the piece I'd already cut for another piece made from a scrap of cotton from another project.  You only need a very small piece of fabric to make this inside collar piece and it's a great way of customising a shirt with a bit of contrast.  I will definitely keep my cotton scraps to do this again.

This is one garment that you can't afford not to press as you go along and after each stage, but seeing each section come neatly together and then press seamlessly into place is quite therapeutic in a way.  I wore it with cropped sky blue trousers and loafers in the first photo above (selfie taken while I was standing at the bus stop on my way to catch the train!) but I've put this together with skinny jeans here too.

A really fun, bright yellow coat that picks up on the yellow in the fabric also works well.  I love the relaxed feel of the shirt when it's styled with denim and this quirky, off the shoulder jacket with huge pockets that keeps things playful and unstructured.  The jacket sleeves also show a bit of cuff from underneath. 

So have I achieved closure during this shirt therapy?  I'd like to think so. I'd also like to think that perhaps things are moving on a little more though in many company cultures. Talking to friends in the corporate world it seems that those who work for more emotionally intelligent companies are moving more to an ethos where individuals and their personalities can be expressed through such things as clothing and personal style.  As long as the work is done, delivered satisfactorily and nobody scares the horses in the process.

Shirt in grey cotton lawn, made by me
Jeans from H&M
Jacket in yellow from Primark
White platform shoes by New Look
Yellow leather bag is Weekend at John Lewis
Belt in tan woven leather from charity shop
(Top photo shows cropped blue trousers from Primark and blue loafers from Topshop)


  1. Very brave of you to make a shirt, no room at all for error; and it turned out beautifully, smart but with a couple of quirky touches. Looks great with the colours you teamed it with. AWR

  2. Very nicely done! Can you make me one? Rich x

  3. Oooh thanks AWR! I take this as a HUGE compliment from you as I know how good you are at beautiful tailoring! Sarah X

  4. Anonymous Rich (!) Ha ha! Thanks for the request, you can have one for Christmas! Sarah X