Collars, Cuffs, and Pockets: Mastering the Shirt Essentials

Men’s dress shirts can be great projects for sewers looking to get into garment construction. They have less fitting and shaping requirements than other garments and also tend to have fewer pieces. However, there are several components that need to be mastered in order to give it a real professional finish.

Over the years I have sewn several men’s dress shirts. Typically I would find a commercial pattern I liked and follow it step-by-step. Luckily dress shirts for men don’t vary much in the front, back, and arms. However, I found there are dozens of ways to customize the collars, cuffs, and pockets! Even the simplest of changes can completely alter the look of the shirt.

It actually wasn’t until my recent engagement to my fiancé that I really started looking at all the different shirt styles out there and how easy it was to customize patterns. Feeling comfortable with my sewing abilities (and having a small wedding party!), I decided I would sew everything for my wedding – my dress, my bridesmaids’ dresses and all the shirts and vests for my groom and his groomsmen.

Along the way I discovered some valuable tricks for finishing the collars, cuffs, and pockets so everything would be picture-perfect on our big day. Compiled here is an overview of the various styles and how to alter your classic patterns to achieve them. Read on to learn how you can master these essential elements for your own men’s dress shirts – wedding-related or not!

Classic Collars

1-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtA typical commercial pattern will have a classic collar. To sew a classic collar, simply place the collar pieces right sides together and stitch along the upper edge and sides, beginning and ending 5/8” from the edge. The points of the collar are the most important part, so ensure you stop 5/8” from the edge before pivoting and continuing on.

2-redo-resize - how to sew a men's shirtIf it helps, mark your stitching line before you begin. Turn the collar right side out and press. Sandwich the collar between the two pieces of the collar band and stitch along the upper edge.

3-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtYour classic collar is now ready to be attached to your shirt.

Cutaway Collars

4-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtA Cutaway collar (pictured on the right) is another popular type of collar for men’s dress shirts. It is called a cutaway because of the extra distance between the two points of the collar. This extra area that is “cut away” shows more of the shirt and gives extra room for larger tie knots like the Windsor.

5-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtCutaway collars are constructed in the same manner as a classic collar, but require a slightly different pattern piece. To modify the classic collar piece to make a cutaway collar, start in the middle of your pattern and simply taper the collar edges so the collar the same height along the entire piece and the points are removed.

Classic Barrel Cuffs

6-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtNow that you’ve mastered collars it’s time to move onto cuffs. When making a shirt following a commercial pattern it will most likely have a classic barrel cuff with one button.

7-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtTo construct a barrel cuff simply place the two pieces right-sides together and stitch around the sides and lower edge. It is important to have crisp corners on a barrel cuff, so again, marking your stitching line may be helpful. I’ve used white thread on black fabric here so you can easily see my stitches.

8-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtAnother modification that can be made to the barrel cuff is to round the edges. Here’s how to modify your barrel cuff pattern piece. To do this, measure 1” over and 1” down from each upper corner of your pattern. Draw a curved line to connect the marks.

French Cuffs

9-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtOne way to make a men’s dress shirt even dressier is to add a French cuff. A French cuff is folded and can be made to wear with buttons or cuff links.

10-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtTo modify a barrel cuff pattern piece for a French cuff, simply double the length of the classic barrel cuff pattern piece. Construct this cuff just like a barrel cuff and then fold in half.

Portofino or Turnback Cuffs

11-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtAnother fancy cuff that can be added is the Portofino or Turnback cuff. It is also referred to as the James Bond cuff! This cuff is constructed similarly to the French cuff because you begin with a larger piece and fold it back; however, there is a small amount of shaping to be done to the pattern piece first.

12-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtTo modify the barrel cuff pattern piece for a James Bond cuff, simply double the length of the classic barrel cuff pattern piece and then round the edges following the instructions above.

Classic Dress Pockets

13-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtThe final finishing touch that can change the look of a men’s dress shirt is the pocket. Again, if following a commercial pattern, it will most likely have a classic dress pocket.

14-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtTo construct this pocket, double fold the upper edge ½” toward the wrong side, press, and then edgestitch along the folded edge. Fold the remaining sides and lower edge ½” toward the wrong side and then press. The pocket is now ready to be attached to the left front of the shirt.

Regular Pockets

15-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtOne modification that can be made to the classic pocket is to change the pocket bottom from a point to a straight edge. This can be referred to as a regular pocket.

16-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtTo modify the pattern piece for a regular pocket, extend each pocket side by ½” and then draw a straight line across the pocket bottom.

Pleated Pockets

17-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtAnother modification that can be made to the pocket is to add a pleat. This is known as an inverted pleat.

18-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtTo modify your pattern piece for an inverted pleat, follow the instructions above to create a flat pocket bottom, and then extend the pocket width by ½” on each side.

19-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtOn the wrong side, draw a solid vertical line down the pocket center. Measure ½” on either side of the mark and draw a dotted line. Measure another ½” out on either side of the dotted line and draw another solid line.

20-redo-resize - how to sew a men's shirtFold the dotted line out towards the solid line.

21-redo-resized - how to sew a men's shirtRepeat with the other side and then baste in place.

The pocket is now ready to be constructed just like the others by double-folding the top edge and edgestitching, and then folding the sides and bottom ½” toward the wrong side.

Even after all of these variations, there are still dozens more. Once you’ve mastered these shirt essentials with the regular or commercial pattern pieces change it up and try something new!

Related Video: Making Lined Patch Pocket Patterns

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24 Responses to “Collars, Cuffs, and Pockets: Mastering the Shirt Essentials”
  1. trwood5115

    A better way to get perfect corners and points is to pivot one stitch at the point at a 45 degree angle. It takes out a very small amount but makes ahuge difference when turning right side out. And it’s extemely easy to do!

  2. Nancy

    Showing how to make the different cuffs was great i learned alot verry good!

    • National Sewing Circle

      Hi Nancy, Glad you enjoyed it! We love hearing feedback from our members!

  3. Karen Vanlint

    this doesn’t help you with the tricky bits of getting the front of the collar not bulky with lots of layers, similarly with the cuff at that same point. I found another video that showed how to sew a little bit inside out and then turn it to cope with this problem, but haven’t made a shirt since to try it. I’ve also been making some great men’s and ladies’ shirts with contrast collar and cuff lining or front facing.

    • National Sewing Circle

      Yes, you are correct- that is a Porrofino or Turnback cuff. There are however, several varieties. A turnback cuff can be square or rounded, and the amount of angle can be altered to show more or less of the button area.
      Hope this helps!

  4. Mary

    Very informative articles. Thanks a bunch! However I’ve been searching the web for how to narrow the front band on a men’s dress shirt? Do you have a tutorial on this process. Mary

    • National Sewing Circle

      Hi Mary.
      By narrow the front band- do you mean make the under collar shorter and more narrow? If so, you can simply take away height from either the top or bottom of that pattern piece as long as you maintain the same shape and transfer all markings so everything still lines up with your upper collar and shirt neck edge.
      If you mean making the space between the two front collar points narrower- I have added a link on how to draft collar patterns (I’m not sure if you are using a commercial pattern or making your own).
      You can change the separation between the two collar points by making the point more or less pronounced (making adjustments to the “n” and “k” points on the diagram).
      Hope this helps!

  5. Allison

    My husband has been asking me to make him some shirts and this is helping give me the confidence to try 🙂

  6. Edie

    I found this information helpful in the future when I make another shirt. Thanks

  7. Grammamikki

    I’m looking for instruction on how to alter a patttern to accomodate a larger neck circumfrence. Lots of instruction to be found on how to sew a collar (which I think is pretty straight forward) but nothing on altering the neck size on a man’s dress shirt. If you know, I’d so appreciate some advice. Hubby now has an old man’s body but patterns are for young mens’ proportions. Thank you for your time.

    • Customer Service

      Making a collar larger can be pretty straight forward as well. First, measure to see exactly how much you need to add to the collar. For this example, we’ll say you are adding 1″. Find the center back of both the upper and under collar pattern pieces. Cut the pattern into two pieces and insert 1″ of tissue or pattern paper to make the collar pieces bigger. They can now be cut out and constructed as normal.

      The next part of making the collar larger is that you also need to make the neck opening larger in the same amount so that everything still lines up. There are several ways this can be done. Depending on your shirt pattern, there may be two pleats somewhere in the back. You can either make theses smaller, or omit them entirely in order to gain the extra 1″ of fabric needed around the neck opening. If you like the looks of the pleats and want to keep them, another easy way would be to make the front button bands wider, or simply add 1/2″ to each opening edge of the front pattern pieces before attaching the button bands.

      These would be the two areas I would add width to first. If you try to add it to the front and back shoulder seams you will then need to also enlarge the sleeve, which can be tricky.

  8. Linda Hand

    Thank you for the article. Four points;
    1. I think a collar with a collar band is preferable to one without. I find it easier to sew it to the neck of the shirt without puckers, and it also sits better on the person.
    2. It is great to see the separated pieces like this, but in my experience the killer part of all of them is attaching them to the body of the shirt, and more especially of the attachment points at the edges (which I think one of your other responders was referring to). I am very rarely happy with the way my collar band sits right at that meeting point at the shirt front, or my cuffs at the sleeve (placket) edge. I am frequently told they are fine and I am too fussy, but they are definitely the weak point as far as I am concerned. Any tips?
    3. You also didn’t mention yokes. All the men’s shirt patterns I have use a yoke, and again they are my preference, as they allow better flexing and comfort when wearing. I have finally mastered the fully internal sewing of the yoke (which involves rolling up both front and back pieces and sewing them ‘inside’ the yokes) with great glee. But they too can be tricky.
    4. Plackets! I don’t know how your pattern handled the sleeve opening (some just fold back a narrow edge and stitch) but again most use plackets. There are lots of variations on these. Any good ideas you have had?

    I can recommend a Kwik Sew pattern no. 3422 I have had for a number of years, as a very reliable one which has made up in a variety of fabrics for my DH, and always looks good.

  9. Joe

    I know how to make shirt sleeve plackets – however when adding a French cut the inside placket gets turned around ( turned over?) anyway it’s different and I cannot figure it out. Besides that I cannot find anything on the internet except fir a two picture diagram from david coffins book. Is there anyt step by step plackets w French cuffs fir dummies out there I can follow!?!?!?

    Thank you , joe

    • Customer Service

      Hi Joe. I am not sure I understand your question. When adding a French cuff to a shirt you should not need to change the placket at all. An easy way to make a French cuff is to simply make the cuff twice the normal width and then attach it just as you would a regular barrel cuff.
      Hope this helps!

  10. Jane Wilder-O'Connor

    May I just mention how much fun I did not have fitting my soon to be son-in-law’s wedding shirt? He is a body builder. Oh my! Felt like I’d climbed a mountain when I got the fit perfect on the third mock up! And will be adding French cuffs!

  11. skirt

    First of all I want to say awesome blog!
    I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t
    mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I’ve had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out.
    I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any recommendations or tips? Thanks!

    • Customer Service

      Hello Marvin,

      Thank you for contacting us.

      This is what I do: To clear your mind, start by closing your eyes or focusing intensely on an object in the distance. Then, try some deep breathing exercises by taking a deep breath, holding it for a few moments, and slowly exhaling. If you have trouble sitting still, try walking meditation, or a form of yoga to help clear your mind.

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