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!
A 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.
A 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.
Cutaway 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
To 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.
Another 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.
Portofino or Turnback Cuffs
Another 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.
Classic Dress Pockets
To 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.
On 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.
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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