Weekend At The Atelier

It’s been fairly quiet here at the atelier; with a major brush fire raging and the resulting poor air quality, I opted to remain indoors, catching up on various projects. One such project is making late 19th Century shirts for myself. At the suggestion of Karin, I started with a shirt pattern that was originally designed by Buckaroo Bobbins and subsequently acquired by Simplicity.


The shirt pattern comes along with a vest and frock coat patterns (I have not used these so I cannot vouch for the quality) so you’re actually getting three patterns in the package.

I first started by constructing a shirt that rigorously followed the pattern. The instructions are somewhat confusing so if you don’t have prior experience in putting shirts together, you experience some difficulties so it’s best to have someone experienced available to walk you through the more confusing parts. The end result was fairly decent but I experienced the following issues:

  • The shirt is too short- it seems to be based on more of a modern dress shirt length and just packed the fullness of 19th Century that the long length supplies
  • The neckline is too high. The neckline was too high and simply uncomfortable (it would have been worse with a collar added on). Karin wound up cutting a lower neckline while I was wearing the stitched together back, front, and yoke. There was instant relief but now I had to re-cut the collar band (I was intending to wear it with a detachable cloth or celluloid collar).
  • Too much interfacing- unless you are using incredibly sheer fabric, there is no need to add the interfacing the plackets, collar band or cuffs, as called for in the instructions. Even adding it to the collar pieces is questionable. It just adds more bulk where it’s not needed.

So with those faults, I decided to redraft the pattern to reflect the addition of 4 inches to the length of the shirt and the lowered neckline. To do this, I first assembled a muslin (or toile) and then had Karin cut down the collar. Next, I disassembled the pattern pieces and drafted new pattern pieces to include the yoke, placket, and shirt front and back. Just to be complete, I even mounted them on oak tag (I normally do this for all my patterns, they last longer and less prone to creating error when tracing and cutting the fabric). Here are some pictures of the effort:


The yoke, before and after. The “before” piece is on the left. Note the lower curve for the revised piece. This is the neckline on the yoke.


And the new shirt back and front pieces.

I then decided to create a new shirt that would reflect the modified pattern. I managed obtain some 100% cotton checked shirting fabric that would work for a late 19th Century shirt for only $2 a yard so I was set.


In the course of constructing the new shirt, at Karin’s suggestion various changes were made to the construction details to as to simplify construction and enhance historical accuracy (all, of which I took copious notes of). After 1 1/2 day’s work, voila!


This is not the best picture and there’s still a bit more to do to include finishing the armhole seams, installing buttonholes, and sewing on buttons.

Overall, I am pleased with the pattern and I was fortunate to have Karin to guide me through the rough spots. One of the most important things to bear in mind when working with any sewing pattern is that the pattern is just a start and often the instructions are either vague or unclear as to actual construction (and sometimes, they’re simply non-existent).

Being dependent on just the pattern can be a major source of frustration and result in suboptimal results. The reality is that one really has to have a knowledge of how clothing is actually constructed and be able to work from that knowledge. Here at Lily Absinthe, we draft our own patterns to reflect our designs- often times, using a commercially produced pattern is like the proverbial tail wagging the dog. With our own proprietary patterns, we determine the precise designs that we want.

It’s been a learning experience for me and allowed me to expand my knowledge of patterning and construction. For my next attempt, karin has promised to let me use the pattern than she drafted from an original 19th Century tailoring sources so that I’ll have a new challenge. 🙂 Now to get those button holes installed… 🙂

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