My January Facebook Sew-Along: A Preview

Last year I was invited to host a sew-along (SAL) for a neat Facebook group, Sew-A-Longs & Sewing Contests, and I was delighted to accept, since I’d been planning to start doing this in the new year on my own. But so much nicer to have a built-in audience! Thank you, Judy O’Day (the group mama)!

So, here’s my plan, as announced:
To make three different shirts, all based on the same basic body, but with three different collar types, three different cuff and placket treatments and three different center-front opening styles.

I’m doing the basic patterns for each now, and will start making in a few days, hoping to have the shirts all done in the next few weeks, so the SAL postings won’t exactly be real-time, but doled out over the course of the month, while hopefully all my sewing will be done by mid-month; that’s the plan anyway:)

I’ll start with how to prepare a basic shirt block by adjusting the shoulder and circumference with muslins and draping. Next, I’ll show how I adapted my basic to come up with my three designs; two come right off the basic, but the third is a simple rectangle, folk-type, for which I only adjust the shoulders and lengths, using plain rectangles for the body and sleeves, scaled to match my basic body. Then I’ll actually make the three shirts, posting most of the steps with diagrams and photos, with the emphasis on the pockets, collars and cuff/plackets for each one which are mostly done before the big parts are joined, then wind up with doing the side and underarm seams and hems.

The patterns involved are (following the logic of my book, The Shirtmaking Workbook), first, whatever basic body and sleeve pieces any participant wants, which is completely up to you to come up with, from any pattern or garments you prefer, tweaked as I demo or however you want. My SAL will start with a few new blog posts on how to do that, but for a head start, by all means check out the existing blog posts I’ve got up on muslin tweaking, the demo in Lesson One my Craftsy shirts class, and to my copying a shirt video, all of which I’ll mention in my first posts, too.

Second are the details, which I’m choosing as I design each garment, using shapes and ideas that either come from the book directly or that I make up as I work out the design for each. I’ll have pattern downloads available for all my final detail choices. But actually what I feel I’m mainly offering is a look at how I proceed and how I basically customize everything as I go, so I’m hoping to encourage everyone to not do exactly what I’m doing but to customize details as YOU want. All my details will of course be custom shaped and sized to fit my basic designs, so whatever I put up for downloading or is in my book will also need to be reshaped for each participant’s projects, and showing how I do that seems to me the main thing the SAL is about.

So here are my designs so far, drawn up in Adobe Illustrator, my essential digital pattern-making and visualizing tool. They’re basically shirts for me, and also opportunities for me to try out lots of ideas I’ve had since writing my book, so I’m using this SAL as an excuse to be adventurous and playful, while really piling on the details, so I can really demo how I do that. I think this is where the real fun in garment making is to be found, and this is mainly what I want to share. All the little technical how-to’s are of course crucial, and I’ll be having fun with them, too, as well as hopefully providing all the basics of how I approach each different detail type.

The first is the most complete. It’s a cool-weather work shirt with a collar on a stand, plus lots of unusual pockets front and back, plus a double-layered bi-swing back, with a knit insert at CB in place of a pleat, for added ease of movement, a good example of an idea I’ve wanted to try; hope it works! Also, there’s an interesting placket that’s designed to extend over the cuff rather than stop at it, another experiment. The bands down the front are inspired by classic English Norfolk jackets, and are there to both support the lower pockets and to cover the vertical openings for two chest-level pockets, inspired by several images from my Pinterest boards, which I’ll collect into a new board just about this SAL.

The next is my first attempt at a Pendleton 49er shirt/jacket remix, using a cotton flannel, which may require lining; we’ll see! Not sure about the chest pockets, but the lower ones will be a sort of keyhole-opening experiment, like a curved welt with no welt, just a facing inside, if I can get a sample to work, always the first step!

Last is my “folk” jacket, inspired by several garments featured in my book, and based entirely on rectangular shapes which I’ll be playing with to see him much I want to shape to match my shoulders. and taper the sleeves. I’m using only “found” objects for this rather than yardage, including a Woolrich wool blanket, a nice hi-count cotton bed sheet, a fleece blanket, and a pair of leg warmers for the under-arms and cuffs. This is a TOTAL experiment, like nothing else I’ve ever done, but it seems quite straightforward; once again we’ll see!

So, you don’t want to make ANYthing like these; does that mean this is NOT FOR YOU? Well, I think not, if you’re interested in making ANY kind of shirt, since the point here is really just to give me a chance to show—in some detail and in a free and approachable context, with comments and questions open, and for the foreseeable future—what I’m doing when I make a shirt these days, NOT what you should do. It’s for taking what you need and leaving the rest, like all my efforts.

The Facebook group is “closed”, but as far as I know, all you need do is ask to join. Hope to see you there, but all the actual posts there will just be links to posts here, so no NEED to join the group. But it’s a cool one, so come on in!


  1. Judy on December 29, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    Thank you David for the intro. This is going to be fantastic!

    • admin on December 30, 2015 at 2:16 am

      Well, I HOPE it will be:) Thanks for your interest, Judy!

  2. melissa evans of mahlicadesigns on December 29, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    I’m really looking forward to the sew along. I can’t participate in January, but I’ll be taking advantage of what you share very soon.

    • admin on December 30, 2015 at 2:13 am

      I’ve never done a sew-along before, but I don’t see that it will make any difference when you try out what I’m showing; questions and comments welcome anytime, so long as the site is still here:)

  3. Camelia de Bruin on December 29, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Oh, I can’t wait! I find it so great that you want to share your efforts and knowledge with us. I have in my planning to make a few shirts , don’t know if I will manage in this frame of time but I can’ t wait to read your posts in this SAL and let you inspire me to make great shirts ☺. Thank you again and have a great end of the year!

    • admin on December 30, 2015 at 2:14 am

      Anytime is the right time, Camelia:)

  4. Diane on December 30, 2015 at 12:23 am

    My husband loves me make shirts but like to try one of yours where I get pattern

    • admin on December 30, 2015 at 2:11 am

      Hi Diane, I don’t usually use a purchased pattern; prefer to copy a reasonably well-fitted shirt and then to fine-tune the fit, then add my own details, which is exactly what I’ll be talking about in this series of sew-along posts. But there are already some links to info on my process in this post. I hope you’ll check them out and post any questions!

      • Gillian in Sydney on January 26, 2016 at 1:53 am

        Dear David
        This is an interesting response that head heartens me greatly!
        I’ve been keen to make my husband a shirt as he has individualities about his shape that make RTW a pain to purchase and adjust. After buying your book, a few (quite a few!) Craftsy classes and a few big4 patterns, then becoming disheartened and frankly scared about pattern alterations (a foible of mine), I’ve decided to take the easy route – to trace off a purchased made-to-fit shirt that we bought him in Singapore just recently.
        So I’ll be watching and playing alongside this – and then just diving on in!!
        Many thanks indeed!!
        Gillian – in Sydney

  5. Sonja on December 30, 2015 at 7:37 am

    This looks very promising, David. Thank you for the intro and preview.

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 2:11 am

      Glad to hear it, Sonja!

  6. Sue on December 30, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Ooh, I will have about a week to make a shirt during January, but I’m definitely playing along. I might have a go at number 3.

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 2:11 am

      Cool, Sue; I hope you’ll share how it goes!

  7. Cindy on December 30, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I am looking forward to this sew a long. I know I am going to learn so much.

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 2:10 am

      Hi Cindy; let me know whenever I leave out or gloss over anything you’re still wondering about!

  8. Sidney on December 30, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    I have your book, and when someone mentioned that you were doing a sew a long in January, I joined the group. I’m looking foward to it. Thank you for the chance to learn something new!

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 2:09 am

      Hi Sidney, welcome!

  9. Leanne on December 30, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    My daughter and I want to learn to make a shirt. We are novices at garment sewing. If I understand this correctly, this is a tutorial in shirt making. I’m wondering if it’s too advanced for us and if we should be starting simpler? Please advise. Thank you!

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 2:08 am

      Hi, Leanne, and welcome to you and your daughter! It’s my opinion that self-taught sewers (and enthusiast of every craft or skill) of every level should expose themselves to whatever it is they want to learn right away, realizing that they may not get great results right away (I still regard every garment I make as a test and a learning experience that will definitely help with the next project, no matter how it turns out), and being ready to move right on to the next one. So, I hope you’ll at least read along, and don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if you aren’t “sewing along”. It doesn’t matter to me when or even if any reader decides to plunge in. I’ve had many passionate hobbies over the years along with sewing and in every case, I always over-stuff myself with resources and instructions, still imagining that with every new resource, I’ll dedicate myself to following every step, and come out the other side almost as accomplished as the author. It never happens, but I always pick up something from every venture that’s actually pertinent to my real situation and level of commitment, time, and skill. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all good, all useful, and most of all, perfectly satisfying even though I’m not yet the expert I want to be. But I AM growing, and spending my time with the subject that consumes me.

  10. Leah on December 30, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I saw your new Pinterest board and knew something fun was in the works. I like the 3rd shirt, so clever re-using cuffs from RTW sweatpants.

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 2:08 am

      Yeah, that’s actually the one I’m most curious about, too. Hope it works!

  11. Sharon on December 31, 2015 at 12:29 am

    I can’t wait to see what you share with us David, I have a broad shoulder small waist husband who unfortunately will be away for the month of January and so far I’ve only made him a Henley T-shirt. I wil be following along and might sew along and then fine tune once he gets home.

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 2:09 am

      Hi, Sharon; ready to help whenever I can!

  12. Marieke Holleman-Bartels on December 31, 2015 at 5:05 am

    do I understand well that you want us to translate these in a feminin form . I am walking through my stash already

    • admin on December 31, 2015 at 6:45 pm

      Either way, Marieke:) Please let me know if you have any questions!

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