Ready to sew up a test shirt from your block? I was so excited to finally have my block drafted, I’m hoping this will be the base for all my new favorite shirts from now on. First, a test shirt! I picked a white cotton lycra blend, which is nice and sturdy with good stretch and recovery for a fitted shell. I prewashed and dried the fabric to account upfront for any changes. Let’s get started!
The layout for my test shirt is pretty straightforward, and fit in just a yard of 60″ wide fabric. The sleeve pattern actually barely fit on the fold; if I’d used narrower fabric I would have had to take some of the fullness out to make it fit the width. Front and backs were cut on the fold, by folding in just as much as needed. I like to rotary cut knits to keep the fabric distortion to a minimum.
I went back and marked all notches that I cut in the pattern with an invisible ink marker. I have balance marks on the side seams, on the shoulder seam, at the armsceye where the curve changes and to show front and back, and a single notch at the waist so I can double check correct fitting.
I stitched the side and shoulder seams first, starting with a small zig zag so I could make adjustments as necessary. With just these two done, you can try it on and test your fit. I tied a narrow spare bit of cording around my natural waist, and made sure it lined up with the waist markings I transferred. The fit of the shirt was pretty spot on as far as circumference.
I was feeling just a bit of sag in the length above the waist however, probably due to the 4 way stretch of the fabric. This can be fixed two ways: 1. On the pattern by raising the waist point (and on this version would mean changing the sewing to move the smallest part higher), or 2. By taking up the shoulder seams a scant bit. I opted for 2, as I had extra room in the armsceye and it wouldn’t bother any adjoining pieces (like a fitted sleeve).
I serged the back sleeve seam together, and also the lower edges of the sleeves and shirt body to clean finish them. Took everything to the iron, and pressed up 1″ hems on the body and 5/8″ on the lower edge of the sleeves to make a casing for the elastic.
For some rare straight stitching, I sewed the elastic casing at 3/8″, leaving a 1″ opening for the elastic to feed. Dialed up the stitch length to 5, and stitched two gathering lines across the cap to set in.
I fed 1/4″ elastic through the lower edge and pinned it together to try on and adjust. Then pulling up the bobbin threads, I gathered the sleeve caps and pinned in place on the shirt. Gathers are varied in fullness by being completely flat in the very lower scoop at the underarm, a small to medium amount of fullness up the sides of the cap, and the fullest over the uppermost part of the sleeve cap across the shoulder seam.
I pinned the sleeve in place in the shirt’s armsceye, and basted with a zigzag first to test the gather placement. After trying on, I needed to move more of the gathers towards the center of the sleeve so the sides didn’t appear to droop. After rearranging and basting again, I went to the serger and cut off the excess as before. Always sew with the gather side down against the throat plate, as it will feed better through the machine.
I opted for a double needle finish. To do this, you use a second spool of thread and a double needle that fits right in like a single would. I always lighten up my bobbin tension so it will appropriately zig zag back and forth between the upper threads. The set screw is either in the bobbin area of a drop in machine like mine below, or on the side of the bobbin case like in my featherweight.
Do a few tests on a scrap to make sure it isn’t tunneling up inbetween the rows of stitching, and adjust the tension until it looks nice and flat on the front, with a perfect zig zag on the back.
Last up is the neckband! I cut this one at 80% of the finished edge to account for the inside curve, so it will sit flat at the inner edge. Use a tape measure to run around the pieces where the seam will be on the pattern. Cut at 2″ by your desired length, sew a backseam, and press in half. This will make a finished 1/2″ band and leave 1/2″ for seam allowance.
To pin in place, start at the center back and front. Using the measurements from the front and back at 80%, you can also measure off where the shoulder seam should sit as well.
To ease in the shirt, follow the general guideline that flatter areas need the band to be set in a straighter ratio, and highly curved areas should have the most shirt per band length to ease the curve.
To the machine! I sew with the band on top, and the shirt on the bottom against the throat plate again, as the feed dogs will help ease in the extra fabric of the shirt. When sewing knits, I always first pull the fabric so both pieces are even, and then relax the fabric. The band will grip the shirt and ease it into place for you. Sew the seam unstretched like this. If you stretch as you sew, the thread will be set in a stretched out position, and the seam will not able to spring back. Check your work from the outside, and if everything looks good, once again take it to the serger for finishing.
Press over a ham if you have one to help set the easing, pressing the seam allowance towards the body of the shirt. I topstitch my bands down to keep them in place with a straight stitch, which surprisingly still gives enough stretch.
The finished garment
And that’s it! I know this got super long, but it was a relatively fast sew, probably only an hour. I was able to make one with a flounce sleeve the next day during nap time and it fit perfectly right off the bat!
So happy with how these sleeves turned out, they’re almost identical to my favorite puffs from the original shirt.
I love a moderate scoop neckline. They’re so hard to find right now in stores, it makes me giddy to have one patterned.
I’m so excited to have a block pattern drafted and tested. Any basic pattern extrapolations can be done now in any design I want, and I know it will fit correctly every time. Now I just need a little more fabric, and a little more time to make pretty things! I hope this was a helpful series, please let me know if you try it out and make one for yourself!
Love from Wisconsin,
For the rest of this series: