Tag Archives: Shirt Happens

SHIRT HAPPENS 15: IN WHICH I BID MENSWEAR 142, SECTION 5A, GOODBYE

[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

For our last class, we brought together a potluck meal; Professor Blackman put down a paper-and-fabric tablecloth, and we feasted. I had mashed up some purple potatoes which ended up looking decidedly gray and did my best to market them to my fellow students.

“Purple potatoes are in vogue, you know,” I said, while scooping up what everyone else brought.

A student turned to me and said, “It’s really good—”

“Oh, thanks!” I replied, before he could finish.

“—that we’re finally done,” he said.

Professor Blackman asked if any of us had lingering questions, then proceeded to grade our shirts, which were lined up on dress forms at the front of the room. He popped open the top button and inspected the collar band, then lifted the arm to see if all the seams came together perfectly at the armpit. Then he scribbled some notes on a scrap of paper and pinned it onto the shirt.

When he got to mine, a sudden nausea overtook me and I averted my eyes. With the dickey, the grade didn’t matter: I had given him all that I had time for. But I had poured my soul—not to mention my weekend—into this shirt. I really wanted an A. I knew what was wrong with it—the hem was all bunched and the collar still wasn’t right—I just hoped he wouldn’t look very closely.

I plucked the piece of paper off my shirt and read it.

Your stitches are too small.

Stitch on band.

B+

He had drawn a diagram to show me exactly what I had done wrong. I felt a wave of disappointment, followed by a counterwave of appreciation. He really wanted me to sew the perfect shirt, even if I hadn’t done it in his class.

I hung my shirt back on its hanger and went home.

Ta da!

Me, wearing the shirt I made

SHIRT HAPPENS 14: IN WHICH I GLIMPSE THE NATURE OF GOOD WORK

[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

My final shirt was due December 15. And, given that my practice shirt had seams in the shape of cowpaths, plus a nasty tear in one shoulder where the seam ripper got greedy, it seemed important that I do a new one.

After having been to the fabric and trimmings stores a dozen times and sewn at least ten collars, I finally started getting used to the process. And I found that, when I stop griping inwardly for a moment, sewing is actually kind of relaxing.

The trick is, you have to take your time. You have to be really careful. You have to do everything exactly. Sewing a shirt is not forgiving, and it takes at least 10 hours (or in my case, about 20). If you keep wishing it were over, you’re missing the point, because you can buy a nice shirt in about ten minutes for less than you spend on the fabric and notions.

Controlling the sewing machine

And if you do each step with precision, as all worthwhile things must be done, the shirt you end up with is more than a shirt; it’s evidence of honest labor.

And still, one rogue splash of coffee and it’s only evidence of carelessness.

SHIRT HAPPENS 13: IN WHICH LADY FRUSTRATION PAYS A VISIT

[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

How many collars do I have to sew before perfecting one? Don’t ask.

Innumerable things can go wrong, and I’ve seen them all. If the collar band isn’t cut to be perfectly symmetrical, there won’t be enough free material to attach to the shirt. If the curve of the collar doesn’t match the curve of the collar band exactly, the seam won’t hold all the plys. If one of the visible stitches is off by a few millimeters, it won’t look right on the other side of the fabric. If an edgestitch falls a millimeter in either direction, the whole collar looks sloppy. And edgestitching is like riding a Segway alongside a cliff. We all know how that turned out.

Each collar takes me about two hours to cut and sew, sometimes longer. And it doesn’t become apparent what a mucked-up job I’ve done until the end. It’s incredibly dispiriting.

Collar ID

A pile of ghastly collars (plus Professor Blackman's perfect one on top)

After making too many DOA collars, I came in last weekend to get one right. And though a few stitches fell off the seam, I must say that on the whole, it didn’t look terrible.

There comes a point when “just better than terrible” is good enough.

SHIRT HAPPENS 12: IN WHICH EVERYTHING BEGINS TO SOUND LIKE FOOD

[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

The class before Thanksgiving, Professor Blackman got out the ham and showed us how to put “marrow” in our shirts, then passed around lemon bars. But I still left hungry.

A ham is a pillow with the shape and solidity of a pig thigh, useful for ironing curved seams, like the ones in the shoulder. Just drape the shirt over the ham and iron a few inches at a time.

Delicious!

Professor Blackman's vintage ham

Merrowing (not marrowing, as I laterdiscovered) is a hassle-free stitch of three interwoven threads done on a specialized machine. It finishes off raw edges so that they don’t fray, and it can be a useful shortcut instead of laboriously felling a seam (which involves turning under the raw edge and stitching two rows).

The lemon bars were actual lemon bars, brought in by Professor Blackman, a talented and generous baker. Scrumptious.

SHIRT HAPPENS 11: IN WHICH PROFESSOR BLACKMAN GRADES OUR DICKEYS

[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer,  took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]

The class has just two graded assignments, a full shirt at the end of the term and a dickey halfway through. A dickey, in case you don’t know, is basically the sleeveless crop top version of a dress shirt, once common in schoolboys and working stiffs but now worn only as a sight gag.

My dickey, unfortunately, was far from perfect. The stitches were basically straight, but I couldn’t get the collar band to line up with the shirtfront placket, nor did the collar band match the yoke. Think about it this way: The collar is how a two-dimensional shirt becomes three-dimensional. Round peg, square hole.

When it came time to turn them in, we draped them on mannequins and lined them up on the side of the classroom. During class, Professor Blackman surreptitiously graded them. At the end of class, he gathered us to the front of the room. Seven of the 15 dickeys were positioned behind him; the other eight (including mine) remained to the side.

“Really good start, guys,” he said. “I’m very pleased. Everyone handed in a dickey, and guess what? They look like dickeys. This is the first class where no one has failed. You should be very, very pleased.”

The dickeys behind him, it turned out, were those that had received an A or A-. One by one, he called up the students who had created them, and shook their hands.

I rescued mine from the side of the room. He had written all over it, noting flaws that seemed all the more egregious when arrows pointed them out. My heart sank. Just what I needed was a D in sewing. But when I turned over my grade, it was a B. Could have been worse.

Couture, eh?

Professor Blackman's comments on my dickey