A Shirt that Fits (Part 1)

I have a kryptonite. I think maybe everyone has one: something they just can't seem to wrap their head around, no matter how much they read, study, and try to understand. Actually that's not fair - I have a couple of kryptonites. Chemistry is one of them. I really tried to be good at Chemistry, I did, but it was really a sort of square peg round hole type situation.

You may have guessed I'm not sitting here today to tell you about chemistry. No, another one of my kryptonites is sleeves. Not sleeves, really - more specifically, armscyes. Armscyes have been the bane of my existence since I started sewing, and unlike Chemistry, I really wasn't willing to give up the fight to understand them.


Let me perhaps clarify slightly before we begin: From a distance, I've always appreciated a good collared shirt. I feel like they're one of the most versatile pieces of clothing. They also happen to be fabulous for layering, which as far as I'm concerned makes them one of the foundations of an ideal wardrobe. I've also never, ever had one that fit. I have a couple oversized plaid ones, but nothing I'd consider wearing to work or as an actual 'outfit'. The RTW theme seems to be they either fit in the body but strangle my poor armpits, the dreaded armscye wrinkles pop up, or they fit in in the arm but the body and sleeves billow like a pirate shirt. I mean, I'm all for Jack Sparrow dressup day, but a girl's got to have a life outside of wenches and rum.



I successfully drafted an armscye in school. I know this, because it was part of the class, so I must have done at least okay at it. The problem is, I don't remember how I did it. I've been attempting to draft a collared shirt for the past few months but eventually I decided I was just going around in circles and I needed a better starting point than the sleeve from my 1950s drafting book's dress foundation (let me tell you, it's a very attractive sleeve, but I don't know how those housewives ever got any work done, not being able to move their arms...)


Enter, Butterick. I've been enjoying reading Lauren's blog Lladybird - she's a very similar size to me and we require many of the same adjustments in our sewing - her favorite shirt pattern is Butterick 5526, and she's made like 18 of them. When the pattern arrived, I traced off a size 10, and then sat very confused for about a week before deciding to cut into my fabric.


See, I didn't really get a very good impression from the pattern. The instructions are sparse at best (If I didn't already know how to sew together a shirt I would've been completely lost) - there's a significant amount of ease in weird places like the collar (???), the placket makes no sense at all, there's no mention of interfacing in the button or buttonhole bands, there's no shaping in the body, and the sleeve cap isn't quite symmetrical but it's a very near thing. I looked back at a few of Lauren's posts, though, and it all seemed to come together okay so I decided to forge ahead to the ~hopefully wearable muslin~ stage- which you see here!


At first, my plan was to follow the directions exactly so that I could make educated decisions about how to alter the pattern to fit me, but I pretty much read the first line of instructions and then ditched them. I cut the sleeves off for a short sleeve tee according to the fabric I had on hand, and also (conveniently) according to this particular Wardrobe Architect Inspiration pin:

(Source here) - also I'm totally knocking off that scalloped skirt as soon as I find the right fabric...

I promise, cross my heart, that I tried to stay as true to the pattern as possible... and I mostly did... but when I got to the sleeves, I just couldn't. There are Two Point Five Inches of ease on that sleeve. 2.5 inches! This is not a puffed sleeve. It's not drawn a puffed sleeve, advertised a puff sleeve, and I certainly didn't want a puffed sleeve. So I cheated and cut bits off the bottom of the armhole to make it fit. I eased it a little, but, like - a normal amount. maybe half an inch or so.I'm not going to get into a rant about sleeve cap ease because it's already been beautifully done here- go educate yourselves, my sleeve-hungry friends.


Anyhow, sleeve inserted, I also made an executive decision to take 1/2" off each of the side seams. This turned out to be a big mistake, since although it's a bit baggy still in the torso, the thing is a bit tight over boob-land, and I can only wear it over my bra tulle bra - the one without any foam. I also can't inhale deeply lest the buttons gape. Bad decision, that one, but I'll still wear it. I think. I would say it needs a full bust adjustment, but I think I'll try not removing that extra side width on the next one before I take scissors to the pattern piece- especially since it's still so freakin' billowy everywhere else.


By cutting off bits of the sleeve and drastically ad libbing the side seams, I've throttled much of my ability to learn from this pattern. If the sleeves don't fit, is it because it's a bad draft or because I messed with it? Probably a bit of both.


The sleeves turned out (understandably) a bit wonky, but the shirt is done and I definitely think I'll get at least $8 of wear out of it (That's how much I spent on the fabric. I think the buttons were an extra 20 cents each?)... To be fair, even in its mildly frankenstein-y state, wearable muslin version 1.0 fits better than any RTW collared button down I've ever worn in my life, which should say a thing or two about a thing or two. Even so, I wasn't really feeling the glowing love for this pattern, so I went deep into the archives of Lauren's old B5526's to solve my problems.


After a solid hour of creeping (not sorry) - I found a few reassuring things. After Lauren's first, she is also confused by the crazy amount of sleeve cap ease, and reduces it accordingly. There's a  link here to a different tutorial since the original one's offline now. This method decrease the bicep circumference as well, but the pirate sleeves this pattern has meant the decreased width was an added bonus.

Interestingly, the feelings I had when I finished this shirt were mostly not fit related (I'm not at the 'stumped at the finer points' stage yet - it's still pretty obvious what changes need to be made).. no, my feelings were mostly on how much I liked this style of shirt. After all this trouble- am I really a collared shirt person after all? Do I like the way this thing looks on me? Is my style being mistakenly guided by some pinterest-y ideal? I'm choosing to carry on because I'm too busy fighting The great Armscye Battle on principal to second guess whether long-term me will like wearing collared shirts, but this is supposed to be a wardrobe architect project, which means it's supposed to be useful (we can all just ignore that it doesn't fit my Wardrobe Architect colors, thank-you-very-much. The fabric was on sale). I'm trying to remind myself that this is a wearable muslin, so maybe its imperfections are what I can't see past, rather than the style as a whole.


As this shirt is wearable, I've decided that my plan is to make another shirt to test out my sleeve cap adjustment, and then I can start to address the finer points of fitting the sleeve and begin to judge if the style suits me. I'm suspicious that the armscye is too low under my arm, but since I messed so much with that area, and since it's not glaringly horrible, (and also since shirt making is for me, a very meditative and precise process that always seems to put me in a weird but highly desirable kind of zen state where The Donald isn't president and all my student loans are paid off) I'm making another one before I rush to judgement.


You'll notice I've written 'part 1' in the title of this post: Spoiler alert, we're going to have as many parts as it takes to get a perfect sleeve. A perfect shirt, even- and I'd say we're still a few taxis and a bus away from perfect. Don't worry though, I'm sure there'll be other projects in between. For my sanity and yours.

My posting schedule's a bit off as the weather is conspiring against me, and that means I've got quite a few new projects in the pipeline to catch you up on! (Read: six blog posts written without photos...) Looks like my weekend's going to be spent with my camera rather than my sewing machines...