Why is men’s wear so hard to make? I can answer this, but first let me tell you why it’s so easy! The basic construction is pretty straightforward. It can be made in 2-3 hours and it is made out of easy to sew cotton and cotton blends. So what’s up?

It’s the fit that is the challenge. Men’s shapes are never standard to the patterns “blue print.” Altering round circumferences like sleeves, collars, neckline and armholes is hard. Then you have lengths and widths that need to be adjusted to fit correctly.

I know I said this so many times before but save yourself a UFO or stressful project by starting with a muslin. A muslin is a test run of the garment out of inexpensive fabric. No need to back stitch or finish any seams. I will walk you through how I got the fit with a healthy dose of persistence.

Jeffrey gave me pictures of fitted shirts but they are not mine to use so here is a sketch of the basic outline.

Some men’s patterns come in sizes based on a neckline measurement. However, the pattern I chose was from the 1950s and a chest measured pattern. It said 40″-42″ chest and I measured Jeffrey’s chest at 40″. My problem was this shirt had a very box-y shape and with a lot of ease already. (Wiggle room or distance from your measurement to the shirts finished measurement)

Fitting #1 My fit issues were EVERYTHING, shirt was too boxy, too big, shoulder seams and length way too long, sleeves too long, sleeves too loose, collar way to wide and collar was too tight. So, yeah, EVERYTHING!

Seams hopeless. I knew this project was going to test my character. To not get totally stressed I did each fitting and muslin separately on different days.

I took my marker and pins to the shirt with Jeffrey in it.

Shoulder fix. I pinned a shoulder dart. This dart would bring the sleeve up and would not be sewn into the finished garment. When the pattern is redrafted it would be flattened out.

This took the sleeves up 1″ to where they needed to be.

Chest, waist and length fix. I marked and pinned the width of the chest and waist closer to his body. I marked the length, sleeve length and collar length as well. I checked the button hole placement to make sure they were in proper placement also. I took in the shirt and sleeves on the sides to give it a fitted look and hemmed everything.

Collar fix. I cut the neck hole 1/2″ wider and made the collar 2″ longer. I made the collar half of the width. I pinned it to make sure I was close to the neckline circumference.

Fitting #2 The neckline, length of the arms, hemline and shoulder width all passed inspection. He wanted the collar 1/2″ more narrow and the sides taken in more. Sleeves were still too big and now that it was taken in there was a lot of pooling (bunching) under the arms.

I took apart one of the muslin sleeves and made a new sleeve. I took in the shirt more.

Fitting #3 It’s too fitted now and has a lot more bunching under the arms. The arm holes were no where near wide enough. I marked where they needed to be. Still bunching under the arms although everything else fit awesome.

At this point I decided to do some research and take a few days off.

I found some of my vintage Time-Life tailoring books and looked up some answers. There was not enough width in the back and not enough sleeve cap. These two issues can cause this problem.

Arm and back fixes. I cut a big cross in the back and spread it open an inch, this is called slashing spread.  I added 3/4″ to the sleeve cap.

On the morning of his birthday I took apart that muslin and used it as a pattern to make another muslin.

Fitting #5 We have success!

From here I used Red Dot Pattern Material to make a real pattern that I can reuse. My own master shirt pattern.


Once I constructed and deconstructed this shirt 4-5 times it become fast and easy.

I added feather weight usable interfacing to the collar and button hole facings.

TIP – Always clean your sewing machine, change your needle and test your stitches first.

Now, after all the practice, I can make this shirt in 2 hours.

It’s very rewarding to work so hard and have it come out well and know that I can make a bunch more really easily.

Behind the scenes~

Last weeks reverse appliqué class at Rosewood was so much fun. Next class up is Pattern reading and Layout.

Since this has been an endless summer in Ohio I have taken the time to roller skate more. I was recently featured on Ride.Ohio’s Instagram page.

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream it! Sew it!