As soon as I saw the new pattern release from By Hand London, the Sarah Shirt, I knew that it was destined for my shopping basket, nothing was going to stop me from buying it. Sometimes I will have an internal debate with myself where that sensible part of my brain will shout ‘you don’t need another pattern’ but it never really makes enough of an impact to stop my fingers hovering very long over the ‘buy now’ button.
The Sarah Shirt is currently available in pdf format which you can purchase from here: http://byhandlondon.com/products/sarah-shirt-pdf-sewing-pattern
There are two versions, one with long sleeves and an enlarged Peter Pan collar and one with short sleeves and a traditional pointed collar. However, you can of course mix and match the sleeves and collar and it wouldn’t be a huge amount of work to adjust the sleeve length to ¾, so all in all, you can easily customise the design to your preferences.
The pattern sizes range from a UK 6 up to a 20 (US 2 – 16).
Suggested fabrics are light to medium weight wovens that have a lot of drape, e.g. viscose rayon, silk, crepe de shine, charmeuse etc.
The actual pattern prints over 37 pages (including the important test square) and the instructions over 12 pages – quite a lot of paper and ink. I was glad that I printed and checked the test square first as it was coming up 1/4 “ too small on my printer – that could have spelt disaster. Double checking the instructions showed that I hadn’t ticked the ‘print actual size’ box in the printer options. Reprinting it gave me a perfect 4” by “ square.
There were 36 pages of actual pattern pieces which went together very well, I didn’t have any trouble matching them up.
I’ve never worked with By Hand patterns before so I wasn’t sure how their sizing would work for me. Normally I would start at an 18 at the shoulders / chest then grade out to a 20 at the waist and a 22 at the hips. However, I checked the finished measurements on the pattern and the largest size looked like they would easily fit around my rather large derriere so I decided to go with a straight size 20 all over.
The muslin and adjustments
I decided to make a muslin first and try to work out any fitting issues before I got anywhere near the good fabric. To this end, I purchased a double duvet cover from a local charity shop. It will never win any fashion awards for design but at just £5 I ended up with two huge pieces of fabric (one from the top, one from the bottom.) I knew that the muslin would probably end up looking ‘tenty’ as it is far too bulky for this particular pattern but that didn’t worry me as all I was after was to ensure that the shoulder seams were in the right place, the body and arm lengths were correct and that it did actually fit me (just a tad important)
This is the first time I’ve made a faced yolk and initially I thought ‘this is going to be a breeze’ – oh how easy it is to be cocky when you don’t know what is coming! After basting in the pleats on the back bodice the yolk was easily attached. My confidence was rising – not a good sign usually. I then came to read the paragraph of instructions about how to attach the front bodice pieces to the inner yolk, roll a sausage of fabric and then sew the seams together. I have to say I was completely baffled. I tried it a couple of times and just couldn’t get my head around how it was going to work. I’m sure it will be very straightforward and logical to everyone else – not me unfortunately. I stopped for an urgent coffee and chocolate biscuit break and came back determined to figure it out. When I calmed down and followed the instructions literally word by word then I managed it. The instructions are spot on, just very densely written. Once I had broken them down into all of their prerequisite stages and stopped trying to rush to the final one they worked perfectly for me. I can’t believe how inordinately proud and excited I was when my sausage of fabric was turned inside out via the neckline and I had a perfectly neat yolk with all of the seams hidden neatly away. This doesn’t mean that I will be able to do it first time on my next version, I already have the chocolate biscuit supply at the ready, just incase.
Since attaching the yolk I have found out that this is called the ‘burrito method’. There is a great video here demonstrating the technique.
I basted the side seams of the muslin together and tried it on for my first fitting. Joy of joys, it closed and there was plenty of room around the hip/bum area – happy me! However, as expected, the shoulder seams were far too long for me – despite my rather curvy size I do seem to have narrow shoulders and pretty much always need to make a narrow shoulder adjustment. I used a sharpie to mark the line directly onto the fabric exactly where my shoulder joint lay – one benefit of making a muslin using a pretty hideous duvet fabric is that you can happily draw all over it with a pen. I wanted around an inch removed from the shoulder so I went down to a size 16 at the top of the arm/shoulder seam and then graded back out to the size 20 midway down the armsyce.
I also decided that I wanted a little extra length at the front and back – I think my ‘generous’ boobs and bum were causing it to ride up higher than it was designed to do. I didn’t want to do a full bust or full bum adjustment so just adding an extra inch to both the front and back seemed like the easiest option.
I also removed 1.5 inches from the sleeves as I have short arms. There is no lengthen or shorten line on the sleeves (or bodice) so I drew a line mid way down the pattern, perpendicular to the grainline marking. I cut straight across the pattern and shifted it up by 1.5 inches and then trued up the curve on the sleeve edge.
After making the adjustments to the pattern I decided to go ahead and make my first Sarah blouse with my proper fabric.
The blouse fabric
I purchased this fabric from The Fancy Silk Store in Birmingham last November. I can’t remember the exact price but I think it was around the £7.99 mark. It is 148 cm wide and I purchased 2.25 meters.
It is a viscose rayon mix with probably just a little bit too much body for the Sarah but I have been desperate to make it into a blouse that would show off the gorgeous vivid flowers. Many blouses would have too much shaping or darts and would break up the pattern whereas the Sarah has lovely large front and back bodice pieces and no darts.
Things that I really liked
I really love the design of the Sarah pattern. I love the simplicity of the design and how it works so well for all shapes and sizes. It is a very comfortable blouse to wear and it doesn’t cling to my many lumps and bumps.
I really like the faced yoke. The inside of the blouse looks lovely with many of the seams enclosed within the yoke. But better still, there isn’t that annoying raw seam across the back which can irritate your skin after a while. It was definitely much easier doing the faced yoke the second time around.
I haven’t made many blouses before and the Sarah was a great design for a fairly newbie shirt maker like myself. I didn’t have to worry about button plackets, sleeve plackets or collar stands. Having said that, there were plenty of new techniques for me to learn. This was the first time I have sewn a bias bound slit in the sleeve – maybe not perfect but I’m chuffed to bits with my first effort.
This is also the first time that I’ve attached a separate collar onto a blouse – my previous two blouses had a built in shawl collar that came straight off from the bodice. The collar sits beautifully and is less formal than one using a traditional collar stand
I love the gathers around the sleeve cuff – so pretty and feminine and they were easy to do.
Things that didn’t go well or things I would change next time
I made a complete boo boo when doing my narrow shoulder adjustment. As mentioned above I went down to a size 16 at the top of the armsyce then graded back out to a size 20. I did this fine on the front bodice piece. Goodness only knows what was going on in my head after that though. For some reason I decided to do the grading down to a size 16 on the back bodice piece. The only reason I can think of is that this is the first time I’ve worked with a yoke and I guess I forgot about it and naturally went straight to the back bodice. I only found this out after having basted the pleats into the back bodice and then trying to attach it to the back yoke. There was no way it was going to fit, the back bodice was far too short across the top. I had a few minutes of major panic as I didn’t have any fabric left to recut either the back or both yokes, plus I knew I couldn’t resize the back yoke as a size 16 (which would have been needed to work with the sleeve adjustment) would have been far too tight on me. In the end I took out the pleats from the back bodice and used gathering stitches to gather the extra fabric that should have been in the pleats. There is now quite a bit less fabric across the back than there was supposed to be but luckily the blouse still fits (although it is definitely tighter than my original muslin). I have since adjusted the back bodice to its original shape and made the correct adjustment on the yoke piece instead.
The learning point for me is that if I have gone to the trouble of making a muslin in the first place then I should spend the extra time remaking that muslin with the alterations to double check they are correct rather than going straight onto to my proper fabric.
The shoulders are much improved on my original muslin. However, I think I still need to take at least another ½ inch off – if my shoulders get any narrower my arms will be coming straight out of my neck soon!
Although I shortened the sleeves by 1.5 inches I think I still need to remove some more length as they are bunching quite a lot around the cuffs. This is supposed to be a loose fitting style with fairly billowy sleeves but I feel that for me, I would prefer them a bit shorter.
I’m debating whether to do a FBA next time. I think that the shirt front rides up higher than the back and this is probably because of The Ladies. My main reticence is that I don’t really want to add in a dart as I love the simple clean lines of the Sarah shirt. I’ll live with this version for a while before making that decision.
Cost to make
Fabric: 2.25m at £7.99 per meter = £17.98
Buttons: 10 at 20p each = £2.00
Poppers (for cuffs): 10 in a pack for £1.40 and I used 2 = 28p
Thread: 1 reel of Guterman thread: £1.70
Facing: ½ meter of lightweight fusible interfacing – 75p
Total cost to make = £22.70