Design Details from Menswear Shirting:Topstitching

Shirting Details from Menswear:


Warning:This Post is Photo Heavy.

Often when a pattern instructs me to topstitch I just look at the garment and wing it.  Though it would only take a few seconds I have been too lazy to grab a shirt or two and measure the typical topstitching points to determine stitch depth.   The result is sometimes a shirt that subtly looks “wrong.” 

I have several shirts planned over the next few months and I want them to look nice.  Wanting to create a handy chart to place in my sewing area as a reference I decided to pull out a few of my husband’s shirts and measure the stitch depths. 

Why my husband’s shirts and not my own, you may ask.  Firstly, being thick in the middle I do not own many RTW women’s oxfords to use as a sample.  RTW won’t close around my waist. That is why I am sewing my own.

Secondly, menswear often sets the standard for women’s oxford-style shirts and after an in-depth look at my husband’s closet I realized that menswear manufacturers have it down to a science.  My husband owns essentially the same exact shirt in a variety of fabrics and colors.  Though we in the Western world are coming upon close to two centuries of men wearing a cotton collared shirt, strangely I didn’t anticipate how efficient and frugal men’s clothiers had become.

Here is a chart of my findings. 

I worry that the chart will come up too small so I will repeat the chart info with photos to illustrate.  I looked at three different types of shirts: a standard work oxford, a dress shirt of finer cotton, and a dress shirt of softer material.  There was very little variation in construction methods or design details.


The softest and dressiest shirts had edgestitched collars.

Most of the shirts had 1/4 inch topstitching at collar edges.

The inside of the collar band showed extra stitching at 1/4 inch. But it couldn't have been twin-needle-d because the 1/4 stitch line did not show on outer side.

The outside of the collar band is edgestitched.









The yoke front and back are edgestitched. The shoulder seam is topstitched at 3/8 inch with the seam pressed upwards toward neckline.







The outer edge of the cuff is at 1/4 inch. The inner edge at the wrist looks to be twin needle-d at the edge and 3/8ths. If you look you can see that the placket is edgestitched on only one side with the folded side left free of any stitching.









The button side of the front opening has a single row of topstitching holding down the folded material at about 1 inch. The buttonhole side has 1/4 inch topstitching holding down the bands.

The hem is a rolled hem with edgestitching starting right at one garment edge and continuing to the other end.
















Let the Fur Fly: Sewing Fake Fur for the First Time

Warning – this post is photo-laden even for my liking and I like a lot of photos.  I also had to make the photos fairly large so you could view the stitching.  Even on super-duper up-to-the-minute computers the post may take just a minute to load.  I have tried to include links whenever possible to decrease number of photos. Thank you for your patience.

The off-white material I used for the wearable muslin of Vogue Pattern 8605 did not quite suit me.  I knew it when I started but thought, “Oh, well.  If it works out I’ll make sure to wear a flattering turtleneck.”  After a bit of futzing with various finishing ideas for the collar, binding, cording, etc., I decided that nothing I did was going to make ancient double knit polyester look up-to-date.  That is when I laid it on Millie, my fitting mannequin, and took a long hard look.

I had achieved my desired fit in the poly and I could have just stopped there and cut the fashion fabric.  But Millie being a vintage darling herself, a refugee from the basement of a co-worker’s newly purchased mid-century built home, has a figure that is very reminiscent of the fashion illustrations from the 1950’s.   The coat seen on Millie gave me an idea.

I have a bag of fake fur remnants bought for cheap from my local thrift, small unmatched cuts that won’t make a full garment, but could be used for accent. I pulled the fur-bag out and decided on the leopard(?) .  (I don’t know my furs.)

During all this I had to contend with another fur-bag, my tomcat, Groucho. Once I flopped the plastic grocery bag of fur bits on the table, he got a wild look in his eye.  In his little catty mind a dream had come true. Here before him was the great motherload of feline fun:


  •  a plastic bag to lick, a gross habit some males have because the plastic gives off an odor similar to feline estrus- something to think about at the grocery checkout 😉
  •  and, a pile of soft pile of fur to luxuriate in, while he licked his plastic bag.

He must have imagined I had been keeping secret the feline equivalent of a blow up doll. I had to keep removing him from the table scolding in stern language.  Finally I hung the bag on a hook close to the ceiling in my laundry room in order to finalize Groucho’s dating relationship with this most intoxicating, and compliant!, of partners.

The fur did fly a bit fending off the cat, but I still had two more problems. 

  1. The pattern did not include a traditional facing.
  2. I had never worked with fake or real fur before. 

The facing

I decided to trace out a facing from the collar pattern using a spare piece of art paper.  I knew that it might take some jiggery-pokery, as Dr. Who says.  After sewing the fur facing to the collar I went ahead and loosely pad stitched the two together to give some heft. 

Very loose padstitching done to give the collar more heft and keep the fur from shifiting too much over the poly.

Heads Up! – Cutting fur is a furry business.  The fur really did fly.  The dogs kept sneezing and my tee resembled a hairshirt by the time I was done.  And this was only a facing.  I don’t know what my house would look like if I was making an entire coat from this stuff.

Sewing Fake Fur

I have always been intimidated by this because I haven’t met someone who had made a garment with fake fur.  Then I saw Sunny Hickey’s fur vest at the Ohio State Fair Style Revue.  Though Sunny is years ahead of me in experience and skill, just seeing another home-sewer successfully take on that material gave me a lot of confidence.  It turns out that fake fur is not the bad boy I imagined.   It is actually kind of sweet and forgiving, with mabye just a wee bit of insouciance – like my cat.

Seam Edging

Technically it is a knit so the edges do not ravel.  When you turn over fake fur you see a tough pliable knit backing.  You do need to finish your edges because I don’t think it will stand up to the abuse of wear, but the material is not as delicate as I originally imagined.

As you stitch give yourself more than the traditional 5/8ths due to shifting. You can always cut it back later and you might need the extra edge if you decide to bind.

Also, after seaming you will need to open the seam and cut back the excess fur until you have a short burr left. Again, this is a very hairy experience.   After several seams you will begin to resemble the animal from which the fur is derived.

Cut back the excess fur on the seam edge.


Cautiously I set my machine and placed the material under the foot.  I expected the machine to bind up or the stitching to fall apart.  Five inches into my seaming I nearly fell off my sewing chair. 

The zig-zag stitch once again shows itself to be a miraculous invention!

Use a wide zig-zag stitch for seaming. I hope the stitches show up in the photo.

Now I am on the Hello Kitty machine, no less, and using the biggest zig-zag it offers, it made a strong lovely seam.  I placed my fashion fabric on the bottom and the fur on top.   Lacking any special sewing machine needles in my stash, I simply used a fresh 90/14.  I can’t tell you how surprised I was by how smoothly the fur sewed. 


I bound the one exposed edge in one-inch cotton twill that I lucked into at Hancock’s.  Warning – Buy more than you need.  I estimated by draping the twill around my neck and was lucky to have four inches left on finish.  A lot of length gets sucked into the fur. 

I used a one-inch cotton twill binding sewn with a zig-zag stitch.

What to do when Seams Show

Another huge surprise and another mystery solved.

As my original remnant was not very long I had to add a bit at the bottom of each facing.  This created a seam that showed.  Per the advice of an old sewing manual this is what you do.

Get out a dog grooming brush and brush into the seamline fuzzing it up.

Purloined from my dog's grooming kit the wire brush really did a lot to hide the seamline. You might want to purchase a fresh brush, but I thought, "Hey, we're all family here . . . "

This makes sense as this stuff is supposed to be fur and brushes are what we use to neaten animal coats.  Yet I was surprised.   Fake fur garments we see in RTW must have seams yet we don’t see them.  Brushing the seams must be part of the process. (And I thought those seemingly seamless coats were created from some kind of mysterious sewing technique not available to the masses!)

My seamlines were markedly improved after brushing though they still show a bit.  I imagine most sewers work hard to make their stitch lines vertical instead of horizontal when using fur.  In the future I will try to buy enough length to have only vertical seaming, or think of a way to incorporate a horizontal seamline into the design.

The Finished Jacket

This was my maiden voyage with a lot of new techniques and the jacket is not perfect.  A lot of the time I didn’t know what I was supposed to do so I got creative and let tidy stitching, I hope, cause the final finish to appear deliberate.   The closure I got from a bag of vintage buttons.  It is a bit worn and I wondered if I could ever use it.  When I was looking for closures this one looked the best as the fabric and style are also older, and I think the old buckle makes the garment appear as if it were made “back in the day.”

A vintage buckle. Though worn I thought it gave the jacket an authentic vintage feel.

The only thing left to do now is to find places and ways to wear it!

Next Post: Tuesday, August 31, 2010; Altering a Shawl Collar using Vogue 8605

Whoops! My Mistake: Sergers Don’t Staystitch

I learn something new from every garment I make.  Recently I tried out Vogue 1124 by pattern designer Sandra Betzina.  I have a full review in an earlier post, Betzina Vest: Pattern Review but I wanted to take a moment to pass on something useful for other sewers who might want to try the pattern.

If you are new to sewing, or in my case, not new, just impatient – you will be tempted to skip staystitching.  This is one thing that I did not understand as a young sewer and frankly thought it too boring to even bother with.

Staystitching is a row of straight stitches done on only one layer meant to hold the shape of a curve.

Like every good and useful thing on this earth it has a purpose.

To keep a curved seam from stretching out of shape.


A stretched out seam edge is like a stone rolling downhill.  That one stone bumps up against others and before you know it you have an avalanche. 

For example, a stretched out neckline messes up the shoulder, which messes up the collar, which messes up the front placket, which messes up your button placement, and to your chagrin, you end up with a dorky homemade looking garment.

Back to the pattern. 

For this particular pattern you cut a circle for the armhole.  Then you were to staystitch the curve, then finish as desired. 

This is what the armhole looked like originally.

My great idea was to serge that puppy up and get it over with.  I was going to just turned that serged edge under, anyway, why not let the stretch of the knit take care of the finish?

Bad idea

The knit edge did indeed stretch nicely into the armhole and I had a clean edge. 

But…my armhole had grown substantially.  Down to my waist.

Here is what the armhole looked like after I got done with it. The victim of yet another bad idea.

The vest kept slipping off of me and in disgust I threw it away.  I’m sorry I did that because in retrospect I wish I could show it to you.

My advice:

Instead of considering staystitching a mindless task before you get to the fun part, begin thinking of it as a gift from God because we are blessed to have such an easy way to solve so much trouble using just a few little stitches. 

So Don’t Skip Your Staystitching!

The Results are well worth it.

Next Post: Thursday, April 1, 2010; Hanky Hems