Making a Shirt

Alright here is my first post about making clothing (in detail)! Before now all of my posts have just sort of haphazardly mentioned at the end of posts – basically just blips. No substance. And I thought that the shirt that I just finished making was worth talking about in detail so here we go.

The other day I finished my new shirt. It is the third shirt that I have made since I have begun making clothes again. My Mom tried to get me into it when I was 12 but it didn’t take then. A few years have passed and now on my own I have decided to adopt the practice on my own (always so much nicer to choose to do things yourself. Isn’t it?).  I think this shirt has gone the most smoothly and has the best results. I think the word to describe the making of this shirt is smooth. That is a nice word to use when you are talking about sewing.

I suppose I’ll start with sharing a picture of the finished shirt, Voila:

The process for making this shirt went like this: designing, pattern drafting, dyeing, cutting out, making, wearing. Quick disclaimer: this is not a tutorial! This is just me describing my process, experience and what I learned through the making of this shirt.

The conception of this shirt began way back in June. I just sketched out what I envisioned.

I’m not going to lie it is inspired by Edwardian fashion (my personal favourite). At the same time I did a couple other sketches (the one in the centre is the last shirt I made). I know that the shirt that I wound up making is a bit different from the initial sketch but you have to allow for some changes and I actually think that the actual shirts design is better than the sketch.

(My planning page from when I actually began making the shirt)

Moving along we come to the pattern drafting stage. This went surprisingly smooth this time round. All the other shirts I have made had long, strenuous, stressful drafting processes. Mainly because I was trying to make pattern out of nothing. Whereas this time round I had my body block and a pre-existing pattern to work with.


(Part of my body block and both pieces folded up)

And I suppose I’ll say it here I did have a little bit of help from my Mom with the pattern drafting. I’m still learning all the ins and outs of pattern making math so help is needed.

So the shirt has two layers: the top is a chiffon silk draped (slightly) layer and the under layer is a silk cotton fitted layer. I’m mainly referring to the bodices as those are where the differences are in the two layers. Then there is a silk cotton belt and two skirt layers. That being the basis of the shirt I mainly only had to rework the bodice(s) and the belt as I use the same skirt pattern for all my shirts. For the bottom layer I used my new body block we just measured the length and altered the neckline of the block for my new bodice. For those of you who don’t know a body block is a fitted pattern that is fitted special to your body. And then for the second layer and the belt we used a pre- existing pattern that was used for a fancy dress I wore to an event a long time ago.

(The dress in question)

But for this shirt I made a few slight changes. The first being that I flipped the belt and exaggerated the point on the end. And the second being that I took the dart out of the draped bodice and took out some of the drape. With the top layer being made of chiffon the dart would not have looked very good and with the size of my bust I didn’t want it to have too much drape as it would look too balloony for my taste. So that is where the changes were visually. I also had to lengthen the top bodice pieces a bit just because I have drown since the initial making of this pattern.

(All of my pattern pieces)

Next comes the dyeing.

(Some of the dye materials. The back left being Creeping Thyme. The front left being Purple Basil. And the others are Tarragon and a sprig of Rosemary) 

I wanted the shirt to be pale yellow with a blue belt and that is what I got.


Thank my lucky stars! I got the yellow from some Creeping Thyme that I took out of the garden as it was starting to get a bit too overgrown.

(There is our Creeping Thyme in front of our Snapdragons. By mid August it had stopped blooming so it is just green now)

I had to separate all the top cover from the roots and remove the dirt. So I spent an hour or two standing over the sink washing and separating.

(My clean washed thyme ready for dyeing)

I know that yellow is a simple colour to get but I wasn’t expecting my fabric to absorb the dye so quickly. I knew I wanted a very pale yellow (too match my complexion) and that I would have to watch my fabric carefully so that the fabric wouldn’t absorb too deep a colour.

(Thyme in the pot)

But what I didn’t expect was my fabric absorbing the colour by a mere dip into the dye pot. Now I will say that I did pre mordant my fabric with alum so I do think that this did play a part in the quick absorption of colour.

(The Thyme dye strained)

But I literally took my damp fabric, submerged it in the dye pot, stirred it around and noticed that the colour was as deep as I wanted it instantly. At first I thought it was too good to be true but slowly and surely when I took the fabric out of the pot and rinses it the colour stayed put. So I decided to just leave the colour at that.

(My yellow fabric all rung out and ready to be hung up to dry) 

The blue colour was another story altogether. Although it was not too stressful but I did have to reorient my plan as my first attempt didn’t go as planned. At first my plan to get blue was to use purple basil. Which was one of my internet finds and experiments. I’m sure that it is possible to collect blue dye from purple basil if you have enough of it. And that is probably what my issue came down to being. I just didn’t have enough plant matter. In the spring we only planted one purple basil plant. And it didn’t really grow at all. And the big hail storm we had back in July didn’t really help either.

(My small bunch of purple basil in the dye pot ready to go)

I think in the back of my mind I knew I would’t get blue just because of the tiny amount of purple basil I had. But I still went through and tested it. I ultimately got a weak brown-purple colour. I added some baking soda to the dye to up the pH balance as I know that adding something basic tends to turn dyes towards the blue side of the spectrum (there’s some simple chemistry for you. ). This turned the dye green, which was great but not what I wanted.

Whilst I was experimenting this basil dye I was looking out my kitchen window, looking at these purple flowers. The gears in my head were turning and they were saying “if purple basil was supposed to give me blue then other purple things should give me blue as well… And I’ve gotten blue dyes before from other purple flowers… But those were spring flowers…. But these are purple flowers…” So I went and picked the flowers. And they did give me the blue dye that is on my shirt.

(The fabric in the blue dye)

But I’m hesitant to share just what the purple flowers were…

(The purple flowers…)

The flowers were monkshood. Yes the well know poisonous monkshood. In my defence I didn’t know they were poisonous when I used them. And I didn’t poor the dye down the drain (I poured it on some weeds). And most of the fatal incidents with monkshood seem to be because someone ate the flowers. And I didn’t die (yet). And you can dye with Lily of the Valley and their poisonous… Anyways I’ve learned my lesson and I got the results I wanted (yay?). And I learned my lesson. I will not make monkshood into a regular dye that I use.

(Bowl full of my scrap fabric that I don’t want to throw out for some reason. Probably because I dyed it..)

After the dyeing I cut out the pattern and began making the actual shirt. I’m not going to go into detail about that as it is rather dull. To sum it all up I’ll just mention that I had to unpick very few seams, I learned the hand sewing stitch that is used in couture fashion and the fitting process for this shirt was relatively painless thanks to my body block. I only needed two fittings. One to make sure everything was right, which it was for the first time ever, and the other to measure for the zipper and the straps.

So now I am all finished and am ready to wear this shirt. I’m very excited!! Hopefully I won’t die because of the monkshood dye (get it? Haha ohhh such a lame joke..) but if I do you’ll know because I won’t be posting anymore.. I’m sure I’ll be fine.

One last note. Alright so in my last post I mentioned my new found love of the last Romanov family and how I’ve been watching the film Anastasia because of it. Well I designed this shirt back in June (even the colours I swear) , long before this phase took off and I’ll just say doesn’t my shirt resemble this dress from the movie?


Weird.. It is like I subconsciously knew without even knowing. Thanks for reading, until next time!


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