Menswearmain_large

Let’s face it: for the guy who wants to sew his own clothes (or for women who want to sew menswear), there aren’t a whole lot of resources out there. In-print books like David Coffin’s classic, Shirtmaking, are few. I’ve been writing extensively about men’s sewing over on my blog, Male Pattern Boldness, and I’m delighted that BurdaStyle has given me the opportunity to address the topic here.

When I decided I wanted to learn to sew nearly two years ago I was very much alone. After a little online research, I chose a vintage Kenmore zigzagger as my first machine but, not knowing anyone who sewed, I wasn’t sure where to turn for more information about sewing. On Amazon, I read great reviews for Diana Rupp’s book, Sew Everything Workshop, which you may be familiar with. What’s great about Rupp’s book, beside her welcoming tone and excellent organization, is that she includes actual patterns for garments you can make yourself, including a couple of men’s patterns. Rupp also tells you what you need to get started and how to set up your sewing space.

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But what if you want to make more than just boxers or a tie. What do you need to know?

Men’s clothes tend to be tailored, i.e., fitted to the wearer as opposed to draped on top; most guys don’t wear wrap dresses. As a result, making men’s clothes requires techniques and tools that many sewers may not be familiar with, like flat-felled seams (where one half of a seam allowance is folded over to encase another and then stitched down) to finish an armscye, or a 1/8" edge guide presser foot to ensure accurate edgestitching.

The best way to learn these techniques is to try them.

One of my first projects was a caftan shirt from a vintage pattern I found on Etsy (an excellent source for men’s patterns, by the way). Caftans as contemporary men’s fashion were heavily promoted in the early Seventies and pattern companies jumped on the bandwagon, producing endless variations including shirt-length, floor length, and the dreaded unisex, a word familiar to anyone over the age of…. well….anyone who remembers the Seventies.

Caftans were perfect for the free-spirited, jet-setting guy who simply couldn’t be bothered with buttons. Or real clothes.

There are tons of men’s caftans available online — many still uncut (I wonder why…) — and they can often be purchased for just a few dollars.

The beauty of the loose-fitting caftan as an experiment in menswear is that it has no collar or cuffs, doesn’t require exact fitting, and is so comfortable as loungewear that it never needs to be worn out of the house if it isn’t quite you. Perfect!

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Sewing for men also requires some sewing notions you may not be familiar with or never knew what to do with. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Tailor’s Ham

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If you’re a press-as-you-go sewer (and if you’re not you should be), you’re no doubt familiar with the tailor’s ham. Hams are great for pressing shirt collars or any part of a garment that’s curved or needs a curve pressed into it. I use mine all the time when I make shirts (and for almost everything else).

2. Point turner

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This little bamboo tool is perfect for shaping collars, turning facings — anywhere you need a well-defined, sharp edge. It’s pointy enough to get the job done but not so sharp that it will break through a seam — unless forced of course. Parenthetically, David Coffin now recommends turning shirt collar with the aid of a hemostat (essentially, curved forceps). A hemostat can be bought cheaply on Amazon and when you’re not turning collars with it you can remove your appendix.

Here’s a tip: for best results, shape the collar point over the point turner, don’t jab the point into the seam.

3. Sleeve board

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I’ll admit it: I held out a long time on this rather bulky tool because its purpose seemed so limited. That was then! Sleeve boards are, in my experience, the only way to press seam allowances down perfectly on a shirt sleeve. Seam rolls, you say? The problem with seam rolls, readers, is that they don’t lift the whole sleeve or extend the full length. Sleeve boards do.

4. Point presser and clapper

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This wooden tool is a mystery to many and up until recently difficult to find. Nothing presses a bulky seam allowance better than a wooden clapper (that’s the heavy bottom part). It’s not just the pressure it applies but also the way the wood absorbs moisture. The sharp point presser at the top is great for pressing seams open as well as getting into those hard-to-reach places. Add it to your sewing arsenal!

5. Edge foot

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Anyone who reads my blog knows I’m a big fan of vintage straight stitch machines, and I’ll be discussing those here on BurdaStyle soon. But if you don’t want to buy another sewing machine but you are interested in accurate topstitching, an edge foot can help. There are a number of varieties of these. One, also known as a stitch in the ditch foot, helps to maintain an accurate edge at approximately 1/8". Another foot helps to maintain a 1/4" edge. Both feet are popular with quilters.

All these tools can help give you professional looking results.

Ready to give menswear a try?

Any caftan fans out there?

Thanks for reading!

When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

59 Comments

  • Missing

    Feb 1, 2013, 05.37 AMby mickjphil

    Are there vintage pattern collections?

    1 Reply
    • Missing

      Mar 24, 2014, 01.08 PMby andreconner

      These are modern clothing, though the linens looks like that one used from the old era, perhaps they still collects vintage of this. Its hard to find but I guess there still shopping for men store that caters vintage fashion wears.

  • Nationalanthemmaxtwitter_large

    Jul 29, 2012, 09.35 PMby Max Hernandez

    Would a flat felled seam foot help me achieve that nice top stitching along the seams of the sleeve and arm for a menswear shirt?

  • Nationalanthemmaxtwitter_large

    Jul 29, 2012, 09.18 PMby Max Hernandez

    I’ve always wondered, what was the secret to the topstiched seams in menswear dress and casual shirts, is it this stitch in the ditch foot, or is there a special technique that i haven’t figured out yet.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Feb 12, 2013, 03.26 AMby Peter Lappin

      Max, ideally, you learn to do with by eye. A straight stitch machine helps since it’s easier to see how close you’re stitching to the edge.

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    Mar 9, 2011, 02.19 AMby Whitehaus

    So that’s what that thing (a tailor’s ham) is for! Had one in my sewing supplies for EVER. I had no idea of its function, but was positive that I’D ultimately be bummed if I gave it away. Thanks for passing on the info:)

  • Blurred_out_large

    Mar 9, 2011, 02.18 AMby Whitehaus

    So that’s what that thing (a tailor’s ham) is for! Had one in my sewing supplies for EVER. I had no idea of its function, but was positive that I’D ultimately be bummed if I gave it away. Thanks for passing on the info:)

  • Missing

    Mar 8, 2011, 04.57 PMby sewexpo

    Islandersewing.com specializes in mens shirt patterns. They have a large selection starting with very simple pullover styles all the way to classic dress shirts. All the instructions are very detailed with tons of illustrations. There is even a video on professional techniques in making shirts. These are the best!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 9, 2011, 01.04 AMby Peter Lappin

      Do you have experience sewing one? I’d love to hear about it!

  • Copy_of_aloha_kitty_large

    Mar 6, 2011, 04.18 PMby Renu Dee

    This is a wonderful and very inspiring article. I made an aloha shirt for my future father-in-law. He loved it! He wore it 3 out of 5 days on our Hawaii trip. It’s definitely different than making a dress. You really have to pay attention to every detail. Peeked at your blog and now I’m more motivated than ever to make menswear. Keep doing what you do! :)

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 6, 2011, 10.54 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Renu! That’s great to hear.

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    Mar 6, 2011, 10.26 AMby ssarryo

    How wonderful! I was so inspired by this article that I bought most of the supplies shown here. Lol.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 6, 2011, 03.22 PMby Peter Lappin

      Fantastic! You’ll never have wrinkled sleeves again, promise!

  • Big_tri_large

    Mar 5, 2011, 07.13 PMby cantare

    Peter, you’re my favorite! I signed up for your sew-along for February, but will have to participate later :/ but sew I will! I’ve been getting more into menswear because I actually find it’s like trying to fit the right pieces together. With women’s wear almost anything goes and it’s too much! Men’s you have to find something that is flattering, not too recycled, and sale-able. It’s about the details. I get encouraged when I sketch something and my guy friends say ‘I would wear that!’ or esp when they give me ideas! I’m such a girl, I think they would like what I like. Not so! Thanks for article and for all the help on your blog. I’ll post pics from my show coming up to show you and kelepso what I’ve been up to in the male pattern world :) Wish me luck!!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 5, 2011, 10.28 PMby Peter Lappin

      Good luck! I look forward to seeing what you make!

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    Mar 5, 2011, 05.21 AMby minnietheminks

    Great post! I have made my guy two shirts now and the fit is getting better, I used an old seventies pattern and then did a toile. I enjoy sewing mens’ shirts. I used my old Readers Digest book for guidance but I am thinking about getting the David Coffin book, love your blog too and congrats on the burdastyle gig.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 5, 2011, 10.30 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Minnie. I have so many Seventies men’s shirt patterns — the one’s I’ve used are very well drafted and fun. Thanks for the words of support!

  • 4694225849_ec4622fedc_b_large

    Mar 5, 2011, 04.02 AMby A. Nguyen

    Thanks for the tip on the stitch-in-the-ditch-foot. I need to find & try those.

    Re. press-as-you-go: absolutely! I let the steamed/pressed piece to dry completely, for several hours, before moving it, especially if it’s a more loosely woven and/or less dimensionally stable and/or wool or linen. Wet/damp wool is more fragile and stretches more, negating the “shaping” done by steaming/pressing.

    Re. patterns that fit: I have not used a mass-produced patterns for my own clothes in a long time. I make patterns by copying an existing & well-fitting garment, or in case of pants or vests, drafting my own patterns, or in the case of swim trunks, just draw the pattern myself. In each case, I refine the pattern after making a garment from it to improve the fit.

    To copy a garment, I follow David Coffin’s method: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRLCHj2mDFE

    To draft my own pants and vest patterns: http://trantanphat.com/tailoring/drafting/

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 5, 2011, 10.30 PMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks for those great links, agn!

  • Missing

    Mar 5, 2011, 03.01 AMby newyorkbuilt

    As a member of Ravelry, and Men Who Knit, I have long advocated more design-time, inspiration, thoughtfulness and attention to male textile artisans, seamsters (yes, the male term for a sewer), weavers and other textilephiles.

    I look forward to your jeans sew along. However, given the lack of patterns, I will sacrifice a well worn and great fitting pair of my own to make a pattern. I have large thighs, a muscular butt and big calves…yeah, a bodybuilder.

    One of my ongoing issues are that off the rack pants wear out quickly for me at the inner thighs…not uncommon with my fellow gym buds.

    I hope you can address our dilemma in your posts with the sew along. Great work.

    Maybe your writing here is a signal that Burda will break ranks with most other publishers and give men a chance. Yeah, I know, the 2002 Mens Vogue Knitting failed as a seller for the publisher…but that was then and this is now.

    I am now toiling away on the Leather Apparel certificate program at FIT and taking a couture sewing class at Parsons…a new career awaits. Mark

    2 Replies
    • 4694225849_ec4622fedc_b_large

      Mar 5, 2011, 04.05 AMby A. Nguyen

      newyourbuilt: have you considered drafting your own pants pattern? Threads magazine has an article on drafting jeans pattern some years ago. You can also try my pants pattern draft page: http://trantanphat.com/tailoring/drafting/d_trousers.html

    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 5, 2011, 10.31 PMby Peter Lappin

      Wow, Mark, I’m jealous! Leather apparel sounds like great fun — maybe that’s next!

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    Mar 5, 2011, 02.27 AMby corinneski

    Absolutely fabulous article! Over the years I’ve made everything from ballgowns to swimsuits but I’ve always baulked at making men’s clothes especially trousers because I thought they were too complicated. I might give them another go. As to the pressing issue – you are absolutely right. Why wouldn’t you press as you go? The results are more professional in appearance. I press every seam three times – along the seam as sewn, then press it open, turn it right side and press again (that’s for a standard seam).

    Attention to detail really pays off. I’m still smiling about the time (about 25 years ago) when I wore a wool dress I’d made myself to an important dinner. One of my fellow diners is a lady who typically buys couturier clothes and she demanded to know where I got my dress. Needless to say, I wouldn’t tell her because I thought she might ask me to make for her too.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 5, 2011, 10.34 PMby Peter Lappin

      LOL, Corinne. Men’s trousers are actually not that hard — I mean of course they can have all sorts of details like welt pockets and all, but a basic pants sloper is very straightforward.

      Most guys have less curves below the waist than women, which helps!

  • Yvette_books919_200x249px__large

    Mar 4, 2011, 09.55 PMby Yvette Stanton

    Great article! I’ve been making clothing for everyone else in my family recently, so I thought I’d better ask my husband if he wanted me to make him anything. He enthusiastically asked for a business shirt. He wears practically the smallest size business shirt available, and likes a very particular cut, so we decided the easiest way to get a shirt pattern he liked was to dissemble one of his shirts that’s wearing out. (I checked out the big pattern companies men’s patterns and was distinctly under-enthused…) We bought some really nice shirting fabric from Tessuti, and hopefully very soon he’ll be wearing his custom-made business shirt.

    2 Replies
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