Monday, October 23, 2017

Sewing Beautiful Basics: Liesl Classic Shirt in Black and White Linen

Button down shirts are comfortable and versatile-- who would have guessed? Certainly not me, based on my prior experience of ill-fitting, gaping, button-popping shirts.

To be fair, I've never really invested in a quality shirt, tailored for a woman. All of my shirts have been cheap, trendy models found on clearance racks. Bought on impulse, and just as quickly banished from my closet after the inevitable wardrobe malfunction.

Sewing up the Closet Case Files Kalle Shirt this summer (x3!) was a wardrobe-level revision event. I knew I needed a long-sleeve model to get me through the fall into winter, so I started looking for a classic shirt pattern. 

I thought I had what I needed in the Grainline Archer, which I had bought earlier this year in anticipation of wanting to make a shirt. As I was printing and taping, I also started browsing the HUNDREDS of reviews, and looked at the pattern in greater detail. To my surprise, there seemed to be quite a bit of dissatisfaction with the pattern, especially when sewn in larger sizes. Multiple people described the cuffs as being excessively large in the larger sizes. I also was a bit confused as to whether the shoulders were supposed to fit or be dropped-- the pattern description doesn't specify, they look fitted on the pattern model but many reviewers described them as dropped. Then, I realized that the pattern didn't include a tower placket for the cuffs, and that little bit would cost me an extra $10, on top of the $16 original pattern. The fact is, I can probably make ANY basic shirt pattern fit, and I could draft the features I want... but really the experience I'm looking for with a paid pattern is to have it fit and have the features I want with minimal fuss. At that point, I neatly folded away the half-taped pattern and stared searching for a new pattern.

I finally settled on the Liesl Classic Shirt, which is advertised as a completely classic shirt with all of the expected shirt-y details-- tower plackets, separate top and bottom collar pieces, etc. My only previous experience with this brand is the related Oliver+S kids patterns, where I have sewed the Art Museum Vest with great success. The fact that some Liesl patterns are produced in concert with Butterick makes me nervous that they'll exhibit the hated excessive ease problem, but there was no indication in the few reviews out there that this was a problem. 

Since it wasn't any more expensive to get the paper pattern, I went this route. I was sort of regretting it as I entered a second week of obsessively checking the mailbox, but finally it arrived. 

I made a few changes. I removed the front bust dart through the highly technical method of ignoring it, then removing excessive length from the front panels. I also graded out a size from under the armholes to the hips. I did a quick muslin, which confirmed that I needed a generous (1 inch) full bicep adjustment. I would have been surprised if this were not necessary-- tight biceps is a major reason why RTW shirts and jackets don't fit me properly. Other than the biceps, the fit was spot on-- the shoulders are just right, the width and length of the arms are perfect. The length of the shirt is also perfect on me (although I neglected to take any untucked photos).  I love the way the pleats are handled in the back... the two spaced out pleats are much more flattering than the classic center pleat, while still providing a blous-y effect.

Generally, the drafting of this pattern is fantastic. It includes separate pieces for the collar facing and the cuff facing, which is very handy. The markings on the tower placket pattern piece are very helpful for figuring out how to attach it. The pieces all fit together beautifully, and the markings are professionally done and easy to interpret. The pattern also includes cup sizes which I'm sure would be very useful for many sewists. 

After checking my adjustments with a second muslin, I sewed it up in black linen.

The construction was fairly straightforward. The instructions which came with the pattern were reasonable with good illustrations, but I opted to follow methods that I learned sewing the Closet Case Files Kalle shirt, such as using thread tails to pull out the collar points and Heather's alternate method of collar attachment.

I used a variant of the burrito method for the yoke construction, and cut a bit of scrap patterned linen for the inside yoke. 

The tower plackets came together surprisingly easily, although I had to resort to the sew-along photos to make sure I was getting everything right. The directions in the pattern for the cuffs had me scratching my head-- I have no idea what the directions were trying to describe, so I just did it the way that made sense to me based on other cuffs I've sewn.

The buttons are real mother of pearl shell buttons from The Thackery. I would usually buy buttons like that in bulk, but I loved having all of the different sizes in their shirt button sets. They are truly lovely and feel wonderful 

I am absolutely in love with this shirt. I wore it an embarrassing number of times this week- a black shirt is just always appropriate in my workspace. I know it is linen and the "rules" are to pack your linen away for the winter, but I don't intend to stop wearing it anytime soon! I just love how linen looks after it hangs to dry, and how it softens with wear.

And then I made a white one. Same linen, from, in pure white. It was a pre-cut piece, so the cost was extra-reasonable!

For the white one I upped the ante a little and french seamed the armholes and side seams. The buttons are extra thick mother of pearl, from The Thackery. 

The one thing about the black shirt that I'm not fully happy with is the way the front and back tails join. The method in the pattern just has you join them after hemming and sew a little reinforcing triangle. While I did my best tucking in all the little ends, some are already starting to escape and fray. So for the white linen shirt, I decided to cut a softer curve and finish with self bias binding-- very similar to the way Kalle is finished. I'm much happier with this finish-- together with the french seams, it makes the inside super clean, no chance of fraying.

So far so good with the whites I've been adding to my closet. I do really love wearing white. I'm not sure that they will last though... just this weekend I had a bit of a scare. I noticed colored spots on the freshly washed whites I was hanging to dry, and realized that I must have gotten maker on my hands after picking up the kids' drawing supplies. Fortunately it was washable marker and just washed right out. However, I am thinking that I might sew my next white shirt in cotton thread, in anticipation of the need to dye it sometime in the future!

I'm also wearing my previously blogged Ginger Jeans in these photos. I did make one huge change since I blogged them. They did in fact stretch out unacceptably with wear, and I was just going to take in the side seams, but then I had the brilliant idea to take the excess out of the center back-- effectively doing a swayback adjustment. I took a full two inches out of the center back waistband and huge wedge out of the yoke. This improved the fit dramatically... the jeans are now comfortably relaxed without feeling like they are going to slide off. I always do swayback adjustments on fitted shirts and dresses and even coats... I don't know why it never occurred to me that my jeans would need one too!

I'm loving these shirts. You can't get much more basic than white and black shirts, but they are all I want to wear right now. If I'm in the mood for embellishment I fulfill it with bright lipsticks and jewelry. The necklace is a thrift store find and the lipstick is Mac Breathing Fire, which was a freebie and I love it!


  1. Fantastic shirts and they fit great on you!!!

    Lisel also has a free popover placket pattern on her website for this shirt along with a sewalong. do check it out, its very clear!

  2. Oh, I didn't realize that. That's fantastic! I'll have to try it out.

  3. Great shirts!
    The black linen one is to die for - so casually sexy!

    Appreciate all thee detailed sewing tips, pattern comments and links to fabric. This is the sort of post I look for when searching for a blogger's review of a project I want to tackle. Thank you!

    :-) Chris