Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Shirt issue

The third week of February is almost always total chaos for me. First I get hit with Valentine's Day and then immediately afterwards it's my wife's birthday and the requisite dinners and parties that both involve. Needless to say, it's tough to get things done. And that's been a recent problem for me: I have so much that needs to get done, that I spend all my time trying to figure out what comes next, and then I get nothing accomplished. This has become such a problem that I now literally have a closet full of "to do's".
The guitar I need to sell, wine that needs to be racked/bottled, a huge wad of shirts that need tailoring, and all the thrift store jackets that need some degree of messing with. This post is my first step at decluttering. It's time to tailor some shirts and get some color into rotation. But while I'm at it, lets take a look at the shirts construction and detailing. Surely there is something to be learned from that pile of cotton (and occasional ploy blend).

I like when my shirts fit like this John Henry 'Modern Fit' shirt. Not constrictive, but far from boaty. Unfortunately, if I want this fit off the rack, I have to make sacrifices. Typically it means I can't button the collar (as is the case here), because 15.5" collars only belong to guys with lots of extra girth (apparently). If I want to wear a tie, the body will fit like this Calvin Klein shirt:
And that's with most of the excess pulled to the back.

All of the shirts in that pile have something fit-wise that annoys me. Most need to have the bodies trimmed down. Some need collars reshaped, others need sleeves shortened or have shoulders that are ever so slightly too wide. Now that I've tasted from the table of well fitted garments, I want front arm scythes that start exactly at the arm/shoulder line. I want sleeves and cuffs that don't engulf my hands or wrists. I want collars that accent my face shape.

So lets take a look at a few of these to-do's.  The Calvin Klein from above, that needs the body narrowed, the sleeves shortened, and the shoulders cut down (ever so slightly). A blue Ralph Lauren Polo-line that is massively baggy on me, a Red Level Nine that fits well, but has a ridiculously large collar/stand. And one of three Van Heusen shirts that are in need of some serious slimming. I'm also going to take a look at the John Henry (also above) and a Ben Sherman that I'll have to stop wearing if I keep going to the gym.

First up, lets talk buttons:
Notice something about these two?
They have vertical button holes all the way down. The Van Heusens do this as well. I only recently began to question this practice, after noticing that the John Henry shirt was different:
A horizontal final button hole. I did a bit of googling, and learned that the reason this is done is to prevent the shirt from shifting, ever so lightly, and disrupting the horizontal lines of the patterning during wear. When the top and bottom buttons are fastened (these are the only two horizontal holes) the shirt is locked into position. The remaining holes are vertical to make button fastening easier. I wasn't sure how true that all was until I compared the patterns of the Calvin Klein to the Ben Sherman:

Ben Sherman uses a pearl snap for his final buttons, which achieves the same effect. Look closely at how exactly the pattern continues on the Sherman and how sloppy by comparison the CK shirt is. I doubt that I'll try to improve the stability of the CK shirt, although I could do so by adding an additional button hole. I will however, make sure that all shirts I make incorporate either Shermanesque snaps or horizontal lower holes.

Next up, lets examine sleeve cuffs:
Not a lot of surprises here. Par for the course is two buttons at the wrist and a gusset with an extra button to secure it. Notable exceptions are the Van Heusen shirt, which doesn't include the gusset button, and the Red Level Nine shirt which only has one sleeve size and uses two buttons for the closure. After staring at the cuff shapes for a while, I dislike the hard lines of the CK square cut cuffs and also the overly soft rounded edges on the Polo and Van Heusen shirts. It is wort noting that the cuff shape does not seem to bear any relationship to the collar shaping.

Speaking of collars:
This is an area that I've come to be pretty particular about. Notice that the CK and Polo shirts have metal collar stays inserted, and that the other shirts have permanently installed soft plastic stays. I hate soft plastic stays. They always melt/distort/break/move and then leave you with an oddly shaped unwieldy collar. I will never make nor buy a shirt without collar stay sleeves. I just cannot abide it. And on the topic of things that annoy me in the collar department, look at the beefy number that got put on the Red Level Nine shirt:
I just don't have enough neck to wear this beast. Also, the double buttons on the collar stay are a serious nightmare to fasten/unfasten. It's a real shame because the collar is the only thing keeping me from wearing this shirt. Future plans involve cutting almost half-an-inch off the collar and halving the collar stand (this sounds easy enough).

So what have I learned from all this?
Van Heusen shirts are utter crap. I got exactly what I paid for out of those <$10 sale shirts. Lots of cut corners, cotton/poly-blends, and poor factory fits. I'll not be buying any more of these, no matter how low the sale price may drop.

Calvin Klein and RL Polo shirts are better in quality, are 100% cotton, but still cut a few corners. Factory fit was not great either.

The Red Level 9 shirt has some questionable design decisions, the same poly-blend as the Van Heusen shirts, and no collar stays. However it does fit me pretty spot-on through the body, aside from the massive collar assembly which eclipses my entire neck. I doubt that I'd ever buy this brand in the future(I got this one as a gift).

John Henry shirts fit me decently when I get them one size too small. This one was another gift, so I don't know how a medium would have looked. Based on the detailing the quality seems higher than the other inexpensive shirts; I would consider possibly buying more in the future.

Ben Sherman seems to offer the best detailing, build quality, and fit for my body. The one shirt also cost as much as all the others combined. That said, it gets worn all the time while the other shirts toil in the 'to-do' pile.

Based on all this, I plan to knock out the RL9 collar assembly first. After that I'll slim down the maroon Van Heusen, and then begin recrafting of the Calvin Klein shirt. If, along the way, I ruin anything no tears will be shed. The goal is to do one shirt a week until the pile is gone. After that, it will be time for me to apply what I've learned and make a shirt from scratch. Stay tuned for updates!

Friday, February 10, 2012

It must be spring (because excuses are popping up like weeds)

Hello fellow citizens of Blogistan. I come to you today with sad news: I still haven't gotten any sewing accomplished. But it's not my fault, how can anyone be expected to sew under these conditions?
I can hear your thoughts now, "That poor machine, all tucked away unloved and unused under a crappy card table. And what's with that tiny meth lab in the bottom left corner?" Fear not, I would never cook meth, and especially not in my future twin's soon-to-be-nursery. That's just my make-shift seedling incubator.
Look at all those future tomatoes, bell peppers, ground cherries, strawberry and malabar spinaches, and (hopefully) strawberries! And this doesn't include the cucumbers, melons, squash, and various other peppers that will be going in outside (in a couple of weeks). As you can see I've kept a bit on the busy side with all this planting and growing.

What's that? Oh, yes, I know that growing is pretty much fire and forget. Once those seeds were planted I only have to throw twos of minuets per day at watering. Where then has all my time gone? I'm glad you asked:
Sexy bamboo trellises
I've been spending my nights cutting bamboo (from a source who I doubt will miss it) and my days trying to assemble these things. I need 6 in total, and they have to be strong because they'll be holding lots of fruit/vegetables. For interested parties, the total garden area is somewhere between 250 and 300 sq/ft, depending on how much I squeeze the rose bushes and trumpeter vine. The plan is to lay things out roughly like this:
This will probably change a little, but it's what I'm working from at the moment. Watering will be accomplished with a home-made soaker hose which will be laid under my mulch layer (for less waste). Speaking of watering-- I have to say that the Arbor Apartments in Boerne are Awesome. Last year my closest water hookup was 180' feet away. This year, the maintenance man reinstalled an old faucet that is only 50' away. How cool is that? He's totally getting extra watermelons this year.

I also plan to practice being a father, get the neighborhood kids interested in gardening, and safeguard the garden site all in fell swoop. I'm going to make a bunch of garden gnomes out of air-dry clay, then invite the local kids to paint them for me. I'm no sculptor, so their 5 and 6 year old painting skills will be the key to success here:
My first attempt at Gnomage
So as you can see, I've had a lot on my plate. Along with this, I've moved to working full time at work, started going back to the gym 3 times a week, and I'm making another attempt at becoming a runner (couch to 5k, anyone?) But I should be back to the needle soon. I printed a new pattern last night (for a new shirt) and I have a coworker who wants me to modify his shirt collar-- for MONEY!

Now all I have to do is avoid assassination from my enemies in the insect kingdom. No joke, I found this agent at work on my car tire today:
Sneaky bastard

Stay tuned for some actual sewing, more garden shenanigans, and more amazing things that you can squeeze into a single day if you don't watch T.V. Leave me some love, and remember to eat what you sow:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 reviewed!

Dear Blog,
I have been a bad blogger. I have been inconsistent and generally not given enough love to you or my readers. Can you ever forgive me? I promise to try harder from this point on.

Love n Kisses,

Silliness aside, I have been a bit lacking in the regularly-updating department. Life's been pretty hectic between all the doctor visits, medical-research-whoring, and garden preparation. I haven't even gotten any sewing done. Not a single stitch; I feel like a total bum. Not at all like The Sewing Guru, who clearly has his act together.
The sewing guru

As I have mentioned before, I'm still pretty new to this whole sewing thing. What I do know is a combination of judicious googling, a few crash-course phone calls to Crissy, and lots of dismantled garments. Which is why I wish I'd found the sewing guru's site much sooner. To be blunt, it rocks.

I am a visual learner so the site's This Old House style videos are a major asset. Plus he does so much more than follow a simple pattern; he explains why each step is necessary. There's a course on basically every form of men's garment, and most women's basics too (Dress, skirt, jacket, trousers, blouse). He's also got lots of videos on sewing basics and machine maintenance.

My only real complaint is that he doesn't offer alternative routes for the home sewer who lacks professional equipment. An example of this is that he instructs viewers to overlock all edges. He fails to mention that if you are a hobbyist, and don't own an overlock machine, you can still pink your edges or use a bias tape. I think this oversight comes from the main strength of the series: The author appears to be a professional tailor.

He has several videos posted on YouTube, but he also offers a 2-day tree trial on his site, I think that a beginning sewer could definitely do a lot worse than to drop $17/month to learn from a pro. It blew my mind that a trouser waist band had 6 pieces (plus another 4 of interfacing). The Simplicity pattern I have laying around here only calls for a single piece to be folded over!

So that's about it this time. Have any of you found any resources that you consider to be indispensable? Does having a visual reference make you want to take on a huge foolish project? I'm thinking that I need to make one more pair of trousers, 2 shirts, and then take on making a suit from scratch. Maybe February will be my month to shine (although, I think March is more likely).

Until next time,