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Sarah Shirt Sewalong: Getting inspired & gathering supplies

Ahoy, and welcome to the first instalment of the Sarah Shirt Sewalong! If you consider yourself a confident beginner sewist, eager to explore some juicier techniques and expand your me-made wardrobe beyond simple skirts and dresses, then this sewalong is for you! We'll be talking everything from pattern alteration to hacking potential; breaking down each step in the making of the Sarah Shirt with clear photographs and in depth instructions. You can chime in at any point in the comments below each post if you get stuck, or even if you'd like to share some of your own tips & tricks so that we can all benefit. Needless to say, this sewalong will remain right here on this blog for all time, so you can refer back to it again and again for future makes.

Kicking things off today we're going to be going through all the things you'll need in order to make a Sarah Shirt - perfectly timed for a weekend fabric shopping trip!

To make the Sarah Shirt, you will need to buy:

  • The Sarah Shirt pattern
  • Your fabric
  • 1m lightweight fusible interfacing
  • 10-15 buttons or snaps, 1-2cm in diameter
  • 2 pairs poppers / snaps / buttons / hooks &eyes for Variation 1 cuffs

General sewing supplies that you will also need:

  • Pins
  • Tape measure
  • Tailors chalk or specialist fabric marking pens (we like the water erasable kind)
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Matching thread
  • Dress makers shears
  • Tracing paper (optional)
  • Your sewing machine
  • Your serger/overlocker (optional)

Fabrics...

Light to medium weight wovens with drape and body will bring out the best in your shirt. Viscose rayon, silk crepe de chine, silk Marocain, silk charmeuse, sandwashed silk, lightweight brushed cotton, cotton voile, cotton silk, challis, sandwashed cupro.

We made our Variation 1 sample from a perfectly whimsical heart print poly cr</em><em><em>êpe.

We made our Variation 1 sample from a sweet heart print poly crêpe.

Sarah is a floaty, drapey, effortlessly feminine blouse, reminiscent of chic 1950s swing coats and even mid-century maternity wear! In order to achieve this schwingy vibe, the fabric you go for cannot be too stiff or stable, unless you want your blouse to end up looking like a tent! Avoid quilting cotton, or indeed any cottons quilting weight or heavier, and any of the stiff silks such as taffeta, dupion or shantung. Fine linens will work very nicely, especially those with viscose in the mix, but nothing that could also pass for upholstery fabric!

A good test is to pick up your length of fabric by the corner, give it a little shake about and see how it hangs. If it could be described as floaty, bouncy, drapey, soft or swingy - you're golden!

Naturally, and purely for the sake of research you understand, we've been trawling the web to find fabrics that we'd love to see sewn up as a Sarah Shirt... Please bear in mind - we haven't actually had a chance to feel up a lot of the following fabrics, so we can't be 100% sure how they translate IRL. If you're shopping for fabric online, it is always a good plan to order some swatches first.

Solid colours 

You really can't go wrong with a classic blouse in a rich solid colour. Let the fabric itself do the talking here and opt for luxe textures such as double crêpe, sheer silks and sandwashed silk or cupro (a man-made fabric made from regenerated silky fibres from the cotton plant. Drapey and weighty, cupro breathes just like cotton, handles just like silk and can be machine washed just fine).

Clockwise from top left: Super luxe silk double crêpe from MacCulloch & Wallisplum sandwashed cupro from Stone Fabricswhite dotted Swiss voile from The Village Haberdashery; midnight blue silk double georgette from Mood Fabrics

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Fruits & florals

An obvious choice for a girly blouse such as this, disty florals and novelty fruit prints are a surefire hit for the Sarah Shirt. If you're wanting to steer clear of anything too vintage-twee, look out for William Morris-esque deco designs, hazy romantic digital prints and modern Paisley.

Clockwise from top left: William Morris-esque floral viscose from Fabric Godmother; dreamy linen/viscose mix from MacCulloch & Wallis; digitally printed Italian floral silk from Fabric Godmother; Pineapple viscose from My Fabrics

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Above, all Liberty Tana Lawn

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Clockwise from top left: Floaty silk chiffon from MacCulloch & WallisIndian block printed organic cotton from Offset Warehouse; cherry print rayon from The Village Haberdashery; retro floral cotton silk from My Fabrics

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Geometrics

Arguably the most sophisticated and grown-up fabric choice for the Sarah, fine geometric prints are perfect for anyone who finds solid colours boring and girly florals way too much.

Clockwise from top left: Wavy red and white print from Fabric Godmother; bubble spot viscose from My Fabrics; sheer polka dot chiffon from Minerva; pink square polk dot viscose from My Fabrics

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For the sewalong, we've gone for...

A cornflower blue (image above doesn't really do the colour justice...) 100% viscose voile from Goldbrick Fabrics on Goldhawk Road. Completely drapey, peachy soft, and ever so slightly sheer, this will be made up into the long billowy sleeved Variation 1, and I'm even thinking that some collar / cuff / yoke embellishment may be in order...

From one of our favourite places to shop in London, Classic Textiles (also on Goldhawk Road), comes this timelessly pretty ditsy floral lawn. Just floaty enough, and a dream to sew, this will become my Summer-staple, short sleeved Variation 2 Sarah.

Interfacing...

If you've avoided fusible interfacing in the past, we're well aware that it can be quite daunting taking the leap. Daunting, but so so worth it I promise you!

When you're working with lightweight or drapey fabrics, sometimes you really need key sections of your garment to just sit still, you know what I mean?! That's where interfacing comes in. Fusible interfacing - as the name suggests - is simply a layer of fabric sandwiched between your main fabric and lining fabric. One side of it has a heat activated adhesive (see the teeny spots on the black interfacing below) that sitcks to your fabric when it is ironed in place. Fusible interfacing helps things like collars and cuffs keep their shape, which they wouldn't if you neglected to interface them. Think floppy collars and clunky seam allowances visible through your fabric... Yuk. 

Just like fabric, you can choose fusible interfacing by weight and weave. Usually, it's simply a case of choosing the same-ish weight interfacing as the fabric you're working with. For the Sarah Shirt, which calls for lightweight fabrics, opt for a fine, lightweight interfacing.

In terms of weave, fusible interfacing is available in 'woven', 'non-woven' or 'knit'. Needless to say, knit interfacing is generally only suitable for projects involving knit fabrics, so let's not worry about that kind for now. Now, I personally would always go for woven interfacing. It handles just like fabric and never gives a stiff or crunchy finish, which non-woven interfacing sometimes does. Woven interfacing, like woven fabrics, has a grainline and this needs to be observed when cutting, just like you would when positioning and cutting pattern pieces onto fabric. However, non-woven interfacing has no grainline (it handles kind of like recycled paper, or Swedish tracing paper) so you can position pattern pieces on it however you please and therefore get more out of it. 

For this blouse, I'd highly recommend a lightweight woven fusible interfacing, but I'd also suggest getting a bit of both and having a play around to see which you prefer and suits your needs better.

Notions...

As well as your fabric and interfacing, you'll also be needing some buttons or snaps. Buttons come in so many wild and wonderful shapes and sizes, so we've not dictated the placement or specific size of buttonholes on the pattern itself, as this will vary depending on the buttons or snaps you choose. Generally speaking, buttons or snaps that are 1-2cm in diameter are ideal. This is a delicate blouse, with an emphasis on floaty elegance, so big or clunky buttons will only weigh your shirt down, especially if you've chosen a very fine fabric. 

If you want a button that matches your fabric, it's always a good idea to take a swatch of your fabric with you when choosing buttons. If you're stocking up online however, we'd recommend going for something neutral so as to avoid disappointment when your buttons arrive and they don't match your fabric quite how you'd imagined! We're huge fans of dainty Mother of Pearl buttons, whimsically shaped plastic buttons in solid colours, and pearl snaps - they go with absolutely everything so we always make sure we have them in plentiful supply.

If you're making the long sleeved Variation 1, you'll also need some form of closure for the cuffs - a popper or snap will do the trick, as will a button to match those on your placket.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, before you start cutting into your beautiful new fabric, remember remember remember to pre-wash!! Most fabrics will shrink a teensy bit the first time they go in the wash - some more significantly than others. There is nothing worse than spending all the hours lovingly sewing a new garment only for it to shrink in the wash after it's first wear. Deeply depressing let me tell you - I speak from experience. I am now in the habit of chucking everything in the washing machine the second I get home from fabric shopping - even just an express 30° cycle will do, and then tumble dry or hang, whatever you would do normally. Pre-washing your fabric means that any shrinkage will be over and done with before you start cutting and sewing, guaranteeing the size and shape of your finished make for all the washes to come! Of course, if you choose to work with a very fine or delicate fabric like silk, you'll probably want to steer well clear of the washing machine altogether - in this case, don't worry about pre-washing, but make sure that you only ever hand wash or dry clean your shirt in the future.

That's all from me today, have fun hunting for fabrics and notions, and we'll be back talking about the Sarah Shirt's pattern hacking potential, and embellishment inspiration in the next post.

  • Elisalex de Castro Peake
  • fabricSarah ShirtSarah Shirt Sewalongsewingshirt

Comments on this post ( 3 )

  • Feb 22, 2016

    Ooh – thanks so much for featuring our Tyulipa hand block fabric! She’s a beauty, isn’t she?! (Can be located here, in case any one wants a closer look: http://www.offsetwarehouse.com/tyulipa-organic-hand-block-print.html ) Can’t wait to make this baby up!!

    Lots of love,
    Charlie

    http://www.offsetwarehouse.com

    — Charlie

  • Feb 20, 2016

    Yay Ros! Self covered buttons should be fine :)

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Feb 20, 2016

    My fabric (a light cotton) is swooshing around in the machine as I type! I was wondering if self-covered buttons would be too heavy?

    — Ros

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