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How-Tuesday: Button-Down Shirt From Design-It-Yourself Clothes

Oct 13, 2009

by Cal Patch handmade and vintage goods

Trying on clothes in fitting rooms tends to be a less than inspiring experience. Puckering, pulling, shifting, and stretching — the garment quickly becomes an obstacle in itself. Cal Patch‘s book, Design-It-Yourself Clothes, is built on an inherently sensible premise: perfect fit comes from custom patterns. Cal’s approach that every sewer deserves to empower herself through learning the craft of patternmaking, is both encouraging and liberating. Each project in this foundational manual builds upon the previous one, so a basic shirt turns into a jacket turns into a dress.

For this week’s How-Tuesday, we’re sharing the button-down shirt; I hope the skills you learn in creating this pattern will equip you for exploring the next frontier in your designs. Since this project is rich with information, I’ve included an excerpt below, but you can download the full how-to (for free!) as a PDF here.

Purchase Design-It-Yourself Clothes

Picture this: You’re out shopping, maybe at your favorite vintage shop, maybe at a fancy designer boutique, and you see something familiar. Hmm. Where have you seen that dress before, you wonder. In a magazine? A movie? Oh wait, you remember! You’ve seen it in your dreams!

You try it on, and for a moment, you are enraptured: Life is complete! You will forevermore be the one envied at every party for what you are wearing. But then you do a reality check. The color, now that you are thinking clearly, doesn’t suit you at all. The fabric is a little more synthetic than you’d like. The waist is actually too small, and wouldn’t it be way dreamier with a wider, kimono-esque sleeve? And a different neckline? Not to mention longer, with more flare at the hemline, and some shirring at the bust? And again, you realize, this scenario is all too familiar: You know exactly what you want and you’ve got the sewing skills to pull it off, if only there weren’t that one, teensy-weensy recurring problem: the pattern. Even the best seamstress needs one, but a pattern for the vision in your head just plain does not exist. Yet.

It’s no secret that sewing is the new hot craft — more people are sewing now than ever before. Sooner or later, most stitchers want to tackle more advanced projects, namely clothing. This is where the trouble sets in. The problem isn’t in the sewing, but in the pattern. Unfortunately, finding the perfect pattern for what you want to make can be anywhere from difficult to impossible. The sewing pattern industry, with a few noteworthy exceptions, doesn’t seem to be quite in sync with the surge in modern sewers — sewers who want to make clothes that look like what they might buy at their favorite retailers.

The new generation of indie seamstresses is watching Project Runway, reading ReadyMade and Selvedge, and shopping at small boutiques selling one-offs by local designers. You know what you want to wear but can’t always find it on a rack. You know how to sew but don’t see patterns that resemble what you want to make. You do want to make a unique look based on your own personal taste, influences, and body type. And you need the freedom to create patterns as your taste evolves over time. What’s an intrepid stitcher to do?

Well, the obvious answer is to learn how to make your own sewing patterns! Patternmaking is an age-old art form, which, at its core, is extremely simple. The clothing we currently wear tends to be relatively simple from a patternmaker’s point of view. We don’t wear finely tailored suits or dresses with princess seams, darts, and gussets. We wear simple knit tops, skirts, loose dresses, basic woven shirts, and pants. Their style tends to come from details, as opposed to dramatic or complicated cut and construction. Thus, it’s quite possible to teach today’s sewers how to make their own patterns. And this book does just that in a fun, concise volume for the modern girl.

There are other reasons, besides the lack of selection, to learn how to make patterns. For example, three little letters: F-I-T. Fit can make or break a look. Whether shopping for clothing or patterns, finding ones that fit is frequently a struggle. This is because clothing manufacturers can’t possibly make clothes to fit every conceivable body height, width, shape, and every combination of those factors. So they aim for the middle ground and hope for the best. Commercial sewing patterns have the same problem, though they do offer the possibility of simple adjustments, like altering length or combining two sizes in different areas to approximate your body. But only building a pattern from scratch, around your own personal set of numbers, can ultimately result in a garment that fits like it was made for you. Because it was!

Basic Shirt

There’s nothing more classic than a woven collared shirt. Whether it’s a menswear-style button-down, a Western cowboy-inspired number, or a girly, ruffly blouse, woven shirts are infinitely versatile and wearable. Feel like making one? You’ve got lots of options for fabric: cotton shirtings, quilting prints, eyelet, voile, chambray, pinwale cord, really almost any light- to medium-weight woven will do!

Let’s talk for just a minute about functional ease. Whereas a knit shirt can be exactly the same measurements as (or even smaller than) your body, woven shirts require a bit of breathing room. Because they don’t stretch, woven fabrics can’t move and bend with you the way knits do. So giving yourself a little space between your skin and the garment will allow you to reach, twist, laugh, and dance without fear of busting a stitch! Functional ease subsequently will be referred to as FE.

Bust circumference + FE* (at the fullest point)
Waist circumference + FE*
Distance from HSP (High shoulder point) down to waist
Hip circumference + FE* (where you want the bottom of the shirt to be)
Length of shirt (HSP to hem)
Shoulder width + 1/4″ FE**
Neck width**
Front neck drop
Sleeve length
Bicep circumference + 1/4″ FE**
Wrist circumference + 1/4″ FE**

*For each of these horizontal measurements, divide by four. These quarter measurements will be the ones you use for drafting the pattern. They will be referred to as quarter-bust, quarter-waist, and quarter-hip.

**Divide these measurements by two. These will be referred to as half-shoulder, half-neck, etc.

Determining your armhole measurement
When measuring the armhole of a garment, we usually just measure a straight line (even though the actual armhole is a curve) from the point where the shoulder seam intersects the sleeve, down to the point where the underarm seam meets the side seam. A standard armhole measurement for a medium-sized fitted T-shirt is about 7″ to 7 1/2″. To figure out what will be best for you, grab some favorite tops from your closet and measure the armholes. If they tend toward 6 1/2-7″, go with 6 3/4″, and likewise if they’re bigger. Or if you know your shirts always feel as if they’re pinching at the pits, or conversely if you usually feel as if you’re swimming in them, add or subtract an inch accordingly. You’ll fine-tune this once you make a muslin and try it on, so for now just take your best guess.

Determining your front neck drop and neck width
For this woven shirt we will be making a collar, and your neck drop and width will determine the placement of the seam where the collar is attached to the shirt. Therefore, the drop should be a fairly traditional placement, right at the base of your neck where your two clavicle bones meet. On me, that’s at about 3 1/2″ down from my high shoulder point (HSP). The width should be the distance between your two HSPs. On me, that’s about 7″. You can play around with more adventurous collars and seams when you’ve got a little more experience, but for now let’s just keep it simple!

For the rest of this how-to, download the PDF here.

Looking for more patternmaking inspiration? Check out a copy of Design-It-Yourself Clothes to kick-start your new wardrobe. Thanks to Cal Patch and the good folks at Potter Craft for sharing this project with us.

More How-Tuesday Posts | Supplies Category | DIY Made Simple Gift Guide



  • fernfiddlehead

    fernfiddlehead said 9 years ago

    yay, Cal!!! This is awesome. I have your book and love it. Can't wait to make this blouse.

  • Zyada

    Zyada said 9 years ago

    You can buy software that does the same thing automatically to your specific measurements.

  • spacejam

    spacejam said 9 years ago

    wow!! great ))

  • seababejewelry

    seababejewelry said 9 years ago

    oooo, I love that sexy boyfriend buttontop!

  • pinkytoeclothing

    pinkytoeclothing said 9 years ago

    Yay How-To Tuesday!!! I can't wait for my new sewing machine this Christmas :)

  • AlchemicMuse

    AlchemicMuse said 9 years ago

    Great info, thanks!

  • brianslittlegirl

    brianslittlegirl said 9 years ago

    very cool! This makes me really want to work on learning to sew clothes. :) Soon!

  • Leocardia

    Leocardia said 9 years ago

    Thank you. This might help me a lot.

  • shoeshoevintage

    shoeshoevintage said 9 years ago

    It's sew easy ;) I try to make most of my clothes myself and it sure saves time looking for something and especially $$$!

  • CantrixJewelry

    CantrixJewelry said 9 years ago

    Ooh, I'm adding the book to my wishlist! :)

  • wristielove

    wristielove said 9 years ago

    the button down! thx michelle and cal! gret picks too. love the vintage thimble.

  • mruxndesign

    mruxndesign said 9 years ago

    THAT rocks the world! when i was younger - teenager %) - i used to design my own clothes. today i do not have enough time left to do it, but once in a while i feel i have to do it .... ;) just because of the fun to combine unusual materials - PLAYTIME! ;) GRINS carpe diem! kris

  • moonscreations

    moonscreations said 9 years ago

    Wow! This is really fantastic! Thank you so much.

  • bylynnkrestel

    bylynnkrestel said 9 years ago

    really great instruction - thank you for sharing!!

  • iggyfrankiecab

    iggyfrankiecab said 9 years ago

    thanks for sharing! i added this book on a whim to my wishlist a few days ago, now i'm glad it will be worthwhile when i buy it :)

  • missbatch

    missbatch said 9 years ago

    Hooray, Cal! The book is beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing this project.

  • sweethead

    sweethead said 9 years ago

    Pretty darn sweet!

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 9 years ago

    Great info!

  • 2sweetthings

    2sweetthings said 9 years ago

    Can't wait to try this~ cute, thanks!

  • MyMoms

    MyMoms said 9 years ago

    So surprising and happy! thank you.

  • ModFarmgirl

    ModFarmgirl said 9 years ago

    This is so awesome!! I am so going to get this book!! I have so much trouble finding blouses that fit my broad shoulders and would love to make my own shirts that actually fit. Thank you Cal and Etsy for sharing this, I hope to try it soon!

  • lisaroy

    lisaroy said 9 years ago

    great info!

  • zaperoco

    zaperoco said 9 years ago

    Love this project.

  • jessjamesjake

    jessjamesjake said 9 years ago

    what a great project! Thanks for sharing, I'm going to try it out asap!!

  • BellyDancePrincess

    BellyDancePrincess said 9 years ago

    I'm inspired!

  • FancyThatCookies

    FancyThatCookies said 9 years ago

    love the top!

  • lamixx

    lamixx said 9 years ago

    Thanks for including lamixx button up shirt!!

  • BabbidgePatch

    BabbidgePatch said 9 years ago

    Thank you for bringing this project to the Etsy Community. I've sewn a few button up blouses for myself in the past ~ this article inspires me to re-visit this when I have some free time.

  • YellowViolet

    YellowViolet said 9 years ago

    I'm so glad to see a resurgence of sewing. Now if only we could get some good independent brick and mortar fabric stores back!

  • shopgoodgrace

    shopgoodgrace said 9 years ago

    This is AWEsome! The book looks great.

  • FrillyButts

    FrillyButts said 9 years ago

    Fancy! Thanks!

  • belovedbaglady

    belovedbaglady said 9 years ago

    Cool shirt! Now to dust off my sewing machine!!!

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry said 9 years ago

    This is just the book my mom has been looking for! She sews and would love to break free from bought patterns but hasn't put time into learning how to make her own. This book looks like the perfect 'fit' (yuk yuk) for her! I'm definitely getting a copy for her for Christmas!

  • klacustomcreations

    klacustomcreations said 9 years ago

    very cool if only I could sew!

  • jbeaudet

    jbeaudet said 9 years ago

    Sounds like a great project, if I only knew how to sew!

  • mimihuhu

    mimihuhu said 9 years ago

    oh It is very nice !

  • EarthenTreasures

    EarthenTreasures said 9 years ago

    I wish this info had been around in home economics in 6th grade...that jumper I made that didn't fit, might have been saved afterall!

  • mojospastyle

    mojospastyle said 9 years ago

    I love to sew so this is great! Thank you :)

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations said 9 years ago

    Sooooo cool!

  • whilejupiterdreams

    whilejupiterdreams said 9 years ago

    Funny, I just ordered the book the other day. Can't wait to get it. Any day now...

  • TeenahTime

    TeenahTime said 9 years ago

    Wow, when I do sew, it always seems to be for other people (new baby goodies, Halloween costumes etc.), but now I am inspired to sew something for myself...that fits! Thank you!

  • FairytaleBling

    FairytaleBling said 9 years ago

    yah cute shirt... I really want to learn to sew!

  • galit

    galit said 9 years ago

    Great article, to bad I'm not a sewer... mom? help?

  • cottonbirddesigns

    cottonbirddesigns said 9 years ago

    Great article!

  • beachhouseblues

    beachhouseblues said 9 years ago

    Great project to try!

  • thebestvintage

    thebestvintage said 9 years ago

    Good picks to along with the article!

  • steinschmuckdesign

    steinschmuckdesign said 9 years ago

    Wonderful, thanks so much!!

  • Oriol

    Oriol said 9 years ago

    Great post! thanks for featuring also Brooklyn Tailors item, it was a realy nice find for me! :D

  • craftpile

    craftpile said 9 years ago

    great article!

  • Morado

    Morado said 9 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! super fun

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 9 years ago

    Love the tailor's chalk! So much more elegant than the plain blocks found in the U.S. Great article and picks.

  • TreeHuggerStudio

    TreeHuggerStudio said 9 years ago

    Thanks for sharing.

  • MadeByMarta

    MadeByMarta said 9 years ago

    I loove the mushroom dress on the cover of the book. How cute is that? Now I need some mushroom fabric!

  • JeannineRobertsRoyce

    JeannineRobertsRoyce said 9 years ago

    Pattern making can be fun. I tried it years ago and still use the tricks I learned. This book sounds like a good resource to have. Thanks!

  • WoodPigeon

    WoodPigeon said 9 years ago

    ok I have to learn how to sew!!!

  • thirtyonedesigns

    thirtyonedesigns said 9 years ago

    Awesome!!! Thanks :)

  • DucksInARowBoutique

    DucksInARowBoutique said 9 years ago

    Very valuable book. Fun article on the hot trend today.

  • AcrylicAndSteel

    AcrylicAndSteel said 9 years ago

    I just read this and realized something I have been taking for granted- not everyone knows how to make their own patterns. I guess I should be making more things. I would really love to check out that book and see if there are any tips in it that could make my life easier when I am making clothing. This was a well written and fun to read how to.

  • NadinArtGlass

    NadinArtGlass said 9 years ago

    Beautiful and great post! Thanks:)

  • thepurplecoyotemoon

    thepurplecoyotemoon said 9 years ago

    Finally...clothes the way you want them! Nice work!

  • raghousenternational

    raghousenternational said 9 years ago

    very cool. It's so strange that I started out sewing even before knitting. My crochet and knitting so took over sewing. I still have my sewing machine though. I need to pull it out and try out this shirt. Really cute... Ren


    KAPARA said 9 years ago

    Thank you, wonderful post!

  • anjalehn

    anjalehn said 9 years ago

    Like it..Thanks!

  • cassidycay

    cassidycay said 9 years ago

    How fun!

  • loneweever

    loneweever said 9 years ago

    So clothes that fit well are designed with logic and process, huh? I always thought it was mystery and luck. Thanks !!!!!

  • MarchiMadeIt

    MarchiMadeIt said 9 years ago

    Thanks! I am always reworking patterns anyway. Its a great idea and suits my style!!

  • studiotempera

    studiotempera said 9 years ago


  • moonsboutique

    moonsboutique said 9 years ago


  • URL said 5 years ago

    ... [Trackback] [...] Informations on that Topic: [...]

  • piratefred

    piratefred said 3 years ago

    I realize this was posted five years ago, but any chance you could update the pdf link? It's giving me a 404 error.

  • FieryIrie

    Adrienne Martin-Anderson from FieryIrie said 3 years ago

    Oh no! The link to the PDF is broken. I'd LOVE to have the PDF. Can that get fixed? I'd be ever so grateful!

  • GalaxyGrrrl

    GalaxyGrrrl from GalaxyGrrrl said 3 years ago

    FYI - I just emailed Etsy support to see if that broken PDF link can be fixed!

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