Style Crisis: A cross-season wool shirt

Collar for wool shirt

It was only when explaining to someone what I’d made as part of this month’s Style Crisis solution that I realised ‘wool shirt’ perhaps wasn’t hitting the ‘elegant dressing’ button in their head. Apparently it was only one step away from ‘hair shirt’ – which I then looked up online – and…

Hair shirt not wool shirt
Heavens to Betsy!

Suffice to say there was no discussion of darts, buttons and carefully considered colour choices in that slightly worrying corner of the internet.

My wool shirt inspiration

Let me take you to the inspiration for this particular style outing; in a word: Celice NO! Don’t go there! I meant Celine.

Twill shirt by Celine. Wool shirt inspiration. Photography: Gregory harris for Vogue, July 2017
Twill shirt by Celine. Photography: Gregory Harris for Vogue, July 2017

Research suggests that this twill shirt is actually a viscose twill – albeit quite a substantial one. I think this might be a version of the original but with a different collar style. A snip at £650…

Viscose twill shirt by Celine - wool shirt inspiration
Viscose twill shirt by Celine

The spark for me was the idea of a heavier, more draping shirt as a cross-season garment. The styling in the Vogue shoot suggested a garment to layer over a camisole or wear as a tunic when it’s a bit breezy in the summer – versatility in action. However I thought too that it would be something I could wear in its own right as an alternative to a jacket or cardigan for work inside. A twill weave I surmised, was a little less informal than a chambray or a cotton – and would respond to a more fitted shape, too.

Speaking of shape, I decided it was time to pick up the gauntlet thrown down in previous comments. Time perhaps, to pluck up courage and try and wear something a little more fitted. I have a short body with a high waist; shirts tucked in tend to make me look like a lollipop. I figured therefore that something with a gentle curve into the waist then out again and worn over the top of a pair of jeans (or indeed, the pencil skirt in my last blog) would give the illusion of a little shape.

The wool in question…

To work I went. On this occasion I started with the fabric. We’d had some luscious lighter-weight wool twill fabrics last autumn in dark wine and teal blue. The latter I’d used for my Simple wool dress project; now I was itching to use the wine. It’s a versatile colour which I like and which (I think) suits me. I also like the 70s connotations which that colour throws up in my head. There seemed to be a lot of it around at the time and not so much since, or at least until the last year or so

Dark wine draping wool twill fabric
‘Raiment’ dark wine draping wool twill fabric

Pattern choice

I wanted to keep the design simple – not just because of time but because that seemed to be the ethos of my starting point. So back I went to the tried & trusted Vogue Pattern 8772, last seen in my ‘Tomato’ shirt blog.

V8772 for wool shirt
Vogue Pattern 8772

Continuing in the spirit of a little more fit – and bearing in mind that I was planning to wear this over a pencil skirt, I went for the shorter length of Views C & D but with the sleeves of View F since that’s where my sleeves usually end up anyway.

Having used the pattern twice before, I knew the only adjustments required were to size down the bust darts and reduce the back length by 2cm. I also decided to add a little interest in the collar department having determined that larger collars are the thing this season – and perhaps it was a continuation of that aforementioned 1970s association? My inspiration here was a shirt from Joseph…

Joseph Shirt for wool shirt collar
Collar inspiration courtesy of Joseph & Elle magazine

…and a style suggestion that had the collar over a jacket lapel. Both collars were quite closely-spaced by comparison with my shirt pattern. Feeling like a seasoned pro I adjusted the darts, redrafted the collar then cut accordingly.

It was a weekend with no distractions so of course I created a few for myself, in this instance, Godless on Netflix.

An appropriate title for one decidedly not making a hair shirt. I haven’t been one for westerns since the demise of High Chaparall but Godless came recommended by my BFF and indeed delivered fabulous performances and stunning scenery. Which is probably why I proceeded to trim the top of the shirt front in readiness for the bow ties on Views A & B as opposed to the collar in Views C-F. *sigh*

Emergency services attended the scene and some very careful stitching managed to hold things together until the collar stand was safely attached. Having previously worked with our teal blue colourway of this twill I knew it was fairly forgiving of being re-worked – but at this point I mentally awarded it a badge of merit for keeping its cool under fire.

All then went according to plan in terms of finishing and final fitting (no adjustments required) until the buttonhole stage.

Digging a hole with buttonholes…

Ah yes. The bit we dread in any garment. By definition it has to come at the end after extensive time and effort has already been expended – and yet the garment’s not done till it’s done. An all-or-nothing moment, like tiptoeing across a plank over the Grand Canyon with an egg and spoon, a pack of coyotes baying behind. I left my wool shirt on the stand for a week or two before I could stomach the idea of buttonholing; a delay which was in part due to the absence of buttons which I felt would be worthy of the wool. I toyed with the idea of using some oval buttons that I picked up as samples a while back but in the end decided to go with round ones with a lacquer-finished print.

Round buttons for wool shirt
Original choice of buttons

This decision was also because I realised the oval buttons would require horizontal buttonholes to keep them fastened – an odd choice for a shirt and tricky to line up, too.

I went for the first buttonhole on the collar stand – usually horizontal in any shirt because of its position of course. Partly because of the odd ridge of over-trimmed fabric to which the stand was attached, my machine got stuck and did a short buttonhole which then had to be re-attempted. You’re not getting a close-up of that; suffice to say it wouldn’t win an award at the local village show.

I was then so preoccupied with not repeating the same snafu that I happily carried on creating beautiful horizontal buttonholes right down the front of my lovely wool shirt. It was only in the middle of my swim training that night that the penny dropped and I shipped a lungful of water as I realised what I’d done.

As a result I figured I might as well use the original oval buttons which look a little out of proportion – but whose colours work well with the charcoal pencil skirt.

Oval buttons for wool shirt
Oh, well…

Here’s my completed wool shirt – which I have to say I’m really fond of, despite the self-inflicted injuries.

Wool shirt final
I can live with this!

And here’s a detail of the collar, buttoned up.

Collar for wool shirt
Collar detail

The wearing

My wool shirt has yet to be subjected to a proper wear, but I have high hopes. I love the collar, the arm length and the unbuttoned look. The shape manages to give the illusion of a little bit of curve and the simplicity of the overall design appeals.

I might well give it another go – perhaps with longer sleeves and a very slightly longer cut on the shirt itself. It also looks great with jeans, if I say so myself. Those buttons are a bit of a worry – they have a tendency to bend a little when being done up or undone – they may yet be my downfall.

Comments welcome as ever! Buttonhole tips especially – as well as your favourite button sources if you have any. I was hard pressed to find decent ones and I’m aware we could yet extend our haberdashery offering…

Plus, is a wool shirt a completely off-the-wall thing to come up with? Are there patterns which you think would make up well in a wool twill?

Next week I’ll be back to the pencil skirt;  trying out an alternative length and different legwear following last week’s amazingly-helpful comments…what would I do without you to keep me on track?










14 thoughts on “Style Crisis: A cross-season wool shirt

  1. Let’s Get Sewing says:

    I wasn’t sure if you made this or not when I saw it in your last post, and I really like it! I love button down shirts, my go to pattern is the Tilly and the Buttons Rosa shirt. I’ve made a few versions including a winter appropriate needle cord one, but having seen yours I would absolutely love to make one in wool now! I really like the colour of the fabric, it really suits you. As for the buttons, they are my favourite part! I love the contrast of horizontal button holes with vertical buttons, it looks great. I hope you get a lot of wear out of this shirt because it looks amazing!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      That’s so kind of you – thank you! I didn’t want to digress onto the shirt in my last blog otherwise it would have been *even* longer (need to edit, I know…) but I’m so pleased you like it (and the buttons!). The ‘Rosa’ shirt is a great design (I do like a bit of country myself 🙂 and you’re right, I think the ‘Rosa’ is a design that would work well in a wool. Being quite structured you could almost wear it like a jean-jacket. I am hoping to get lots of wear out of mine (notwithstanding the washing issue as noted by Sarah) especially since it’s quite crease-resistant. I’ll report back on how I get on – thank you again!

  2. Sarah Skinner says:

    Ooh , this looks wonderful on you – colour, cut and I love that collar.
    My only *boring* thought, is that is this machine washable being wool ? I fear if I had to hand wash or dry clean, then it would put me off making a wool shirt, but I do love sewing and wearing wool. I particularly love its crease resistant qualities.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Sarah – thank you too for your emails regarding ‘buttonholes first’ – I will be in touch! Your enthusiasm for my shirt is *greatly* appreciated and very kind. I will confess to using this as a bit of an experiment. Like you, I do love the crease-resistance and comfort of wearing wool – and when I pre-washed the wool it didn’t shrink noticeably… SO – I am going to push the boat out and hand-wash it in due course. I promise to own up and let everyone know how that goes! If it works OK then I might risk it in the machine on wool wash. Keep your fingers crossed and I’ll post an update…*grimaces nervously*

  3. Marysia says:

    A really good read; so glad I found you.

    Shirt is wonderful and I love the buttons.
    I always suffer angst over buttonholes and now know I am not alone. Finding great buttons can be a huge challenge and really important for us home sewers.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Delighted you found us too, Marysia – and thank you very much indeed for your kind comments. You are *certainly* not alone in your buttonhole angst as you will have been able to tell from the other comments. As Di says – it’s practice, practice practice I think (that’s what I keep reminding myself!)

  4. Roswyn Glenny says:

    This shirt looks lovely on you, love the buttons, buttons are my thing. I love them. I found lots of lovely ones when last in the UK. Must get that pattern I am very fond of shirts and blouses and have some lovely claret coloured material which I am now encouraged to make. Love your blog.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Thank you so much, Roswyn – I’m most grateful for the thumbs-up! Good luck with your claret shirt stash-bust – and I will certainly let you know if I come across a trove of buttons for the next time you’re over here!

  5. Di says:

    Lovely shirt Alice. Looks very smart. Yes, buttons can be a problem but the ones you’ve used work with the fabric/colour. I like to pick up antique sets in shops/flea markets and put them to stock. I ‘ve used Duttons for Buttons, which you can visit when next in the Harrogate area. They have shops in Ilkley and York. I’ve visited them all in my travels and used their mail order service for special oufits. Other than those suggestions it’s a case of frequenting local sewing/fabric shops when you’re out and about. Good plan to use a pattern that already fits, after all there are only so many variations on a theme when it comes to shirts.
    Have two ‘go to’ patterns. Both OOP Vogue. One a Sandra Betzina the other a Ralph Lauren. I like sleeves with plackets as I usually roll sleeves up or turn back the cuff when wearing as a jacket.
    No easy answer to making buttonholes other than practice,practice, practice. Tear away, soluble or iron away stabiliser helps. Tissue paper is often advised, between the fabric and the feed dogs. Fine, as long as you don’t mind spending time picking bits of tissue out of the stitches. Only did that once, never again. The paper even defeated the washing machine.
    I always start my buttonholes at the bottom as those are the ones people tend not to look at unless you have a friend who sews, in which case they’ll probably ‘scan’ you for faults.
    If it’s any comfort I can tell you that even top designers don’t always get it right. I recall attending an exhibition in Kensington Palace (back in the early 90’s) which featured clothes made by various well known British designers. Some of the workmanship was less than perfect and I wasn’t the only person who made disparaging comments. Step forward all ‘dodgy’ buttonholes , uneven skirt hems etc!!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Thank you as ever, Di – I take heart from your Kensington Palace experience! Also I understand lots of tailors and other dressmakers send their garments out to specialists for buttonholes. It’s ver helpful to be warned off tissue paper – which I have used for straight stitching for slippery fabrics but never yet a buttonhole – and never will do, now.

      I was in York last week and should really have popped into Duttons – I was in a hurry though and feared I might never be able to extract myself… What an excellent idea though, starting at the bottom. Also as Sarah has emailed to suggest, doing the buttonholes once the facing is in place and before constructing the shirt, would be another solution. It’s what one would do with darts and pockets on a tailored jacket – so perhaps the same should be a routine approach for buttonholes.

      Thank you for the pattern recommendations – even out-of-print is helpful – one does come across them (and there’s always eBay..oh dear what have you started?)

  6. Odette says:

    I love the shirt. I’m full of admiration for the beautiful collar points. Quite an achievement in a wool fabric.
    My only advice regarding buttonholes is to recommend a buttonhole chisel. It makes a very neat cut.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Thankyou Odette – I appreciate the vote of confidence in the collar points! I used a bamboo collar turner which helped – it prevented me from poking too far… You’re right – a good buttonhole chisel would really help with the finish. I shall look out for one at my local antique centre…

  7. Judith Barker says:

    Bernina used to sell a buttonhole cutter, if that is what you mean by a “chisel”. Sharp metal blade in wooden handle, to push straight down between the stitches for a really neat cut. I am a big Bernina fan but in the 80s my mother-in-law had a Frister-Rossman Cub, the first machine I knew of which did automatic same-size buttonholes. I sewed at home (Bristol) and took button-through dresses/skirts/blouses to sew the buttonholes when I visited her (London). My daughter has her machine now and it’s still good, and about as old as she is!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Ah yes – that’s exactly what was meant. There was one we were taught to use at school but I’ve never had my own. It’s on the shopping list! And oh – those older metal-framed machines. Heavy and noisy but my goodness you know where you are with them! On the other hand my mum passed down her 1960s Pinnock (Australian company) sewing machine to me and I waged a constant battle with its tension mechanism. Not sad to see the back of it (although it was a fab colour!)

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