Reference Review - Shirtmaking

Coffin, David Page, Shirtmaking: Developing Skills for Fine Sewing, Taunton Press: Newtown, CT, US, 1998, 174 pp.

This is an exceptional reference for the home or do-it-yourself sewer, written by a self-professed amateur (although he is clearly at the top of the game!). Coffin is passionate about sewing, and although his manner is professional, his interest is to support the non-professional. Hence he steers clear of techniques that require expensive equipment or that assume clothes are being made en masse. Instead, he is focussed on the production of one perfect shirt at a time. His quest for perfection is, however, also a practical one - he does not propose much handsewing where it can be avoided and, indeed, professes to a somewhat unbalanced stitch when he is forced to do so.

This book covers all aspects of shirtmaking, whether or not a person is working from a prepared pattern or not. The style of shirt he is focused on is primarily a man's shirt, although he does discuss variations necessary for producing a viable shirt for women and variations this might entail. His book covers all aspects of shirtmaking and shirt design, including the shape of the collar, the preparation of the collar and collar stand, the preparation and making of the sleeve plaquette and cuffs, hemming, the use, design and construction of a yoke, the design, preparation and construction of pockets, sleeve design, and many other useful subtopics. He discusses the use of flatfelled seams to make a near perfect shirt, along with the importance of pressing techniques while developing the shirt. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is its detailed discussion of sleeve design - when to use a deep curve at the shoulder and when to use a shallow one, and the relationship between sleeve and sleeve cap. There is a similar discussion for the value of a yoke. He discusses flourishes such as pin tucks, gathers and other ease-creating devices as well.

I find this book has become an extremely valuable tool for me - it is constantly nearby when I am working on a shirt, both to help work over rough spots but also for its great philosophy about sewing and shirtmaking. The drawings and illustrations in the book are well thought out and useful, however, I actually combine the book with a good video tutorial (I particularly recommend the Brigham Young sewing videos for this) to help me get over the worst challenges of shirt-making. There are some things that require a good video presentation, but for everything else about shirtmaking, David Coffin's book is a goldmine.

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