The Sarah Shirt has just been released. A few weeks ago, By Hand London asked me if I’d like to test their new pattern which I volunteered to do a while back. The offer came at what was a glum time, professionally and weather-wise, and the thought of doing something I’d not tried before put a spring in my step.
Sarah is a swing shirt which means it widens out from the chest. The fabrics recommended are viscose rayon, silk crepe de chine, silk Marocain, silk charmeuse, sandwashed silk, lightweight brushed cotton, cotton voile, cotton silk, challis, sandwashed cupro. Some of these are a bit esoteric; let me know if you have experience of!
Soon as the PDF arrived, I assembled it (using my time-smart method) but it took several outings to find the suitable fabric. Several reasonably-priced lawns in interesting designs offered themselves but I staunchly resisted as they carried the danger of the shirt flaring out unflatteringly. I needed drape and knew how it would feel when I found it.
Eventually it cropped up in Fabrics Galore, on Lavender Hill, some 12 minutes walk from Clapham Junction station. This store has become a bit of a favourite and it has many offerings for other future projects: for example I’m desperate to find an excuse to buy lashings of extra-deep, top-fluffy raspberry fur. And like me, they’re clearly firm fans of Alexander Henry fabrics: a company whose designs prompted me to buy a sewing machine and learn.
When I asked about the fabrics listed above, I was showed challis which looked perfect for a warm version of the blouse (Variation 1, long sleeved). The drape I liked best though wasn’t the reasonably-priced viscose I’d envisaged but, ahem, silk at £12 a meter (the requirements state that just over 2m is needed, so ouch). Even then, I wasn’t immediately convinced. I held it draped on me in the shop mirror and worried the colours were dark or dull but as the deadline was less than a week away, I convinced myself the fault was in the mirror which was dusty. And I was right! Outside in the sunshine on the walk back to the station, the colours looked like spring in my hand and I couldn’t wait to get started.
That’s ok, Fabrics Galore! My mirror’s like that too
The shirt is easy to sew for a confident beginner. Maybe an intermediate level of skill is advised for achieving a professional look to the collar. But it’s a relatively easy collar: no awkward matching of width to the neckline (there’s a bit of leeway in the button placket) and no dreaded collar stand which always trips up my needle with its thick bits in the corners. After the collar is attached, there’s what I consider a ‘weak point’ as the collar meets the button placket area. This has to be clipped into. I don’t like weak points – they make me feel insecure, like the garment’s gonna unravel in public making me look incompetent! – so I took the precaution of interfacing within the seam line before clipping.
There were some mistakes I spotted and reported back on. But also some that were noted by the other testers which never entered my peripheral vision at all (B- to C+ is probably the grade I’d be awarded for my effort!). For example, I never notch (except on sleeves). Possibly because when I first started out, trying to make head or tail of sewing patterns, notches weren’t on the top of the list of all the stuff I had to decode.
One suggestion I made (as did the other testers) was to add an instruction to stay stitch as much as possible. The shirt has an inner yoke (I like those), and as it’s attached by the burrito method, there’s quite a bit of traffic in the area so invest some time in this.
I wasn’t sure what the instructions required regarding the look of the Variation 2 short sleeves: was it the option on the left or the one on the right like the Aster sleeve? I chose the turnback cuffs.
I found this pattern to be true to size.
All our corrections have been included into the released edition.
Finally, something I didn’t think important enough to mention which now bugs me…. As the shirt widens out, side seams become the true bias (or near enough). I’d take the precaution of stay-stitching the sides before cutting the fabric. To do this, chalk the outline of a pattern-piece and sew just inside before re-applying the pattern piece and cutting. It’s quite possible you don’t need to, but with certain fabrics which are – unlike me – expensive and unstable, a belt-and-braces approach is my preference.
I don’t often buy patterns as I enjoy drafting my own too much, but BHL is a company to which I’m eternally thankful for making me feel like a goddess whenever I wear my Anna dress. Discovering that the designer behind it, Elisalex, was completely lovely in her communication and, despite her young years, definitely a human was a bonus (I’d expected alienating nu-speak of a fashionista). Haters say pattern testers give up their time and money to advertise freely but I’ve had a bit of excitement and intrigue doing this and I think many of us have bought patterns which appear not to have been tested at all so… good work, friends!