A birthday gift for my mother

My mother’s birthday is today. My mother does not need stuff. She owns a life time’s worth of stuff.

What my mother does need is a few short sleeved shirts. After a lifetime of wearing shirt waist dresses, for the past few years my mother has been wearing pants. For me, this is a shocking development. Since 1959 there is exactly one photo of my mother wearing pants (posed with my sisters and their new snow shovels in the back yard – I was not yet born,and was not even the proverbial twinkle in the eye).

This new sartorial life has called for a new item in my mother’s life, tops. My mother seems to have winter weight shirts.  She does need some summer weight shirts. I made her three shirts as a birthday gift.

I bought a size large t-shirt to use as a pattern. I  chose a red and white seersucker as the fabric for the first shirt. My mother loves seersucker and owned many seersucker shirtwaist dresses over the years. I also owned several as a child.

When i bought the seersucker the salesman kept questioning my choice of fabric. He kept saying that it was too " Old lady ' for me. I told him that it was for my mother.  It's a great choice for her.

I lay the t shirt, folded in half on  the fold of the fabric. There are actually four layers of seersucker in the photo. I find it faster to cut both layers  (front and back) at once . I adjust the front neckline later.
seesucker shirt tutorial (3)

Here is the front and back of the shirt cut out. Yes, I cut out on the floor. There is a reason that you aren’t supposed to cut out garments on the floor but I haven’t discovered it.
seesucker shirt tutorial (4)

Because the purchased T- shirt is a knit and I am making this shirt in a woven, I lay the shirt a bit away from the fold. There is a bit of lycra in the seersucker so I didn’t need to add very much to the width of the shirt to make it possible for  my mother to be actually be able to put the shirt on.
I took this picture so you can see how I decided to place the neckline.
seesucker shirt tutorial (5)

Sewing books either totally fudge sleeve drafting, sort of driving past how to do it or they make the directions so complicated they make my head hurt. After looking at countless methods that required all sorts of weird measurements, and lots of hard math, I stumbled on a slightly dopey way to draft sleeves that works. These are not the most elegant or complicated sleeves but they look like real sleeves and actually function that way.

This is what you do. Sew together the shoulder seams. Open up the shirt along the seam and lay it on the fabric that is destined to be the sleeve. Cut the sleeve fabric using the curve of the armscye as your guide.  Extend the line a smidge further into the arm pit. This will give you enough room to be able to do cool things like move your arm up and down.
This crude drawing may help you visualize what the photo graphs may not show as clearly.
seesucker shirt tutorial (6)

I then used the sleeve of the original t-shirt to help me figure out how long to make the sleeve.  I think that my mother wants elbow length sleeves, so I cut accordingly.
seesucker shirt tutorial (8)

I sewed up the side seams of the shirt. Then I sewed up the sleeve seams. I turned the sleeve inside out and put it inside the armscye aligning the underarm seams.  I started stitching a couple of inches ahead of the underarm seams and sewed all the way around. There will be point when things look all wrong. you have to stop and re align the layers of fabric.  seesucker shirt tutorial (1)
Amazingly, this slightly stupid method works without tears. I don’t even curse using my method.

Here is the completed shirt unpressed. It looks much less wonky pressed. ( the sleeve cuffs don’t ripple)
seesucker shirt tutorial (10)

I made two other shirts using the same method and same basic shape. I love this vintage bark cloth.
Imma bark cloth shirt (2)

The edging is once again from our old duvet cover.Imma bark cloth shirt (3)Imma bark cloth shirt (1)

The bark cloth definitely reminds me of sheath dresses my mother wore when I was little.
the third shirt I made is this one.

A grey cotton pique knit. with contrasting sleeves and a twisted cowl neck. For many, many years my mother wore Izod pique dresses as her go -to summer dress. They were essentially dress length golf shirts. If I had planned better, I would have had enough grey pique for the sleeves.  Like most of my sewing adventures, I figured out how to make the shirt work despite not having quite enough fabric. I'm a good improviser.

I spoke to my mother this morning. She forgave me for sending her gift late.


  1. Lucky Mom! Sarah, your sleeve drafting method is genius, and no problem with easing the sleeve into the armscye.

  2. My mother got the shirts today. She wore the grey shirts and said the fit was fine.

    I do like that my sleeve method works no matter the shape of the shoulder seam. I found the moron method I figured out for putting in a zipper years later in a hippie sewing book. I expect to see my sleeve drafting method in some old sewing book that I still have not read.

  3. Now that's a very crafty birthday present for your mum! It shows that you are really good with sewing and fashion. Anyway, keep posting more DIYs in your blog. They are much appreciated.


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