Project #1: The Undershirt - Making the Second Toile
January 17, 2021
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To start my second toile, the first thing to do was draft another pattern including all the fit changes I made to the previous mock-up. I wrote explicit instructions to myself on the tissue, including the size of seam allowances and warnings to be mindful of tricky areas. Since I ended up stepping away from the project for over five months (oops), these notes proved indispensable.
Figure 1: The new undershirt pattern.
Figure 2: Closeup of the new pattern with instructions.
I cut out and marked all the pieces as before, but this time I made my tailors’ tacks with light grey thread. The faint colour prevented them from leaving stains on the cloth when ironed. Though I counted this as one issue averted, I soon discovered the miniscule bits of thread were often accidentally sewn into seams if they weren’t painstakingly picked away. This wouldn’t have been a problem with a thicker fabric, but mine was quite translucent, so the threads could be spotted under even a small amount of scrutiny. I’ll just have to keep a better eye on my tacks next time.
Figure 3: Using grey tailors’ tacks to mark the fabric.
I then moved on to sewing up the bottom hem. I was determined to keep it from puckering like last time, but ultimately found that minor puckers were inevitable due to the extreme curve of this area. I tried evening out the puckers with gentle gathering, but this was an ugly mistake. I finally landed on making a single, deliberate pleat in the centre of the curve, and this helped greatly.
Figure 4: Pinning down the bottom hem.
Figure 5: Trying to neaten the hemline puckers with gathers.
Figure 6: Making a small pleat on the lowest point of the hemline curve. The wobbly inside fold is also visible.
Yet another problem with the hem was the wobbliness of the inside fold when I ironed it down. I’ve since realised this happened because I clipped the curve of the hem to reduce bulk before turning. The little “tabs” made by the clipping resisted being ironed in a smooth line. For the final undershirt, I’ll simply make the clips after ironing the hem.
I sewed up the sides, then started on the neckline facing. Since I bungled this part on my last toile, I made sure to pay even closer attention to A Guide to Facings by Christine Haynes. It turned out I’d forgotten to lengthen the facing pattern pieces to match the widened placket, but this wasn’t a problem, since the ends of the facing still got tucked within the placket seam. I joined the facing to the neckline using a regular seam, then understitched the neckline to the seam allowance so the facing could be nicely tucked inside the garment. Surprisingly, a lot of articles I found on understitching for beginners weren’t very detailed. “How to Understitch a Facing” from Threads Magazine gave me clear directions.
Figure 7: Understitching the neckline facing.
Figure 8: The finished neckline facing.
Next, I turned the hems on the armscyes. These were the easiest parts of my first toile, but this time they were prone to puckering. I wager it’s because of the modifications I made to the sides, which must have minutely changed the armscye shapes. I did my best to ease the fabric into place, but next time I’ll make even more clips on the innermost fold to try mitigating this issue. More careful, closer stitches should also help.
Figure 9: The puckers in a finished amscye.
The placket still proved troublesome, despite widening it to better match the neckline. In order to join the placket to the bottom hem, I had to ignore the tailors’ tacks denoting the centre front of the garment and make my folds on a slightly diagonal line. Oddly enough, the undershirt still closed perfectly when tested for fit, and looked completely normal. I’m not sure whether to chalk this up to an error in the original pattern, or a lack of knowledge on how to properly execute the placket on my part.
Figure 10: The placket, pressed slightly askew from where the pattern directed.
Figure 11: Explaining the placket alteration.
I wasn’t able to get a nice, squared bottom edge to my placket since it needed to slope down to integrate with the bottom hem. I experimented with some scrap fabric and tried clipping the corner where the two areas met. This technique did indeed let me neatly square off the placket, but it created a weak place on the garment that would be prone to fraying. Ultimately, I decided to let the placket be sloped. I really wish I had some extant garments to figure out how all these placket issues could be resolved in a historically accurate way. I haven’t been able to find any good images online at the time of writing. Undershirts tend to get worn down quickly and be recycled, so aren’t the kind of things museums are likely to have in their collections.
Figure 12: Explaining how the placket and bottom hem are joined.
Lastly, it was time to make those pesky buttonholes. I practiced on some scrap fabric and they turned out well, so of course they came out ugly when I made them on my toile. Better than on my first toile, but ugly nonetheless. I managed to make a single nice-looking buttonhole bar.
The main issue with the buttonholes is their chunkiness. I made them fairly wide and stranded them five times on each side, since the fabric was already fraying as I worked it over. Seeing as the fabric I’m using for the final garment will be more stable, I think I’ll be able to make much neater buttonholes.
Figure 13: A finished buttonhole.
Some further notes from working on this toile: The fabric is really too transparent for this application, as the clipped curves can be seen when held to the light. It also wrinkles badly, and the worst of these wrinkles are impossible to iron out without cranking up the heat and risking the danger of melting the shirt. Also, my bad habit of using a graphite pencil for marking came back to bite me when I was unable to wash it out. On the bright side, though, these issues can be avoided if I use a thicker, natural fibre for the final version, and thread mark the cloth like I’m supposed to.
Despite the gripey tone of most of this article, overall, I’m really pleased with the toile. The fit is perfect, and my sewing speed actually increased with all the practice I got with the long hems.
Figure 14: Testing the fit of the finished undershirt toile.
I’ll be carrying this tentative optimism to the next stage of my project, where I’ll take a crack at the final version of my 1920’s undershirt!
Figure 15: The first (left) and second (right) undershirt toiles.
 Christine Haynes, “A Guide to Facings,” Seamwork, Colette Media LLC, accessed January 14, 2021, https://www.seamwork.com/issues/2016/03/a-guide-to-bias-binding-and-facings.
 “How to Understitch a Facing,” Threads Magazine, The Taunton Press, Inc., accessed January 14, 2021, https://www.threadsmagazine.com/2019/12/13/how-to-understitch-a-facing#:~:text=seam%20just%20yet.-,Understitch%20the%20facing,the%20facing%2C%20not%20the%20garment.