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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It's Done! No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency Shirt (B5526)

Butterick 5526
With Alterations
Click on the Illustration above for more detail
Are you a fan of the No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency books? Heroine M'ma Ramotswe often reflects on fine animals, like the ones on this lovely print, that we over on the other side of the world, associate with Africa. I've had this animal material in my fabric inventory for years, never feeling quite sure what to do with it. And I'm glad I saved it, because it's going to see a lot of use. Precious Ramotswe would like it too, I know.

I'm not sure I've ever spent so much time sewing one garment. But the time put in was worth it. Here's what makes me proud and happy, when it comes to this project.

1) Thank you Susan for all your work! The pattern fits really well. It's comfortable and flattering.  I'm looking forward to making many more shirts with it. And after all Susan's work, I still managed to finish off the sleeves on my own, using my favorite front-of-the-bathroom-mirror technique! You know that one right? Yep, I use lots of pins, and try not to spill too many all over the counter, or worse yet in the bathroom, the floor.

That mirror is where I got that final fitting on the sleeve to work, when it was time to get on with the project - my first of three for my intermediate sewing class. There's a time to be fitting and a time to just use the mirror, figure it out, and start sewing.

BTW I'm not the first person to need a lot of alterations when it comes to this pattern. Good thing my buddy Susan worked so hard creating that muslin before I sewed this garment, unlike Sarah Sew who loved  the results but can’t wear the shirt she labored over! Here's an excerpt from Sarah Sew’s review at Pattern Review "I would check your fit before finishing the shirt completely. Most patterns seem to run large, this one, however, seems to run small. Also the armhole is rather high. "

No kidding on the fit challenges, especially those armhole comments, Sara.

Cute buttons, huh?
You can see here, how the topstitching adds oomph!
2) I've also focused on learning to be a crisper sewer in the beginning and intermediate sewing construction classes at Cañada. I'm particularly proud of my crisp, neat hem and the sharp edged cuffs on my 3/4 length sleeves for this shirt. For the hem (as well a the inside edge of my front facing) I cut double wide packaged bias tape down the middle (lengthwise) then sewed one edge to my raw edge and the other edge behind/under/sandwiched between the bias fold and the back side of the garment - then hand (for the facing) or machine (for the hem) stitched down.  It looks neat if it's exposed when I'm wearing the shirt open over a tee and it gives the kind of definition I was looking for.

I've also learned that multiple rows of topstitching add crispness/definition/body. I just can't decide on the best word for this, so I guess I'll go with oomph!  My hem has two rows of stitching (stitch lengthof 3.0 or 3.5 is nice I think), and the front edge of the shirt has 3 rows.

See I told you I do a lot of checking
in the bathroom mirror!
There's my little red tray of pins,
 the ones that like to scatter.
Here you can just see I'm checking the
positioning of the buttonholes I'm
planning to sew. They're drawn straight on the
stabalizer, and on the hanger. But
will they be straight when I wear the shirt?
3) My buttons march down in a nice straight line. I used a technique I've blogged about before, using stabalizer I normally use for machine embroidery to layout my buttonholes. When I have just a few buttons, I can use the scrap leftover from embroidery, but in this case, where I was sewing 8 buttonholes in a strip, I did use a brand new length.

4) I made some alterations I really like, both on the muslin and the actual shirt as I sewed it. Those include:
a) The cuff's were supposed to button in a traditional way - but I never really button longer sleeves shirts. First thing I do is to fold up my sleeves to just below the elbow. So why not start out that way, especially with such a casual style?  I permenently turned these cuffs back, and sewed them down with unbuttonable buttons. The little sleeve placket gap I like to wear in a regular sleeve, is a feature of the shirt now.
b) The front placket was just a turn-under-twice deal. Maybe that's OK for those who button their shirts high, but I won't be wearing this shirt like that. When I tried turning under the placket and put the shirt on, the back of the fabric (a vague shadow of the print) showed at the open neckline. Ugh! So I created my own facing pattern from the bodice front.
c) I fooled around with how far the buttoning part of the front should extend beyond the buttons. Because I used these large, printed-pattern buttons I left it kind of wide. Then I did three rows of topstitching to give it a nice heavy edge. Ancha in my intermediate construction class has suggested I add another three rows of stitching on the other side of the buttonholes, and I'm planning to take her advice.

Yep, it was indeed worth putting my energy into sewing a practical and versatile garment. However since I finished it I have been inspired to do some breakaway, rule-busting sewing! You'll hear more about that soon 


  1. It’s really good that you saved the fabric ‘cause it’s just right for the theme of No. 1 Lady’s Detective Agency Books. That shirt with the animal print can be used to investigate somebody near the woods and you’ll blend in with the natural environment. Haha! Just kidding! Anyway, I love your work and I hope you continue your passion for sewing. :)

    -- Vernia Soriano

    1. Thanks Vernia! I love your idea of sneaking up on people in the woods and I bet M'Ma Ramotswe would too :-)

  2. I love the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, did you see the tv series, it was just as good, wish they'd do more. I like her description 'traditionally built'.

  3. Hey Ann, I found just an initial volume of the tv series at my public library. And yes, it is as good as the books. I too would love to see more done in this series. The traditionally built part is so well done. I like Precious's reflections on people being so thin that you can't see them when you look out across the savannah!

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