I finally got over my avoidance and attacked the problem of the very wrong shirt this weekend. Spoilers, yes, making larger gussets and everything else smaller and adding some narrow side gores was the correct answer; also I did some interesting non-pointy things at the top of those gores; but that's not what I'm here to tell you about, neighbors.
OK, so, yes, in an ideal world we'd do all our clothes by hand and that would be lovely and great and experiential. But too often, we are faced with a situation of "I'm about to go to Pennsic and I have no underwear / I need to outfit my newbie/partner/offspring" (or any one of a thousand variations on that theme), and there's nothing for it but to whip out the ol' Singer and turn your domicile into the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Frequently in these cases, too, we have a particular need for sturdiness in the garment(s), because they will be worn in the field and will see heavy use. What this means is "seam finishes"; and although there are lots of perfectly period methods of hand-finishing seams, if you're under the gun, this is not going to help you; you need an industrial solution.
(There are people who are that fast with hand-sewing. They are not the people who need this blog post. Drive on.)
|A serged fabric edge|
French seams are more painstaking (particularly when you are first getting to know them), but because the original seam is encased entirely inside another seam, it's very sturdy and protected. It's a particularly good choice for your linen underwear of all kinds, since linen loooves to fray all over the place. (I'm going to plow ahead assuming you know from French seams, but if you don't, here's a decent tutorial.) Now, there are usually three challenges to French seams:
1) they're still a bit slower, since you have to sew everything twice and keep pressing things vigorously with your iron;
2) it's easy to lose track of what you're doing and end up with one or more seams on the incorrect side of the garment;
3) getting the fiddly bits at gores and gussets is a right PITA and often results in unsightly bunching or messes.
Now, some several years ago, Beth and I spent a weekend cranking out chemises for War, since neither of us had nearly enough underclothes; and we came up with a general and efficient process for the order of construction of this sort of garment. I have, this weekend, improved (dare I say, perfected?) our previous work, which also encompasses some mitigations for the three challenges mentioned above.
This is intended for shifts / shirts / etc. of the main medieval period; the usual composed-of-rectangles-and-triangles style you see for centuries with minimal variation. You can use it for a Bocksten tunic, though, too. And, I apologize for not taking photos in media res; I was on a manic roll and it did not occur to me. Have some ASCII art instead!
- Cut out your fabric pieces and have them all ready.
- If the body of the garment is two pieces instead of one long piece, sew the shoulder seams together & French them.
- Cut the neckhole. (You can hem it now if you want, but I always leave that to the end, just in case I need to make any edits.
- Pin each gusset to its sleeve along one side.
- Pin the rest of the sleeve closed (remember the gusset wants to form a triangle with the hypoteneuse towards the cuff end). You now have a tube with a triangle on it:
fold line -----> ----------------
cuff ---> | | <--- arm opening
gusset fold ---> \ | <--- also open
- Sew the 1st gusset edge.
- Start at the wrist and sew the sleeve closed, continuing along the 2nd edge of the gusset.
- Repeat the previous two steps for the other sleeve.
- Go to ironing board, press out the gusset and sleeve seams, prep them for Frenching.
- French them in the same order you sewed them.
- If you are doing front and back gores, well, I haven't perfected these because I don't put 'em in my underwear (St. Louis notwithstanding); I suggest following the La Cotte Simple tutorial - it is written for grande assiette sleeve funkiness but the principle will work here.
- Insert the back gore to remind yourself how to manipulate them again
- Insert the front gore now that you remember how to do it
- Press them out in preparation for Frenching
- French 'em most of the way up and just fahddle the top by hand.
- Sew up the center seam of the gore that's currently two halves of a gore; press it, and French it.
- If you were dealing with taller people who have some side seam in between the bottom of the gusset and the top of the side gore, you would do something different than what I'm about to do, probably. That's not what I've got, though, so put a pin in that thought and come back to it.
- Pin the sleeves to each side of the garment.
- Sew from the point of the gusset on one side, all the way up around the top of the sleeve and back down to the point of the gusset on the other side.
- Repeat for Sleeve #2.
- Pin the side gore in, and sew it - again you're following the Cotte Simple method, because you've effectively created a slit to set the gore into. You can kind of hand-flatten the existing seam and get your "top point" into that.
- Repeat for Side Gore #2.
- Press the bejesus out of all of that and prepare them for Frenching.
- OKAY HERE'S THE SEXY PART. Start at the hem level on one side of the gore, French your way up, and then cross over diagonally onto the gusset/sleeve seam opposite--so if you started with the side of the gore that's at the rear of the garment, you'll move to the gusset/sleeve part on the front of the garment. Go all the way over the top, and back down, and cross back over onto the other side of the gore.
- Do the same thing on the other side.
- Profit! (or hemming and cuffing and other fiddly bits, anyways)
That step 19 there, it makes that really irritating portion where the gusset & gore meet actually behave. It was a complete miracle. But even without that, the ordering of events here means you are stacking as much work together at the ironing board/work surface as you can, and stacking as much at the sewing machine as you can. Moreover, it should reduce--reduce, I say, nothing can eliminate--the risk of getting a seam on the wrong side of the garment, because you are batching the 1st-seam work and it should be more obvious when you're going awry.
So, that pin there in Step 12: The received wisdom is to use the gores without a center seam on front & back, and the other pieces that you do have to sew together to make the full triangle on the sides; and if you're doing that, it's easier to sew the halves separately to the front & back of the main garment, and then just run up the center. There is a lot of sense to this, particularly if you have some distance between gore & gusset. And if you are making a thing for a tall person, it may work better. On the other hand, sometimes you end up with gore halves at slightly different heights. :-/
Anyways, I hope that people will find this valuable. If there's one thing more true than another, it's that we always need more underwear, and it's a tiresome slog to produce it; I hope this will help expedite a necessary but disagreeable task.
 hopefully with fire exits
 but lemme tell you about my pre-tenement-law first apartment
 ™ Beth