The Memories We Wear: Altering Down Men's Shirts
I write a blog about clothing. I have a degree in environmental studies. And social psychology. And health information management. And I write a blog about clothing. When I say it like that, it doesn’t really seem to fit. People who care about clothing have a reputation for being vain, shallow, materialistic etc etc etc.** insert Clueless memes ad infinitum**
But seriously. Aside from representing who we are. And aside from having a very large impact on the environment. And aside from affecting how we feel. Clothes and textiles carry the weight of the memories we make in them. Don’t think clothes matter? Go ahead and read my post on my wedding dress. But even the more mundane, day-to-day items carry significance.
If you still don’t believe me. Ask anyone about their favorite clothes. Ask a quilter making a true scrap quilt. They will tell you. Clothes are memories, and I’ve read quilters say that there isn’t one item of clothing they wouldn’t want a scrap from in order to preserve those memories.
Why am I waxing nostalgic? Well, I happen to be wearing one of my first refashions and it have endured yet another rip, this time in the elbow. The shirt was my father’s. He’s not dead or anything. But we’ve never had a seamless relationship. He’s a tough guy to get along with by all accounts. And by some accounts, I’m not quite a constant ray of sunshine myself.
My mom and I are ridiculously close. We share clothes constantly. We talk on the phone multiple times a day. We are each other’s people. But my dad and I….well not so much.
I was hard on him, because he was hard on my brothers. He wasn’t very nice to them and it really bothered me. Now that I’ve been through the beginning and end of a marriage to a guy I thought was decent, I can appreciate that the bar for my dad was significantly higher than the one I set for my husband, in the end. It turns out, you get points for showing up and stepping up, even if you are a grump about it.
Growing up, my dad was a man of basically 2 shirts. In reality there were many of them. But it boiled down to two groups of shirts. Work/church shirts: which he wore to his office. These were collared, button-down shirts in shades of light blue. And home shirts: collared, button-down shirts in plaids. That’s all there was. I think sometime in my teen years, I saw him start to wear tee-shirts, but I will always remember him in flannel.
When my parents moved, my dad purged a few shirts and I took the castoffs because a) I don’t turn down free fabric b) I love flannel and button-down shirts, because I am my father’s daughter and c) there are memories that belong to no one else but me.
One of the shirts I got was legitimately worn out. Beyond threadbare, it had a couple of rips along the button band, the entire collar and cuffs were frayed, and it was missing some buttons. I’ve fixed it up and now I wear it at least once a week, to work, at home, or to the barn. You can see it peeking out from under my coat in my zipper replacement tutorial.
Wearing this shirt reminds me of the best qualities of my dad. It makes me feel comfortable. It makes me feel strong. And it makes me happy. That’s what great clothes should do for you. And that’s what great family should do. I strongly recommend refitting and refashioning family clothes. You won’t regret it.
Here’s a very rough step-by-step guide to refitting a large men’s shirt.
Step 1: Fitting
If you follow any refashioners, there is a mandatory “before shot” of them with their arms out showing just how large and baggy and shapeless an item of clothing was. This shirt was a men’s XXL. To size it down, I put it on and raised my arms just like a before shot and placed pins, starting about halfway up my forearms, going under my armpit and down the full length of the sides. The pins noted how I wanted the shirt to fit. **NOTE: pins note where the seam will be. So make sure to take your time pinning.
I shaped down the arms a little too much, which is probably part of the reason I have a tear in the elbow. This narrowness bit me in the butt later when I tried to fell flat the seam, and it’s been an annoyance ever since, because the sleeve is too narrow to comfortably roll up.
One thing I’m glad I did, was I kept ample space at the hips. This gave the shirt a bit of a swing and more butt coverage if I’m wearing leggings. It also make the waist look smaller.
*SIDENOTE: When preparing to alter the shirt, I found that most of the seams were felled flat, so they looked just fine on the inside. Also, the fabric on the inside was significantly brighter and less faded than the outside. So I turned the whole shirt inside out before I started fitting and made the inside of the shirt the new outside. I had to remove the chest pocket and place it on the other side, and all the button came of and switched sizes as well. Other than that, there weren’t any changes.
Step 2: Cutting
This is by far the scariest step. However, I needed to get some matching fabric cut from the shirt to complete the various mending required for it, so that gave me some bravery as I snipped into the fabric.
I cut about 5/8” outside of the line of pins for a seam allowance. I did draw this on to help keep me on track. I cut the front and back at the same time, which can be very dangerous, so it’s important to make sure everything is laying very flat so you don’t hack off something useful.
Step 3: Sewing
I felled flat the seams when I resewed the arms and sides of the shirt. At least I tried to, the sleeves were actually so narrow, that I gave up on that portion and just turn the sleeve inside-out and zigzagged the portion I couldn’t reach in the middle when folding over.
No idea what I’m talking about? Flat felled seams are like the seams on the sides of jeans. They are awesome. Here’s a tutorial from Blueprint on them. The best way I learned to do them was on the Negroni Shirt.
Step 4: Mending
This was tricky. The collar took special attention because it was in really rough shape. I ended up taking the excess fabric cut off the sides of the shirt and using it to sew over the top of the inside (now outside) collar and used a decorative topstitch to keep in in place. I did a similar move at the much-worn cuffs.
Major tears along the button band were also fixed this way.
None of the mending is very fancy. I didn’t take the time to iron while doing this, and most of the patches are just sewed on with a zig-zag stich instead of carefully top-stitched or understitched in place.
Step 5: Extras
I love the decorative stitch function on my sewing machine, and I try to use it every chance I get. Down the button band of the shirt, I placed little swirls, as well as on the collar peaks, and on the cuffs. I also replaced the tan buttons with maroon ones and sewed them on with non-coordinated thread so they would pop out a bit. I don’t think most people notice these, but they really make me smile when I’m wearing the shirt.
It’s a sturdily made shirt, strong seams throughout and a good fabric. But it’s probably 20 years old and it’s started ripping open at the areas of use. I think I will keep on repairing it. Because it was my first refashion, and because I like the mismatched plaids, and because wearing it reminds me of my dad.