Quintessential Classics – Bowling and a 1953 Men’s Shirt

Going “retro” can’t be any more “classic” than combining the early 50’s and the sport of bowling. What could be more fun than going “retro” as a couple to play one of the top past times of the era?! Vintage men’s wear certainly does not get made as often as women’s pretty dresses. So far I’ve made hubby some vintage pajamas, but if I can go out in 50’s get-up, he just as well deserves to share in my handmade vintage made for public wearing. Thus, I am happy to announce I have made my hubby a summer shirt, using a 1953 pattern, to see its debut at a local bowling alley – for some good “new” memories made together in “past-timey” style.

100_3360aTHE FACTS:
FABRIC:  The plaid fabric is a super soft, and nicely lightweight poly/cotton blend, so it might be vintage but no older than the 50’s. For lining the back shoulder panel and making the collar, a basic cotton/poly broadcloth was used in basic bright white.Simplicity 4452 mens 1953 shirts
NOTIONS:  Everything I needed to make the shirt was on hand – the white thread, the bias tape, the interfacing. The buttons are vintage, coming from the stash of hubby’s Grandmother.
PATTERN:  Simplicity 4452, year 1953, “Men’s Sport Shirt”
THE INSIDES:  So nice! The sleeve hems and bottom hem are covered in single fold bias tape, and the collar and the back shoulder panel are enclosed and hidden by lining. All other seams (the sides and the sleeves) are done in French seams. I wanted hubby’s shirt to be finished better than anything else in his closet!

100_3635TIME TO COMPLETE:  It was finished on July 8, 2014, after 8 to 10 hours of time.  This shirt was so easy, I hope to make more.
TOTAL COST:  The plaid fabric only cost $3.00, and the cotton cost about $1.50…thus, with everything else coming from on hand, my hubby’s shirt cost a total of less than $5.00. Neat, huh?!

In my opinion and from my experience, sewing men’s shirts are relatively easy and low stress. There are no darts, no shapely side seams, and no zippers, like on women’s clothes. To me, the fitting necessities for sewing up menswear consists of four main points to pay the most attention to: 1.) the proper shoulder width across the upper back panel, 2.) proper sleeve length, 3.) an agreeable collar measurement, and 4.) comfortable girth of ease around the torso. (Just like in women’s clothes where you try to find a pattern close to your bust size, I try to go by neck, or collar size, when it comes to picking out a men’s pattern.)  Maybe those four points are actually hard and I just don’t realize it because making menswear is fun, different, and challenging. Being a pullover shirt, it needed to be loose enough for him to get it on himself, but I still fitted the pattern around him first. As the pattern is a smaller size, with a good collar measurement already, I only barely raised the shoulders and slightly brought in the girth. Overall, the pattern didn’t need much tweaking for a better fit over than the changes which had to be done from fabric shortage.

100_3367When it came to making something for hubby, it was totally up to him to choose the fabric, buttons, and styling for his 50’s shirt, and boy did he take it seriously! I wanted to make his shirt earlier than I did, but I waited until he happened to finally find the right fabric at a vintage market. This one booth was chock full vintage fabric and feedsack muslins, in various sized cuts all rolled up in tied bundles. Hubby’s fabric pick of course happened to be a small amount, less than 2 yards. To make matters worse, the fabric had several squares of blank spaces where some scraps had been cut off, making even less of a total amount than I thought. The fabric is wonderful in feel, and weight, and plaid color tone for a perfect retro summer shirt, so these features were the saving grace to convince me to make things work.

Talk about cutting things close trying to make things work! I spent more time trying to correctly figuring on the combo of pattern pieces’ layout and plaid matching than the time it took to sew the shirt itself. With the fabric laid on the floor, I would think, look, contemplate on the layout and then rearrange everything. I had to shorten the sleeves, shorten the shirt hem, and round up the shirt tails out of necessity to make all the pieces fit. This is THE closest call I have yet done in my sewing…I do not recommend anyone else imitating me here. However, I did make it work with a whole lot of forethought, a clear head, and the time to take my time – I’m so proud and amazed at myself. Sometimes the step of pattern layout is the hardest kind of puzzle to be found.

Simplicity 4452 mens 1953 shirts - envelope backThe plaid couldn’t really match any better than if I did have extra fabric yardage to spare. Having “elbow room” of yardage to spare, is generally a good idea, much like it’s a security backup to have a spare tire in your car, although it might never be used. Sometimes when I am forced to butt pattern pieces up against one another when squeezing in a project on an unsuitable small cut (as for hubby’s shirt and for this dress, too), things necessarily match up. They’re right next to each other, as in “the cutting line of one piece is the same cutting line of another piece”!

The plaid itself actually is laid out in what is categorized as a “Tattersall” design. “Tattersall” is defined on “eHow.com”, in an article on “Types of Plaids” as, “Tattersall” is a plaid pattern that features thin vertical and horizontal stripes that are spaced evenly to create subtle checks. It is similar to tartan plaid, but “Tattersall” usually features a light background with colored stripes forming the grid pattern. The color scheme can feature just two colors or as many as four. Tattersall is often used for men’s button-down shirts, but some vests also feature the pattern.” Perfect in use of purpose and definition of stripe placement! Another definition of “Tattersall” can be found here along with all the other plaids. The fabric is a combo of four colors: purple, deep aqua, cranberry, and a very small bit of light pink, against a background of white.

100_3632He became interested in the process of his shirt’s construction, enough to be part of all the decisions which went into making it. I did convince hubby to let me construct the shirt with button and loop closures for the front neck opening. It is an option to the actual pattern, one which I wanted to make for more reasons than one – there wasn’t enough fabric, I didn’t feel up to experimenting with making a placket, and (lastly) a button/loop front is unique. Partly out of personal taste and (again) partly from lack of fabric, hubby wanted a contrast collar, one which brightens up and tones down the plaid. He had no problem with me using fine finishing techniques, nor did he mind the fact I kept the fit boxy and a bit generous to be more authentic (and comfortable). I think it looks pretty good…I believe he does too!

The back top of the shoulder piece, which stretches across horizontally, was adapted to add more interest and again accommodate the shortage of fabric. Instead of one solid piece laid out along the straight grain of the selvedge, I cut the shoulder yoke on the bias, with a center seam. The corresponding seam allowance was added. This could have been a risky (or flat out bad) move to cut this piece on the bias if it hadn’t had the second lining piece cut properly to keep the correct shape and needed strength across a high stress area of the shirt. I think my decision to cut the back shoulder yoke on the bias was worth the “risk” of disregarding directions – it adds so much more interest by having fun mitering the stripes into a downward chevron- style of design. So many times in my sewing a problem or mistake I encounter only challenges me to think outside the box and come up with a more unique and creative way to do something than before. This 50’s shirt is one big example of how to make lemonade from lemons. I think I will be very much temped to cut out another back shoulder yoke in this same bias/chevron-striped manner on another shirt, whether it’s one for him or one for me. We’ll see. 100_3364a

Sewing clothes for someone else bestows a very satisfying, accomplished feeling of pride to me, especially when it’s someone as special as my hubby. Sure, I’ve made him clothes already, but they were the kind that never really gets to be seen out and about – pajamas. Those 1940’s pajamas certainly get tons of wear on a regular basis, more than the 50’s shirt will, no doubt. However, for this garment – his shirt – he can wear this in public, advertise my capabilities, and brag about who made it for him all at the same time! Besides these base egotistical benefits, it seems to make him feel loved and quite special, two feelings I notice appear in other family and friends who receive my work. Those feelings bounce back to me, and make sharing my talent pay me back in something better than money can buy!

Also worth more than money is the good family time to be had playing a game of bowling. 100_3358aThe sport of bowling was never more popular than in the decade of the 1950’s, as I alluded to at the top of this post. This was no doubt partially due to the year 1952 introduction of the AMF automatic pin-spotter, the mechanical method of setting up pins and returning balls. This invention of modern technology, combined with the social, economic, and family situations of the time gave men, women, and children an easy and fun way spend free time and get exercise with little expense. The 1950’s were so adamant about promoting bowling, the ‘Bowling Proprietors Association of America’ released an informative and curious instructional video in ‘55, which can be watched in full by clicking here. The actual history of bowling as a sport and/or past time goes back much farther back than the 50’s, (see this page for more) and plenty to do with my own hometown, too, which explains why we’re lucky to have so many cool retro alleys to knock pins down in this city. Even though my actual skills at knocking over the pins are not the best I feel happy just to try! At this visit to Shrewsbury Lanes, my dad beat us all in points, while hubby put plenty of gumption in his throws (testing out the comfort of his shirt, no doubt), I made a few good points (wearing my ‘Gracie Allen’ ’52 skirt), and even my little guy had the chance to roll his very first ball.

100_3383100_3372a

This 1953 shirt is hopefully the first of more to come in the way of sewing for my hubby. Now I have another new aim or goal to reach – making at least one man’s shirt for the decades between the 20’s to 70’s. This way, he too could easily match me in every decade of fashion. Am I making things hard for myself? Maybe, but I like a challenge, and I like to see my husband’s smile in the clothes I make for him. Look for more handmade vintage men’s wear to come in the future!

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