Every year when December comes around is the time for me to figure out what I will make as a gift to give my husband for St. Nicholas Day/Christmas. This has pretty much been our tradition for the last several years – he gets some article of clothing handmade by me for the holidays and then one other garment for his birthday/Father’s Day. So, his “ration” of articles from my hands is about two a year. I love to see his tickled and happy reaction every time I make something for him…it makes it so worth it!
Anyway, this year’s gift for him is more than just his ‘allowance’. It really is a garment from a time of real, restrictive, and penny-pinching rationing due to then current world history – a “Manufactured in England” year 1945 McCall’s pattern for a men’s dress shirt. This is his ration on the ration but you’d never guess, would you?! This is the dressiest shirt I’ve made to date, the first English pattern I’ve used, as well as the first long sleeve nice shirt that I’ve made for my man. Come to think of it, up until now I’ve always made him short sleeve and/or sports shirts. To make it even easier for him to wear his new shirt immediately (which he wanted to anyway), this new shirt a Christmas appropriate color! It turned out so well and he does look quite spiffy in it, if I must say so myself.
PATTERN: McCall #5864, Printed and manufactured in England, circa year 1944 or 1945. I’ve seen colorized envelope American versions of this pattern dated 1944 and also 1945, so I’m guessing this design was printed throughout both years. However, the way my pattern’s insert mentions McCall #6044, from 1945, (more about that below) my version of #5864 is probably also 1945. By the way, is it just me or does the top left guy’s face look like the actor Robert Young?!
NOTIONS: I used everything from on hand in true 40’s outlook, but I only needed thread and some interfacing. The buttons are probably close to authentic 40’s vintage as well, as they are a set from hubby’s Grandmother’s stash with obvious cut marks on the back (meaning she saved them off of an existing worn garment).
TIME TO COMPLETE: His shirt was finished on December 9, 2016, after just over 20 hours.
THE INSIDES: I feel like because the insides are so nice in French seams, with the shoulder panel lining covering the rest, Hubby thinks I played a trick on him (…not me). He literally has a hard time telling right from wrong side with this shirt! Score!
TOTAL COST: This linen was bought on deep discount when the now defunct Hancock Fabrics was closing earlier this year. I spent probably only $6 on this shirt for him. When hubby reads this I’ll sound cheap for his gift, but it’s the thought, fit, and quality that counts!
The pattern sadly manifests the effects of WWII compared to all the other USA sourced McCall patterns I have used before. First of all, the cover of the envelope drawing is in black and white, the same as Australian patterns of WWII times. Secondly, the pattern is unprinted, reverting instead to the hole-punched code system on plain paper like other companies. This is a major step in rationing because being the very first to offer printed patterns continuously was always (and still is) part of the bragging rights of McCall’s, and I have never read that they departed from that.
There are a few small “reminder” sheets inside with a half size instruction sheet…seeing how to make the shirt was like reading ant-size print, no kidding! The one other “reminder” sheet states (in all red letters) that now the 5/8 inch seam is the baseline for their patterns, and the other sheet gives a guide of how to read their non-printed hole-punch system. At the top of the guide for reading the hole-punch method is an interesting apology for it, “As a result of the present conditions…” Everyone knew what those were, I guess not clearly saying “W-A-R” helped make those circumstances slightly better. Below the apology is the confusing “notice” that their patterns have a ½ inch seam allowance up until number #6044. What? Didn’t McCall go out of their way to print a small added notice of 5/8 inch seam allowance, only to also say it’s ½ inch too? I see all of this pointing to the company awkwardly, hurriedly adjusting and adapting to the (then) “present conditions”, trying to do their part in the ration effort the longer the war went on while still offering home sewers no less awesome designs. One last thing – notice the envelope was stamped “TAX FREE”!
The quality of the pattern did not seem all that affected beyond the fact that it is an unprinted pattern. As I every so often find with the punched hole patterns, there were some slight inconsistencies or mismatching with its making – something only I would notice. The front hem of one side to the front was about ½ longer than the other (which I trimmed), the left shoulder panel was a bit wider than the other (again trimmed), and the two collars were not shaped exactly equal. Most of the times this doesn’t even happen because most patterns have pieces such as these cut on a fold, so both side are guaranteed equal. However, this pattern is unusual in that it only had the back bodice of the shirt cut on the fold while all else was a full piece, with both right and left sides, and cut out on a single layer of fabric. This together with the fact that most all the pieces were skinny and small, made for a very efficient pattern that left with plenty leftover to go for another project. Yay for fabric thrifty 40’s patterns!
I really love all the finely classy and subtle vintage features. All the 40’s shirts I see for men have gathers in some form or fashion, so the light, barely-there gathers at the cuffs and back panel are a nice departure from the norm. Making/sewing the collar stand was quite challenging, small work, but compared to the turnover style (where the collar merely folds on itself) or the all-in-one style (where the stand is the same piece as the collar) this style is the best for dress shirts, in my opinion. I already had practice with making button sleeve plackets when I did my own 1946 flannel shirt, so I really feel that I did the ones on hubby’s shirt very well this time. The front left button overlap was fun and so easy to make as well as another classy touch. Sewing something for my man has given me the opportunity to try new techniques I wouldn’t do otherwise.
Once again, because he is skinny I choose a pattern that has his collar size (14 ½ inch). Unlike women, neck size is priority, too, together with the chest when making a pattern for a guy…not so much hips or waist! However, just like the last 40’s shirt pattern in this size the sleeves ran really short, as if for a teenager. I’m not talking about adding a little – I had to add 1 ¾ to the sleeve length for my man! Granted, in modern shirts he does look for the longer length sleeves. I don’t know how many of my readers use vintage men’s patterns but if you do and you also notice super short long sleeves as a trend for the small sizes, let me know if you see what I see!
The linen for this shirt was an absolute dream to work with – so soft and easy to sew! People who only work with polyester need to try this kind of fabric, and they should be amazed at what they’ve been missing. To keep the linen in the right shape, the interfacing weights were switched up with the mid weight stuff in the collar cuffs while the lightweight was in the collar stand and button overlap. Hubby’s linen shirt is the same cross-dyed, semi-sheer linen used for my 1933 skirt, just a different color tone. Cross-dyed colors do make for such a lovely option to plain solids.
Christmas is a time to sing, hope, and pray for “peace on earth” and “goodwill towards all”, so I find it rather funny in an ironic way how my shirt for hubby brings the Allies of World War II together. I made this living in my country of America, the pattern I used is from the United Kingdom, the inside seaming to the shirt is French, and the material for it is similar to a fine Irish linen. (Ireland was officially nonpartisan during WWII, but they had many contraventions helping the Allies and being aided by them in exchange.) Perhaps a shirt for the peaceful time of Christmas can assuage the facts of the circumstances around this war time pattern, and provide a nice way to “wrap up” memories brought up by the recent celebration of the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Green is symbolic of many things, but also of balance…perhaps I should have called my post title “Holiday Harmony”. We all need a taste of that!
I’m hoping everyone had a restfully happy and beautiful holiday season of Christmastide! I also hope you were told compliments on all your handmade garments and received some lovely sewing related and creative-inspiring gifts!
It’s funny how something we take for granted, dress shirts, can be so difficult and tricky to sew! I haven’t ventured into menswear yet (not counting costumes), but I hope to some day in the future. Your husband’s shirt turned out so lovely!
Thank you! Yes, menswear has details – shoulder yokes, collar, and plackets to name a few- that are something else to sew but taken for granted when it comes to store bought! Looking forward to seeing you sew menswear too…it’s certainly a learning experience.
Just had to chime in to compliment you on the impeccable fit, and your exquisite seam finishing; added to the truly lovely fabric, they make it quite the nicest man’s shirt I’ve seen recently.
Thank you for the lovely compliments – part of the “treat” of giving him this shirt was spoiling him with quality he doesn’t see in his other shirts. It helps him appreciate my sewing!
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