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staystitching, flat-felled seams

VancChris | Posted in General Sewing Info on

Greetings and salutations from Vancouver, British Columbia.  My name is Chris Thompson and I’m a 31 year old guy who has discovered sewing.  I.  Love.  It.  It’s challenging, interesting, relevant and just plain fun.

I was referred by a coworker to Threads and from there have begun to explore books published by Taunton Press.  There are two in particular which I love, Shirtmaking (1993) by David Page Coffin and SewBasics (2002), by the editors of Threads.

However (isn’t there always a however), I have found what I think are two somewhat related inconsistencies which I hope somebody can sort out for me.  I am at a loss.  I want to do this right.

In SewBasic, on page 46-47, we are advised to staystitch shirt fronts from the shoulder to the side seams.  Just a few pages later, though, on pages 52-53, we are advised that with directional sewing one must start at the underarm and sew to the shoulder on the front of the garment.  These two pieces of advice seem to contradict one another: how can staystitching be in one direction, and the advanced technique of directional sewing be in the other?  Shouldn’t both be with the grain of the fabric and hence in the same direction?

My second and final question is as follows.  In Mr. Coffin’s fantastic book Shirtmaking (1993), which I’ve already read cover to cover twice in less than a day, on page 23 he advises that a well-made men’s shirt has wide, flat-felled armscye seams of 3/8 to ½ inch wide.  Yet on page 91 he advises that we should purchase a felling foot of 1/8 inch.  I’m confused.  And finally, on page 82, Mr. Coffin advises us to staystitch all curved or bias seamlines and then clip to the staystitching.  Well, if we’re clipping to the staystitching, won’t that ruin the flat-felled seams?

If somebody can write back and let me know what I’m getting wrong, in return, I promise to email you some digital pictures of the first few shirts I make.



  1. GinnaS | | #1

    Chris -

    I don't have answers for you but DPC (David Page Coffin) is contributing to a Shirt Making Sew-a-long discussion at http://www.patternreview.com   His input starts on page 6 about Sept 16.   He is answering all sorts of questions there.   There are several levels of membership at patternreview.  I think you can post to the discussion as a guest but I don't know for sure.  I found out about it from a posting on http://www.sewingworld.com which is another wonderful sewing site and is totally free.

    Good luck and enjoy sewing.


    1. DavidCoffin | | #2

      Howdy, folks; just stumbled on this thread here, and thought I'd bring it up to date for anyone else interested; Chris's question got forwarded to me at home by April Mohr, the Editorial Assistant at Threads, and here's a copy of my email answer to him:


      Hi, Chris...and thanks for your enthusiasm about my book!

      Apologies for the confusion about staystitching; I can see that it IS unclear in the book and I'm surprised it's never been brought to my attention before. The missing points are: You only REALLY need to staystitch the neckline curve on a shirt, and those curves DO need to be clipped to be straightened out when attaching the collar stand. The yoke/front seams CAN be staystitched, but I usually don't bother (just be careful not to stretch them when making the seam or pressing the yoke front edge)...and since they're not curved, there'd be no need to clip them in any case; that's ONLY for seams that need to be straightened for attaching to another piece. The neckline is the only instance of such a seam in a shirt. You definitely don't have to staystitch any seams that will be flat-felled.

      As to that, the sleeve/body seam, because of its finished width and extreme curves, is too big and awkward to stitch with a felling foot. That's why I give the extended walk-thru on pp. 94-96 about how to do it without a felling foot. The side and underarm seams are the ones that benefit from the foot, because they're ideally so narrow.

      Hope these answers are helpful...and I'd very much like to see your finished results! Please note that I've left my job at Threads and moved to the Oregon coast, so I'm at a different email address than April Mohr, who apparently has already addressed your questions about directional stitching (NOT a big deal, IMHO).

      You may be interested to know about a currently active online discussion of shirtmaking here:


      I discovered this recently myself and have been chiming in now and again. I don't think you need to be a member of PatternReview.com to read the message boards...but you DO need to join ($15, I believe) to participate in the Chats they feature. I was the guest for a chat last Sunday, and have been invited back for this Sunday. You can read the chat transcripts here:


      Finally, you may also be interested to know that I'm coming out with a new book on pants; more info here:


      Once again, thanks for your interest in my shirt book, and don't hesitate to write back if any more questions come up.


      My current contact info is provided at the Silhouette site, and I'm always delighted to tackle any questions anybody wants to throw my way.

      Oh, yes! FYI: Master Designer Kenneth King is featured Chat host at Patternreview this Sunday; guaranteed to be both informative AND fun!


      1. carolfresia | | #3

        Hi, David, and thanks for stopping by to answer Chris's questions.

        For those of you who are admirers of David's Shirtmaking book, I'd like to point out that he's in the process of completing a CD-book on making trousers. I have to go back to my email to find the link to the table of contents, but I can say that it looked really interesting to me--ideal for people wanting to perfect their technique and create a beautifully constructed and long-lasting pair of trousers, for men or women.

        The "book" will appear in the form of a CD-ROM, and will contain not just text and illustrations, but video clips, links to related websites, and downloadable, full-sized pattern pieces. If you love finely made garments, you'll want to take a look at this.

        So while we're sorry David is no longer with us here in the Threads office, we're also delighted that he's continuing to contribute to the furtherment of excellent sewing. Phew--that sounds pretty grand, doesn't it?! Well, I suppose it is!


        P.S. Here's the link where you can see a preview of David's book--enjoy! http://www.silhouettepatterns.com/newfeat/dpcoffin/

        Edited 10/5/2004 1:42 pm ET by CAROLFRESIA

      2. SewNancy | | #4

        As a long time reader of Threads I have always enjoyed your articles.  I wish you all the best in your new endeavors and I am looking foward to your new book. ( I have the shirt book.)


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