November 05, 2022
The 217 Poet's Shirt is a popular pattern for making historic clothing or costumes - for Ren Faire outfits, pirate clothes, or early Victorian dress. It is also a beautifully romantic shirt you can wear everyday with leggings, jeans, slacks, or a skirt. Great on men and women!
We've just released this pattern again as a paper pattern, and updated the PDF pattern. We did not increase the original sizing (to save you paper and money) because all the pieces are rectangles (as traditionally clothes were constructed), and it is very easy to size up. This blog will show you how to size this shirt up, as well as how to sew the tricky bits of the shirt (hello, gussets).
Sizing the Poet's Shirt Up
First, cut out all the pieces you need in the largest size. My model for this shirt is about one size larger than the largest size in this pattern, so I am showing that size increase, but you can keep expanding this pattern in the same way to go up many sizes.
You can see the sizing chart here. But, the finished measurements at the waist and chest for the shirt are as follows (don't forget the underarm gusset adds a little extra room at the chest, but is not accounted for below):
Women's Small: 44"
Women's Medium/Men's Small: 46"
Women's Large/Men's Medium: 50"
Men's Large: 54"
The pattern is made with 10"-12" of ease at the chest/bust, so keep that in mind when deciding which size you want to make, or if and how you want to make it larger.
I wanted to add a total of 2" (5cm) total to the width of the largest size of this pattern - to have a finished measurement of 56" at the chest/waist.
Here are the front and back pieces. They are taped together at the shoulder and cut as one long piece. Note that this pattern does not work well with fabrics with nap or one way designs.
Matching shoulder lines. Tape the pattern together here, overlapping the pattern pieces so shoulder lines match.
To increase the width of the pattern, I added a strip of paper to the outside edge (side seam) of the front and back pieces. I added 1/2" paper strip to give an extra 2" (total of 1" on front + 1" on back). If you want to increase the total circumference of the pattern by 4", you would add 1" to the front/back side seam. If you want to add 8", you would add 2" to the front/back side seam, etc.
I added a strip of paper to increase the width of the front/back by 1/2" (13mm) at the side seam.
You can see how long the front/back piece is taped together at the shoulder seam. This is ready to cut on the fold to get a full front/back with the extra width at the side seams.
You will also need to add the same amount you added to the side seam to the shoulder reinforcement piece. In this case, I also added 1/2" (13mm) to the shoulder reinforcement piece at the side seam.
You can also make the sleeve wider if you like. The sleeve is very billowy, so I did not add anything to it. The sleeve finishes at about 21-1/2" wide for the largest size and I felt that was plenty of room. If you want to make the sleeve wider, just add half the amount you want to make it wider by to the outside edge of the sleeve pattern piece. You will also need to change the markings on the front/back pattern piece to reflect where to add the gusset. For instance, if you increase the width of the sleeve by 1/2" (for a total of 1" (2.5cm) added to the sleeve width), you will also need to lower the gusset markings on the pattern by 1/2" on the front/back pattern pieces, as I've shown below. If you aren't increasing the size of the sleeve, you don't need to do this.
If you aren't increasing the width of the sleeve, you can just transfer the markings on the pattern for the largest size over to the edge of your fabric when you cut it out.
Finally, if you want to add length to this pattern, you can add whatever length you want at the lengthen/shorten lines on the front and back pattern pieces (and to the sleeve). You will need to slash at the lengthen/shorten line and tape paper to the pattern to make it the length you want. Be sure to add the same amount to the front and the back pieces.
Sewing the Tricky Bits
Neck Gusset: The first tricky bit of this pattern is the neck gusset. This is not typically how most shirt today are constructed, but when fabric was more dear (because it was hand woven, etc.), making lots of curved pattern pieces was wasteful. So, the neck of this pattern is cut directly from the front/back rectangles and a clever little neck gusset gives shape and room to the neck/collar area.
First, be sure to transfer all the markings to the fabric on both sides of the front and back. I use Crayola ultra washable fine tipped markers to mark my fabric. I also used a handkerchief linen, so it was easy to see marks from the front and back of my fabric. You can transfer marks to both sides if needed. Transfer paper and a tracing wheel are great for this too.
The next step is to sew your neck reinforcement pieces to the inside of the front/back, lining them up with the side notches and stars on the neck area. You can see the shoulder reinforcements below, through the fabric. Please excuse my semi-messy pattern markings.
You need to reinforce the side slits by stay stitching (use a short stitch length) around the slit (follow the stitching lines). Stitch right to the box, pivot, and go back up the other side.
Then you cut the neck slit from box to box. Don't cut the front slit yet.
Now take that little neck gusset, press it once with wrong sides together on a diagonal. Then, with right sides together, match one square on the neck gusset with the square on the neck slit, and the star on the neck gusset with the star at the neck slit - as below. Pin.
Then stitch on the inside of the shirt from the square to the star. Stitch on the inside so that you follow the stitching line (the stay stitch line you've already stitched) and you won't accidently not stitch these two pieces together. The gusset will hang over the edge of the neck slit near the square. That is fine and normal.
On the outside of the shirt, you can see to stitch from the square to the star.
On the inside of the shirt, you can see that the gusset overhangs the neck slit. Stitch from inside the shirt so that you don't miss stitching the neck to the gusset.
Now, open the neck slit up a bit, and you will pivot the gusset at the square, rotating it around so that the other star meets the other star on the neck slit. Pin the gusset to the other side of the neck slit and sew from the star to the square on the inside of the shirt.
Align the star on the gusset with the star on the neck. Then manipulate the fabric by the square to even out.
Pin the gusset to the neck slit at the star and square.
Again, stitch on the inside of the shirt, along the stay stitching line.
Now, fold and press the remaining 1/4" (6mm) seam allowance on the neck gusset to the inside. Then, fold the neck gusset along the foldline so that it covers the stitching. Whipstitch the neck gusset to the shoulder reinforcement, just covering the seamline.
Remaining 1/4" (6mm) seam allowances are folded in on the neck gusset.
Neck gusset folded to the inside. Now I just whip stitched this in place.
Front Facing: There are two front facings. If you are using a one-sided print, you should use the wide facing, as the wide facing is not seen from the outside. If you are using fabric where the right side and wrong side of the fabric are the same, the narrow facing is better (less bulky). I used the narrow facing.
First, press under seam allowances. Then, pin the right side of the facing to the wrong side of the shirt, matching squares and dots and slit lines. Stitch along the stitching line, narrowing to and pivoting at the square, keeping a 1/4" (6mm) seamline for most of the length. Cut down through the slash line to the box, through all layers of fabric. Then turn the facing to the right side of the shirt and press the folded seam allowance over the stitching lines. You can top stitch the facing down from the front, or slip stitch it to the front.
Press under 1/4" (6mm) seam allowance on facing.
Front facing stitched, slashed, and turned to the front of the shirt. Now it can be pressed and topstitched down.
Underarm gussets are rarely used in modern shirt patterns, but they are often used in old, or traditional, shirts. This is because curved armholes and sleeves were not used until fairly recently. Usually all shirt pieces were cut as rectangles (or square) due to the fact that it was less wasteful to use these geometric shapes when using precious handmade (or expensive) cloth. Hence the gusset, a square-shaped piece of fabric that allows more movement in the arm that does not have any curves.
Gussets are really very simple. Just make sure you line up everything well and only stitch to the markings, trying not to catch any other seams in your sewing. I also think it's a good idea to plan how you will finish your seams. Gussets require a little bit more thought, though many seam finishes will work. I finished my seams here with a zig-zag stitch after they were complete, but it would probably be even better to finish the seams before starting to sew everything together (make sure you don't loose any markings when you do this). What you do depends on the fabric you are using (and what you want to do!).
First, line up one gusset with the sleeve, matching the stars and dots. Stitch just between the star and dot.
Now, take match the other star on the gusset to the star on the other side of the sleeve and the dot (where gusset and sleeve are already sewn together) to the dot on the other side of the sleeve. Sew just between this star and the dot - don't catch the other seam in the stitching. This is where the stitching can get tricky (and why some people prefer to sew this shirt by hand). But, you can slow down your stitching and even just move the needle wheel by hand for the last few stitching to make sure you don't cross into the other seam line.
Next, pin and stitch the sleeve together from the dot at the bottom of the gusset to the square (below the square is made into a seamed placket for the cuff). Again, make sure to not catch any of the other gusset seams in your stitching.