Reverse engineering standard work pt.2

If you need to catch up, see the list of posts in this series at the close of today’s entry. If you’re not sure what the term standard work refers to, please read this post. Yesterday I’d mentioned that this portion of the cuff and sleeve placket series was 17 steps long but that is incorrect. It is 21 steps. Without further ado:

With the photo below you can see the specific details of this cuff. It is unremarkable except that the top portion of the cuff (closest to the sleeve) has a double row of top stitching. This distinction will be important later.

Below is a view of the placket. Again, this is unremarkable except that the placket vent opening also has a button to keep it closed. While optional, this is typical in better men’s shirts.

Below is a photo of the cuff after I removed it from the bottom of the sleeve. This is the 4th step in dis-assembly. The first three steps were 1. removal of the cuff button and 2) un-stitching the button holes with a scalpel and 3) undoing the outer edge of the cuff top stitching-and were not shown. It’s important to list the proper order of dis-assembly because you’ll have to reverse this order to construct this item. In other words, making the button holes will be second to last and attaching the buttons will be dead last when making this up.

I’ve shown the removed cuff as a closeup for an important reason (referring to the above photo). The entire cuff was stitched to the sleeve in one pass. Note I mentioned yesterday that this shirt was made using an automated process. Attaching cuffs and collars in one pass is typical of automated processes. As a point of comparison, when you sew a cuff to a sleeve manually, you’ll typically sew the top of one cuff piece to the bottom of the sleeve, then you’ll lay the remaining cuff on top of the first cuff piece to form the cuff itself, leaving the top of the second cuff piece open to finish later to either the underside or topside of the sleeve end. This cuff wasn’t sewn like that. The cuff had been preformed, turned and then attached to the sleeve end in one fell swoop.

The thing I want you to notice about this photo (still referring to the above photo) is that the edge of the cuff that is sewn to the wrong side of the sleeve (the cuff farthest from you) is slightly longer than the top side cuff piece. Now, since this shirt was made using automated equipment, you need to realize these small differences are not arbitrary. It wasn’t due to a seamstress’s failure to even things up. Rather, this disparity -although scant- was deliberately engineered. The other thing I’d like you to notice is that the second row of top stitching on the cuff facing you is still intact. This second row of top stitching was done before the cuff was formed. Since I’ve already analyzed the process, I can say that the second row of top stitching is useful but optional. The purpose and intent of this will be made clearer later.

In the photo above, I’ve turned the cuff so you can see that corner. I don’t know that you’ll understand how the higher lip was formed on the back side of the cuff but it should be apparent in the photo below.

Hopefully in the photo above you can see that the back seam allowance of the cuff was rolled over the front portion before the outside seam forming the cuff was done, making the back edge slightly longer. This is a technique we use in a lot of different ways. If you review how the facing and zipper were rolled back when finishing off the neckline in the zipper tutorials, you can see it’s the same principle at work. Rather than forcing an exact match in evening things up, we’re using the “turn of cloth” or “bend allowance” to create a tiny buffer, meaning when the entire cuff is attached (top stitched from the top side) the underside is guaranteed to be caught in the same line of stitching as it is a hair longer (about 1/16th longer).

The other thing I want you to notice in this photo is that the top side cuff is fused from edge to edge, no self fabric is showing. This means that the goods were fused before the cuffs were cut. This is something home sewers should consider adopting too. In fusing the goods before cutting the cuffs, you’ve minimized distortion of the piece which means it’s more likely to be sewn precisely. It is common to find the precision pieces of a garment (collars, cuffs, pockets, small rounded pieces, where precision really matters) to be fused before cutting. Now, fusing these pieces can be done in one of two ways. Some companies do “block fusing” which means they cut a good sized portion of the goods separate from the marker, fuse them, then restack those pieces and lay a collars and cuffs only marker on top of that to recut it. While not particularly tricky, care must be exercised when re-laying fused goods because these are stacked by hand rather than rolled off the roll from a spreader. The second way these precision pieces are cut is with dies. In the marker will be pattern pieces designated as “first cuts”. First cuts follow the shape of the final intended piece (aka “second cuts”) but are larger by (usually) 1/2″ all the way around. The first cuts are then fused. Once fused, the first cuts are recut with a die to form them into their final shaping. I go to all the trouble of mentioning this because this is the way that the collars on men’s suits are usually done. This may seem like overkill but I think it’s definitely worth the effort. If you’re just making up small quantities (and don’t have dies) you can still do the first cuts (bigger all around), fuse them and then cut the final cuffs or collars by hand with the real pattern piece. Accuracy of seaming can be well controlled with these methods.

Anyway, these cuffs were recut. This means this company wasn’t an amateur operation. This isn’t something you typically see in smaller operations. The last thing to note in the photo is the seam allowance. Typically the seam allowance on the outside edges of collars and cuffs is 1/4″. It’s easier to sew seams accurately with small allowances than with big allowances (just ask any quilter). However, these seams were sewn at 3/16th…or maybe not! I think it’s more likely that the seam allowance was 1cm but it’s hard to tell. It is common that the allowances used in automated equipment are set to metric rather than imperial measures because metric is better. It’s more accurate.

Above is a full view of the cuff with the back cuff top seam allowance rolled over the front.

Above is the view of the cuff from the wrong side (back side of the cuff). You’ll note this side is not fused.

In the above photo, I’ve begun to undo the seams of the cuff itself. You should note (off to the left) that the top side cuff had it’s upper seam allowance turned and top stitched before it was ever joined to it’s mate. Again, this top stitching is optional although it does aid in creating a cleaner, crisper line that is later attached to the sleeve end.

Now I’ve moved onto the placket itself (above). I’ve already partially disassembled the top of the placket.

In the photo above, you can see I’ve finished the disassembly of the top piece and have folded it back, revealing the other side of the sleeve placket finish. Do note that the top of the smaller side has a row of stitching going across. A lot of books skip this step.

In the photo above, I’ve flipped the piece to the wrong side so you can see how the top of the smaller side is finished at the top. It’s clean finished. The way this was done was exactly like the ends of the welt pocket as illustrated in the welt pocket tutorial. By now, you should note we recycle processes from one use to another. If you can finish off the end of a welt pocket, you can finish off the top of the sleeve placket. And vice versa. This is why I say that in industrial sewing, we sew everything the same way. We recycle one process for use in another related process (you may have to come back to look at the above photo and the one directly preceding it for a later explanation).

In the photo above, I’ve begun the deconstruction of the larger placket from the sleeve slit. The seam allowance is 1/4″. Again, this process was automated because the binding is sewn on in one fell swoop. With manual methods, you sew on one side, fold it over and then sew it again to finish it off. This only has one row of seaming so it’s easy to see a folder was used to feed the placket to the sleeve slit. If you sew a lot of shirts, getting one of these folders is a must. They’re great. They save a lot of time and they don’t cost much. If I forget, remind me to tell you how to order folders and attachments for given processes.

In the above photo, I’ve completely removed the one side.

Above I’m showing the top placket in detail. The pin is holding the folds in place. I am unsure of this step but I’m almost positive that these ends are folded manually by the operator and then stitched into place.

Above I’ve partially unfolded the piece. I’ll be making a pattern of this which you can use for the reconstruction portion of this tutorial. Note the fold lines. I want you to notice that the upper left side of the piece is angled off. This is another thing that’s typical in industrial construction. Often one side will be off set like this to provide a folding guide. If one side is cut away, it’s easier to position a top fold using the line provided by the off set. Also note that this piece doesn’t look much like the pieces you see in pattern making books or in home patterns. Or in sewing books for that matter. This is why I keep saying that you’ll learn more about sewing by taking products apart than you will from anything or anyone else, me included.

Here is the piece completely unfolded and pressed.

Above I’m returning to the smaller portion of the finishing of that sleeve slit. Notice two things. First is the row of stitching which finishes off the top of the slit (mentioned before). Second, note the imprint of removed stitching indicating the placement of the first piece which was laid on top of this one.

Above I have pressed the top of the “box” back. You’ll notice the cut portion is triangular shaped. This looks exactly like the ends of the box in welt pocket making. You should also notice that the top of the box wasn’t done particularly well so if yours look like this, it’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s not enough of a problem that you’d have to redo it or anything. Any sewing sins committed here are covered by the larger strip. Save your energy for things that matter. This was still done well enough that this shirt didn’t come apart or have any frayed seams.

Above I’ve undone that top seam first. The binding is pulled away off to the right. You can see the triangle more clearly now.

Above, I’ve completely removed the binding on the right.

And here, I’ve pressed the sleeve slit into position, demonstrating how it was originally cut. Actually, that’s not entirely true because I’m not sure. By that I mean that I don’t know that the triangle was cut out before the bindings were sewn on. In fact, I suspect not. It’s more likely the bindings were sewn on, the corners clipped by the operator (forming the triangle) and then the top of the box was stitched straight across.

Anyway, this concludes this portion of the tutorial. Stay tuned for more thrills and chills.

Entries in the reverse engineering standard work series (how to copy industrial sewing methods)
Shirt making tips
Standard Work (sounds boring, read it anyway)
Reverse engineering standard work pt.1
Reverse engineering standard work pt.2
Reverse engineering standard work pt.3
Reverse engineering standard work pt.4
Reverse engineering standard work pt.5
Reverse engineering standard work pt.6
Reverse engineering standard work pt.7
Reverse engineering standard work pt.8
Reverse engineering standard work pt.9

Spin off of Reverse engineering standard work pt.5:
A failed experiment
A failed experiment pt.2
A failed experiment pt.3
Reverse engineering standard work pt.5.1


  1. Jess Latham says:

    I’m wondering about the fusing going all the way to the edge. When should the fusing go all the way to the edge and when should it be cut smaller? I ask this cause you’ve talked about the fusing being cut smaller a lot.

  2. Gigi says:

    I am a big fan of block fusing! I have a 16×20 press and block fuse larger pieces of fabric for my collars and cuffs. I’ve always done it this way mostly out of laziness – I hate trying to match up small pieces of fabric with their corresponding interfacing pieces. I guess I was onto something, lol. :-)

  3. Carol Kimball says:

    “…I’m almost positive that these ends are folded manually by the operator and then stitched into place.”

    At the Mode o’ Day factory of my younger adulthood, the upper placket was folded by the operator, who also cut the triangle exactly when and how Kathleen said, after the bindings were sewn on.

  4. hjm says:

    As I was cannibalizing a shirt today, I found that the placket binding was one piece. Then I had to look at all of my DH shirts to see how they were done. About 2/3’s of them had the singe binding placket. The others have Kathleen’s placket

  5. Kathleen says:

    As I was cannibalizing a shirt today, I found that the placket binding was one piece. Then I had to look at all of my DH shirts to see how they were done. About 2/3’s of them had the singe binding placket.

    That sounds very interesting. Very interesting. I guess I’ll be going to the thrift store for more shirts pretty soon.

  6. Maripat says:

    I’ve been doing alterations for almost 30 years. This is exactly the information needed when shortening the sleeve on a man’s shirt. Thanks for dissecting the process. I didn’t realize how manufacturers got the back edge of the cuff so consistently 1/16″ longer. Thanks for all of your interesting posts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *