Happy New Year everyone! I thought despite the cold and the rain in the great Northwest this time of year, I would share with you a fun little sewing project and we can all make some Hawaiian shirts! So, who is in the mood for a luau? We’re certainly not there weather-wise but that does not mean we cannot plan ahead. This rainy day project might take you a few days or even weeks anyway so while we dream of dreamier weather let’s craft our way to fabulous outfits so we’re fully prepared for when the summer months are upon us. The one thing to remember with making a Hawaiian Shirt is that it is very similar to making a dress shirt. There is actually more sewing involved for a Hawaiian despite the more relaxed look because of all of the top stitching involved, but we’re not going to let that hold us back are we?
I take my sewing very seriously for this project though because well, simply put, I don’t like to waste my time or materials if I am not going to make the perfect Hawaiian shirt. You see, it has to be ‘wear-worthy’ as I call it. I am all for handmade clothing, but you cannot have a botched job of any kind here or it will never be worn. You can even have it so in the end you only hand wash it and never put it in the washing machine. Fine. But make it wear worthy. Take your time and you will be the best Hawaiian shirt maker the world has ever seen. You might want to print out these directions so that you can follow along and cross off the stages as you go through the process at your sewing area, that is perfectly fine with me. I want you to have the confidence you need for this project because this is not your average ‘rainy day craft.’ This is shall we say the ‘Big Kahuna’ of sewing projects here so grab the materials listed below and let’s get started!
I admittedly started a little while back on this project so that I could share with you a detailed attempt on my part at making a Hawaiian shirt. I will show you two Hawaiian styled shirts I have recently made. These are made by first creating my own sewing pattern for them and then making a shirt based on that newly created sewing pattern. Both shirts have been patterned off of a red Hawaiian shirt so in the images below you will see the original red shirt as I take a pattern from it to use towards making the two new shirts, the first with a black and white print, and the second made with a tropical print. The finished shirts are made ever so slightly differently in that with the second shirt I enlarged the collar a tiny amount and then I also left the lower side slits opened slightly as well. Those are choices you can make for yourself as you work on your own Hawaiian shirt, and I have included directions on adding the side slits below if desired as you will sew the lower side seams slightly different if you do decide to go with that style.
Alright, so here are the materials you are going to need. Go ahead and get these and we’ll get started here.
2.5 yards of fabric (you may need slightly more or less fabric depending on the size of the shirt you are making and if you are going with a patterned fabric. You are welcome to draft up the sewing pattern first and then take it into the shop when purchasing your fabric and determine at that point based on the fabric you pick how much fabric you will need).
½ yard interfacing
Buttons (8-9 count depending on size and spacing of buttons however I always plan on 9 and then if I have an extra I sew it on the inside lower front of the shirt as a backup in case a button is lost in the future).
Sewing needle to stitch the buttons on
Iron/ Ironing board to press fabric while working on your shirt
(*materials needed for making your own sewing pattern) paper, pencil, measuring tape, and Hawaiian shirt to use as a pattern for your new shirt
Making a Hawaiian shirt pattern from an old Hawaiian shirt
Some of you out there might find you have a sewing pattern for a Hawaiian shirt already in your possession. I happen to have one but I decided I wanted to take the measurements from an original shirt as opposed to using a pattern for this project. The choice is of course yours and you may find the directions in regards to the top stitching order for your Hawaiian shirt I have below useful, however for those of you who happen to have a shirt you can use for this and do not have a sewing pattern at your disposal already, you will want to start here and grab the materials needed in order to make your own sewing pattern. I have found it somewhat difficult to find Hawaiian shirt patterns in sizes above a large and even then they end up on the smaller size so this would be the main reason why you would want to create your own sewing pattern.
With that in mind let’s get started. Take your tape measure, white paper, pencil, and the original Hawaiian shirt you are using for a pattern and begin by laying the shirt out as flat as you can so the back is facing up, flat on the table. If you don’t have white paper then you can use brown kraft paper perhaps or even old wrapping paper.
Before you begin to measure your original Hawaiian shirt take a look at how the collar area is constructed. Here are a few images to help you along...
Pay attention and follow the guide laid out below and you will do a fabulous job at making a new Hawaiian shirt. There are a lot of details however and once you have gone through the process of creating a new pattern I always recommend marking each pattern piece as I have below with the pattern name and number and additional details, and storing in a large zip lock bag. Index cards also make excellent note cards and I use these frequently for notes to my ‘future-crafting’ self. I also like to take a fabric sample of what materials have been used for the project and staple it to a card and store it with the newly made pattern in the ziplock bag. It helps when going through the patterns and trying to keep it all organized later on. Also, the index card with the fabric swatches helps remind me as to what pattern it is and I frequently place this card at the front of the ziplock bag so when riffling through patterns I can easily identify what pattern it is.
Sewing Terminology & Helpful Tips-Just a quick note here for those that are unfamiliar with the sewing terminology used below. I try to make my directions as simple and easy to follow as possible however you will need to know that when I say to baste an area I mean to sew a straight stitched line close to the fabric edge. You will also need to know that I always recommend sewing each seam a total of three times if you are not using a serger, then I like to sew the seam once, trim the fabric excess, sew another straight seam, and then finish the sewn seam by way of a zigzag stitch in most cases. You will find handmade clothes will hold up a lot longer if you do this to the seams. The magic touch on clothes laundered that are handmade is to not put them on high heat in the dryer. Lastly in regards to the terms I use when sewing the shirt, you are going to recognize that to topstitch an area means just that, to add a sewn straight seam to the top of your seams. The visible stitching around the collar of a mens shirt would be a good example of top stitching. Topstitching is not hard, though it does require a lot of careful sewing as those stitches will be highly visible on your new shirt and you will find it very helpful to press areas of your fabric prior to sewing so your finished stitches are as perfectly straight as you can make them. I find topstitching on a wider stitch helps with getting a straight edge so I always increase the stitching width on my machine for these topstitched areas. I find a width of 3 out of 5 on my machine works well. One last thing I do while sewing these shirts is as I construct the new shirt I am always comparing one side to the other to ensure the shirt is even on both sides. It is very helpful to do this when hemming the bottom of the sleeves so you are sure the sleeves are the same length, and when sewing the bottom hem as well. You will find comparing the sides and seams while working to be rather helpful as well so I do not mention it below but I highly recommend you do this as well to ensure your shirt is well made when you have finished.
Below is the list of the pattern pieces you will need for the shirt pattern.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Pieces: #1-9
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #1 Back Upper A (details: Cut 1 on fold)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #2 Back Lower B (details: Cut 1 on fold)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #3 Back Center Loop (details: Cut 1) *(optional)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #4 Front Panel (details: Cut 2)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #5 Front Panel Strip (details: Cut 1)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #6 Collar (details: Cut 2 of fabric, 1 of interfacing)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #7 Neckband (details: Cut 2)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #8 Arms (details: Cut 2)
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #9 Pocket (details: Cut 1)
As you draft up each pattern piece, here is a simple guide to follow:
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #1 Back Upper A (details: Cut 1 on fold)-You are going to want to include a ½” seam allowance to all sides for this piece and include short dash marks ½” in from the cutting line on the pattern piece to indicate the seam allowance. When drafting this piece you can go with a half piece and mark “CUT ON FOLD” in the center lengthwise if desired. Score your pattern piece in the center with a little snip to indicate the center. When cutting your fabric piece do the same as well.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #2 Back Lower B (details: Cut 1 on fold)-Include a ½” seam allowance to the top and sides of this pattern piece, and 1.5” in additional length to the bottom hem. *If using a fabric print, cut out this panel by aligning the print with that of the #1 panel which will be sewn directly above this one, making up the entire back panel of the shirt. When drafting up this piece you are going to want to include 2” additional on each side, ½” seam allowance for the top seam, and 1.5” for the lower bottom hem. When drafting the pattern piece you can use a half piece of pattern paper here as well and mark “CUT ON FOLD” at the center vertically if you choose to. Score the center top and bottom of both the pattern piece and the fabric when cut so as to indicate the center when sewing this piece further.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #3 Back Center Loop (details: Cut 1) *(optional)-This is a very small rectangle piece and I usually just skip making the pattern piece for this but if you do, be sure to include a little note to yourself on your index card that you still need this piece cut and top stitched. It should be about 3.5” in length and no more than ¼” in width once folded, pressed, folded again, pressed and top stitched. Once finished, put aside until you are ready to add the center pleat to the top of the #2 back panel B piece and continue further.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #4 Front Panel (details: Cut 2)-I like to cut the pattern piece for the front left side specifically so I can mark out on my pattern piece where the pocket is to go. I also include 3.5” seam allowance to the center front, which, if I were drafting the left side specifically, will be 3.5” seam allowance on the left side. I mark CUT 2 on this pattern piece. I also include 3/4” seam allowance around the upper cutting line when drafting this piece, ½” seam allowance on the right hand side, which is the side seam, and then again a 1.5” seam allowance for the bottom hem. I include dash marks to indicate the proper seam allowances and also the side and center front areas on the pattern pieces. I also mark the appropriate area in which the pocket will be added. This is optional but everyone likes a pocket on a Hawaiian shirt. When marking where the pocket will be I also include a little note on my index card that this will only be included on the left hand side of the shirt. When working on a project like this I find I put it aside and come back to it over the course of a few days so reminders never hurt.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #5 Front Panel Strip (details: Cut 1)-Take the last pattern piece you drafted up (#4) and measure the length from the center front top to bottom hem. Draft the pattern piece by cutting a strip that is of the same length of this length measurement taken plus ½” extra for the top seam allowance, and 2” in width. Add dash marks ½” in for the seam allowance on the pattern piece and when cutting the fabric, fold in and press the sides ½” prior to sewing this piece to the front.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #6 Collar (details: Cut 2 of fabric, cut 1 of interfacing)-Open the shirt you are using as a pattern and flatten out the collar area as best you can. Lay this flattened collar piece out on your pattern paper and sketch dash marks around the sides of the collar. If you find this difficult then you may find pinning the collar to the paper first helpful and then drawing around the collar to get the correct cut. Include a 1” extension outward for the bottom hem (area where the collar will later be sewn to the neckband) and ½” seam allowance outward from the sides and top of the collar (which will later be the bottom part of the collar when finished and folded over). I like to mark the center with a small score mark on both the pattern and the fabric pieces when cut. *Make sure to cut the fabric with all patterns facing the correct way. In regards to the interfacing for the collar, I use 1 piece of interfacing as I don’t want the collar to be too heavy, it is a relaxed and comfortable Hawaiian shirt we are hoping for after all, but if you would like to double up, you are welcome to, in which case you will fold your piece of interfacing before you cut the collar piece out.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #7 Neckband (details: Cut 2)-Once you have drafted your collar piece above, take the width of the lower cutting line and a length of 2.5” in length. When drafting up this piece make sure that the length extends 1” longer on each side than the length of the bottom hem of the collar piece you drafted up. You also want to make sure that the center front area of this neckband piece is curved in slightly on the upper corner of the center front area on each side and that you have then included a additional ½” seam allowance around the top, and a 1” seam allowance for the bottom hem.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #8 Arms (details: Cut 2)-Fold the arm area of your original Hawaiian shirt and lay it out over the pattern paper and sketch around the perimeter with dash marks. Include a ½” outward seam allowance to the top curved area of the pattern piece, a ½” seam allowance outward for the inside seams, and then include an additional 3” in length to the sleeve, however where you added the dash marks on your pattern piece to indicate where that bottom hem fell, I want you to mark this line as the fold line, and then include a solid line vertically from the bottom hem, and then again once more 1” from that solid line.
Hawaiian Shirt Pattern Piece #9 Pocket (details: Cut 1)-I like to wait until I have finished every other part of this shirt before adding the sewn pocket, including cutting the fabric, but the choice is yours. If you are cutting the fabric out ahead of time then I recommend cutting it big so you have a bit of extra fabric for trimming and matching the pattern up correctly without the finished pocket ending up to small. I do however cut the pattern piece itself for the pocket as I am drafting up the rest of the pattern, I simply prefer to wait until I have finished sewing the seams and such for the shirt before cutting the fabric. The pattern piece for the pocket should be 4.5” in width and 5.5” in length. I will include a set of dash lines ½” in from the cutting line all the way around the sides and bottom hem. I will include a note around the top horizontally to FOLD HERE so I know when cutting my fabric that I will have folded over the fabric on that line.
Getting Started Sewing: Step 1
Now we have drafted up the pattern, cut those pieces out, and cut the fabric for all but the pocket, and we are going to get started sewing. The first thing I am going to do is take panel #2 and add the pleat. I am going to do this by folding over the fabric on each side equally from the center upper front outward by ½”out from the center front score mark. Pin, and then baste this pleat down, and then add the Back Center Loop (#3) as shown in the image below and baste this piece down as well. Baste the entire length of this seam once more close to the edge, trim the excess and then align with Panel #1 and sew together. Repeat the seam and then add a zigzag stitch if you are not using a serger. Trim the excess as needed from the inside seam and press with an iron and then top stitch the seam a ¼” above the seam. Fold this back panel piece down the middle vertically and line up the sides. Trim and excess fabric on the sides where the back Panel Upper and Lower (1 & 2) were sewn together.
Take the panel #3 Shirt Front right and left sides and sew the side seams and shoulder seams together *making sure you leave 3.5” openings on the bottom of the right and left hand sides if you want the opened sides. This step is optional but I do include the opening side seams for the lower half of the Hawaiian shirts if desired by the person who will be wearing them. Some people like them and it requires more care when constructing, but the choice is yours. In the case of the tropical shirt, I have included the opened seams and I have prepared these seams by folding the side seams in ¼” and pressing along the side all the way up the fabric. Trim if needed and then fold and press the seam over ¼” once more. Open the pressed seam up one fold, match the side seams together of Panel #2 with that of Panel #3 and sew the seams together up until where you want the openings to be, trim if needed, repeat the stitches, and then for the lower half of the opened seams you want included, you are going to want to make the tiniest of corner clip marks on the inside on each side of the opening, fold the previously pressed seams down again and if needed, press down once more with the iron.
Now, before you jump ahead and sew the side seams up and around the opening on each side I want you to lay your shirt out flat and only sew a topstitched seam on the left hand side of the shirt starting at the bottom hem on the left side (when laid out and facing you) and up around the top and then stop. Backstitch just a tiny bit, but do not topstitch the inside seam to the right on the left side and the left on the right side as you will topstitch the inside seams later on from the inside bottom hem on each side all the way up to the bottom hem of the shirt sleeve. Repeat the topstitching to the other side in similar fashion as the opposite side and the top of the right hand side of the shirt opening (when laid out and facing you) and then put this piece aside.
Constructing the Collar: Step 2
The collar may be one of the most intimidating areas of a shirt and precision does make perfection in this particular area. If you can keep in mind the correct angles of the collar, the proper seam allowances, and also the idea that the collar when finished is supposed to meet up in the end as in this image here (IMAGE) with a neckband that will be shaped with a curve around the upper area, flat across the bottom, cut big at first and trimmed down to size as you work on it, and that the neckband is supposed to extend 1/2” outward from the collar itself when finished, you are golden! I like to cut this piece big as you see here in the photo and then trim and work my way down to size as I as I find it easier. With the collar and neckband pieces, I want you to cut a little on the big side if needed because in the end we do trim everything down to size so your shirt will end up the same size of the shirt you took the measurements from. Do pay very clear attention to the following directions though, and go slowly. This is not a speed contest, this is the construction of a Hawaiian Shirt for those lovely relaxing weekends and balmy summer days. There is no need to rush…
Sewing pins are your best friend for the construction of your collar and if you haven’t pulled them out before now, you will want to now as we construct the collar. If you are totally worried you will mess up making your first collar out of real materials, jut remember making a paper version to start out never hurt anyone, and second, have no fear, this is going to look fantastic and you’re doing such a fabulous job so far you do not need to worry, this is not nearly as hard as I make it sound, I just don’t want you to wonder off for a cookie and a cup of tea and then come back only to sew everything together in the worst possible way. A cookie and a cup of tea does sound awfully nice though doesn’t it?…
(wanders into the kitchen)
(wanders back again with tea and cookie in hand)
Ok, so let’s check where we are so far. You have your sewing pins on hand then yeah? You have your collar pieces ready to go? Those will be panel #6 & #7, and you will have a front and back piece of fabric for the neckband piece, both with the print facing up the right way when flipped over to the other side? Ok, good. How about the collar itself? You have a front and back fabric piece and also the piece of interfacing? The collar pieces are also with the fabric print falling the right way? Ok then, excellent! Let’s continue.
Take the collar pieces and once aligned the correct way, sew the sides and outer seam. Repeat the straight stitch on this and then turn it right side out and press. Go back to your original shirt and compare this collar shape to that of your original. Make sure you have the correct cut and if you need to, flip the collar back inside again and modify as needed. Flip it right side out again, press flat and then top stitch ¼” all the way around the outside of the collar. Lay your neckband piece out flat with the collar again and trim the neckband piece so it is 1” longer on each side than the bottom hem of the collar. Take the front and back neckband pieces and place them wrong side facing up with the collar tucked in right side up and pin and then sew all the way around the inside of the neckband including down and around the curved area. Repeat the sewing for this seam and then trim the excess. Turn the neckband out the correct way and press flat. Then fold up and in ½” and press flat.
Take the #5 Front Panel Strip and if you have not prepared this piece by folding and pressing the edges in ½” on each side do so at this time. Align the collar piece with that of the shirt itself and fold the front shirt panel on each side over and press down the front on each side where the shirt and outer edge of the neckband on the collar meet. Fold over the excess fabric twice, pressing down with the iron each time, and trim if needed. Pin the front down on both sides if needed, and then on the right hand side, align the #5 Front Panel Strip on top of the right side of the shirt and press and pin this strip as shown in the image below. Topstitch the outside seam which is ¾”-1” in from the center opening all the way down the front of the right hand side (when in front of you) and then tuck the top of the shirt into the neckband of the collar piece and press and pin down on both sides. Once aligned, topstitch all the way around the bottom pressed hem of the neckband 1/4” above the folded seam. Press once more and then beginning at the bottom hem of the left hand side of the shirt, top stitch ¼” from the folded seam at the center front all the way up the front of the shirt, up and around the top of the neckband area and then back down the right hand side of the shirt over the front strip you added previously, ended at the bottom hem.
Here are a few illustrations with handwritten instructions to help you along...
Final Steps: Step 3
The exciting news is we have made fabulous progress and the hard part is really close to being finished at this point, if not already over by now. We still need to add the arms so let’s get those added and we will feel much better with the time this fabulous Hawaiian shirt has taken us to construct. Take the sleeves and lay each one out wrong side facing up and fold up the bottom sleeve hem 1” and press flat with the iron. Do this one more time. You do not need to pin, I just want you to have a pressed outline of the bottom sleeve hem before you continue as I have found it helps a great deal before you add the sleeves. Next, lay your shirt out flat and your sleeve pieces and align them so the center top of your sleeves meets the center of the shoulder area of your shirt. *Make sure you lay your shirt out first for this as the shoulder top center is not where the shoulder seams are but slightly above so laying them out correctly helps identify this area on the shirt itself better. Pin and then stitch the arms on. Trim the excess, repeat the sewing and then where the arm seams meet on the underside, close the inside seams up.
Turn the shirt right side out and starting at the bottom hem on each side, topstitch ¼” in on the inside seams all the way up the sides until you reach the inside bottom hem of the sleeve. Fold the sleeves up and under twice, trimming if necessary and sew the bottom hem. *I like to topstitch twice around the sleeves but you can decide what works best for you. *I also like to fold and press the sleeves once more and then check by turning the sleeves inside out quickly to check that the stitches I am about to make will cover the seams properly on the inside. You may find once you have pressed the sleeves up twice that there is a slight trim needed to the bottom hem in order to even out the sleeve hem on the inside before you add those final stitches to the bottom hem of the sleeves. Sew the final stitches for hem of the sleeves. On both shirts, I added a second line of stitching slightly above my hem as I personally like the look of the double stitched seams but you can determine for yourself later on if you find it necessary.
Here is an illustration that might help if you are having a tough time here...
Next we have the pocket and you are going to want to place your finished pocket center with the front panel. Prepare your pocket by cutting out the fabric in the appropriate size and with any fabric print taken into consideration at this time. Take the pocket and fold over the backside so it is laying over the front and sew the side seams about ½”. Sew a repeat seam on each side and trim. Turn the pocket right side out and press. Sew the topstitching for the pocket across the top at this time, add another line of stitching below if desired, and then fold up the lower hem of the pocket about ½” and press. Align your pocket with the front panel and press, pin and then sew the pocket down starting at the upper left and going down, around and up the other side so you finish sewing at the upper right hand side of the pocket. *I see a lot of shirt pockets with an angled pocket stitch in front and if you are planning on this style then you are going to want to use either a blue sewing fabric marker or fabric chalk and draw the lines on with a ruler before sewing so you get the right angles.
Align your shirt up the front and pin the bottom hem where the right and left side of the center meet. Fold your shirt in half and trim the bottom hem of the shirt all the way around, making sure the center front and center back are even. Also make sure if you have added the opened side slits to your shirt that the newly trimmed bottom hem on the sides are equal in relation to each other as well. Press the bottom hem up ¼” and turn the shirt inside out and sew the bottom hem up once. Turn right side out, matching all seams so you ensure everything is even and falls the same length on both sides before you add the final stitches, press down and then sew the bottom hem down. Repeat with a ¼” seam above or below if desired.
Now we are nearly finished and allow we have to do is add the buttons and button holes to the shirt and we are officially finished. Before you make your button holes you will want to have your buttons on hand so you know the size needed of the button holes. By comparing the spacing of the buttons on your original Hawaiian shirt, you will see where the button holes need to be on the right side of your shirt (when laid out in front of you/ left side when worn). I find it useful to go back at this time to your original sewing pattern you created for yourself and add the proper spacing for the buttons onto the #5 Front Panel Strip piece for future reference. Later on you will want to know the appropriate spacing and you may not have the original Hawaiian at your disposal so taking a second to include it to the original pattern you created helps a great deal. Make a small button hole slit where indicated to the right hand side of the shirt (this will be the left hand side of the shirt when worn/ right side when laid out in front of you). Move your sewing machine dials so you are on 1 width stitch + button hole/ zigzag stitch and sew each button hole as needed. Now simply sew the buttons on with your sewing needle and you are officially finished!
Lint remove the shirt inside and out to remove any excess threads, iron it so it looks all nice, and you’re all set!
Now that you have successfully made one, don’t you want to make another? The second will be easier the next time around I promise, simply follow these steps once more and you will again have success with your Hawaiian shirts!
This fabulous Hawaiian shirt is for my boyfriend. I feel like a new styled sarong dress or perhaps even a sarong skirt is in order for me and then we’ll be all set for summer! I feel some luau styled party invites coming soon too…
Until then-Happy sewing, Happy luau!