Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Make a Pirate Shirt

Halloween is right around the corner, and I wanted to give all you pirate fans a chance to make a pirate shirt in time for the holiday.

This would be a fine project for a person with just a little sewing experience. Shirts from this time were made much differently than modern dress shirts. There doesn’t need to be much cutting. Almost all the lines are straight, so you can just tear the fabric to get a perfectly straight line.

You will need:
4 ½ to 5 ½ yards of woven fabric in cotton or linen (depending on how large a shirt you will make)
A long sleeved, button down shirt that fits the person you are making the pirate shirt for.
Needle and thread
Sewing machine (if possible)

An off-white color looks more pirate-y than a pure white shirt. Calico is also appropriate for a truly period shirt. Sailors also wore red shirts at this time, although a historically correct color would be a tomato red, rather than a blood red. Black also looks good for a pirate, or dark brown, though neither were actually used at the time.

Cut a front and a back, which are the same size. You may use the old shirt for guidance. Otherwise, measure the diameter of the wearer at the widest point (shoulders, bust or tummy) and add 12”, then divide by 2. This is your width. Length is about 30”

Cut 2 sleeves. Use the shirt to gauge length, but make then 30” wide.
Cut a collar piece, 20” long by 6” wide.
Cut 2 cuffs, each 10” long by 4” wide.
Cut 2 gussets, each one a 4” square.
Cut 1 more 4” square, and then cut it on the diagonal, to make 2 triangles.

The basic design is a straight front, and a back that his gathered at the neckline. The shoulders extend past the wearer’s natural shoulder. The sleeves are very wide and gathered at the top, where they join the shirt. Notice that the front of the shirt doesn’t open all the way down. Also notice that this shirt does not have a button closure on the sleeve cuff. Make sure the wearer can get his hand through the opening, and if necessary, cut another cuff piece and make a wider cuff opening.

Step 1
Take the front and back pieces and lay them together, one on top of the other. Pin and sew the top edges together along the shoulders, from the outside in, for seven inches only. This will leave a very wide neck hole.

Step 2 Designate one Piece the front. On this piece only, find the center, and cut a straight line from the top edge down 10 inches. This will be the front of the neck opening.

Step 3
On each sleeve, sew a gathering seam 1/2" from the edge, along one of the long (30") sides.
On the opposite side, sew another gathering seam, 12" long, centered on that side.

Step 4
Gather the long seam and attach the cuff. Repeat on the other sleeve.

Step 5
Starting at the cuff, pin the raw edges of cuff and sleeve together, closing the sleeve into a tube. Leave 4" open at the side opposite the cuff.

Step 6
With the sleeve still  inside-out finish the cuff by rolling the outer raw edge back, and hand stitching it to the seamline where the cuff meets the gathered edge of the sleeve.

Step 7
Open the 4" unsewn area at the other end of the sleeve. Pin the 4" side of the square gusset to one side, and the adjoining 4" side of the gusset to the other side, as shown. Sew.

Step 8
Gather the top of each sleeve, using the 12" gathering seam inserted in step 3

Step 9
With the sleeve right side out and the body of the shirt inside out, put the sleeve inside the shirt. Line the top of the open sleeve edge (opposite the gusset) up with the shoulder line of the shirt and pin the opening of the sleeve to the shirt. Stitch the sleeve in place. Repeat with the other sleeve. Now, when you turn the shirt right side out, the sleeves will be properly placed.

Step 10
Sew a gathering seam all along the back of the neck hole, from shoulder to shoulder, and draw in the backof the neck.

Step 11
Finish the 10" cut down the center front by rolling the edges under and stitching them down.

Step 12
Stitch one of the triangular reinforcements over the end of the center cut, tucking the edges under for a finished look. (This is easier to do by hand-sewing.)

Step 13
To attache the collar, pin the center of the collar piece to the center of the gathered back neck opening. Pin the front edge of the collar to the finished edge of the front opening, leaving 1/2" of collar for hemming. Pin the length of the collar along the neck opening, adjusting the gathering at the back so that the collar fits the neck opening. Repeat on other side.

Step 14
Hem the sides of the collar. Turn collar right-side out and roll the unfinished edge under. Whip stitch the open side of the collar to the shirt neck.

Sew the sides of the shirt closed, and hem the bottom.

Well, there we have it, instructions for making your own pirate shirt! Please leave feedback in the comments, and I'll try to clarify anything that's hard to understand. I'm also uploading a video of this shirt to YouTube. Click here to see it. Please watch and comment. (But be easy on me this is my first instructional video!)

Next week: Back to Sam Bellamy's exploits in the Caribbean.


  1. This was EXTREMELY Helpful! :) Thanks!

  2. So, I followed this and I came out with a shirt but it didn't seem to be quite what I was expecting, I guess... If I put the shoulder seams on my shoulders, I feel like there is too much fabric from my sleeves to my chest/neck. Maybe a 45 degree angle there? I don't know. Also, the collar seems a bit big. I'm not downing on this but I ran into some issues and I am hoping you can maybe shed some light or insights into it.


    1. I think this shirt is for a rather large man. If you adjust the width to 26" you may find it fits a bit better.

  3. I used this for a steampunk pirate costume. So great that it is all rectangles and squares! I had a simplicity pattern but no instructions so I was browsing the web for help. This was much easier! I love the gathering, makes it easy to adjust for my husband's wide shoulders and big hands. Thanks for sharing this!!

  4. Thanks for this! I did change a few things and have to puzzle my way through a some of it, but it was a great starting point! I think you could probably go into more detail about attaching the collar and cuffs, but for someone who has basic sewing and clothing construction knowledge, this is a perfectly workable tutorial. Thanks again!

  5. Thanks for this post - I used it as a basis for making a shirt like the Fourth Doctor's in the Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin. If anyone reading this is doing a similar thing, the main difference is that the collar is a lot larger (thank you, 1970s), the neck hole has a rectangle-shaped interfacing made from a fused-on strip of the main shirt fabric, and the cuffs are a modern buttoned style. All easy enough to work out.

  6. Hi, already loving it and I haven't even started. Will have a go at making one for myself and my daughter(probably). Seems easy enough. Off to the cellar to look for material!
    Thanks for the site and the video!