A post from completely cauchy partly about handwork and enjoying the experience of the process of making -- cooking, needlework, sewing -- made me remember the shirts hanging on the back of our bedroom door, waiting for me to turn the collars. David is rather hard on his shirts, his work "with computers" being only partly a desk job -- often he is instead out in the field, crawling behind hardware racks, up ladders, under dolly track, &c. &c. &c. Sometimes he'll come home and say, "Sorry, honey," with a tear in the middle of his (new!!) shirt, but more often it's just the collar that gets worn down over time. For a while, I was just saying "oh well!" and cutting the perfectly-good remaining fabric into squares for a quilt-to-be, but then I realized that I could turn the collars, as women have done for decades if not longer, to extend the lives of their menfolks' shirts. (Now, I realize that this might make me sound like one of those ultra-conservative wife-stays-at-home women, and I'm actually quite liberal and feminist, but I also happen to be one of those lucky ones who can still afford to stay home with the kids, and so I think it's only fair that I economize where I can. It also doesn't come quite naturally to me to do so, to be honest, but that's all the more reason to reassure anyone who stops by here that it isn't difficult to turn a shirt collar, and why not take half an hour to save yourself twenty bucks, and reduce your carbon footprint while you're at it?!)
I hadn't done this for a while, so I looked up a tutorial or two the other day, and was saddened to find a number of comments on boards and whatnot saying, "it's too hard!" or "ugh, I just buy a new shirt". It's not hard at all -- and I am still what I consider to be an advanced beginner at sewing, or maybe a beginning intermediate, so if I think it's easy, it really is. For some reason, I find this a lot less trouble than setting a collar in a new shirt -- maybe the fact that the fabric is already used to being a collar, as it were -- so if that's putting you off, don't let it. The only thing you really do need is a sewing machine, as while it certainly can be done without one, I wouldn't call it a simple matter then, unless perhaps you're a re-enactor! and used to stitching miles and miles of seams by hand.
I haven't seen the extra step of pinning both sides of the collar in other tutorials or instructions, but I've found it very helpful, myself.
How to Turn a Shirt Collar
You can’t turn collars with sewn-in stays or with pockets on the underside for removable stays, but you can certainly turn plain ones that look the same on front and back, including button-down collars. Some higher-end shirts draft the collar with a slightly narrower piece of fabric on the underside, so that the collar curves subtly around the neck when worn, but most mid-range dress shirts can certainly have their collars turned with good results. It is not difficult, even for a determined beginner, and takes less than a half-hour!
You can also turn worn sleeve cuffs the same way, but you will have to do both cuffs, and switch the left and right cuffs when you turn them inside out, so that the buttons and holes will be facing the “right” way!
Carefully pick out the existing stitches, using a seam ripper. Start at least an inch or so from the end of the collar, and work on the outside of the collar stand, the part that is covered when the collar is folded, and aiming the ripper towards the stand, so that if the ripper slips, the right-side-to-be of the collar doesn't get damaged.
There may be two lines of original stitching, the seam and a line of top-stitching -- don't try to pick out the top-stitching first, as this is crazy-making. Just winkle out a stitch or two from the seam itself -- once you get an inch or so open, it will go much easier. If it helps, go ahead and pick out some of the top-stitching first.
There will probably be a line of basting stitches, which you can see in this photo, basting together the two sides of the collar and its interfacing -- leave these in place. You don't need to worry about accidentally picking them out, as they are usually far enough away from the seam you are ripping.
Once you have ripped out a good section, work back in the other direction until you just release the end of the collar from the stand. Having this point still secured will help you to center the flipped collar back into the stand evenly.
Clean off any remaining loose threads, and flip over the collar so that the worn part will be underneath when the collar is folded down.
Pin the collar back into place, between the two sides of the stand, matching up the original line of stitches. Start with a pin at each end, then another pin at each end, working your way towards the center back, making sure that the collar is completely flat and smooth in the stand. Pin through just the side of the stand facing you, and the collar, with the pins about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.
Now turn the shirt over and pin the other side, again catching just the side of the stand facing you and the collar, with a pin between the pins on the other side -- this will help keep everything in place as you sew, without bunching up multiple layers of fabric and interfacing in every pin.
Sew along the original line of stitching, taking your time, and making sure to catch all three layers – inner band, collar, and outer band. Back stitch at each end, where the stress on the collar is greatest.
Press thoroughly with lots of steam.
The turned collar may not lie exactly the same as it did before for a while, because the fabric on the original underside has been curved in one direction for the life of the shirt, and now you are curving it in the other direction, but it will settle down, certainly after a few washings. The wrinkles in the original underside, which you can see in the above photo, will smooth out now that the underside is the new outside (and, yes, the new underside will probably develop some wrinkles of its own now!).
Enjoy the extended life of your shirt!