The perfect shirt: Margaret Howell on her process

Margaret Howell and Emily Richardson collaborate on new film, The Making of a Shirt

Man wearing white shirt and woman wearing pale grey shirt
(Image credit: Josh Hight)

Margaret Howell documents the intricate process of creating the perfect shirt in a new film, The Making of a Shirt. Produced with filmmaker Emily Richardson, the film follows the steps of creating the garment, from the cutting to the finishing and checking, from Margaret Howell’s workroom in Edmonton, north London.

‘In my teenage years, I enjoyed making my own clothes from paper patterns, but the one thing that was a real challenge was to make a shirt. A shirt has so many strong pieces,’ Howell muses in the short film. ‘You have to halve and quarter to get it to set correctly, and then all these little details – at least two dozen pieces of pattern that go into making the shirt.’

Hands holding a white shirt cuff

(Image credit: Josh Hight)

The perfect shirt

Each shirt made in the Unit 7 workroom is created individually by a machinist, whose initials are sewn into the finished piece. The machinist’s detailed work is celebrated with close-up shots of a pair of hands as they go about the intricacies of their craft, with every detail observed, from the creating of the holes for the buttons to the jigsaw-like assembling of the pattern pieces.

‘When you’re producing something, or making something, everything’s important,’ Howell says. ‘Every last detail has to be thought about. The collar has to be notched and sit perfectly on the neckband. It has to be well cut as well as well stitched.’

The resulting pieces adhere to Howell’s relaxed aesthetic, consistent with the traditionally less structured cuts of men’s tailoring for shirts, which are easy to wear and comfortable for both women and men. ‘People are conscious of how they feel in a piece of clothing,’ says Howell. ‘The quality comes through the fabric and the make and then the comfort.’

Woman inspecting a white shirt

(Image credit: Josh Hight)


The film will be available to view in the Wigmore Street shop, London, and across all Margaret Howell websites from Friday 24 September 2021

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.