handmade shirt

Sewing a yoke: shirtmaking with the burrito method

Today I’m talking about sewing a yoke.

Making a yoke is one step in shirtmaking. When you do it well, it’ll add a lot of polish to your handmade button down shirts.

I personally love making shirts for my boys. It’s such a different kind of sewing than what I do for myself, and it comes with some challenges that I personally enjoy.

Here you’ll learn what a shirt yoke is, what they offer to shirts. After that, I’ll quick walk you through how to sew a yoke on a shirt using the sometimes called “burrito method”. This is one of those things that’ll have you thinking you just made some literal magic.

So grab some fun cottons, and let’s talk about sewing a yoke!

back shirt yoke

What is a shirt yoke?

A shirt yoke is a pattern piece on a traditional button down shirt that takes up the upper back portion from about the mid-armhole up to the shoulder and neck area. A lined shirt yoke (what this tutorial is about) will cover over seams for a polished inside look on your shirt.

Lined yokes also eliminate potentially irritating seams for the wearer. The extra fabric also adds some strength to the shirt.

Shirt yokes can be an opportunity to add some visual interest depending on how you cut it. For instance, on a striped shirt, the yoke piece can be cut in 2 pieces on the bias to meet at center front to make a chevron.

Yokes can be cut straight across, have curved edges (think Western shirts) and often have built in shaping. Upper backs are curved things, so darts (visible or not) are often built into yokes for a better fit for the wearer.

To sum up shirt yokes:

  • Are a piece of fabric in the upper back
  • Add strength to a shirt
  • Can be a place to play with patterns like stripes by cutting on the bias or crossgrain.
  • Can be cut straight across or incorporate curved edges
  • Build in some shaping for the upper back

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Supplies for sewing a yoke

How to sew a shirt yoke

Pattern preparation

First, we need to trim down the seam allowances to 3/8″ on the shoulders, neck and bottom of the yoke.

You can skip this step, but I prefer it because it makes sewing a collar much easier later and it’ll make sewing a yoke much simpler. There’s a lot of edges to align when you’re sewing a yoke, and weirdly, it’s easier to keep things lined up when you’re sewing closer to the edge.

This way too, you won’t have to trim the seam allowances later.

On your pattern piece, use a ruler to mark where the seamline is by measuring from the cut edge in the seam allowance’s width. Next, measure 3/8″ away from the seam line and mark it with a pen. Cut off the extra bit of the pattern past this line.

Cutting the yoke pieces

Cut 2 yokes, one for the right side of the shirt, and one as a lining. Mark the center back on the top and bottom of each piece with a fabric marker or a small clip.

Most yoke pieces are half of a back. For a straight cut yoke, cut your pieces on the fold.

For a bias cut yoke, make a full pattern piece first by tracing your piece and taping it to the first one. Draw a new grainline at a 45 degree angle to the original grainline.

For a chevron yoke, add a seam allowance at the fold, then draw a new grainline at a 45 degree angle to the original.

** If you do want your outer yoke on the bias, cut the yoke lining on the straight grain. This will help stabilize the bias and keep the yoke from stretching out of of shape.

~Elizabeth Made This Tips

Sew the yoke to the back

Next fold out and pin any pleats on the top of the back piece. Baste the pleats down with a long straight stitch close to the raw edge.

From here, pin the bottom outside yoke to the back piece with right sides together. Be sure to match up the center back point.

Sew the yoke to the back with a 3/8″ seam allowance. Press the seam towards the yoke.

Sew the yoke to the fronts

Next, pin the yoke to the front pieces at the shoulders, right sides together.

pinning fronts to back yoke

Sew the shoulder seams with a 3/8″ seam allowance. Press the seam towards the yoke.

How to sew a shirt yoke with the burrito method

Okay, now for the stitch wizardry!

The idea behind the “burrito method” is that you’ll be stuffing the back and fronts INSIDE between the two yoke pieces.

It seriously looks like a little fabric burrito when you do this.

After that, you stitch across the yoke seams and pull it through the hole.

To do this, roll up the back and the front pieces towards the yoke. The rolled pieces will rest on top of the right side of the yoke you’ve already sewn up to this point.

Next, lay the second yoke on top of the first so that the edges are even. Line up the center back point and use a few clips to hold the raw edges of all the layers in place.

Sew the yoke seams again

Flip the pinned burrito over and sew across the shoulder seams and the bottom yoke seam along the first stitching lines.

Be careful here to not accidentally stitch through the rolled fabric. Just go slowly and keep lining up your raw edges, moving out any rolled fabric as you stitch.

Pull the fronts and the back through the neck hole and press. Wasn’t that fun?!!

Topstitch the yoke seams if you like

From here, press the yoke well. If you’d like, topstitch close to the seam edges on the shoulders and the bottom of the yoke. This just helps keep the seams flat and it’s look sharp to boot.

Baste the edges to finish

basting edges on a shirt yoke

To finish off sewing the yoke, baste the layers of the shirt together at the sides of the yoke and the neck edge.

handmade shirt

Now your shirt is ready to keep on constructing. Once you practice the burrito method a few times, you’ll never look back. Sewing a yoke this way is fun and makes for a beautiful finish that’ll set your handmade shirts apart from the crowd.

Get more help making sharp shirts you’ll want to wear

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