If you study ethnic costumes, you'll see that the basic man's shirt (made of a series of rectangles) turns up in almost every culture and is good for either man or woman, depending on the fabric you use.

Without printed patterns, the average housewife couldn't cope with armholes, sleeves and complicated collars, so she measured the width of her husband's chest and the length of his arms and made a boxy shirt of fabric rectangles.

My Norwegian friend Jens, has an authentic one made of fine blue wool tweed with big, flat silver buttons made from old Norwegian coins. Men love these big boxy shirts because they are comfortable and have a distinctive charm all their own.

They're also easy to sew. It can be sewn entirely from rectangles -- even that triangle under the arms to form a curve is actually a square folded in half.

But if you don't feel very sure of making a pattern all by yourself, buy a Folkoric one. These charming, authentic patterns are sold in fabric, needlework and museum shops. If you can't find an outlet near you, write Folklorico, P.O. Box 625, Palo Alto, Calif. 94301.

If you like to embroider, consider giving the shirt a decorative touch. Ethnic shirts from Eastern Europe to Mexico are usually heavily embroidered.

If you prefer the simple Scandinavian style, use a sturdy duck or flannel and finish with those distinctive silver coin buttons. For the buttons, write Tender Buttons, 143 East 62nd St., New York 10022. You'll find this shirt as useful and universal as blue jeans. It last forever and looks better the longer you use it.

Q. Perhaps you can help me. I am a diabetic and my eyes are not what they used to be. I have several needlepoint carvases that need to be worked, but I can't do them. Could you please tell me where I might have them done? b

A. Perhaps, in order not to go to too much expense, you might try approaching church groups and charitable organizations in your area. They might welcome this as a new project.

Q. I was told that if anyone could help me, you could. Do you know of any kit or set of directions that could tell me how to make up a quilt with soft-stuffed art? I've seen some marvelous soft-sculpture bedspreads with a woman and man on the quilt top -- all in 3-D. Fully dressed, of course!

A. Your bedspread, with Mama and Papa in soft sculpture lying on the bed sound very amusing. Did you know this very modern technique was the rage in the 18th century? Soft sculpture has made a comeback in the 20th century and there are several companies that supply kits. Try: Yours Truly, P.O. Box 80218, Atlanta, Ga. 30366; Nancy Jacobson, P.O. Box 6499, Denver, Colo. 80206, or Creative Makings by Marty, P.O. Box 4445, Glendale, Calif. 91202.