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Copy Your Favorite Tee

Mar 31, 2011
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When you sew your own T-shirts, you can refine the fit, alter necklines and shape to flatter your figure, and make tops in the perfect fabric. What’s more, when you’ve found that favorite T-shirt-the one that makes you feel great every time you wear it-you can reproduce it in every color for every season and add a variety of special details along the way. Once you learn how to make a pattern from your favorite T-shirt, you can copy the fabulous fit and shape into any knit you like. For summer, try a light tissue knit like the one shown here.

What You’ll Need:

Foam core
Pattern paper or wax paper
Needlepoint tracing wheel
French curve
Clear elastic
Fusible interfacing
Tissue knit or other T-shirt knit fabric
Twin needle (optional)

Trace Your Tee

Prepare your favorite T-shirt by first gently pressing it flat. Be careful not to stretch it out of shape. Press in an up and down motion; don’t slide the iron over the shirt. Then, fold the front neckline in half from shoulder seam to shoulder seam, and insert a pin vertically at the center-front neckline fold. Repeat on the back to mark the center-back neckline and on the center-front hemline.

1. Lay out the pattern paper and the T-shirt.
Ordinary wax paper makes excellent pattern paper-and you can see through it easily. Lay the pattern paper over foam core. Smooth the T-shirt over the paper so the shoulder seams and side seams are exactly on the T-shirt edge and the vertical pins at the back and front necklines and hemline are aligned. Mark the paper at the pin locations. Hand-press out all bumps and wrinkles, and align the front armhole with the back armhole on both sides. If one layer is wider and won’t lie flat, it’s OK if the armhole seams don’t align. Carefully pin the T-shirt to the foam core.

2.Trace around the tee.
Trace around the sleeves, shoulders, side seams, all hems, and the highest part of the neckline with a pen or pencil. If the seams align, run a needlepoint tracing wheel over the armhole seam. If they don’t align, run the wheel over the length of each seamline, tracing its shape. Run the wheel over the neck-band seam from shoulder to shoulder. If you don’t have a tracing wheel, you can use a pin to punch the line instead.

3. Refine the pattern.
Remove the T-shirt, and draw a center line connecting all three pin marks at the center neckline and hemlines on the paper. This line designates the center front and back. Then, fold the pattern along that line, hold it up to a light, and compare the halves. Make the side seams and hemline identical shapes, and split any differences between them. Tidy up the armholes and the inside neckline seam with a French curve so they are smooth curved lines. Cut the pattern in half along the center line. Label the right half “Front” and the left half “Back.” On a separate piece of pattern paper, trace a sleeve. Trace the sleeve front; then align the foldline with the sleeve back, and trace it. Add 1⁄2-inch seam allowances and a 1-inch hem allowance. On the front armhole seamline, draw a hash mark at the halfway point. On the back armhole, draw a double hash mark at the halfway point. Make corresponding marks on the bodice armholes.

4. Cut the pattern. Cut the right side of the pattern along the front armhole seamline and the left side along the back armhole seamline.

5. Add pattern paper to the edges.
Add the seam and hem allowances. Measure the hem allowances on the original. Add that amount to the bottom edge and 1⁄2 inch to all the other edges.

Test and Prep Your Fabric

If you want your new pattern to fit like your old T-shirt, make sure the old and new fabrics have the same amount of cross-grain stretch. It’s also always a good idea to wash your fabrics before you cut the pattern.

1. Test your fabric’s stretch.
Turn up the hem of your tee 6 inches. Then, with your thumbs 6 inches apart, stretch the fold to its maximum width, and measure the length while you hold it stretched. Then turn up 6 inches
of the new knit and stretch the fold in the same manner. If it stretches to the same length or more, the new tee will fit the same as the original.

2. Prepare your fabric.
Preshrink and press fabrics before cutting, using the washing method you’ll use for the finished garment. Many knits have a subtle directional shading, so use a “with nap” layout whenever possible. Cut T-shirts on the lengthwise grain.

Sew Seams and Hems with Ease

You don’t need a serger to make beautifully constructed knits; since knit fabrics don’t ravel, a raw or pinked edge works fine.

1. Choose your needle and thread.
A size 80/12 universal needle and good-quality, all-polyester thread work well for most lightweight knits. If you get skipped stitches on tissue knits, use a smaller (even a size 60/8) needle with a ballpoint. Twin needles make fine hems; try a 4mm-wide 80/12 universal.

2. Pick your stitch. Use a standard straight stitch. Or, for very stretchy knits, use the smallest baby zigzag stitch, which will read as a straight stitch.

3. Sew and stabilize the shoulder at the same time.
When stitching the shoulder seam, lay the T-shirt back-side up, place a strip of clear, unstretched elastic over the seamline, and stitch through it. Press the seam without touching the elastic, so it doesn’t melt.

4. Sew the hem.
Before assembling your T-shirt, prepare the hems by pressing them into place. Next, apply a narrow cross-grain strip of soft, knit fusible interfacing, such as Sof’ Knit from HTC, inside the hem to reduce rippling (A). After assembling, sew the hem from the right side with a single or twin needle (B).

Finish the Neckline

Before cutting the neck band, try on the shirt. Nothing more will be done to the cut edge of the fabric on the neck before it’s bound, so you can see whether you need to adjust the neckline so it fits closer to the body (this is simple to do with a binding strip). Measure the width of the bound neck edge on your T-shirt. Then follow the steps below to reproduce it.

1.Cut the binding.
Cut the cross-grain binding four times the finished width. Trim it to the length needed. A 3:4 to 7:8 ratio between the length of the binding and neckline generally works well. Cut the ends at a 45-degree angle as shown below.

2. Sew the band ends.
Stitch the ends of the strip together to form the neck band to form a circle.

3. Pin the band in place. With wrong sides together and raw edges aligned, fold the band in half lengthwise. Position the band’s seam off-center at the back, and pin-mark the band in quarters.

4. Sew on the band.
With right sides together and pins and raw edges aligned, position the band over the neckline so the feed dogs can help ease in the longer garment layer. Stretching slightly, stitch the band to the neckline. Turn the folded edge up, and press. You can topstitch along the seam edge on the T-shirt for a clean finish if you like, and then press.

Add embellishments

The embellishment shown was made from hearts cut single layer, gathered down the center, and stitched randomly on the T-shirt.

Written by Judith Neukam
excerpted from SewStylish Spring 2010, p. 67

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  1. rekha February 13th

    I would not fold the t-shirt because the thickness at the centre (4 layers of fabric) can cause incorrect estimates

  2. Zarzamora September 30th

    I have to clawn a top and finding Judith Neukan's article, has taught me many details I didn't know, as I have never worked with knit fabrics. For me is going to be quite an experience, hope it works out fine. So grateful, many, many thanks.

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