Not Your Ordinary T-Shirt
by Marcy Tilton
from Threads #65, pp. 62-67
Although the word T-shirt may conjure up images of men's cotton/poly underwear, the customized version you can sew has its roots in the finest ready-to-wear, where a price tag of $100 and even $200 isn't uncommon. And if a T-shirt is well made and beautifully shaped, it can be the glue that holds your wardrobe together, worn just as easily with a suit as with jeans.
When you sew your own versatile T-shirts, you can refine the fit, alter necklines and shaping to flatter your figure, use beautiful fabrics, and add fine details. Fitting and adjusting are easy when you follow a few simple guidelines.
A word about fabrics
To sew a T-shirt that looks like better ready-to-wear, you'll need to seek out fine-quality knit fabrics. Since knits don't have much bolt appeal, keep an eye out for especially nice ones; they're among the few fabrics I stockpile. And take a look at ready-made garments that you like for shaping, details, and other ideas.
I've made T-shirts from many knit fabrics, including cotton, wool, velour, cashmere, panne velvet, Lycra blends, and fleece. Don't worry if you don't have access to the matching ribbings and trims that manufacturers have made to their specifications. A narrow, self-fabric, bound neck edge gives a fine finish to a shirt of this quality.
|For fall T-shirts, shift to slightly heftier knits, like those in this collection made from wool jersey, velour, sweater knits, and thermal cottons.|
I'll discuss a few techniques I use to control stretch and get smooth hems and edges. Test each fabric you sew and keep a record of what worked for future reference. If you make a few T-shirts each season, you'll have a collection of tops and a few refined patterns to use and wear again and again. And you can endlessly vary style, sleeve length, and neckline.
Start with a good pattern
Begin with a pattern whose basic measurements and features are right for you. Measure a favorite T-shirt, or go shopping with a tape measure and try on garments, noting the key measurements, plus design and construction ideas, of items you like. Note especially the shape and length of the body; amount of ease across the bust and hip; neck shape and width; shoulder width; and armhole depth. With this information, you can select and customize a pattern for the fit and details you want.
Some help with pattern sizing-When sewing with patterns from some American companies, like Vogue, McCall's, Butterick, and Simplicity, use your high bust measurement (above the bust at the underarm, straight around the back) when selecting pattern size. These companies tend to include extra ease across the upper body, and it's harder to alter the neck, shoulders, and upper chest than to add ease at the side seams of a smaller pattern to fit the bust and hip. Use your full bust and hip measurements when adjusting the pattern.
When sewing Burda, Stretch & Sew, Kwik-Sew, and patterns from small companies, use your full bust measurement to determine your size.
First, adjust for fit
Fitting the pattern takes a little time and fussing, and you'll continue to refine it as you sew. To adjust the fit, I combine flat pattern measuring with tissue- and pin-fitting, and make a series of changes to improve the pattern, which I'll discuss below.
Start with the flat pattern-You'll use the pattern to determine the amount of ease it includes, whether you need to alter it to fit, and to compare one pattern to another. Most important at this stage is that the pattern is big enough to fit around you. (To be sure when cutting out the garment, allow 1-in. allowances at the side seams. Otherwise, use 5/8-in. seam allowances and 2-in. hems.)
If you want the pattern to fit the way the designer intended, you'll need to include the same amount of ease. Calculate the ease intended for the garment style by measuring the pattern from side seam to side seam across the front and back at the bust and hip, then compare the total measurement with that on the back of the pattern envelope for the size you're using. For example, if your pattern measures 34-1/2 in. at the bust, and the measurement for that size is 32-1/2 in., the pattern includes 2 in. of ease. So you'll add 2 in. of ease to your full bust measurement, then add to the side seams to produce that measurement. If you need to lengthen or shorten the body, sleeve, or armhole, make these changes now. To learn more about a new pattern, I find it helpful to compare it to a favorite one with a similar amount of ease.