Monday, February 6, 2012

T-Shirt Series: Patterns

This is our first in a series of posts about making t-shirts.  Most of what we've seen out in blogland is how to change an existing tee into an upcycled or recycled one.  There doesn't seem to be that much, if anything, out there about actually starting from scratch and making your own t-shirt. 

We recognize that many times you can buy really inexpensive tees, or 2 of them, to make a new one.  I've done it myself.  Cost vs. time evaluation.  However, if you are an odd shape, or taller than average, or broad shouldered, can't find the right fabric you like, whatever the case, sometimes well-fitting and well-made store bought tees can be hard to come by.

I find that for us at our house, the tees are never quite long enough for what we'd comfortably like to wear.  So I've been making tees for years for myself as well as my kids, boys and girls alike.  And not looking like everyone else is a plus in my book too.

Tiffany (our cousin) and I have the same basic philosophy when it comes to t-shirt patterns:  and that is, why torture yourself coming up with something when you can buy a perfectly good pattern for a $1 or so.  Seriously, if someone has already done the work, then let them and you move on to the next step.

 The majority of basic t-shirt patterns I currently use I've been using for years...yes, years.  None of them were available anywhere I could find.  All out of print.  So, we've gone thru the pattern books and pulled out as recent as we can BASIC T-Shirt Patterns that you could use forever.  You should be able to find the majority of these patterns at your local fabric stores--Jo-Ann's, Hancocks, etc.

All you'll need to do is make some minor adjustments for the current fashion trends.  What you need to remember when looking at patterns, is not so much the fabric they are showing, but the cut and style of the pattern.  You could pick up a vintage '50's t-shirt pattern and use it today to make a modern cute style. 

So here are the picks:

Kwik Sew
I think we agree that we prefer Kwik Sew patterns over the other companies, as far as t-shirts are concerned.  The shirts seem to fit better and also they have better directions for sewing with knit fabrics.  I'm pretty sure that Kwik Sew was started and based on knit fabric patterns.  However, they rarely go on sale and therefore would cost you more ($10-$12), but invest in one pattern and you're done.
  • 3338--good basic tee w/ 2 sleeve and 2 neck variations
  • 2740--close fitting tee
  • 2900--less fitted tee than 3338 or 2740, long sleeve version with 3 different neck variations.
  • 3407--basic tank tops (this will be more difficult to adjust to make an actual tee)
  • 3036--short sleeve dolman tee w/ neck variations
  • 3741--long sleeve basic tee (I'd choose 2900 over this one if given the choice)
  • 3463--tunic (& leggings) which could be cut down to a shirt length
They currently have NOTHING for a basic tee.
Seriously....I looked both on line and at the actual book at Jo-Ann's.

These patterns are under the parent company Simplicity.  They have a number of good patterns, the only issue I have with them is that the majority have a back center seam.  Not what I want on my t-shirt.  However, you can place the back piece on the fold, minus the seam allowance and use the pattern that way.
  • 6109--basic tee with some sleeve and hem variations.
  • 6735--basic scoop neck tee (includes skirt, cardigan, pants pattern)
  • 6899--short sleeve raglan style (w/ skirt pattern)
  • 6762--easy raglan sleeve tee (w/ skirt and pants)
  • 6838--classic boatneck style tee (w/ pants)
  • 6160--workout wear, but good basic tee 
  • 6355--basic tee, tank top, and dress
  • 6400--easy dolman sleeve w/ asymmetrical hem (you can make it not asymmetrical).  I also noticed that the sleeves are not symmetrical either.  But hey, it looks like a fun shirt.
  • 6435--also good easy tee--2 tone styles, but you could make them one.
  • 5215--basic tee
  • 5525--raglan sleeve and square neck tee instead of round.  Also has set-in sleeve pattern, but sleeves are gathered on not flat cap sleeve.
These patterns are also pricey--$25 apiece.  So only buy them on sale when they go down to $3.99 each.
  • 8670--raglan sleeve w/ neck variations (I'd like to get this one)
  • 8534--dolman sleeve w/ some neck variations
Let's define the difference in some sleeve vocabulary.

Set-in sleeves are what you normally think of.
Usually you make the sleeve and then "set it in" the armhole opening.
Kwik Sew 3338 is an example of a set-in sleeve.

Raglan sleeves are typically seen on athletic tees.  Think 2-tone baseball tee.
The sleeve seam runs from underneath your armpit at an angle towards your collarbone.
This is a great style if you have broader shoulders or have a hard time finding a tee that fits the armpit area.
Butterick 5525 or Vogue 8670 will show the raglan sleeve.

Dolman sleeves are sleeves that are usually cut from the same pattern piece as the front and back.  One piece together, not 2 separate pieces.  They are really loose in the armpit area.
McCall's 6400 is a good example.

Next up we'll talk about stretch a bit.
Because not all knits are created equal.


  1. What a great post! Thanks so much for taking the time to put such helpful information together!

  2. this is a really hopeful post, thanks!! how would I go about adapting one of these tees to make it oversized? would i just follow the pattern for the next size up? also, would I just include a larger seam allowance in the sleeves if I wanted them to have turn ups?

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  4. Wow! Thanks. Finally I have what I need. So sick of hunting for a simple t shirt good

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