THE basic fitted T-shirt tutorial

FIRST, you’ll need:

-1 1/2  yds. of good knit fabric

-good fitted T-shirt pattern

-matching thread

-sewing machine that has an overlock stitch (see photo below)

-stretch needle

-scissors or rotary cutter and mat

*before you start cutting and sewing, it’s important to know, that  the GRAINLINE is SO important when sewing t-shirts! I’ve bought knits before where the grainline  (the structured lines or pattern left by the warp (length-wise grain) and the weft (cross-grain) threads) has been weaved off-grain. So in other words, the grainline does NOT run parallel to the selvedge edge nor the cut of the your fabric.  When this happens you have to find the grainline, and straighten it.  You have to fold the fabric so that when you cut, your grainline will run straight up and down on your fold.  grainline example1 1024x516 THE basic fitted T shirt tutorialPhew! Now we can really start–but quickly before we do…

DISCLAIMER. I’m a really crappy photo-taker-for-tutorials-person. I didn’t know that ’til now as I’m putting this tutorial together. I’m realizing that my photos aren’t exactly crystal-clear as far as showing you what’s going on. Sorry. Maybe I’ll learn.

1. CUT PIECES.  Place your pattern on your fabric. Pin (or, if your ghetto like me, you can put butter knives down to weigh it all down). Now cut all your pieces.  For this t-shirt you’ll need your front, back, two sleeves, a neckband, and arm bands and waist bands if you choose to finish the edges that way. *Note: not all of my pattern pieces are shown here.

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2. SEW FRONT TO BACK. With right sides together, sew front to back at side seams using an overlock stitch. (MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A STRETCH NEEDLE OR YOU’LL WISH YOU WERE DEAD). Don’t stretch or pull the fabric! Just gently guide it home. If you stretch or pull it at all, it will pucker and ripple. NO BUENO.  Try it on and adjust as needed. Now is the time to make sure you get the smokin’ fit you want.

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3. CONSTRUCT SLEEVES. Sew each sleeve together at side, and then finish the bottom edge however you choose (arm bands or simply hemmed under). I chose to do arm bands because my fabric was so tricky and slinky that hemming under just wasn’t working. Be prepared to be FLEXIBLE in your vision.

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*I forgot to take a shot of the finished edge until afterwards, so IGNORE the fact that the sleeve is already attached. Also, remember to see my arm and waist band tutorial for instructions on finishing your edges with a band.

4. Insert your sleeve (right-side-out) into your shirt which is in-side-out.  First pin the underarm seam of your sleeve to the underarm side seam of your shirt. Match seams. Then find the opposite middle point (probably the foldline) of your sleeve opening, and pin that to the shoulder seam.  Now your sleeve should be centered in the armhole; ease the rest of the sleeve by finding the middle points between the two pins of both the sleeve and armhole, and then securing. Repeat this over and over until you have pins every couple of inches. That sucker should really be pinned pretty well. Don’t be afraid to stretch a little to make it fit, but try to do so as little as possible. Overlock stitch around the armhole, making sure to catch both layers, and avoid any puckers. Repeat on other side.

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5. NECKBAND.  If you’re applying any embellishment around the neckline that you want to go under the neckband, apply that now. Fold your neckband piece in half hot dog style, wrong sides together.  Aligning the raw edges of your band with the raw edge of the neck opening, begin pinning the band right at the shoulder seam. The stretch ratio of your band to your opening should be anywhere from 3:4–7:8 (meaning your band is 3/4′s the length of your neck opening, so your stretching your band to fit the opening). Stretch the neckband about three inches, and pin about  four inches down the neckline.  You’re stretching both, but pulling tighter on the band so that when you let go,you should see some slack in the neck opening.  Go around the  whole opening, and then once you’re back to where you started, stretch the band over the starting end and cut your excess.  Visualize the two ends being sewn together, and judge whether it would stretch correctly (band is tighter than neck opening).  Pinch the two ends together (maybe you have to remove a pin or two), and sew, wrong sides together. Trim, re-fold, and then pin once again to the shirt neck hole. Hopefully your seams match up better than mine did.

Overlock stitch around the entire opening, making sure you are always catching all three raw edges.

Turn right-side-out, and make sure that a) it all got sewn, and b)it lies nice and flat against your neck (you won’t be able help ripping off your current shirt to try it on).  If it doesn’t….then I’m real sorry. That means the band wasn’t tight enough. You can take it all out (painstaking and TIME consuming), or you can now jimmyrig. I prefer the latter.  Something I’ve done before that worked great was insert a thin piece of elastic into the band, using it like a casing, and then tightening to your desired….tightness. Or you can embellish around the neckline, covering up the band completely. I’ve done that lots of times with great results. Hopefully it turned out perfect.

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6. HEM BOTTOM. Now finish the edge of the bottom of your shirt however you choose! I did a wide waist band (see arm and waist band tutorial).

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Woo hoo! You’re done!!! Go work it, honey!

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10 Comments

  1. Posted June 21, 2010 at 4:22 am | Permalink

    Hope you have an efficient day!

  2. Posted August 23, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your tute, very helpful!

    I have one question though, most of the instructions for sewing shirts say sew the sleeves in before sewing down the sides. Is there a reason you’ve added them last?

    • Posted August 23, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Kris,
      I use both methods frequently, but I prefer to add the sleeve last because it creates a much nicer ease, and so the shoulder curves a little more smoothly around the arm, which I think looks a more professional. When I’m sewing for myself, I always add the sleeve last, but when I’m sewing for a little body like my daughter’s, I add it before I sew down the sides because it’s easier, and looks just fine on her. So there you go! Good luck, Kris!

  3. Heidi
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I’ve referred to this tutorial a bunch of times in the last while, but… I made a v-neck t-shirt the other day and kind of messed up on the neckband. It’s not totally awful, but I was wondering if you have any sort of hints for doing a v-neck. Should I start from the deepest part of the v? Should I sew the ends together after I’ve attached it to the shirt?

    • Posted September 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      V necks can be a little trickier. Start at the deepest point of the v, and then stretch it around pulling the band slighter tighter than the shirt. When you can back to the point layer the end underneath the other end you began with, and pin in place. Does that make sense? As much as I sew tshirts (a TON), the neck band is what I have to seam rip most, I always have a hard time getting the right ratios of band to t shirt so it lays flat. Good luck, let me know if you have any other questions!

      • Heidi
        Posted September 9, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        Yup, makes sense. Thanks. That’s basically what I did, I guess I just need a little more practice. :)

  4. ashmarn
    Posted January 28, 2013 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    i like ur steps and i had like to do more.

  5. änjah
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    hi.

    it’s just brilliant! i love your style and the sewing was quite easy. i was looking for a pattern like that for years…

    thanks from germany.

    all the best,
    änjah

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      Greetings to you too! So glad it was helpful to you!

  6. Diane Ovendden
    Posted September 27, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    Well Miriam your tutorial takes me back to the late 1980′s when I used to teach stretching sewing in NZ. Have not done this for a while, did not have a computer then. It’s great to see these lessons still carry on I say to. You Miriam keep it up even I need refresher courses from ones like you so keep going . Thank you. For letting me talk or should I say write

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