A few weeks ago I was looking for short-sleeved t-shirts for Owen and they were nowhere to be found. Only long-sleeved Tees in the store. I was frustrated.
Then felt like an idiot.
And realized…why don’t I just make them??
Can you believe that in all my years of sewing, I’d never made a basic tee?!
In the first year of Celebrate the BOY, I shared the 90 Minute Shirt and couldn’t get enough of the envelope sleeve. But this, my friends, is even FASTER!
It’s my new go-to.
And it only takes 5 steps.
Yes! Only FIVE sewing steps and you’ve got a really fun Tee for all ages (and genders)
For a full video tutorial, click the play button below!
Or for step-by-step photo instructions, continue reading below….
Of course when it comes to making a shirt, there are tons of options.
You can use the existing hem line of an old T-shirt, or create your own. Add a pocket, stencil an image, color block the pieces.
With just a little ribbing around the neck it’s simple.
And if you’ve never sewn with ribbing, have no fear! We’ll walk through the basic steps for sewing ribbing on a standard sewing machine. You do not need to have a serger to sew with knits.
Let’s get started.
Begin by printing my 1-size pattern HERE. (Or create your own pattern using a current T-shirt your child owns as your guide, or size down my pattern using a current Tee as your guide and creating similar lines.) You will be prompted when you click the above link to open a 50KB file in Acrobat, Preview, or other software on your computer.
PRINTING and PIECING:
• this pattern is a size 4-5 Toddler
• the pattern is 3 page PDF doc. It prints to standard US paper size, 8.5 x 11 inches. Print it using standard settings (if you’re having problems, you can always play with your print settings but I found that standard US Letter worked best). The pages do NOT print to the edge, so you don’t have to worry about borderless printing, etc.
• If you live in another country outside the USA, print to your standard paper size and measure against the sizing ruler to see if you’re printed properly.
• There are 2 size references on the pattern to judge whether you’ve printed properly. Use a ruler to measure against the printing ruler and the one square inch on the pattern. If they don’t match up perfectly, play with your settings and print again.
• Print the first 2 pages TWO times (so you have a front and back for the T-shirt). And print the third page only once (the sleeve page).
NOTE: There is a dotted line near the armhole line, which is for a MUSCLE TEE version! Get the detailed tutorial HERE.
You should end up with pages like this:
Now let’s piece them together.
• There are circle markers on the first two pages showing which direction to line up the pages. These are not meant to overlay each other, or to match up with the pattern lines. They’re really just directional markers.
• Where you do want to line up the first two pages is on the pattern lines themselves. So…
• Cut along the top line of the pattern piece on page two and line it up with the bottom line of the pattern piece on page one and tape them together. Tape on the front and back of the pages, then cut out the entire pattern piece. Do this for both the Front and Back pattern pieces, then cut out the sleeve piece as well. Remember, do not cut on the dotted line…unless you plan to make a MUSCLE TEE.
When you’re done you should have 3 finished pattern pieces.
Now let’s talk about knit fabrics.
If you’ve never sewing with knits, check out my detailed Sewing with Knits post HERE.
You don’t need a serger or fancy sewing machine to sew with knits. Of course I’ve found that people who feel frustrated sewing with knits are often using a lower-end machine, which is fine. Don’t let that stop you! But just keep in mind that if you plan to sew more knits in the future….you may want to upgrade your machine a bit. NOTE: if you prefer sewing knits with a serger definitely use it for all the steps! Personally, I like to sew with my standard machine first and then finishing off my seams with a serger because it allows more room for error (the serger cuts the fabric edge as you sew). So do what works for you!
When it comes to finding cool knits, fabric shops are often limited which is why most of us turn to an old Men’s T-shirt for fabric. Check thrift stores, retail store clearance racks (like Target and Old Navy), or raid your husband’s drawer (asking permission of course) for good T-shirt fabric options. When purchasing Tees from a Thrift-store always rub your fingers over the fabric to make sure it’s soft enough to wear. Avoid t-shirts that are stiff/cheap because the fabric will be itchy on your child, which means they’ll never wear the finished product.
You can also find some knit fabrics in online stores like fabric.com, hartsfabric.com, and spoonflower. I purchase most of my knits in-person at Michael Levine and the FIDM scholarship store in LA. Read more about that HERE.
For this tutorial we’re using a men’s XL t-shirt (with an existing hem) as our fabric. But we’ll show you how to create your own hem as well. Okay….
STEP 1 – Cut and prep the T-shirt pieces and Ribbing
• Using a men’s Large or XL T-shirt, cut the sleeves, side seams, and neckline from the shirt. Now you have two large pieces of fabric to work with.
• Fold the first fabric in half (lining up the stripes if you’re using striped/patterned fabric) and place the Front pattern piece on one fold. If you’re using the existing hem of the T-shirt for your new Tee, line up the bottom of the pattern piece at the bottom of the old T-shirt hem and cut out your pattern piece. Do the same thing for the Back pattern piece
• Then place the sleeve pattern on the old existing sleeves and cut two new sleeves on the Fold.
Now let’s cut the ribbing for our neckline.
RIBBING is just what you think: a knit fabric with long vertical ribs. These ribs allow the fabric to expand and contract which is why it’s often used for cuffs, collars, and form-fitting clothes, such as tank-tops…
The key to ribbing is to cut it slightly smaller than the space it occupies. This allows it to stretch when needed then retract back so it sits snuggly around your arm or neck. It’s typically sold by the yard (and just ¼ of a yard goes a long way). If you can’t find ribbing fabric you like in the store, search online stores…and remember that tank tops and other T-shirts with very small ribs make excellent ribbing! Look in your drawers or the clearance rack at retail stores for items to use.
Also, never throw away the old neck ribbing from a T-shirt you’ve dismembered. I have a bin where I save all old necklines and sleeves for future projects. To use an old neckline, cut away the old knit fabric, cut a slice into the ribbing, use a seam ripper to open the ends slightly (or all the way), and you have useable ribbing!
• Cut a strip of ribbing 11 to 11.5 inches x 2 inches (or whatever width you’d like. 2 inches is nice for a 4 year old). Remember to cut perpendicular to the ribs.
I say 11-11.5 inches because each ribbing reacts slightly different to being stretched and sewn. Standard ribbing found at Joanns tends to stretch more so you may want to cut it 11 inches. Ribbed fabric from a t-shirt has tighter ribs (my favorite type of ribbing) so you may want to cut it 11.25 inches. Just experiment with lengths as you make these tees, till you find the one you prefer.
• Iron the ribbing in half, then open it up and fold it in half the other direction (with right sides of the fabric together….or with the folds pointed in. Pictured above) and sew the strip together using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
This is a super short step.
• With right sides of the T-shirt Front and Back together, line them up at the shoulders, pin, and sew them together using a 3/8 inch seam allowance and a straight/normal stitch.
• Iron out your seams. Always iron out your seams–this is key to making your garments look more professional and less homemade.
STEP 3 – Sew Ribbing to the Neckline.
(refer to above photo)
• Lay the shirt open flat at the shoulders and place the folded neck ribbing over the neckline. As you can see it’s smaller than the space it occupies. This will make a comfy fitted neckline.
• With the raw edges of the ribbing pointed up, pin the ribbing to the raw edge of the neckline first at the center back of the t-shirt, then pin the other side of the ribbing to the center front of the neckline.
• Then stretch the ribbing with your hand so it fits around the rest of the neckline and little by little, pin the ribbing around the neckline so it’s evenly spaced. Be liberal with the pinning.
(refer to below photo)
• Sew the ribbing to the neckline using a 1/4 inch seam allowance and a ZIG ZAG stitch. A zigzag is important here because it allows the thread to stretch with the fabric as it goes over a child’s head.
• As you sew, use your hands to stretch the ribbing slightly so there are no gathers or folds in the fabrics. Don’t over-stretch it. Just stretch enough so it looks taut. It helps to hold the pins as you stretch.
• This step can be awkward with all those pins poking at you. So remove each pin after you sew past it.
• If you do notice any gathers in the fabric after you’ve sewn, simply remove a few stitches with a seam ripper, smooth it out, and re-sew that area.
• Iron the ribbing flat at the collar.
• For an added touch you may want to sew a top-stitch around the edge of the collar on the T-shirt fabric (I chose to leave mine plain; no top-stitching). Remember to do this with a zigzag as well or your stitching may break as you stretch it over a head.
And whatdya know? You made a T-shirt collar!
Looks pretty professional right?
STEP 4 – Sew sleeves to the armholes.
The photo below shows how the sleeves fit into the T-shirt puzzle. So….
• With right sides of the fabric together, pin the middle of the sleeve curve to the middle of the armhole. Continue pinning the sleeve down one side of the armhole to the end of the armhole. Do this for the other side of the armhole as well…and for the other sleeve too.
• Sew the sleeve to the armhole with a 3/8 inch seam allowance and iron out your seams.
Just one more step!
STEP 5 – Sew arm and side seams.
• With right sides of the T-shirt together, fold the Front of the shirt over the Back of the shirt and pin down the sleeves and sides. It’s easiest to pin first at the armpits, matching up the armhole seams. Then pin the rest of the sleeve and then the side seams.
• If you have a side-tag throw one into the side-seam about 2 inches from the bottom (read about my labels HERE)
• Starting at the end of the sleeve, sew down the sleeve, down to the armpit, and continue sewing down the side seam with a straight stitch (as show in dotted orange below).
One Basic Tee!
(and many more to come….)
SEWING YOUR OWN HEM
I found this awesome turtle shirt by American Apparel at the thrift store and knew Owen would love it. But in order to include the logo in the new shirt, I had to shift my pattern piece up a bit. If you’re in the same boat, or using original knit fabric, here’s how you sew your own hem on the T-shirt (and sleeves if needed).
• Cut the t-shirt apart as we did above.
• Fold the t-shirt fabric in half so the logo is centered on the fold.
• Place the pattern piece on the fold and use a ruler to draw a new hemline….adding an extra 1/2 inch to 1 inch of fabric (just depends how chunky you want your hem to be. I used 3/4 of an inch)
• Sew the shirt as outlined above.
• When you’re finished, iron the bottom edge of the shirt under 1/2 to 1 inch (whatever extra length you added to the pattern) and sew the hem in place with a straight stitch.
• Sew a parallel second line 1/8 inch over from the first line just for a cool look.
• Press the hem one more time with an iron to get a nice good fold.
If you look at the stitching on a store-bought professional Tee, it’s sewn with a coverstitch (found on some sergers or sewn with a special coverstitch machine). The way the machine stitches on the wrong side of the fabric allows the front stitching to stretch slightly. This is why it’s so wonderful to use the existing hem of a t-shirt for your new project. So if you’re worried about stretch (perhaps in a tight fitted Tee, use a zigzag stitch on your hem)
And that’s a Basic Tee wrap.
Enjoy your turtles and tees!
Now head over to Made-by-Rae to see the Sweet Saffron pants she made for Elliot!
And don’t forget to add your photos to the Celebrate the BOY Flickr group.