T-shirts are probably the most frequent garment that hobby sewers sew, after training trousers or leggings. So, I have written this article for you, where you can find comprehensive information on how to sew a T-shirt.
What Fabric for a T-Shirt…
Knitwear is suitable for simple T-shirts – I recommend using knitwear with an elastane admixture and made of natural fibers, so e.g. cotton or viscose knitwear for the summer. More ordinary knitwear without elastane (e.g. cheaper Wendy knitwear etc.) is rather appropriate for pyjamas, such knitwear has a tendency to get loose, especially in stressed places – with T-shirts, this mostly affects loose elbows, with training trousers, this affects loose knees. Without the elastane admixture, you can also buy even relatively expensive design organic cotton fabrics, e.g. by Birch fabrics (the triangular fabric below) or from the Czech hosiery Moraviatex.cz (the striped knitwear below), etc. This is precisely because it is a natural material and elastane can’t logically be there – so the fabric is of high quality and organic (which is fashionable today) but the colors usually pale quite quickly and the clothes get loose.
I sew T-shirts from organic cotton knitwear in such a way that the body is made of organic cotton and the sleeves are made of other knitwear with an elastane admixture – the body is not stressed in any way, so it usually does not get loose, and the sleeves do not get loose either, thanks to the knitwear with elastane. Also, take a look at the tutorial How to sew a T-shirt with raglan sleeves.
For the last T-shirt for Tommy, I have used classic cotton knitwear with elastane, which I bought at Unuopattern.cz. I can only see formulas for grey knitwear in their offering now but even this color combination is very pretty.
Fabrics – What to Pay Attention to
When combining colors, you must also beware of individual fabrics not leaking colors into each other. I shrink all fabrics and wash all knitwear that I use for sewing at home in advance. I proceed by soaking colour knitwear one by one in a basin with warm water and rub lightly, as soon as I have new fabrics at home – that is how you know that some of the fabrics will or will not leak colour. When I have all the fabrics soaked and wrought again like this, I put them into the washing machine (similar colours together, different colours separately 🙂) and wash in the same manner as with the ready clothes in the future. So, I wash knitwear at 40 degrees mostly. I only put a small quantity of washing powder or gel into the washing machine and no conditioner. I wash the fabrics this way for four main reasons:
- The fabrics will go through countless instances of chemical treatment during their production – fibre colouring, colour stabilisation, fabric impregnation, so that they do not get dirty and creased during transport, etc. There are really lots of processes where the fabrics are exposed to all those chemicals and I do not want to work with fabrics full of those chemicals all day long. By washing the fabric, I partially release the chemicals from it, however, I also lose impregnation and the ends of knitwear then twist a little during shearing, which is a bit of a disadvantage but life is full of difficult decisions and you have to consider what is important for you at the moment and what isn’t. 🙂
- Also if you wash the fabrics before the actual sewing, you will find out which fabrics probably leak colour and you will know that you can’t e.g. combine them with light fabrics etc.
- By washing them, you also stabilize the resulting “size” of the material, so when you then wash a T-shirt made from that fabric, it will not shrink and your work will not be wasted.
- In my workshop, I only store “clean” washed materials, preventing unnecessary exposure to dirt from the factory or to chemicals. Moreover, I have the washed fabrics ready for sewing, thanks to that, and when I decide to sew something new, I can start immediately without having to bother with washing, drying, and ironing. When I then sew a product from a pre-washed fabric, it is ready for use (wearing) and so I don’t put clothes from “dirty” fabrics from the factor or from fabrics unnecessarily full of chemicals into my or my children’s wardrobe – we can just take on the clothes right away.
Of course, it is clear that in production facilities where they sew in high quantities – which are classic factories that produce clothes for chain stores – the fabrics are not washed, it is impossible to put an entire fabric roll into a washing machine and it would also be incredibly protracting, therefore the purchased T-shirts deform, twist, leak colour, etc. after washing… (You can find more about why T-shirts get twisted here: Why do purchased T-shirts get twisted)
How to Cut a Fabric
You mostly lay the pattern for a basic T-shirt by folding the fabric once, with the fixed edges on each other, face in. Put the front and rear part on the fabric fold and place the pattern for the sleeve aside. Cut the front part at the fabric fold once, the rear part at the fabric fold once, and the sleeve twice. You should always find all details on how to lay the pattern on the fabric and how many various parts to cut out in the specific pattern.
You can learn how to transfer the pattern on the fabric in this article: How to transfer sewing patterns on fabric.
Overlock or a classic machine?
You can sew T-shirts with an overlock or a classic sewing machine, namely by decreasing the tension of the lower thread, lowering the foot thrust, and using a flexible stitch – narrow zigzag, three-step straight stitch, etc. If you have a walking foot, use it. You can also use special needles for sewing flexible materials – jersey, ball point, etc. – you can find more on needle types here: Types of needles for home sewing machines. Also take a look at a new article: Sewing knitwear on a regular machine – 4 steps for achieving great results.
With classic T-shirts with head sleeves (not raglan), you can proceed in two basic ways. (Of course, there are many more variations and every sewer will gradually find her own procedure that personally suits her most.) However, with both of them, you start by sewing the rear and front part together at the shoulder seams.
The First Manner of Sewing – “Blouse” – I Prefer to Use It (the Sleeve is Sewn In)
- When you have the front parts sewn together at the shoulder seams, also sew the side seams together.
- With sleeves, sew the sleeve seams together.
- Turn the T-shirt body face in, turn the sleeves face out.
- Pin up the sleeves into the armholes – start so that the side seam meets the sleeve seam, then pin up the top of the sleeve head to the shoulder seam. Then pin up the rest of the sleeve head into the armhole. Sew the sleeve in.
- Now neaten the neck hole – you can hem it with a knitwear stripe, a knit stripe, or just neaten on an overlock and fold 1 cm under into the seam side and sew through with a flexible stitch.
- Then neaten the sleeve hems and the bottom hem. Either with a knit stripe or a knitwear stripe or you can run the shearing edges of the sleeves and the bottom hem on an overlock with a zigzag or a hemming stitch etc. and fold the neatened edge under approx. 2 – 3 cm into the seam side and sew through with a flexible stitch or a double-needle.
- If you neaten using a knit, I recommend shearing 0.75 x the length of the bottom hem, 0.75 x the length of the sleeve perimeter, and 0.7 x the perimeter of the neck hole.
- If you neaten with a knitwear stripe, then I recommend cutting 0.85 x the length of the bottom hem, 0.85 x the length of the sleeve perimeter, and 0.8 x the perimeter of the neck hole.
- HOWEVER, IT ALWAYS DEPENDS ON THE SPECIFIC MATERIAL, NO KNITWEAR IS THE SAME AND MAY STRETCH A BIT DIFFERENTLY!
The Second Manner of Sewing – “Shirt” – I Use Less Frequently, Rather Just for Sweatshirts (the Sleeve is Sewn On)
- When you have the front parts sewn together at the shoulder seams, pin up the disassembled sleeve into the armhole, face to face. Start by joining one edge of the sleeve seam with the edge of the side seam, pin together. Then pin together the top of the sleeve head with the shoulder seam and the other end of the sleeve seam to the other end of the side seam.
- Sew the sleeve on the armhole.
- Then pin together the sleeve seam and the side seam and sew together in one sequence.
- Then proceed as in the previous case – neaten the neck hole, the bottom hem, and the sleeve hems.
If you have already mastered sewing a classic T-shirt, be it with short or long sleeves, you can try sewing an original T-shirt that is derived from the basic pattern. That is suitable when you e.g. want to use smaller leftovers of fabrics or pieces of more expensive materials that you don’t want to throw away. For example, I have processed leftovers of premium functional knitwear that is a bit more expensive in this way…
Have a good time, Peťa