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Sewing the Perfect T-Shirt by Nell

Sewing the Perfect T-Shirt by Nell

Over the last couple of years I have practiced making t-shirts.  Sometimes I wish I was more adventurous with my sewing, more often, but I’ve realised I enjoy the satisfaction and speed of making a really good basic.  So, when Polina asked me if I wanted to use her lovely fabrics in a t-shirt collaboration, I couldn’t refuse!  Good Fabric have lots of excellent and carefully chosen jerseys to chose from, suitable for all sorts of tshirt patterns and styles.

trio of t-shirts  close up of 3 t-shirts

    When planning a tshirt make, my first tip is to consider the fabric carefully as it will have a huge impact on your final make.  Quality is important to me, but also, the term jersey covers a wide range of fabric textures that can vary considerably.  Think about whether you want your garment to be drapey or with structure, or stretchy or fairly stable.

    white organic jersey  tencel navy

     The Basic instinct tshirt is my favourite and go-to pattern.  It has a relaxed cut and is great for beginners as Sasha’s instructions are so clear, including many notches for stripe matching and inserting the neckband easily.  It has 7cm of positive ease over the bust.  This means that although you need stretch in your fabric, to get it over your head for example, it is not stretch to fit.  So, you could use a much more stable jersey.

    secondo piano basic t-shirt 

    In my sample here I used Organic White Jersey as I wanted a classic, fairly structured white t-shirt.  I also used the matching rib for the neckline.  This is one of the easiest jerseys to work with as it is so stable.  It doesn’t shift when cutting or sewing.

    Nell in white t-shirt  close up of white tshirt

    For this post, I tried the Iris tee from Forget Me Not Patterns, for the first time.  I love the sleeve detail!  In contrast to the basic instinct this tshirt the Iris has negative ease of 5cm at the bust.  This means it is stretch to fit and requires a significant amount of stretch from the fabric.  I also prefer elasticity for comfort.  

    iris forget me not pattern

    To that end, I chose the lovely Tencel jersey in Navy, which is also beautifully drapey so you could use it for a looser tshirt too. I love the plain colours, which are great for showing off the sleeve fold detail. The tencel content also means that creases hang out really easily – no ironing involved!  This fabric is super soft and comfy to wear. 

    Nell in navy jersey tshirt  sleeve detail

    My second tip is when folding the fabric along the grainline, to cut the pieces on the fold, line the fold as perfectly as you can along the grain.  This will stop the final garment twisting over time, like ready to wear often do.

    fold on a pattern piece

    Lastly, I tried another new pattern, the Alja tshirt from Viki Sews.  This is a classic oversized t-shirt and great for showcasing a print.   Although this pattern is in Russian, you could use the instructions from another pattern to assemble it – it is beautifully drafted and all the pieces fit perfectly.  There are again useful notches on the neckline.  Because this pattern is over sized, you could use virtually any jersey fabric. 

    alja t-shirt by viki sews  

    I have long been a fan of Elvelyckan and this blueberry print is so fun and great with jeans. I think it is out of stock now but there are several others including a very tempting Flowerfest print in dark red.

    blueberry jersey  flower fest jersey

    This fabric has quite a bit of stretch (40%) from the elastane and is also really good for children’s clothes.  A lovely Tencel will give a drapey, slinky, slightly more baggy look and a stable cotton/elastane like the white organic jersey is more structured.  The Elvelyckan somewhere in between!  I love the finished garment and I think I’ll wear it with leggings or tucked into a pair of more formal trousers.

    blueberry t-shirt  blueberry tshirt with leggins

    My third tip for a lovely tshirt is to spend time getting the neckline just right – choosing a well drafted pattern will definitely help.  The neckband needs to stretch slightly to fit so that it doesn’t flop forward when worn.  I think basting the neckband on with the sewing machine can be a useful step if you plan to overlock it later. 

    pinned neckbinding

    Always use the correct seam allowance when basting and overlocking as this will affect how it sits on the neck quite significantly.  Using a straight stitch to baste also can act as a stay stitch so that you don’t stretch the body fabric if you subsequently overlock the band on.

      The basic instinct tshirt also comes with instructions of how to bind the neck and shoulder seam. This looks so neat and isn’t nearly as hard as you would think.  I tend only to bind the back neck (not the shoulders as well) and often use scraps from other projects as you can see here. It also helps to identify the back! 

    1. Cut a piece of fabric (so that the greatest stretch of the fabric is along its length), 4cm wide by the length of the back neck, plus about 10cm.

    2. Fold in half lengthways and press, then fold one half over again and press to create a sort of binding.

    folded soft binding

    3. Fold your neckband back so that the seam is exposed in front of you. 

    seams of neckbinding

    4. Pin the binding so that the  folded edge is lined up with the outermost seam and the centre fold is roughly lined up with the bottom edge of your seam allowance and the binding is wrapped around. Stretch the neck slightly if necessary.

    blueberry bindign

    5. Fold either end under. 

    excess binding

    6. Stitch the top edge down, through all layers of the seam allowance only, stitching along the outer seam line (this won’t show on the outside).

    stitched neckbinding

    7. Flip the seam over and trim off the excess as closely as possible to the new stitch line 

    excess trim

    8. Flip the bound seam back down and stitch to the main fabric using a thread that matches your binding on top, and your main fabric below (this will show on the outside). 

    blueberry binding detail

    9. Add a label if you like!  Back stitch at either end.

       Lastly, I use a coverstitch machine to finish my seams.  But, I think a twin needle finish on a sewing machine is just as neat and sometimes easier to achieve!  A twin needle for your sewing machine is easy to pick up (try stretch variant for jerseys) and almost all machines will have two spool pins – my machine is very basic and I used this until I had a coverstitch.

      coverstitch seams

      I hope these thoughts on making tshirts are useful to you!

      Nell x  @nottsewfast

      (Tencel and blueberry fabric gifted, thoughts and words my own).

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