Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tutorial: How I Make Basic T-Shirt

So, I’d like to show you how I make my T-shirt. I hope it will be helpful if you (like me) don’t have a serger and have to make the best with what you have – the very simple sewing machine. Note that the actual tutorial is really short, but I wrote many tips so now it looks harder than it should ;D

Needles and Stitches

I realized that in my earlier tutorial The Braided Shirt, which was a tutorial for shirt from stretch fabrics, I said absolutely nothing about choosing stitches and needles which is very important when it comes to sewing stretch fabrics (Oh, silly me…). So now I’ll start this tutorial from stitches and needles. 

First, you need to look up if your sewing machine has elastic seams (they are marked with different colour) – most sewing machines have them. If yours don’t have that, you can still sew stretch fabrics: just use a narrow zigzag stitch. If you do have elastic stitches you can use either one of them, but you should test different stitches on your chosen fabric first. Some stitches may not suit your chosen fabric: for example, I like using either full mock-overlock or half full mock-overlock stich (don’t know if I named those stiches right – my machine manual is in different language; see photo below), however, my full mock-overlock stitch won’t work on very stretchy fabrics, therefore for this T-shirt I used half full stitch. So, choose the best stitch for your fabric – make sure it’s easy to sew and it doesn’t create waves. The only stitch which won’t work is the simple straight stitch – it will brake as soon as you start wearing your garment. If you want the best results, it’s also very important (!) to check, what width and length is recommended for each stitch on your sewing machine (you can find this info in machines manual or look up online).

I usually use seam 10 (half full mock-overlock) or 11 (full mock-overlock) for stretch fabrics. Photo source:

Talking about needles, I recommend using the ones for stretch fabrics. However, I didn’t have them while making this shirt and had to use universal needles. Of course, using stretch needles would have been better, but I had to make best with what I had ;D

If you want your garment to look more professionally made, you can use double needle for hemming (this needle is sometimes also called ‘twin needle’). I’m telling you – this needle makes a huge difference! However, you have to check if your machine can sew with double needle (when I had my very first sewing machine, it had several double needles in its accessories box, so I assumed it could sew with them. Well, had to brake 4 needles to realize that it couldn’t :D ) and also check what width is recommended for this needle in your machines manual (it’s very important, because if you choose wrong width of the stitch you will break the needle to the machines foot).

And remember - stretchy fabrics are forgiving if you make measuring mistakes, but they don't forgive sewing mistakes, so you have to be very careful and don't pull the fabric while sewing - otherwise you will end up with wavy seams.

So, after covering the stitches and needles, let’s move on to the actual tutorial!


Attention: I'm not the professional (have that in mind) and there are many ways to sew the same garment, this is how I make it!

What I used:
- Old T-shirt, that I didn’t use (I didn’t find a suitable pattern in my magazine stash, so I decided to make a pattern from an old T-shirt I found in thrift store but never wore because it was a bit too short.  The trick: if you make a pattern from an old shirt, shoulders and sleeves must fit you very well. The length, neckline fit and the overall fit is not very important – you can easily adjust them);
- Stretch fabric (how much do you need? Measure your back from the top of shoulders to the point you want your shirt to end, add 1-1,5 cm seam allowance and ~3 cm for bottom hemming. I recommend you using soft jersey, so that you feel good wearing it. And the colors – if you want a basic T-shirt, go for black, white or gray or use the color you feel best in :)
- matching thread;
- Usual sewing kit: chalk, measuring tape, scissors, needles and etc.

I took old T-shirt apart and traced pieces on paper (I folded back and front details in half – it’s easier for me this way). If you have a shirt you don’t want to take apart, you can trace the pattern without disassembling (harder, yet still possible). I only trace back, front and sleeve details, but not the collar (I will show later why). Adjust the pattern if necessary: change the neckline, length and etc. If you don’t know what kind of neckline or length fits you best, take a look at the article about choosing T-shirt on or look up online. I find articles on such topic very helpful – it’s crucial for home sewers to know what fits them and what doesn’t, otherwise we will end up with a beautifully made garment which doesn’t look good on us (been there, done that).

When your pattern is ready, mark and cut the pieces. The most important thing here is putting pattern pieces on a straight grain. While working on other fabrics this rule is also very important, when it comes to sewing stretch fabrics it’s even more important, because if you cut wrongly the T-shirt will begin to ‘spin’ around the waistline and will stretch out after the first trip to the wash machine.

Put the back and front details on top of each other (wrong sides facing up) and sew the shoulder lines and the sides (I used half full mock-overlock stitch). Sew the sides of the sleeves with the same stitch. Hem the ends of the main bodice and sleeves (I used double needle and the straight stitch). Iron all the seams (don't forget this step!). Insert the sleeves (I used half full mock-overlock stitch).

Now all you have to do is insert the neckline. You can find an amazing tutorial for a classic T-shirt neckline on, so I won’t repeat it here :)

Iron the shirt and you're done! Good luck! :)


  1. - I'm glad you liked it :)

  2. How do you make a collar for a v-neck? Same type of concept?

    1. To be honest, I haven't tried v-neck (it doesn't suit me, so I didn't even try making it), so I can't give you the answer :)