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Sewing with Knits: Making a T-Shirt

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Welcome back to Sewing with Knits: Making a T-Shirt. In my two previous posts we discussed different types of knits and supplies for sewing with knits. (Intro to Sewing with Knits & Sewing with Knits: The Details)

Today, I’m going to take you through the super easy steps of sewing a t-shirt.

You should now be ready to make your first project: A T-Shirt. I am always hearing from sewists how afraid they are to try sewing anything out of a knit fabric. Well, it’s time to squash those knit fears and sew up a t-shirt.

Sewing with Knits: Making a T-Shirt

At its core, a t-shirt has very few pieces. There is a front, a back, two sleeves, and neck binding. For this tutorial I’ve used an interlock fabric {which I recommend for newbies} for the t-shirt and ribbing for the neckline.

Note: In this tutorial I have some photos in a gray fabric and some in a blue fabric. Lighting was an issue when I was preparing this tutorial. Sorry for any confusion this causes.

Laying out the pattern on your fabric is pretty simple. Just like sewing with wovens, you want to pay attention to the selvage and layout your pattern pieces accordingly.

laying out pattern

Because knit fabric is wider than woven fabric, you can usually get the front and back on the same width of fabric. One thing to note about laying out your fabric: Never let it hang over the edge because it will stretch out the fabric. Notice how I have the excess fabric folded and the end of the table.

laying out pattern

So, below is my basic t-shirt pattern cut out of Interlock and ready to sew.

pattern pieces

I set my sewing machine to the default zigzag setting. This will provide stretch for wearing the t-shirt. As I previously discussed, you must use some sort of stretch stitch in order to keep the stitches from popping out.


Step 1: Pin Shoulder Seams

When sewing a simple t-shirt your first step should be to pin the front to the back at the shoulder seams. Notice how the front neckline is lower than the back neckline.

pinning shoulder seams

Because I’m using Interlock, I recommend marking the inside of the fabric with a fabric marking pen of some sort.

Before you stitch down the seams you may want to stabilize the shoulder seams with something that will also stretch. This will keep the shoulder seams from popping out as the t-shirt goes over the head.

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There are a few ways to do this. For the gray t-shirt I cut a 1/2″ strip of Pellon tricot interfacing. It’s inexpensive and can be purchased by the yard at sewing stores.

securing shoulder seams

There’s another product that I really love for stabilizing shoulder seams. It’s called SewKeysE Stay Tape. It’s a little hard to find, so I usually just order it from the company. One roll will last a long time.

Securing shoulder seams

Step 2: Sew Shoulder Seams

Sew the shoulder seams using a zigzag stitch.

shoulder seams

Step 3: Prepare Neckband

Now it’s time to add the ribbing neckband around the neckline. Don’t have any ribbing? Not a problem. Just cut the neckband from your Interlock fabric. This looks best on a dressier shirt. Ribbing gives it a casual look.

Using a zigzag stitch, sew the ends together using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

collar band

Step 4: Attaching Neckline

Now for the fun and easy part. Attaching the ribbing to the neckline. This method works on any t-shirt size.

Fold your ribbing in half lengthwise with wrong sides together. Press.

Put a pin in the fold (on the left) and a pin in the seam allowance.

collar band

Fold in half again, this time matching the other two sides (in this case, the green pins). Place pins on these fold lines (see the black pins).

You should now have four evenly marked places on your ribbing.

pinning collar band

Do the same thing on the neckline of the t-shirt. The two seams don’t need pins because they create a mark.

Finding middle of neckline

Match up the ribbing pins with the pins/seams of the t-shirt. One thing I like to do is match up the center seam on the ribbing with the pin that marks the back of the shirt. This will let the wearer know the front from the back (remember, the back neckline is higher than the front neckline.

Now matchup the pins on the ribbing with the pins on the t-shirt. They won’t match perfectly because you will be stretching the fabric when you sew. But, you want them pinned in place because this will help the neckline lay flat.

adding neck band

Here’s another photo in the gray fabric where I’ve used the same fabric for the neckband.

pinning collar

Using a zigzag stitch, stretch and sew around the neckline. Notice how it pulls it all in so nicely. Any rippling will disappear when ironed or washed.

t-shirt collar

Step 5: Add Sleeves

Time to add the sleeves. Unlike woven sleeves, knit sleeves go in so easily. I usually mark the top of the sleeve (or not) and pin it in place. Using a zigzag stitch, attach the sleeve to the shirt. You will stretch it a little when you sew. Repeat for the other sleeve.

pinned sleeve

Step 6: Sew Side Seams

With your fabric right sides together, pin the side seams, matching up the under-arm seam. Use a zigzag stitch to sew the side seams.

pinned side seam

How easy is this. It’s starting to look like a t-shirt that you could wear. All that’s left is to hem the sleeves and shirt.

finished t-shirt

Step 7: Hem T-Shirt

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When hemming knits, you can’t straight stitch around the bottom edge and call it done. Those stitches will pop out. A zigzag stitch will stretch, but really wouldn’t look that great.

The best way to create a hem in knits is to use a twin needle designed for knits.

twin needles

Fold up your hem 1″ and press to hold. I love using this handy dandy hot hemmer. It’s felt-y and makes pressing up a hem super easy.

After you’ve pressed up your hem, pin it to hold.

pinning hem

Using a double needle, stitch approximately 1″ from the hem’s edge. I usually set my stitch length to 3mm.

sewing on knit

Notice how there is this nice double switch on top and a zigzag stitch on the bottom. It does this automatically. That slight rippling effect will either press out with an iron or once it is washed.

One way to secure those hem threads and keep them from unraveling is to take a needle and pull the threads to the inside then tie them off. I’ve never had a hem come undone when I take time to do this.

t-shirt hem

Serging with Knits:

For all of you serger owners, these steps just got easier. Steps 1-7 can be done with a 3-Thread or 4-Thread serger stitch.

If you own a newer serger it may have a Cover Stitch setting. This is what t-shirt manufacturers use to get the double stitch on top and the chain stitch on the inside. Consult your serger manual for specific instructions. It will be well worth your while.

My first knit projects (years ago) were sleep shirts. They weren’t perfect, but I learned how to sew a simple t-shirt. Better yet, after sewing a couple of t-shirts, I really began to understand how simple it is to sew with knits.

serger

Beyond the Basics:

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I know this tutorial my pretty basic and doesn’t begin to cover everything you need to know about making nicer t-shirts. Fortunately, Marcy and Katherine Tilton have an excellent Craftsy class called The Ultimate T-Shirt: Fitting and Construction where they cover things like grain, stretch, and neckline perfection. This class is where I learned how to make a t-shirt that fits nicely and looks great.

If you feel like you can’t afford to spend the money on a class, sign up for Craftsy’s mailing list. They will let you know whenever there is a sale.

How to Sew a T-Shirt Class image

Happy sewing (with knits!)


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15 Comments

  1. such clear writing … great tut … i use a walking foot for the hem, that way it doesn’t roll or wave … also, i use a strip of washout interfacing, solvy, before sewing the hem …

    thanks again for a great tut ….

    darlene

  2. I will admit – b/c this is anonymous – that I was stuck on the second photo down and then forgot what I was here to learn b/c… I thought you were using marshmallows as pattern weights. I was thinking “I truly like her. I wonder if she smooshes something heavy in the center and then eats them as she accomplishes her cutting.” Then I came to.

    Been really enjoying your tutorials. I wish there were places to buy knit around my town. I would love to make tee’s.

    1. Absolutely. The needle has one stem but two needles.Set two spools of thread on the two thread stems (if you only have one, set the other thread in a tea cup). Thread normally until you get to the two needles and thread them separately. Only use a straight stitch. Double needles are expensive and a zigzag stitch would break the needles.

  3. Great tutorial! Actually I find knits easier to sew with than wovens since you have the stretch to play with. What kind of sewing machine do you own? I have two Janome computer ones. I am always looking for new ideas for t-shirts. I grew up wearing mostly dresses and taffeta ones at that! Those were the days! Moms these days are so lucky with fabrics that stand up to multi washes, my mom had to iron so many things.

  4. Do you always use a straight stitch when sewing knits? I was taught always to use a stretch stitch. My sewing machine has stretch stitches built in so it’s no trouble. Also, I’m looking at this tutorial because the sleeves on the knit pajama top I’m making seem a tad larger than the opening although I’ve checked and I used the correct size pattern when I cut it out. My knit fabric does not stretch both ways so the sleeve opening doesn’t stretch as far as I need to fit the sleeve. Would it be okay to baste-gather the widest part of the sleeves to fit them in? Gotta get this done for Christmas.

    1. It’s always best to use a stretch stitch when sewing knits. I prefer the one that looks like a lightening bolt.

  5. How do you figure out how long the neck piece should be when using interlock knit?. I am attempting to make a pattern from a well fitting tee shirt for my husband. He is quite large and has difficulty ordering shirts that fit. I have 60 years of experience sewing everything from baby blankets to tailored coats. But lost a few years sewing when I went back to college. That was just when sewing knits came about. Now I can find no local classes. I am considering craftsy classes. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thanks a lot for your information I am so scared to stitch knits but when I saw my daughter sewing I felt encouraged to sew knit. I purchased my first knit material and am half way thorough I hope to buy some more material to stitch some more. Thanks

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