Tutorial Part 2: Sewing Your Fitted Modified T-Shirt

The first part of this tutorial series dealt with how to cut any un-flattering, badly fitting t-shirts to suit your own style and body shape. This part of the tutorial will deal with how to work with jersey knit fabric and stretch fabrics to ensure the best finish to your newly re-fashioned t-shirt. All of the tips here can be applied to all projects using jersey/knitted fabrics.

Firstly, it is worth exploring all options as to which stitch to use. Unless you are lucky enough to have an overlocker or serger which is perfect for this job, it’s likely that you may have to make some adjustment to your usual choices if you are used to dealing with woven cottons, and fabrics with little stretch to them. Many people use only the straight stitch on their sewing machine with perhaps the occasional zig-zag stitch for finishing seams. The good news is that as long as your machine can do a simple zig-zag stitch then you have a stitch option that is absolutely fine for sewing knits such as T-shirt weight jersey.

However, if you have a larger library of stitch options on your machine it is worth exploring some of the other stitch options available to you:
A Guide to which sewing machine stitches to use for fabrics with stretch, such as jersey and knitted fabrics

Your machine may include some or all of the above stitches, and many more stretch stitches beyond. Choice of stitch can be purely personal choice, and making a small sample square of different stitch options might help form a decision. If limited to only a basic zig-zag, a small, narrow zig-zag to form the seam, accompanied by a wider zig-zag to neaten edges is a great starting point.

My own personal preference is the Double Overlock stitch on my machine. It does not perform the job of a true overlocker, but gives both a nice seam stitch line and finishing zig-zag with outer seam line in one step. I use this to both sew the seams and finish them, trimming any excess fabric away from the finished seam once complete.
Once the sewing machine set up with the correct needle (see Tutorial Part One for required tools and materials) and thread to match the main fabric colour of the t-shirt to be altered in both reel and bobbin (using woolly nylon in the bobbin if desired), re-assembly of the T-shirt can begin.

Sewing Your Fitted Tee

Start by ensuring that your t-shirt pieces are inside out. Your main T-shirt pieces (that make up the ‘body’ of your t-shirt) should be joined at the shoulder. Turn so that these are inside-out and align the side seams before pinning, ensuring that the underarm and lower hem points are aligned (it can be handy to pin at the underarm and bottom hem and then place pins at the halfway and then quarter-way points between these to ensure fabric is evenly distributed).
Pin side seams of tshirtUsing your selected stretch stitch, sew both side seams using a 1.5cm (5/8″) seam allowance and removing pins as you reach them. If using a narrow stitch (such as a narrow zig-zag stitch, or stitch that does not adequately ‘finish’ the edges) neaten the seam allowance with a wide zig-zag.
Once both side seams are secured and sewn rim any excess fabric from the seam allowances at either side.
Once the side seams are completed and neatened, place the body of the t-shirt to one side and start on the sleeves. Ensuring that the fabric for the sleeves is inside out, align the short bottom edge of each sleeve and pin in place before sewing with your selected stretch stitch and a 1.5cm (5/8″) seam allowance as with the body. Finish and trim the seams as for the body pieces.
Pin sleeves to the body of the t-shirt, right sides together. As you are sewing opposing curves it can be useful to first pin at the shoulder and underarm points (A & B in the diagram below) to ensure that the sleeves are set in straight and even.
Once the shoulder and underarm points have been pinned in place, place pins on half way between these two points at the front and back of the sleeve, trying not to over-stretch fabric. Place further pins between these, easing fabric as needed to distribute material evenly around sleeve with no gathers or puckers until sleeve is pinned in place all the way around. For ease of pinning sleeve can be tucked inside armhole to allow easy sewing.

Sew sleeve to body using selected stitch and a 1.5cm (5/8″) seam allowance. Finish and trim seam as before.
Repeat pinning and stitching instructions for the second sleeve. The t-shirt can now be turned the right way out and tried on to determine length. You can use a favourite t-shirt as a guide for length or just play around with tucking the hem up in the mirror until you find a length that you like the look of and that flatters.
Mark the desired finished length of your t-shirt using either dressmaker’s chalk or an air-erasable pen. Mark a second line 4cm/1.5″ below this desired length and cut straight across t-shirt, ensuring an even hem depth.

Turn the t-shirt hem up 4cm/1.5″ to your desired length, towards the inside of the t-shirt Only fold the hem once. It may be helpful to lightly press a crisp hem on particularly fine jersey fabric if the fabric is proving slippery or difficult.

Pin hem to desired length and change your needle for your selected double ball-point needle. Again, woolly nylon thread can be used for the bobbin thread for added elasticity and ease of sewing if so desired. A double needle with a 4mm space between needles is recommended for maximum stretch and authenticity.

With the right side of the fabric facing upwards, sew a line of double stitches 1cm (3/8″) from the folded hem.
Once you are happy with the bottom hem, turn T-shirt inside out and trim any excess fabric to finish. Place tee onto body and admire your genius.

For more tutorials, visit the Tutorials section of the site, where guides and how-tos are organised by craft and type. Don’t forget to visit the patterns and free projects and downloads sections of the site, too.

Tutorial: How To Re-Fashion A T-shirt To Fit And Flatter

Re-fashioning a too-large T-shirt to fit and flatterAfter having successfully adjusted a T-shirt to transform it from a square unfitted shape with large shoulders and seams into a fitted women’s tee, I decided to write up my method in a tutorial, so that all those cute graphic designs languishing on giant, shapeless tees need be consigned to work-wear no longer.

How To Re-Fashion A T shirt To Fit And Flatter

As I wanted to keep the tutorial quite detailed to cover all steps (which also makes it a tad long), I will split it into two parts. This post will focus on how to cut an old, shapeless tee to make it a fitted, more flattering shape. This will work for both mens and women’s T-shirts, where a more fitted result is desired (indeed, I have adjusted a too-large T-shirt of Mr Awesome’s to fit him better using the same method).

To start, gather everything you need. You will need the T-shirt that needs adjusting, as well as your favourite fitting t-shirt. Make sure that both are freshly laundered so that they are in their washed, un-stretched state. A quick light iron will also help to make the fabric easier to work with.

Other things you’ll need include a sewing machine and normal sewing thread to match the T-shirt you are adjusting, as well as the items below.

What You’ll Need For Your Fitted T-shirt Modification

Note: The woolly nylon thread used for Part Two is not essential but if you can get hold of any I think it give an absolutely marvellous additional stretch to sewing with knits and jersey fabric. If you read around this stretchy, fuzzy thread a lot of places will tell you that it is no use for standard sewing machines, used only in overlockers. This is partly true – if you attempt to thread your machine using woolly nylon you are in for a world of frustration and pain – however, I use it only in the bobbin, and when it is consigned to that little underground spool, it weaves some magic into every stitch. If you can find any, it’s worth giving it a go.

And Another Note: It’s important to use the right needles for the project at hand. Ball-point needles have a slightly rounded tip that part the knitted fibres of jersey fabric without splitting them (many knitters will know the frustrations of knitting with a ‘splitty’ yarn and sharp needle tips). The same is true of knitted fabrics such as jersey, and if you split and break the fibres you can cause a run or ladder, might like those that creep up your stockings. The distance between the twin needle points can be of your choosing, but I like a 4mm, size 80 twin ball-point needle for the best stretch and most authentic-looking t-shirt hem. Ball-point pins are also desirable when working with knits, so as not to damage the fabric.

Let’s Get Started!
Adjusting a t-shirt to fit: Make the initial cuts to remove sleeves

Start by laying your shapeless T-shirt on a firm, flat surface. Cut along the side seams, up to the armpits (if your T-shirt is manufactured in the round, with no side seams, make sure that your T-shirt is laying perfectly flat before cutting up the sides to the armpits, in the same manner.

Next, cut around the seams that join the sleeves to the body, to separate them from the main part of the tee.Modifying a t-shirt to fit: opening up the sleevesThe next thing to do is to cut along the seam at the underarm of each sleeve, to open the sleeve up. Once this is done you should be left with three pieces of fabric, which when opened up look something like the diagram below:
T-shirt shape modification: layout of piecesRe-align the bottom hem of the t-shirt, but ensure that your tee is now inside out (with any print on the inside. You’ll still want the front of the tee facing you, but the main tee and the sleeves should be inside out from now on, whilst you make your marks and cuts.
Lining up your ideal t-shirt to re-fashon a shapeless oneTake your nicely fitted t-shirt (hereon referred to as the ‘yellow’ tee and lay it on top of your ill-fitting t-shirt (which will be referred to as the ‘blue’ tee). Line up the centre neck and the shoulder seams of each shirt as in the diagram above, ensuring that the distance is equal on each side. Fold one sleeve of the yellow tee along the seam that joins it to the body, following the curve. Repeat with the other side and pin in place if desired.
Marking lines for cutting when refashioning tshirt to fitUsing your chalk, air-erasable or washable pen, follow the line of the folded-over sleeve to body seam and mark a line 1.5cm (5/8″) from this seam onto the blue tee. Mark a line the same distance from the main body of the yellow tee, following any curves, and continue down to the hem of the blue tee, even if this is much longer than that of your ideal finished tee. Repeat for both left and right sides.

Remove the yellow tee and make sue you are satisfied with the placement of the lines, then cut along them using your fabric shears.
Modified tee shape for adjustmentsYour resulting tee body piece should now have a more streamlined shape, and you are ready to cut the sleeves. Take one sleeve and fold it inside out, making sure hemmed edge is perfectly aligned with itself. Pin if desired.
Sleeve adjustment for modified teeTake the yellow tee and lay it over the blue sleeve piece so that the top folded edge and outer hem both align. Pin through both this and the blue tee to hold the pieces in place.
Sleeve adjustment for t-shirt modificationMark a line following the underarm of the yellow tee, 1.5cm, (3/8″) from the underarm seam, to cut along.
Aligning sleeves for t-shirt shaping modWith sleeves still pinned and aligned, fold yellow tee along seam that joins arm to body, to expose the excess sleeve fabric of the blue t-shirt.
Line for cutting new sleeve for fitted teeUsing the same 1.5cm (3/8″) seam allowance, mark a line following the fold you have just made. Remove the yellow tee and check you are happy with your markings before cutting your new sleeve shape from the blue tee, being careful to cut through both front and back layers (it will help to keep the two layers of the sleeve pinned together and perfectly aligned to do this.)

Once you have your finished sleeve shape cut out, use this as a template to cut your second sleeve, ensuring both sleeves are identical.
Modified t-shirt shape, ready to sewYou should now have the basic pieces for your modified T-shirt. It may still be a little longer than desired, but this will be adjusted in Part Two.

A Fitting Tee

Mr Awesome bought me a t-shirt for Christmas that I loved. My favourite book is Alice In Wonderland and my favourite painting is Van Gogh’s Starry night. He had found a t-shirt that featured Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole surrounded by all the characters and objects of her reverie, all caught up in Vincent’s swirling clouds and colours of the night sky.
It was perfect, but for the fit. He had bought the T-shirt from the US and after waiting a very long time to arrive it appeared that they sent a mens tee rather than one fitted for a woman, so it was far too big and the sleeves looked ridiculous on me. It had been too late to send it back before Christmas to get a replacement, but it was clear that lining it up against even my largest t-shirt that the fit wasn’t right for me.
A major part of what made it so ill-fitting was the sleeves, which across my shoulders and with the added length brought them to a point past my elbows.

By the time it was posted back it would have taken so long and been such a pain with postage that it mean that the more practical solution would be to either consign it to lounging around and cleaning wear, or try to make it fit a bit better. I didn’t want to not be able to show the t-shirt off, so I decided to take the plunge and try to alter it.

It really didn’t take long to re-fashion the t-shirt into a far more feminine, wearable shape that suited and flattered me. I re-shaped the body, took a lot out of the shoulder length, re-cut and fit the sleeves and took the hem up a fair old degree to a length that didn’t make me look swamped in fabric.
I’m working on writing up a simple tutorial on how to add shape and fit to ill-fitting t-shirts that should be available in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully it will help to freshen up a few old tees ready for summer – you could even ask to pinch a few of your partner’s/dad’s/brother’s if they have any particularly cool ones!