Introduction: How to Take in a T-shirt (without a Sewing Machine)

About: Tate is an artist, occasionally a curator, author, social designer as well as a frequent workshop facilitator focusing on utilization of available materials, tools and site specificity.

The idea of hand sewing a whole t-shirt is pretty daunting but it really doesn't take a long time or a lot of skill.

The initial steps of this project will go by quickly and the really long process of hand-sewing the sides and sleeves of the shirt can be done while using a minimum of your mental facilities (meaning that you can do something else like watching a movie, listening to a podcast, or Skypeing with someone while you resize your new T-shirt).

Step 1: Minimal Materials

You will need:

  • sewing needle
  • thread
  • scissors
  • a T-shirt (that fits well)
  • a T-shirt (that is too big)

Step 2: Removing Material

  • Start by laying out the shirt which doesn't fit (the big one), as cleanly as you can trying to make sure that it lays flat and without wrinkles.
  • Repeat the last step with the shirt which fits you well (the small one), laying it right on top of the previous shirt.
  • Using the fitting shirt as a pattern, cut the larger shirt along one side of the smaller shirt and follow the seam of that joins the arms of the smaller shirt to its body.
  • Fold the large shirt over so that the right side of the neck-line lays over the left that where you just cut the larger shirt gives you the pattern for the cut on the other side which will result in a symmetrical shape of the eventual finished shirt.

*You can also trim off the bottom of the shirt if you want it to be the same length of your original shirt but, personally, I like when a shirt is longer and I just find it unnecessary. If you do choose to trim the bottom of the shirt you will have to trim it at about a centimeter below the line made by your fitted shirt so that you can re-hem it which will add time and work to this project.

Step 3: Trimming the Sleeves

  • Now use the sleeves of the smaller shirt as a pattern to cut the excess from the sleeves from the larger shirt.
  • When you have cut both of the sleeves, lay out the shirt parts to check to see if everything looks right.
  • With your shirt-in-progress lined up and lookin' good, open it up like a butterfly along the shoulder line and proceed to the next step.

Step 4: Joining the Sleeves

The shirts pieces should now have their inside facing up and they should also be splayed out as if they were a butterfly with open wings.

  1. Using your needle and thread sew the center of the sleeve to the center of the T-shirt, passing it through one or two times and tie the thread off.
  2. Sew the armpits of the sleeves to the armpits of the shirts, tying the thread off after one or two passes through the fabric.
  3. Between the center of the sleeve/shirt and the armpit, sew two or three connections like you just did so that your sleeves are now temporarily joined to the shirt.

Step 5: Joining the Torso

  1. Fold the shirt back over so that the armpits, and hem match up.
  2. Sew the bottom hem of the shirt together on each side of the torso, tying the thread off after one or two passes just like you did in the previous step.
  3. Between the hem at the bottom of the torso of the shirt and the armpit, sew five or six connections like you just did so that the halves of the shirt are temporarily joined.
  4. Sew one stitch at the hem line at the end of each sleeve also, tying the thread off after one or two passes.

*Now with your shirt fitted and temporarily together, you can try it on to make sure that it fits the way you like it. If there are any problems, now is the time to fix them or make any alterations. If everything is looking fine, then move on to the next step.

Step 6: Hand Sewing

OK, this is the step which is going to take the longest but it is pretty straightforward. From start to finish, it should take about two hours so load up a movie or a series to watch, a friend to talk to, or podcast or audio-book to listen to.

With your shirt still inside out and loosely put together you will have to sew the seams, adding a stitch at about every half centimeter. I suggest that you use a blanket stitch to sew the seams of your shirt because I feel that it is a pretty durable stitch and also aesthetically pleasing (though it will be on the inside of your shirt). If you have never used a blanket stitch, this WikiHow page will show you how:

  • Sew each seam running from the bottom hem of the torso into the armpit of the shirt and then to the end of each sleeve.
  • Sew the seam which joins the sleeve to the torso of the shirt.

*You can see in the images what the stitch will look on the inside and the outside after it is finished. For the most part it should'nt be noticeable that your shirt was not bought in the store.

Step 7: Finished

Now you should have a shirt which is fitted to your liking, so wear it with pride knowing that you resized it on your own without any assistance from those damned machines. Great job!

Sewn By Hand Challenge

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