Introduction: Simple Stretch Shirt
Making your own clothes can be a lot less intimidating than you might think. This shirt is super simple to make, for several reasons: It only consists of two pieces, so no sleeves, the wide fit means that you don’t have to worry about exact sizing, and the stretchy fabric works well to hide some basic issues you might come across while sewing.
In addition, I’ve chosen a fabric with a variegated color, so the eye won’t be drawn to any small inconsistencies in your work. But more about the fabric choice later.
Watch the video or read read the instructions below to see how you can make this simple shirt :)
- Stretch fabric (1 meter)
- Matching thread
- A shirt to draw the pattern from
- Pattern paper
- Sewing machine
- Jersey/stretch needle for your machine
Step 1: Draw the Pattern
First, we need a pattern. I traced an existing shirt in this style, but I’ll show you in a bit that you can also use a standard T-shirt as a starting point.
Fold the shirt in half, line the center up with a straight edge and trace around the seams. You only need to draw half the pattern, since the pieces are symmetrical. We’ll cut them out of folded fabric, so add a double arrow to indicate where the fold should be.
To be able to fit the front and back together later, we want the shoulder and side seams to be the same for both pieces. So to make the pattern for the second piece, I start by copying those lines. The neck and hemline are more flexible, as long as they start and stop in the same place. If you are adding sleeves, the armholes tend to be different for the front and back. But in this case, they’re just the same.
Now that I’ve drawn the pattern, you can see how it compares to a regular slim fit T-shirt. Since the sizing isn’t crucial for this style, you can use a shirt like this as a reference to draw your own.
Add seam allowance
We need to add seam allowance so we can sew the pieces together. As a baseline, I tend to use 1,5 cm. This gives enough room for most standard seam types. I’ll need a bit more fabric around the armholes and hemline, since I plan to finish these with a double fold, so I’m using a 2 cm seam allowance there.
I’ll finish the neckline with a strip of binding, which means I don’t need to add any seam allowance there.
Step 2: About Stretch Fabric
Let’s talk fabric. Anytime you buy fabric, you want to wash it first. This will get any shrinking out of the way before you start cutting it.
The two main types of fabric are woven and stretch. I’ll tell you about woven fabrics another time, for now let’s focus on stretch fabrics. If you look closely, this type of fabric is actually knitted. That’s what gives it its stretch. This stretch is directional, meaning it will stretch a lot more over the width than it will over the length.
The fabric also looks different on either side of the fabric, one side consisting of loops, the other of ridges. Typically, the loops are what you want to show on the outside of garment. We call the side you want to show the right side, and the back the wrong side. Both the direction of the stretch and what you consider to be the right side of the fabric are important to consider when you’re placing your pattern pieces.
A big benefit of stretch fabric is that it doesn’t fray, so you don’t need to treat the edges. It can be a bit tricky to sew, but with the right approach that’s not a problem.
Step 3: Cut Your Pieces
I folded the fabric so that I can place both my pattern pieces on a fold, making sure the stretch runs along their width, not their length. Pinning them down prevents the layers from slipping or stretching while cutting.
Step 4: Sewing Stretch Fabric
Now, let’s talk sewing stretch fabrics. The first thing to do is to put a jersey/knit needle into your sewing machine. Then you'll want to use a stitch that will not get in the way of the stretch. If your machine has it, use the stretch stitch, it looks like a little lightning bolt or saw blade. You can also use a zigzag stitch and set it to a small width.
The main challenge people face with stretch fabrics is that it tends to bunch up and get wavy after sewing. This happens when one or both of the layers get stretched during sewing. This can be caused by the feed dogs that pull the fabric through the machine, the friction of the presser foot, or by accidentally pulling on the fabric while you work. Thankfully, there’s several ways to prevent this from happening.
A walking foot is a contraption that replaces your presser foot. It basically adds feed dogs on top, in addition to those on the bottom. This pulls the top layer through at the same rate as the bottom layer. This works very well, but a walking foot is quite expensive.
A cheaper but less effective solution is to use a Teflon presser foot. This reduces the friction on the top layer and thus the unwanted stretching.
I don’t have either of those, and tend to go with the more basic solution of using a layer of thin paper. This is by far the cheapest, and probably won’t even require a trip to the store. I’ve used strips of oven paper, parchment paper, or pattern paper. As long as it’s cheap and thin, so it doesn’t dull your needle and you can easily remove it afterwards.
The trick here is to place a strip of the paper underneath your layers of fabric as you sew. This means the feed dogs are pulling on the paper, not the fabric. After sewing, you simply tear the fabric away. I use this trick whenever I sew stretch fabrics and it works like a charm.
Step 5: Construction of the Shirt
Shoulders and sides
The first construction step is to close the shoulder and side seams. Place them right sides together and use pins to hold the layers in place. Use standard thread in a color that closely matches your fabric, so the stitches won’t be visible.
Bottom hem and armholes
I’m finishing the bottom hem and armholes by folding the edge inwards twice. This completely hides the raw edge of the fabric and gives a nice clean look. Fold open any seams you run across to reduce bulk, and stitch all the way around. Stay close to the inner edge to secure it properly in place and try to stay parallel to the outer edge for a neatly finished look.
For the neckline, I’m using a strip of binding. I measured the circumference of the neck and cut a strip of fabric of this length and 5 cm wide. Make sure the stretch is running parallel with the length.
Fold the strip wrong sides together and place it on the right side, or outside, of the shirt. Line the open ends up with the neckline and pin it in place all the way around. In this case, you actually want to stretch the binding a bit while you pin and sew it, especially around any curves. This makes sure that the binding will lie flat when you wear it and not stick out.
When you’ve pinned it all the way around, you can now cut the strip to length and sew the ends together.
Sew the binding in place around the neckline, again using strips of paper to prevent unwanted stretching. Pull slightly on the binding as you go to make it line up with the shirt.
Finally, flip the binding upwards and sew a second line of stitching parallel to the seam. This is called topstitching and is intended to hold the seam allowance down and make sure the binding stays in the orientation it should be.
That’s it. With only two pieces, this really is a simple shirt to make and I’d dare to say any beginner can do it. Just remember the tips about handling stretch fabrics I gave you, take it slow, and you should be all good.