T is for T-Shirts
Susan Wright, Former Extension Clothing and Textile Specialist
Revised by Darlene Dickson, 4-H/Youth Specialist
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences New Mexico State University. (Print Friendly PDF)
Making a T-shirt is a simple matter. The fabric
used is usually a lightweight, single or double knit selected
from a wide variety of colors and fabric designs.
Before using, preshrink the fabric by laundering
it as you plan to launder the finished garment.
Single knit fabrics tend to curl, so avoid unecessary stretching. To reduce curling during preshrinking, machine or hand baste the cut edges and selvages together. After the fabric has been washed and dried, the basting can be removed.
Selecting a Pattern
Select a T-shirt pattern in the size you normally
use. Patterns “for stretch knits only” are sized accordingly.
T-shirts usually have no darts—the stretch of
the fabric takes care of fitting body curves. If you normally
alter the pattern in length, bust, or shoulder
width, do so on the T-shirt pattern.
Check the pattern to determine the size of the seam allowances. They may vary from 1/8 to 5/8 inches, depending on the kind of pattern used. If the pattern has 5/8 inch seams, you may want to trim them to 1/4 or 3/8 inch—especially the neckline, sleeves and arm holes. The smaller seam allowances will make sewing these seams much easier.
Sew seams with straight, zigzag, stretch, or overlock stitching. When a straight stitch is used, loosen the machine tension and shorten the stitch length to achieve some “stretch” in the stitching. Two rows of straight stitches on each seam will prevent seamlines from breaking easily. If a zigzag, stretch, or overlock stitch is used, adjust the length and tension as needed to achieve a smooth stitch.
Twill tape, seam binding, or a piece of woven selvage should be sewn into shoulder seams to help stabilize them. Seams forming decorative yokes or midriffs may be stabilized too. Center the tape over the seamline and sew through it as the seam is sewn.
After seams are sewn, trim close to the line of
stitching. Side seams can be pressed to the front or
to the back. Press sleeve seams toward the sleeve.
The shoulder seams usually are pressed toward the
back. Serging with an overlock stitch is an excellent
way to finish seams.
Neckline edges and hems often are finished by turning them under 1/2 inch and top-stitching. Or, the pattern may call for binding edges with self fabric or contrasting trim. Ribbed trimming can also be used to finish the neckline and hem edges.
If you want to bind the edges or use ribbed trimming
and the pattern does not call for it, a slight alteration
is necessary. Cut off seam allowances of the
areas to be bound. Where ribbing is to be used, cut
from each edge an amount equal to the width of the
trimming that will be added.
If there is no pattern for the binding, cut a piece of self-fabric 1 1/2 inches wide and the length of the neckline minus 1 inch. Cut this piece on the crosswise grain of fabric.
For ribbed trimming on a crew style neckline, cut a piece of ribbing long enough to pull over your head easily. For a lowered neckline, cut as for selfbinding minus 2 to 3 inches. The width should be twice the finished width plus two seam allowances. The finished ribbing for a crew neckline will be about l inch wide. For a lowered neckline, plan for a ribbed trimming to be no wider than 3/4 to 1/2 inch.
Sewing the T-Shirt
- Sew shoulder seams, Be sure to stabilize the
seam with twill tape, seam binding or a piece of
woven selvage. Cut two pieces of tape the exact
length of the shoulder seam. Pin the tape to
each front shoulder, centering it over the seam.
Pin front and back of T-shirt together. Sew
seam through the center of the tape, then trim
the seam allowances even with the top edge of
the tape. Press seams toward the T-shirt back.
- The pattern guide sheet may give specific instructions
for finishing the neckline. Or, select
one of the following methods.
Turn and Stitch Finish. Sew a line of baste stitching on the seam line. Press the seam allowance under along the row of stitching. Top-stitch in place 1/2 inch from fold. A second row of top-stitching can be sewn close to the first or along the folded edge to add a decorative touch. (Go to Step 3 to complete Tshirt.)
Ribbed Trimming. Sew ends of trimming together to form a circle. Trim seam allowance to1/4 inch. Fold ribbing in half, matching raw edges together. Using chalk or pins, mark circle in fourths with one marking at the seamline. Use pins or chalk to mark the T-shirt neckline in fourths with a mark at center front and center back. Pin ribbing to neckline. Be sure to put the seam of the ribbing at center back. Sew together, stretching the ribbing to fit the neckline Trim seam allowance to l/4 inch if necessary. (Go to Step 3 to complete T-shirt.)
Binding. For self-fabric binding, sew ends of binding together to form a circle and trim seam allowance to 1/4 inch. Using pins or chalk, mark circle in fourths with one marking at seamline. Mark the T-shirt neckline in fourths with a mark at center front and center back. Use pins or chalk to mark neckline. With right side of binding to right side of neckline, match the marks on the binding to marks on the neckline and pin together. Be sure to put the seam of the binding at center back. Stitch on seam line and trim seam allowance to 1/4 inch if necessary.
Divide in fourths and mark with pins or chalk.
Fold the binding over the seam allowance to the inside and pin in place. Press lightly. Finish sewing the binding to the neckline by top-stitching along the inside edge of the binding or stitch-in-the-ditch. This stitching should be done from the garment’s right side. Trim off excess binding on the inside of the neckline close to the stitching.
- Trim seam allowances of sleeve and armhole to
1/4 inch if necessary. Pin the sleeve to the armhole
with right sides together. Match underarm
seam edges, the notches, and the top of the
sleeve to the shoulder seam. Pin as needed to
hold edges together.
- Stitch the sleeve to the garment, stretching the
armhole to fit the sleeve.
- Press the seam allowance toward the sleeve and
trim close to the stitching. Serging the armhole
seams is an excellent way to finish and set-in
the sleeve at the same time.
- Pin the side seams together, matching at the underarm
seams. Turn one seam up and one seam
down on each armhole to reduce bulk.
- Sew side seam from lower hemline to hem edge
of sleeve. Trim the seam allowances close to the
stitching and press. An overlook stitch formed
by a serger is an excellent way to sew the
seam, trim away excess fabric and finish the
- Finish the hems of sleeves and lower edge as desired and press. The hem edges can be finished by ribbing, serging, or hemming by machine or by hand.
Some Creative Ideas
After you have mastered the basic skills, be creative.
Here are a few ideas:
Rainbow T-shirt. Piece fabric for T-shirt front to make a rainbow.
- Make a copy of the pattern front and sketch the
rainbow shape desired. Mark the gainline on all
- Cut the pattern apart on design lines.
- Allow for seams and cut out pieces in selected
- Sew/serge pieces together to make the shirt
- Finish the T-shirt as usual.
This same technique can be used to create other designs.
Add a Lace Medallion. Sew a pretty lace applique
to the bodice front, back, and/or sleeves and cut away
knit for a “see-through” look.
- Select medium to heavy lace applique and determine
where you want it.
- Pin or baste medallion in place and zigzag stitch
around outer edges.
- Trim away knit from wrong side.
Use lace on neckline or sleeve edge in place of hem or binding, if appropriate.
Make a “Keyhole” Neckline. Cut out a “keyhole” and bind with self fabric.
- Cut neckline in desired shape.
- Determine length and cut appropriate width of
- Join binding ends to form circle and divide
- Divide neckline shape into fourths and apply binding as usual.
Matching binding can be added to sleeve edges also.
Make a “String-tie”. Bind neckline, allowing an extension for ties at center front, center back, or wherever you prefer.
- Determine where you want the tie and cut a
slash or a special shape into the neckline.
- Determine length of binding needed for
neckline, allowing extra for tying.
- Finish slashed edge by turning under or with
a facing or binding.
- Bind neck edge as usual allowing tie ends to
- Fold in raw edges of tie extension and stitch
- Finish tie ends with a knot, add a bead or leave the raw edge.
Try a T-Shirt Collage. Use leftovers from other T-shirts to make a colorful collage.
- Cut T-shirt parts from a variety of fabrics.
Example-front of a floral fabric, back of
stripes, right sleeve of a geometric and left
sleeve of solid. Or, you can piece together a
patchwork design for front, back and sleeves.
- Finish T-shirt as usual.
- Finish neckline with a turn and stitch finish, ribbed trimming or binding of a color that coordinates with all the parts.
Create a Scene. Select a flower, farm scene, sunset, or a favorite animal to applique.
- Sketch your design.
- Cut fabric pieces of appropriate fabrics.
- Arrange fabric design on T-shirt section to
- Fuse pieces in place.
- Zigzag around edges to finish design.
- Finish T-shirt as usual.
To find more resources for your business, home, or family, visit the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences on the World Wide Web at aces.nmsu.edu.
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Revised and electronically distributed February 2003, Las Cruces, NM.