T-shirts are the ultimate everyday clothing item. They’re comfortable, casual, and the perfect throw-on-and-go top.
So why not try making your own t-shirts? You can experiment with different colors, fabrics, and cuts. Plus, you’ll be proud to wear and show off your handmade t-shirts!
If you’re a beginner sewer, making a t-shirt may seem unachievable – but it’s really not as difficult as it looks. This step-by-step guide will show you how to make your own t-shirt pattern and sew up your very first shirt.
What you need
Before starting on your project, you’ll need to make sure you have all your supplies together:
- a well-fitting t-shirt from your closet to use as a guide for the pattern
- fabric to make your new shirt (we will go into more detail below on the best types of fabric)
- pattern paper (or exam room paper or newspaper – really any large type of paper)
- pen or pencil
- straight edge ruler
- optional: french curve ruler
- scissors or rotary cutter
- sewing pins, preferably ballpoint pins
- sewing machine
- optional: serger
- all-purpose thread matching your fabric
- stretch or jersey sewing machine needle
- iron and ironing board
What fabric should you use to sew a t-shirt?
A lightweight knit fabric with a reasonable amount of stretch is usually the best option when making a t-shirt. A woven fabric or heavyweight knit will not have the nice drape required for a casual t-shirt and won’t stretch enough to be comfortable.
Generally, look for fabric labelled as “jersey knit” – jerseys are usually great knit fabrics for sewing t-shirts. In fact, most store-bought t-shirts are made with jersey knit fabrics in different weights, colors, and fiber contents.
When it comes to the fiber composition of the fabric – keep in mind that natural fibers will be more breathable and comfortable to wear but are often more expensive. If you’re looking for something super cozy, go with a cotton, bamboo, or merino wool fabric. Any of these fibers blended with synthetics, such as polyester, can also be quite comfortable and durable.
How to sew a t-shirt: a step-by-step guide
These 7 simple steps will take you through the process of making your own t-shirt from scratch.
- Make your sewing pattern.
- Cut out the pieces of your new shirt.
- Sew the shoulder seams.
- Attach the sleeves.
- Sew the side seams.
- Attach the neckband.
- Hem the sleeves and bottom of the shirt.
Step One: make your sewing pattern
First up, let’s make our sewing pattern! Find a well-fitting shirt in your closet to use as the base for your t-shirt pattern.
Fold the shirt in half so that the back of the shirt is folded to the inside and the front is facing outwards and lay it on your pattern paper. Make sure to line up all the seams – the side seams, the shoulder seams, and the neckline – and fold the sleeves to the inside of the shirt along the seam.
Trace around the edges of the half-front of the shirt. Along the neckline, trace along the seamline rather than the outer edge of the neckband. Once traced, you should have a somewhat rough-looking front pattern piece.
At this point, you can also add in any design changes you want to make. For mine, I decided to raise the neckline because I didn’t want the v-neck from the shirt I traced.
Next, smooth out all your lines with your straight edge ruler and your french curve ruler (if you have one). Make sure to straighten the center front line and the hem of the shirt. You’ll also want to add in seam allowances at this point – add 1 inch to the hem and ¼ inch to all the other edges except the center front.
Go ahead and cut out your front pattern piece.
Now it’s time to trace the back – flip the shirt so that it’s folded in the other direction; with the back facing outwards and the front folded to the inside.
Once again, line up all the seams and lay the shirt on your pattern paper.
Repeat the same process to trace the back piece, smooth out your lines, and add seam allowances. Again, add seam allowances to every edge except the center back.
Next, let’s calculate what size to cut our neckband pattern piece. Measure the neckline of the front piece and the back piece not including seam allowances.
My front neckline measured 6.5 inches and the back neckline measure 5.5 inches. To calculate the length of the neckband, use the formula below:
neckband length = 0.8*(front neckline + front neckline + back neckline + back neckline) + 0.5
As an example, mine worked out to:
0.8*(6.5 + 6.5 + 5.5 + 5.5) + 0.5 = 19.7 inches long
This formula calculates 80% of the total length of the neckline once sewn, plus 0.5 inches for seam allowance. You want the neckband to be 80% of the neckline length (20% shorter than the neckline) so that it will be taut when sewn in. If the neckband were the same length as the neckline it would appear loose and would stick up while you wear the shirt.
Once you’ve calculated the neckband length, cut a rectangle that is 2.5 inches wide by the length you calculated.
Next up – sleeves! First, we need to draw in the shape of the sleeve cap (the top curved part of the sleeve).
To do this, lay both the front and back pieces onto your pattern paper so that the seam allowances of the shoulder seams are overlapping – you’re basically laying it out how it would be sewn.
Then trace the armhole curve – make sure to trace along the seam line rather than the very edge of the seam allowance (so trace ¼ inch in from the edge). Also, mark which side is the front and which is the back.
Once your sleeve cap is traced, extend each end to the length you want your sleeves to be – mine are very short sleeves because that’s the look I wanted. Draw a straight line to connect the two ends. Next, add in seam allowance around your new sleeve pattern – ¼ inch around the top and sides and a 1 inch hem allowance.
Now you’ve got yourself a t-shirt pattern!
Step Two: cut out the pieces of your new shirt
Next, cut out the pieces of your shirt. You’ll want to cut one front (on the fold), one back (on the fold), one neckband, and two sleeves. Also, make sure to cut your pieces with the grainline running up and down and the direction of greatest stretch going across your pieces.
Step Three: sew the shoulder seams
Let’s start sewing! First, line up the shoulder seams of the front and the back pieces with right sides together (the nicer side of the fabric together) and pin.
Sew them with a ¼ inch seam allowance either on your serger or with a zigzag stitch on your sewing machine. Press the seam allowances towards the back.
Step Four: attach the sleeves
To prepare to attach the sleeves, open the shirt up at the shoulder seams so that the front goes in one direction and the back in the other direction. You should have the armhole curves laid out right in the middle.
Pin the sleeves to the armholes with right sides together, making sure the fronts of the sleeves are attaching to the front of the shirt and the backs to the back of the shirt. The curve of the sleeves will make pinning a bit challenging, but if you work with it and are patient, you’ll get it pinned!
Next, sew the sleeves to the shirt with a ¼ inch seam allowance and press the seam allowances away from the sleeves.
Step Five: sew the side seams
Turn the shirt inside out and line up the side seams with right sides together. You’ll want to pin all the way from the ends of the sleeves down to the hem.
Take the shirt to your machine and stitch the side seams in place – once again with a ¼ inch seam allowance.
Now we’re starting to get something that’s looking like a shirt, especially when you turn it right sides out!
Step Six: attach the neckband
Time to put together the neckband! Grab your neckband piece and iron it flat.
Here’s a tip: spray it with spray starch before ironing to help keep the edges from rolling in.
Fold it in half with right sides together and pin the two short ends together.
Stitch the short ends together to form a loop.
Next, it’s time for some pressing – take the neckband to your iron and press the seam allowance to one side. Then, fold the neckband in half lengthwise with wrong sides together and press it nice and flat. I also like to pin it to make sure everything will stay in place.
Next, split the neckband into quarters with evenly spaced pins – I marked my quarterway points with yellow pins to differentiate from the other pins.
To find the quarterway points, fold the neckband in half and put a pin on each side where the fabric folds. Then line up the first two pins in the center and put two new pins in on either side where the neckband folds.
Next, repeat that same process to evenly split the neckline of the shirt into quarters. This is going to help us make sure that the fabric of the neckline is distributed evenly around the neckband.
Pin the neckband to the outside of the shirt, lining up the quarterway pins on the neckband with those on the shirt and pinning at those four points.
Take it to your machine and sew the neckband to the shirt, stretching the neckband to fit between each set of pins as you sew.
And once it’s sewn, you can flip the neckband up, give it a good pressing, and you’ve got an almost-completed t-shirt!
Step Seven: hem the sleeves and bottom of the shirt
The final step to sew a t-shirt is… hemming! Turn the shirt inside out and fold under a 1 inch hem at the end of each sleeve and the bottom of the shirt. It helps to iron and pin your hems before sewing.
Finally, take your shirt to the sewing machine one last time and stitch your hems in place, sewing about ¾ inch in from the folded edge. I like to sew my hems with either a zigzag stitch or a double needle on my regular sewing machine.
You’ve just made your very own t-shirt from scratch! Go ahead and add it to your wardrobe; you’ll be sure to get lots of wear out of it! That’s my favorite thing about sewing more casual clothing that formal outfits for my closet – they get worn out way more.