Quest for the Perfect Tee

I have mixed feelings about T shirts. On one hand, they’re easy and comfortable to wear. On the other hand, they can sometimes lack a certain level of polish. From a sewing perspective, they’re rewarding because they’re quick and easy – but they can also get boring to sew very quickly.

I spent some time working in a shirt printing shop, and I’m acutely aware of the immense industry and questionable working environments that most of them are produced in. In addition to the industry involved, t-shirts hold a unique place in social history that basically boils down to decades of increasingly casual dress.  I’m still wary of a too-casual wardrobe, but there’s also something to be said for a solid foundation of basics that work with everything else in your closet – so I decided to make The Perfect Tee. A blank canvas, if you will.

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I started by making a pinprick copy of my absolute favorite shirt of all time. It’s a $4 basic tee that I got at Forever 21 when I was about 17 and had just gotten Car Privileges. I don’t wear it anymore: It’s so worn out that it’s nearly see-through in some places, it has a few of those annoying pin holes and some of the threads have snapped but oh, how I loved that shirt. I had to get my mom to send it to New Zealand in one of my care packages so that I could copy it. Of course, once I’d made my own version I realized just how many fit problems ole’ faithful really had. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sets a much higher standard for me-mades than for RTW clothes…

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I began with the white: a 100% Merino from The Fabric Store that is lovely now that it’s finished but was borderline painful to work with. Every time I cut the fabric it rolled. Both directions. When I washed it, it rolled into a giant tube. When I sneezed, it rolled. When I pinned it and carried it to my sewing machine, it rolled. It even rolled up under my serger’s foot and caused ugly lumps in my seams. Ironing did nothing. It may have made things worse, actually. UGH. That shirt probably took about three hours to make, the fabric was so uncooperative. Plus, at the end of it all, I ended up realizing that I probably needed a full bust adjustment, and that the fabric was nearly transparent…I guess that turned out for the better, though: The fit’s not quite right but since it’s merino I’ve been wearing it as a warm base layer under other clothes. For that purpose, it’s been incredibly useful already (I’m determined to get my effort’s worth out of this thing…)

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After a week’s cool-down period, I made a full bust adjustment to my pattern and spent a completely reasonable 45 minutes or so making the next version in black. After I cut the fabric I realized there were two small pinholes in the back shoulder-blade area. After I got over my frustration at not having noticed the holes earlier, I darned them by hand. They’re almost completely invisible because the knit is so forgiving – you can only see them when I hold the fabric up to the light.

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I then promptly forgot to take a photo of my mend, so here’s a picture of my smiling face!

This one’s also merino from The Fabric Store, although it has a slight lycra percentage and is a bit thicker than the white. It’s a pretty luscious fabric, actually – and I’m not just saying that because it was normal and well-behaved. This one’s totally wearable (and would you believe I didn’t have a black t shirt before now?) but interestingly, the wrinkle issue wasn’t totally solved. I ruminated on this issue for about a week before coming up with a solution I thought would work.

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It’s almost completely wrinkle-free!

Number three (third time’s the charm!) was yet another merino – this time in a delicious merlot color from my Wardrobe Architect. I added wide sleeve cuffs in an effort to mix things up a bit, and to fix the wrinkle I cut a slit in the pattern from about 1.5″ above the base of the armscye horizontally to the base of the V neck, and rotated the armscye down by 5/8″ – I also took a matching amount out of the sleeve front. Problem. Solved. This is probably as close as I’ve ever gotten to a perfectly fitting T shirt, and interestingly she’s nearly exactly the same color as the original that I copied. The same, but better.

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There are some wrinkles still there – I think partially this is because my cuff treatment pulls the sleeve down, but also with a knit I’m not sure it’ll ever be completely flat. I’m fine with that.

Fourth for good measure is where the fun really begins: This camel-colored dream of a knit is a cotton/cashmere blend from Draper’s Fabrics that is so soft I just wanted to smoosh my face into it and stay there. But I’d have suffocated, so I made this shirt instead. I lowered the armhole slightly on this one, mostly to see what would happen, and I think I like it. I also decided I was really feeling those sleeve cuffs from the merlot version so I made them again but a bit narrower, and I had a bit of fun with the curved hem as well.

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This one is a very lightweight cotton and it does lots of weird wrinkly things that I don’t understand. It’s so very soft though!

It’s hemmed with the same principal as bias tape on a woven, except since it’s knit I just used a band the same width as the neck band, stitched on and topstitched as normal. My inspiration came from Rochelle at Lucky Lucille, although her hem curve is slightly different. The color, although dangerously encroaching on ‘beige’ territory, is a really great neutral with nice depth that’ll be useful with other colorful things. Plus, the hem and sleeve changes make it just a bit different from the average tee.

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I’m really excited to add these to my rotation because they’ll be perfect blank slates to wear with other ‘statement’ pieces, and I’m so pleased that I’ve mastered the fit! I know these shirts are all going to become staples for me because I’ve taken the time to sew them right, and I’ve made them in quality fabrics that I love to wear. Having said that though, I think I need to take a break from the t-shirt production line and make something a little more complex next!

Here’s a quick Me Made May 2017 update: Here’s my pledge in case you need refreshing.

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Featuring: Three styles of Ginger Jeans, Two self drafted skirts, the Thyone cardi and unblogged (yet) striped cardi, three shirts from my dropped shoulder draft and two tees from this post! Plus, a lot of me-made bras and undies.

Everything I wore that I didn’t make is listed below:

  • Monday: merino baselayer leggings (I have fabric and plans for me-made ones)
  • Tuesday: down jacket (but only for the commute)
  • Wednesday: light blush/nude bra (I struggle with beige. This is a known issue)
  • Thursday: Leather motorcycle jacket (only for the commute & it’s special to me)
  • Friday: Another pesky nude bra
  • Saturday: The shirt is hand dyed, but not handmade. How do we count that?
  • Sunday: I broke the pledge. We went on an all-day hike, and I wore my me-made hiking shirt, but everything else was RTW from Jon’s work (staff discount, yay!) Everything else was also Merino from New Zealand, and it just so happens that the block that particular brand drafts from fits me really well. We climbed to the top of Wairere Falls – the tallest waterfall on the North Island. This is a hike I’d done before but had to turn back halfway. This time, I got to the top! I’m very happy about it but my knees are yelling at me a lot today, let me tell you.
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The thing with waterfalls is that they don’t look very waterfall-y from the top. But it’s just over the edge of the rock where Jon’s standing.

I also want to fess up to one more thing: I’ve been wearing Jon’s robe in the mornings and evenings for warmth, and I think it’s high time I made one for myself that actually fits. One that’s not polyester. So I’m adding that to the list.

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See you next week!

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10 thoughts on “Quest for the Perfect Tee

  1. Renee Janssen says:

    I’m in awe of all those great T-shirts, that wonderful cardi – all of it! I follow you, I’m so busy, no job (retired), kids grown up – but babysitting and loving it. One day … lots of sewing for my little granddaughters in-between, but you do inspire me! Love your posts!

    • Kat says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Renee! I’m sure your granddaughters will love whatever you make for them as they grow up, and of course I’m happy to offer inspiration as needed! 🙂

  2. Lynsey_makes says:

    Great tee’s, looks like you really cracked it with the last two, they are fab and it shows the difference that little changes can make to a pattern and that it’s good not to give up if something doesn’t fit first time.

  3. Merry Pinbender says:

    I am knocked out how well you have dialed in the whole bust/sleeve/wrinkle issue. I was wondering if something like what you did would work after you did the draft make with the kimono sleeve adjustment. It’s like you hear me when I holler into the void. Lol.
    Always, Merry

    • Kat says:

      Maybe it was your hollering into the void that made me finally come to the realization that I needed to make that last adjustment! I was definitely stuck there for a while, but I find that sort of letting things sit for a while sometimes helps. I’m pretty much feeling now like I should just make that adjustment to all my drafts before I even start!

  4. Merry Pinbender says:

    So I’m wondering if maybe I should try a simular adjustment myself. Off to the reading room, must investigate. (Probably should have listened when Grandmother told me to sit up straight) ha ha
    Merry

    • Kat says:

      I’m not sure if it’s boob-related or shoulder-related, which is I think what’s keeping me from finding out its proper name. Regardless, the adjustment seems to have worked. Do let me know if the reading room comes up with anything!

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