Welcome to the first post in my Me Made Capsule Series! The first project I wanted to tackle for my capsule wardrobe was a classic tee shirt. There is nothing more basic or more essential than a tee shirt. But because tee shirts are so simple, every detail makes a big impact. The fabric, neckline shape, sleeve length and every embellishment affects the outcome of each tee shirt. I set out to create a handful of classic tee shirts that fit well and looked great, but I ran into more trouble than I expected. Hopefully my experience can help as you try to create your perfect tee shirt.
Tee Shirt Pattern Selection
After scouring the indie sewing pattern market for tee shirt offerings, I selected the Panama Tee from Alina Design Co. (I’m not affiliated in any way, but I love the pattern). I favored the Panama Tee for a few reasons:
- From what I could see on the modeled photos, it seemed like it was the perfect blend of fitted and relaxed. As per the description, the Panama Tee “hits you in all of the right places and skims over all of the others.” That was just what I was looking for.
- It came with knee-length and maxi length dress options—pieces I eventually want to add to my capsule. I knew that after I got the fit on the tee shirt just right, it would be super easy to get the perfect tee shirt dress.
I really like the Panama Tee pattern. The drafting is professional and the instructions are clear. I give it bonus points for great graphic design! The pattern definitely lives up to its claim as far as fit, and I’m completely satisfied with my purchase. I appreciate that the designer includes additional support on her blog to draft a different neckline or color block the dress according to your own preferences.
Fabric choice is the single most important factor in creating a garment that you will love. The first muslin (test garment) I made with the Panama Tee pattern was fantastic. Based on my measurements, I cut size 0 for the bodice and hips, and graded out to a size 2 at the waist. I used a rather lightweight cotton/poly/spandex blend jersey that I found at my local thrift shop. The drape and weight were perfect for a lightweight summer tee shirt.
Satisfied with my test, I cut another identical shirt from a mid-weight grey cotton interlock with a subtle stripe. The shirt was not identical. In fact, the fit was really disappointing. It was loose in awkward places and stretched out unattractively throughout the day.
Undeterred, I decided the problems with my second were due to the poor recovery of the fabric (meaning, without spandex, it didn’t hold its shape well). For my next shirt I picked out a mid-weight 95% cotton/5% lycra in solid white. It had a great weight and fantastic recovery—all the ingredients necessary for a perfect t-shirt—or so I thought! I didn’t even finish this test. After stitching up the sleeves and side seams I quickly tried it on and realized that another key element of a perfect tee shirt is good drape. This particular cotton/lycra was much too stiff for my taste.
I found another jersey in my stash that is similar to the first in weight, drape and recovery for my fourth shirt. This shirt was a success.
Although only half of my makes were wearable, I finally had two that I liked! Four tries later, I think I finally understand the importance of fabric choice.
But—and this is a big but—after washing and wearing my two successful tee shirts a couple of times, I’ve come face to face with another key fabric selection consideration: durability. Both of the “good” shirts have started to pill already! While I like the way the fabric fits, I don’t expect that it will hold up very well for long.
For my next tee shirt, I plan to use a lovely navy blue bamboo/spandex fabric that I picked up on my last trip to Chicago. I have heard the bamboo fabric holds up really well over time. I’ll let you know how it fares. I’m hoping it’s a real winner.
In addition to the fabric, great details can make a basic tee shirt look polished. I’m talking about the perfect neckline, the neckband thickness and the addition of pockets.
I love the pocket on the Panama Tee. It’s the perfect size and the square shape is crisp and classy. I had to reposition my pocket a bit, but that was a simple fix.
It can be tricky to topstitch pockets on knit fabric. I used Wash Away Wonder Tape to stabilize the pocket and adhere it to the front of my shirt while I stitched it on. I also put some tissue paper underneath my fabric (between my garment and the machine) to help it feed smoothly and to prevent the fabric from getting sucked into the throat plate. It’s easy to tear the tissue paper away after you’re done sewing. Instead of reinforcing the top corners with triangular stitching, as the pattern recommends, I used a rectangular reinforcement pattern. I found it was easier to make the rectangle look the same on both sides of the pocket. It also echoes the rectilinear shape of the pocket.
I love the round neckline of the original Panama Tee. It’s the perfect shape and depth for me. I also want a few solid V-neck tee shirts in my capsule. So I experimented with modifying the neckline on a fifth shirt (not pictured, but made from the same red fabric as the fourth).
I used this blog post from Alina Design Co. as a starting place for my V-neck modification. Drawing the shape is easy. Determining the desired depth of your you V-neck is a little trickier. Sewing the perfect V neckband is the trickiest. I borrowed instructions from a different tee shirt pattern I had. Alina also includes instructions for one way to sew a V-neck on her blog (link here).
The Futile Quest for Perfection
All in all, I’m happy with both the Panama Tee pattern and my first few shirts. I learned a lot about fabric choice and had success making personalized modifications.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned from this item of my capsule is the pitfall of expecting perfection every time. When I sew, I am always learning, which means I’m often making mistakes! Even though some of my shirts didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, I’m really pleased with the ones that did. The shirts I made over the last few weeks will definitely not be the last shirts I make. I know I will always find another great fabric–hopefully with the proper weight, drape, recovery and durability–that I’ll want to make into a new shirt.
Happy sewing–and learning as you go!
What do you look for in a perfect tee shirt?
What tee shirt fabrics have you used that have held up well over time? Please share your sources!