The (Over/Under) Fitted T-Shirt

Pattern: Tarlee T-shirt by Muna and Broad

Fabric: Long sleeve – Little Little knit stripe in burnt orange and grey. Short sleeve – Organic cotton jersey in black. Sleeveless – Cotton corded rib in forest.

I love a classic t-shirt. I like them loose, I like them tight. I like to layer them, I like to tie them in at the waist. The comfort level of an oversized t-shirt puts me in peak relaxation mode, and a tight fitted tee can make me feel super confident.

Oddly I haven’t made many t-shirts before, and maybe I had a sort of smug attitude when it came to making them; I thought it would be a walk in the park. I love the result, but I made some silly fitting decisions along the way that led to both an over and under fitted garment.

I decided to use the Muna and Broad Tarlee t-shirt as a base pattern to work from. I really liked the neckline and collar options offered in the Tarlee. There are options for a simple crew neck, a turtle neck, and a mock turtle. I went with the mock turtle neck just because I don’t always like the feeling of too much fabric bunching around my neck. I also wanted various sleeve options, so I did one long, one short, and winged a no sleeve crop top as well. I used 3 different knits all from Fibresmith online fabric store.

Looking at the fit of the Tarlee on different bodies, I determined I wanted a more fitted shape. With my measurements sitting over 3 different sizes, I rationalised that because I wanted a more fitted shape, I should start with the smallest of those sizes (size C) and make alterations from there. This is where my under fitting started, as I should have gone for the middle size and graded between the others.

I know now that I was not in the right headspace to alter patterns. I always try to come in to sewing with a clear and focused idea of what I want, but that can sometimes spiral into questioning every step that I make. When I took in through the side seams for the tighter fit I desired, I also played around with the armhole, thinking it too needed to come in. On any normal day, I would know never to alter the armhole unless absolutely necessary, so why did I do this now?

Reading Broad In The Seams latest blog I can see my experiences with fitting are shared, but not always with similar results.

I definitely think some level of fitting is necessary. We all have different features that we can be aware of and make allowances for when it calls for in a pattern. But sometimes they are simply unnecessary. Sometimes they are a result of over thinking; seeing others having to make adjustments and determining I have to do the same or the opposite also; not properly testing the pattern before/after making adjustments.

In this case, I would have benefited from toiling my alterations first, but I was in a bulk cutting zone and nothing was going to stop me! The final result is ok. I like the fit through the body and the mock neck is so good, but the armhole swings in too high on my shoulder.

The sleeveless top took a lot of changing for me to be happy with the fit. The rib knit fabric is pretty chunky and stretches out really easily, so that had to be taken in even further at the side seams. The armhole for this DID need work done, as an armhole with a sleeve is a very different shape to one without it, but I’m really happy with the result and my decision to crop. I’m entering a new faze of loving my exposed belly with high waisted pants, and maybe I need to give the same sort of acceptance and love towards my need to over fit and under toile sometimes.

Shirt Making

Pattern: Cornell Shirt by Elbe Textiles, View B, Size H

Fabric: Green white/blue check cotton/linen from The Fabric Store

Notions: Rasant 120 thread, 1.2cm clear buttons from All Buttons Great and Small

Tools: Point turner, sleeve board, pressing ham, clapper.

I really enjoy shirt making. Something about nailing an even collar shape, perfect topstitching, and getting the buttonhole right in one go is extremely satisfying for me. Having said that, it almost never turns out exactly perfect, and this shirt had me taking a lot of breaks when I was frustrated or couldn’t quite see the best option.

I chose this cotton/linen check from the Fabric Store in the really bright pale green. The fabric has a really nice weight for shirts and doesn’t crease up as much as linen. I’m not usually big on prints but I do love checks (maybe it’s my Scottish heritage), but this does mean pattern matching if you want a really shmick look and for this one, I was going SCHMICK. Pattern matching does slow down the process at nearly every stage of making, so I was prepared this might be a longer make than usual.

I decided to do some initial alterations to the pattern. I added 5cm length to the body, shortened the cuff to about 2.5cm, and shortened the sleeves by 2cm. It was very difficult to see how long the sleeve would be without toiling the whole shirt first. I’ve made cuffed shirts before where it wasn’t a big deal if the sleeve was a little long because I’d be rolling them up most of the time anyway. But this shirt I wanted to have the fit right with the sleeves down and buttoned at the cuff. I ended up having to take out an extra 8cm from the sleeve! I took some from the cuff, some from the sleeve head, and ended up taking a tuck through the sleeve as well which doesn’t look great and definitely takes away from the schmickness. But these are the lessons I learn for not toiling! For future use I will probably size down and remeasure along the shoulder seam and sleeve length to get a more accurate fit.

When I altered the sleeve head/armhole, I also had to take in at the shoulder slightly. It was very clear that I was gathering the armhole slightly to fit the sleeve in place and it looked like an oddly puffy mess! No amount of steaming would reverse this error, so I had to take in the shoulder so no gathering would occur.

Redrawn shoulder line to take in armhole
My puffy armhole!

When cutting out the pattern and attempting to pattern match the fabric I found it easier to cut one piece, like the shirt front and lay it directly next to the back piece, folding back the paper pattern and making sure the check lines match at the side. When sewing and pattern matching it can be quite a process as well depending on the print. When sewing this check, I matched the lines and cross pined (put one pin on the warp grain and one on the weft grain making a cross with the pins), and sewed right up to the pins before removing carefully. 

Pattern matching at the side seam.
Mark out pattern on the paper to make magic disappearing pockets!

I was also keen to pattern match the pockets on the front, as I’ve seen Cornell’s with this feature and think it’s magic when the pocket disappears into the pattern! To get the pocket print to line up exactly I marked the position of the pocket on the shirt front fabric. I then placed the paper pocket pattern piece (!) over the fabric and drew the check pattern on the paper. This makes it easy to cut these small pattern pieces from scraps, which is what I had to do. 

I used a lightweight fusible interfacing and only applied it to one side of the collar and cuffs. I always do some tests with interfacing on scrap fabric just to see how it will feel under multiple layers. I also knew this shirt had more of a casual feel so too much stiffness was unnecessary. 

Basting stitch allows for easier and more accurate pressing.

Elbe Textiles had some really great tips and tricks in the instructions to follow and test out along the way. Shirt making is really aided by accurate pressing at every step of the process. Doing a basting line of stitching at the hems really helps to get an accurate and even press line. This also makes it easier to topstitch in places like the cuffs, button stand and collar.

This make definitely forced me to slow down at a few points and step away for a broader look at all my options. But I was glad I took the time to make the necessary alterations for a better fit. This shirt is definitely a bold colour and print choice for me but I’m so excited to introduce more pieces like this to my wardrobe.

My top tips for shirt making:

  • Take your time! There is nothing better than having that perfectly schmick finish to a shirt because you allowed the time for clean finishes like topstitching and button holes.
  • Tools are your friends. A point turner for perfect collar points or bagged out cuffs, pressing tools (sleeve board, ham, clapper) for shape or flatness.
  • Pressing is essential. In many cases you cannot continue to the next step without a crisp press. This also helps settle the stitching into the fabric.
  • When unsure, re-read the instructions multiple times. Like in the Cornell, pattern makers usually work hard to make instructions understandable and extremely detailed. If it’s still not making sense, Youtube!
  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or look right in the process, don’t be afraid to undo it and try it again. Redoing is not failing.

To Toile or Not To Toile

Pattern – McCall’s 7969 size XXL

Fabric – Double cloth “Earth” from Spotlight, calico for toile

Notions – Rasant 120, clothing label

Definitions – Toile: make a test garment in a similar fabric to evaluate fit.

Look, I’ll start by saying, I rarely toile. If I have fabric and a pattern in mind, I’ll usually jump right in and start cutting and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I can make alterations on the fly, and sometimes I’ve just got to live with what I cut.

But I want to get out of that habit. I feel like patterns can only start to become tried and true (TNT) when I know they suit my style, they can be made up in the fabrics that I like to wear, and when all alterations have been made for the desired fit.

So when I fell into the sea of gorgeously gathered balloon sleeves on the #M7969 pattern, I knew I wanted to take my time to get it right. So here is a run through on how I toiled and made alterations to the pattern.

I toiled in calico, which is pretty standard. It was close enough if a little stiffer than my main fabric but did the job. Sometimes washing and machine drying calico can soften it up if that is what’s needed.

I realised I would only need to toile the top half of the garment so I only worked with the bodice and sleeve pieces. Often when toiling I will only make up one half of the garment, especially if I’m only fitting to a mannequin. I went into auto mode and only cut one sleeve and bodice…lol this was just not going to work with this pattern!

Looking at some of the alterations that folk my size made, I had an idea where alterations would need to be made. I marked out the pattern quickly in pencil and added extra seam allowance (SA) to the waist, the side seam, and the raglan armhole on the bodice and the sleeve. I wrote on the pattern how much SA was there in total so I wouldn’t lose track. On refection I probably didn’t need to add so much, but it’s one of those things that is a bit awkward to add or guess if you don’t have it!

I used a contrasting thread on a long stitch to mark the waist and centre front. You can do this with any visible design lines like hems, necklines, or cuffs as well to give you a better idea of the finished length.

I like to sew my toiles using a long stitch so they are easier to unpick (or rip open!) on the go if need be.

I decided to do some tests on each sleeve to see how different the gathers on the sleeve head and cuff would sit if I used a longer or shorter stitch length. The longer stitch length created larger tucks which made a slightly rounder, higher puff. The shorter stitch length made smaller, more delicate gathers that sat slightly flatter and were easier to disperse more evenly.

Long stitch gathers and wider opening at wrist
Small stitch gathers and tighter at wrist

The pattern called for a wider opening on the sleeve cuff, but again after testing on each side I pulled the gathers in tighter for a more fitted and extra balloony shape.

When trying on I noticed that the front neckline was gapping. Although the pattern calls for the bias bind to be pulled tightly over the finished neckline which would help, it is often the case with low or crossed front necklines that they need to be tightened for a better fit. I pinched out a dart on both sides and saw how it felt. Taking it back to the pattern I averaged the amount from both darts and dispersed the amount along the front and back armhole and sleeve head, folding back to create a new seam line.

Gap dart at neckline marked in after altering on body.

I also ended up lowering the waist by about 1cm all around. On reflection I could have just done this at the front, as the back seems to sit a bit lower, but I think I’ll live with this one!

And then…it was time to cut! This terracotta/earth tone is something I’ve been wanting to push myself to try as my comfort zone colour is usually anything blue. But I love it! The double cloth was also something I’d never worked with before. Doing some pressing tests it didn’t take much to over press the fabric and have it lose its bubbled texture. So I recommend gentle steaming without putting the full weight of the iron on the fabric.

I don’t have that many dresses in my wardrobe so I was excited to add one that I absolutely love now. It had it’s first outing at a birthday picnic last weekend, and was the floaty dream I had hoped it would be.

My top tips for toiling:

  • Use a similar fabric to what you will eventually cut or even one you could make a wearable toile from
  • Mark out design lines for easy reference
  • Use a longer stitch length to make it easier to make quick alterations
  • Add extra seam allowance where you think you might need it
  • Write notes as you go so you don’t forget, I write mine on my toile sometimes!
  • Try out different techniques or finishes on each side if you aren’t sure about the way it looks
  • Wear the undergarments you would normally wear with the finished garment when trying on your toile. I usually go bra free when I’m sewing at home but that would make a very different fit and look!
  • Keep toiles for recycling into other toiles or test garments

Would love your thoughts on this very first Cloth & Roll blog post and whether you toile or throw all caution to the wind when making! Checkout my insta for further videos of the process. If you have any questions as well please don’t hesitate to ask.

Oh and yes that is Frank N. Furter in the portrait looking over my shoulder!

Oh Hi!

Welcome to Cloth & Roll the space where I plan to lay bare all my trials and tribulations, when it comes to creative work, in particular sewing. This blog was started as a continuation of my exploration into my own personal style, sewing and construction techniques, and rolling with the mistakes I make along the way.

Confession…I only started sewing for myself about a year ago.

I’ve been sewing professionally for a few years now as a costumer for film, television, and theatre. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to sew for myself, but after a long working week sitting behind a sewing machine (for 50 hours +), fitting, measuring, and altering other people in costumes, I could hardly even move from the couch.

So I had to wait for the right time and learn and listen to when my body was ready, to begin sewing for myself. 

The truth is I was unwilling and afraid to approach making for my non-straight sized body. I had all the skills to create the correct fit, but I was still relying on fast fashion and designers who did more oversized shapes that I could easily buy. I wasn’t carving out a style that was uniquely me, and I’m still learning what that is.

Finding a community of makers that looked like me, seeing their confidence and style gave me the fuel I needed to start experimenting and making.

I want to now continue the conversations and questions that always arise in creative work and explore why we love it. I also did a blog for Fat Sewing Club where I look into how learning to fit and meditate on my body helped my process. Have a read!

So I’ll try to keep this sort of regular as possible, and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or want to chat about making.