DIY T-Shirt Sewing Tips

Octo Tee

If you haven’t sewn with knits, a DIY T-Shirt is a great place to start! They’re easy and fast to make, comfy to wear and we all love owning a closetful of them. I’ve sewn with knits for a long time, still love making tees the best and have lots of tips for you today!

Octo Tee Choose a Great Fabric

The fabric you choose for your DIY T-Shirt is the most important key to success. Percentage of stretch is essential to check and compare to your pattern’s suggestion. Fortunately, you can easily do this while you are selecting fabric. Click here to learn more about checking percentage of stretch and download a chart for your sewing spot.

Knit Jersey Fabrics
Jersey Knits

There are two fabric styles you’re probably already familiar with from the tees you own. Jersey is a lightweight, smooth finish knit with a definite front and back and a tendency to curl towards the right side.  Interlock has a bit more texture, a firmer feel and looks the same on both sides.

Interlock Knit Fabrics
Interlock Knits

High cotton content (80% or more) in your tee fabric will be the most comfortable, durable and easy to work with. Many jersey and interlock knits include a small percentage of spandex for comfort and great stretch recovery. Whatever fabric you choose, be sure to pre-wash it just as you will your finished t-shirt.

Grainline Studio Lark Tees
Three Versions of Grainline Studio’s Lark Tee

Buy a Versatile Pattern

T-Shirt patterns are plentiful both in commercial (McCall, etc.) and independent designs. My current favorite is the Grainline Studio Lark Tee. I’ve made four so far and have several more in my sewing line-up. Lark offers a great size range and unlimited design options. The pattern includes four sleeve lengths and four neckline styles that make it season less! Click here to learn more about the Lark Tee.

Eloflex Stretch Thread

Yes, You Can Use Your Sewing Machine

While a serger makes sewing knits wonderfully easy and quick, it’s not required! The introduction of Coats and Clark’s Eloflex stretch thread has revolutionized the DIY T-Shirt scene. With about 10% stretch, Eloflex allows you to use a straight stitch on your sewing machine and still have stretch in your seams. It’s like magic and you’re going to love it! Click here for a post about sewing with Eloflex.

Coats All Purpose Surelock Thread

If you do have a serger, though, you’ll definitely want to use it for assembling your tee. Choose matching spools of Coats Surelock cone thread and set your serger for a four thread, ¼” wide overlock stitch with your differential set at N.

Schmetz Stretch Needles 75-11

Stretch needles rather than Universal or Sharp are required for your machines. They will push the knit fabric threads aside rather than breaking through them and possibly creating holes. That’s just not the look we want!

Lark Tee Scoop Neck
Lark Tee Scoop Neck

Neckline Finishes That Look Fabulous

There are several options for finishing the neckline of your DIY T-Shirt. Your pattern will have instructions or a pattern piece for cutting your neck band from self-fabric or ribbing. The two most popular methods are a folded strip and a stitch, then fold over fabric trim method. Whichever one you use, the key to having your neckband lay flat is to adequately stretch it along the neck curves. You may want to try this on a sample before you sew your first neck band to ensure success!

Sewing Stripes

Sewing With Stripes

Striped t-shirts are trendy and fun to make. There are a couple of tricks that make matching the stripes at the armholes and sides seams easy. Trace a full size front and back pattern piece for your tee and draw a straight line on the piece between the underarm points. Draw this same line on the sleeve pattern. This makes it easy to match that line to the same stripes when you lay the pattern on your fabric for cutting. Careful pinning or “glueing” with wash-away Wonder Tape will help you keep those stripes matched while you are sewing.

Satisfying Seam Allowances

Seam allowances will be listed in the directions for your DIY T-shirt and vary by pattern company. If you’re sewing with more than a 1/4” seam allowance on your sewing machine, you’ll want to trim it when you are done. Anything wider than 1/4″ will add too much bulk to the seams of your tee.

Hemming Knits

Happy Hemming

Cover Stitch machines are popular for hemming, but you can still create a gorgeous hem on your DIY T-Shirt without one. Choose a Schmetz Stretch Twin Needle for your sewing machine and you’ll be able to create a wonderful hem finish. A size 80/12 Twin Needle works well for most tee hems. Choose a 4mm width Twin Needle for a casual, sporty look or a 2.5mm for a dressier look.

And, there’s an easy three step solution for the dreaded “wavy” knit hem look, too!  Purchase a lightweight, 1/4″ repositionable, double-sided fusible tape such as Lite Steam-a-Seam 2 to stabilize your hem before stitching. Follow these steps before stitching and your hem will be wiggle-free with no “wave”!

  1. Fuse the tape to the cut edge of your hemline.
  2. Peel off the paper on the unfused side of the tape.
  3. Firmly finger press the hem in place and try on your tee. Adjust your hem width if needed.

And, Repeat!

Once you’ve successfully sewn your own DIY T-Shirt, you’ll want more – guaranteed. They’re fast to make, lots of fun and you’ll love all the compliments!

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