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.


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...


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...)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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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.