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The Perfect T-Shirt

April 3, 2011

I attended a wonderful workshop yesterday and came home with more new ideas, tips, and techniques than I expected. I also came home with a Perfect T-Shirt. Who knew a couple tweaks here and there would result in erasing all my self fitting challenges and inspire me to jump the hurdle with the wonderful knits I love to wear.

The workshop was presented by Pamela Leggett of Pamela’s Patterns. For the workshop we had already purchased a pattern from which to work and brought all of our supplies to make ourselves a well-fitting knit top. This is important because just about every woman in the room was an accomplished seamstress and has probably already produced enough tops to outfit a small town. The key to this workshop was in fitting one for ourselves that fit beautifully. Going into the workshop I thought this was nice. At the end of the day I was in awe. Every single woman walked out in a knit top that made her look fabulous, and had a custom template to make as many more as she’d like!

I’m not a difficult person to fit in ready to wear. I don’t usually need to alter, hem, or adjust too many pieces I buy, but I can’t seem to get things I make to fit me properly without a lot of aggravation. I can fit others easily. It was the promise of a knit top for me that was the draw. What I learned was that there are a few standard adjustments I require that I wasn’t doing to get that perfect top. I stood in line for measuring along with all the other enthusiastic attendees watching as Pamela did two quick tape measure moves and one eyeball before telling each person how to cut out their patterns.

My turn came and Pamela did the high bust measurement 40″, then the full bust measurement, 43″. She stepped back and looked at me. She pointed out that my high bust measurement indicated a wide back, but I was obviously not a size large. Then she gauged the distance from my shoulder to mid arm scythe/high bust and said I would also need to “petite” my pattern at that point, and probably take in the waist. I was instructed to use the size medium with full bust adjustment, along with those adjustments. Her parting comment was that I would be the anomaly in the class using every adjustment. That explains so much!

Our next steps involved cutting and marking the garment pieces. Quick and easy. We sewed the shoulder seams using stay tape, pinned the darts, and after throwing these over our heads lined up again for a fit check to confirm the darts were in fact in the right place vertically, and ending a generous inch from the apex of our full bust. Checked out perfectly.

Pamela demoed a nifty way to construct darts that begins with using the tail of your machine thread as a guide. She pointed out the importance of a straight stitch line; how to end the dart with a couple of stitches on the fold; and then an efficient way to air sew and loop back to sew a couple locking stitches within the dart as a tie off. Once pressed over a ham, the darts are in. Next up – sleeves.

Installing the sleeves was standard aligning and easing for a knit set-in sleeve. No surprises here. Same for the side seams. Align the underarm seams, pin and stitch. The self binding for the neckline was installed using the old stretch and sew technique. After stitching together the short ends of the binding, we marked both the binding and the neckline at the quarters then matched them together at these points. Next we eased the binding into the neckline. I made the v-neck, so I sewed a short v of stay-stitching and clipped the v to allow easy installation of the binding. And it was so easy.

The binding was attached right sides together, raw edges even. The seam allowance would be the width of the finished binding so I chose a 1/2″ seam allowance. Once the binding is attached, it is folded over, finger pressed, and then stitched in place using a joiner foot to stitch in the ditch. Pamela pointed out that if not using a specialized presser foot, you may stitch slightly on the fabric, but not the binding. I was using a regular foot, so I sewed in the ditch erring to the fabric side. It looks great!

Two steps to finish the neckline. Since knits do not ravel, we trimmed the excess close to the seam. For the v-neck, we inserted a little dart at the v making it a straight line and finishing before the seam. This little detail added polish to the neckline and eliminated the need to construct those pesky mitered corners. On to the hem.

We used Heat and Bond to finish the hems on the shirt and sleeves. Adding notches along one edge of the strip allows it to be formed across the bottom. Apply, fold up and stitch with a narrow zig-zap stitch. The importance of the last step in the process is often underestimated. Blocking. With knits you may stretch out the seams at the neckline and hems. To rectify this you block your garment by steaming and then using your tailor block to press in place. I was tickled to end up with a well-fitting knit top for a change, and the templates and tips to repeat this success many times over. If you’re interested in making the Perfect T-Shirt or seeing more about Pamela Leggett and her insights into fitting and knits you can find her at

Back to the studio!

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