May 24, 2014

Getting more from your basic tees pattern - tunic length dresses

Hello and welcome to the first of a series of tutorials on how to get more out of your basic t-shirt sewing pattern. If you are anything like me, you are a little addicted to buying sewing patterns. I have lots. Lots and lots. And yet, even with the many that I have, once I find a good basic pattern, I tend to stick to it - especially if it is a downloadable pattern and I have to go through that whole rigmarole of printing, cutting and sticking, and then tracing the size you are after and cutting it out and filing the pattern pieces so you can find them again. I am trying to be a little more strict on myself this year (been wildly unsuccessful so far) and remember that you can use a basic pattern to create lots of different looks.

Today I'm talking about the basic t-shirt pattern. There are many of them out there, both paper and pdf, but they essentially they fall into three types, based mainly on sleeves.
1. The traditional T-shirt with the set in sleeve
2. Raglan style T-shirts
3. Dolman style t-shirts, with no actual sleeve piece, but the sleeve is basically an extension of the front and back pieces.
I'm using a traditional style t-shirt in my tutorial today, but this would also work with other styles of t-shirts. My basic tees pattern that I start with comes from the lovely Make It Perfect patterns - the Basic Tee

Every year when the season changes, I sew up a bunch of these - they are fast, easy, and I have the pattern pieces ready to go. I have found this particular pattern to be reliable when it comes to fit - although I usually need to shorten the arms if my child is at the smaller end of the size. The instructions are great, it comes with short sleeves and long sleeves and there are already a few variations built into the pattern. I would definitely recommend this pattern to anyone who hasn't got a t-shirt pattern they are happy with. It is currently a paper pattern, but I know Toni is working on formatting this to be a pdf downloadable one even as I type, so it will be available to download very very soon.
Whether I like it or not, the cool weather is coming - although you wouldn't know it in Sydney at the moment, the last week or two have been just delightful, with warm sunny Autumn days. With the cool weather though, I just don't think there is any substitute for a warm cozy knit - they are good for layering and far more comfortable under a jacket than any cottons. Whilst I know long sleeve t-shirts are readily available at Target, I do like to sew them myself, plus I can still squeeze Zoe's out of my leftovers, so there has been a little t-shirt sewing going on here lately. If you are new to sewing with knits, please see my suggestions at the bottom of this blog post.

This is about 1/2 of them, they are in constant rotation at the moment so the others were either in the wash or being worn, or in that big basket of clean washing (that seems to just multiply into an even bigger basket everytime I turn my back no matter how many times I sort it and put it away).

Anyway, I'll be showing some of the variations I do to make it more than just a basic tee. First up today is how to turn the t-shirt into a little tunic length dress.

You will need a little more knit than the recommended amount for the t-shirt pattern of your choice, and also a contrasting knit for the band, neckline and sleeve cuffs. A stash of different coloured ribbing always comes in handy here. I buy most of my ribbing from The Remnant Warehouse. It is really well priced, they have a wide variety of colours and I have always found the quality to be brilliant.
First of all, cut out the T-shirt as specified by the pattern. Cut the neck binding piece in the contrasting fabric.
Measure on your child the distance from the top of the shoulder down to where you want the band piece to fall. I like to do this on Zoe just below that little pot belly she's got going on. Measure that distance on your t-shirt front, from the top of the shoulder point (remember to allow for seam allowance) down to whatever your measurement was. Mark with a pin and then cut the t-shirt horizontally at the point to shorten it just a little. Do the same for the back piece.
Next we are going to cut out the band for the middle. Zoe is a size 2 and I cut hers around 2 inches wide, by whatever the t-shirt length is along the bottom of the front piece. Repeat for the back band piece.
Finally cut out the little skirt piece that goes on the bottom. Its width at the top should be the same as the band piece it will join onto, and I do like to flare it out slightly towards the bottom to add a bit more flexibility for all those gymnastic type moves with the legs that little girls are always doing. It's length is up to you, and once again depends on where you would like it to fall on the body. When cut your pieces should look like this.

Please note, I have left the sleeve pieces and the neck biding piece out of the above photo.
Next, sew up your t-shirt as specified by the pattern, but don't bother hemming the bottom.
Take your contrasting band pieces, and place them right sides together. Pin the short ends together and sew down the short ends. Press the seams you have just sewn with a steamy iron (although most knits don't wrinkle much, ironing with steam is a really important part of sewing with them. Most knits will stretch a little as you sew them, and the steam from the iron really brings the fibres of the fabric back into position and helps create a much more professional look).
Take your t-shirt that you have just sewn. Place the band around the bottom of the t-shirt right sides together and pin all the way around.

Sew the band onto the bottom of the t-shirt taking care not to stretch the fabric as you sew. Press into place, pressing the seam allowance towards the neckline so that the band sits nicely. You should now have something that looks like this.

Next, grab your little skirt pieces, pin them right sides together down the side seams. Sew the side seams and press. Take the skirt piece and sew it onto the bottom of the waistband piece by placing it over the waistband, right sides together and pinning in place before sewing.

Press this seam so that it sits nicely. Check the length on your subject of choice, make sure you are happy with it, iron the hem up and hem using your hemming method of choice for knits. Don't just use a regular straight stitch, your stitches will not have any stretch built into them and they will pop when it is worn. Try either a twin needle hem, or look though your sewing machine manual to find the recommended stitch for stretch fabrics.
When it's all finished give it a last iron and try it on. Fast, simple and easy and not much more effort than the basic t-shirt.  

If you are new to sewing with knits, don't be intimidated. They are so fast and easy to sew with, but you need to expect to have some failures along the way, and most of this will be down to inexperience at choosing the right knit for the right project. Knits are not created equal and over time you will learn which knits you like to sew with and which knits to choose for particular patterns. Generally speaking, I like knits that have a good recovery - which means that it you stretch them, they ping back into place nicely. That usually means the addition of spandex of lycra in with the cotton, to create the recovery. I do not like interlock, despite the fact that loads of other people carry on about how great it is. It just doesn't recover well enough when stretched out of shape for me, or drape well enough to fall nicely when hemmed on its own. Knits are a fabric I prefer to see and feel before buying. There are some online stores, but I've ordered from most of them and haven't loved alot of them. My semi recent discovery has been ixat - I've ordered a few knits off them and the quality has been excellent, and they have washed several times without fading! Crafty Mamas also has extremely high quality knits, but they don't come cheap! I buy most of my plain knits from The Remnant Warehouse and The Fabric Store. Anyway, goodluck and if you find an awesome source of knits, please share it! I hope this little tutorial made sense to you and I'll be back sometime next week with another variation.

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