I promised to write this post a long time ago, but only now is it getting published. Sorry. In August, I worked on creating flat 2D patterns from 3D duct tape body forms that I would cut to make sloper pieces. I posted a lot on how to do that for pants etc. and I started writing posts for upper body, but got stalled in my process.
There’s a couple of reasons why it has taken me forever to get this post written. First, work got in the way. Second, I still don’t have an excellent method for translating the duct tape sloper into a wearable shirt. I still had to go through a lot of testing and sewing to finally edit my sloper pattern to how I wanted it.
It has been an extremely educational process and has given me a ton of insight on how to fit clothes to my upper body. But at the end of the day, I still think having a 3D printed body form is preferred. The next big sewing purchase for me will be a Beatrice Form (https://beatriceforms.com). That being said, I thought it would still be insightful to see what my pattern looks like compared to a whole bunch of others.
Sewaholic Renfrew Top
One of the first t-shirt patterns I bought when I started sewing was the Renfrew Top by Sewaholic. Sewing a basic t-shirt was my first garment and main focus when I started sewing, and I didn’t realize how elusive the perfect shirt was going to be.
Full disclosure, I have NEVER been able to wear RTW shirts for women. The only basic tee I ever owned growing up was the free unisex shirts I got for all those swim meets and camps. I was a competitive swimmer from the age of 5 through high school, and I still jump in the pool for laps today. Given my athletic background, I have manly shoulders and upper back. When I start measuring upper bust, bust, chest, etc. my measurements are all over the place, and I still don’t know how to account for it all.
When I made my first shirt, it was no surprise that the Renfrew Top didn’t fit. This led me to see if I could self-draft a basic tee and with the help from Sunni of a Fashionable Stitch, I was able to come up with a passable pattern that served me well for a year or so, but the more I sewed, the more I saw the flaws in the pattern. Fast forward a few years, the way I solved the shirt problem was to explore fit with the duct tape sloper.
For all of these shirts, you’ll notice that I need to take up the shoulder seam in the front and let out or lengthen the back and not always an equal amount. I also need to do a forward shoulder alteration of at least 1/2-inch. That means the front seam at the shoulder needs to be dropped 1/2-inch and the back seam at the shoulder needs to be raised 1/2-inch. Even when you take those alterations into account, the width of the shoulder is still far too narrow for me. I also need a full-bust adjustment (FBA) or as is in my pattern a bust dart. Yes, you can have a bust dart in a basic tee!
The length discrepancy between my pattern pieces are due to the front having a bust dart. When the dart is added in, the side seam is shortened and matches the side seam length of the back piece and the center front stays longer to accommodate for the bust.
Grainline Studio Lark Tee
Let’s look a couple of indie patterns that are quite popular. Early on, I was attracted to the simplicity of Grainline Studio patterns but soon found out that fit was always going to be an issue. I never made the Lark tee because I had my self-drafted pattern. I can’t say how the fit is, but I can tell you that most shirts from Grainline studio are far too narrow in the shoulder for me. You can tell if you look at the pattern. Those are narrow shoulders compared to my manly arms! I should note that my shirt hem stops at the peak of my buttocks so the Lark tee would extend way past my butt. I do not have a long torso even though I am an inch shy of 6-foot.
Hey June Handmade Union St. Tee
The other indie pattern you see a lot of people make is the Union St. Tee, and for good reason, the pattern has everything. It comes with the option for a v-neck, scoop neck, or crew neck, and has four sleeve lengths included – short, elbow, 3/4, and long. There is an optional chest pocket and a separate front piece that has been adjusted for a full bust (FBA). What more could you ask for in a pattern?
I’m glad I own this pattern because I will be able to use the v-neck, scoop neck, or crew neck options to alter my pattern. There are only subtle differences between the Lark and Union St. Tee. If you notice on the Lark tee, the armscye (the curve of the armhole) matches my pattern, whereas the curvature of the arm hole in the Union St. tee is too broad. Getting that curve just right on a basic tee is essential. Remember that an armhole cut high up under the arm and closer to the arm along the sides is generally more comfortable because it allows a greater range of movement in a garment with sleeves; this is often counter-intuitive to a beginning fitter. It doesn’t make sense that a better, tighter fit would result in more movement, but it does.
SBCC Tonic Tee
I did purchase all these patterns, just if you were wondering. I wanted to have all the options. On an Instagram poll, people recommended that I add the Tonic tee to the comparison of basic t-shirts. The SBCC patterns are intended for petite women with curves. I don’t fit that category, but I thought it would be interesting to see how my pattern compared nonetheless.
I would say this pattern is the furthest from what would work for me. I would have to do a lot of work to get the front pattern to fit correctly. You know what this pattern teaches me, I will always require a shorter front shoulder, a longer back shoulder, and a forward shoulder alteration no matter the pattern or company! Moving on …
Deer and Doe Plantain T-Shirt
There are some great free t-shirt patterns on the web, and so, of course, I needed to include them in my analysis. The first free tee comes from Deer and Doe, the Plantain T-shirt. The Plantain t-shirt and Union St. tee are nearly identical, scary identical. The back pieces are 100% identical. The Plantain tee scoops out more along front armhole, and that’s about it it. Probably shouldn’t have revealed that secret!
Secondo Piano Basic InstincT
At this point, you should be like me and frustrated with how similar all the patterns are to each other. Here’s a free pattern that breaks from tradition, the Basic InstincT. This free shirt pattern provides much broader shoulders — something I desperately needed in all the patterns above. If you’ve tried any of the patterns above and weren’t truly satisfied, I would highly recommend trying this pattern as it is very different. What can I say, I’m sure after the shoulder alterations, this would be a perfect pattern for me. The front and back shoulder are wide enough. Yeh, this is a great pattern for those looking for something a little different.
Thread Theory Design Strathcona Henley
I started this post talking about how I had manly shoulders and to prove my point, let’s compare my pattern to some men’s’ patterns. My husband wears the Strathcona Henley and I’ve tried on his shirts. The shirt is way too narrow across the bust and hips, but fits great in the shoulders. Looking at the comparison, can you see how wide my shoulders are? The shoulder length is a bit long, and the shirt from the bust down is too narrow. It fits great on my straight-as-a-plank husband, but I need more curves.
Elbe Textiles Sage Tee
There is a free men’s tee pattern, the Sage Tee. This would be an excellent pattern for men who have a big barrel chest! The shoulder is about right, but wow the rest of the shirt would fit horribly for me. I included this pattern to show you something completely different! What more can I say?
I wish I had the time and money to make shirts from all these patterns to show you fit. It really comes down to the money. These shirts would not be wearable and so it would be a complete waste of fabric and money. Hopefully, this post is helpful for the sewing community. I can gaurantee that I have very unique fitting issues compared to many women. I also realize there are a lot more subtleties in fit with all of these shirts that could be discussed, but that would be novel length. I completely ignored neckline fit issues. Just note that my neckline is about as high as it can go, so any neckline above mine would have to be scooped lower.
The lesson I learned from this is that I really do have a very unique body shape. I know there are some in the sewing community that have struggled like I have with finding the perfect t-shirt pattern and hopefully this post shows everyone that if you really fall outside of the norm, no sewing pattern is going to work. I like being an outlier, but I wish there was more variety in patterns! Thankfully I have my duct tape sloper.