In my last post, I mentioned making a simple white T-shirt to be worn with the Marcy Tilton V9193 pants. Little did I know what rabbit hole I would fall into! After searching in all the pattern books we carry, I could not find what I would classify as a t-shirt. There were lots of knit tops but not the fitted T-shirt I was envisioning. I even searched some online stores hoping for a better selection. To no avail! But in all the online searching, I discovered some interesting history of the T-shirt.
Did you know that many think that the ubiquitous T-shirt (in RTW anyways) evolved from the basic union suit? The union suit was a one piece underwear garment for men in the 19th century. While it was great to wear for warmth, it was too hot for summer or labourers so the garment was cut in half into what is now commonly known as long johns. With some experimentation, companies began making these garments with knit fabrics eliminating the need for buttons.
It wasn’t until 1904 that this piece of underwear truly caught the attention of the public. Cooper Underwear Company (later known as Jockey) published an advertisement marketing the undershirt to sewing-challenged bachelors. No buttons to fall off meant no sewing! And what institution had the greatest number of bachelors in their ranks at this time? The US Navy! About 1 year after the advertisement ran, the US Navy incorporated the white undershirt as part of the uniform. This was later adopted into the US Army uniform.
The undershirt only became popular as an over shirt after World War 2, when soldiers returning home made this garment part of their casual wardrobe. Then, of course, there was the release of A Street Car Named Desire (both movie and play) where Hollywood hottie, Marlon Brando, played Stanley Kowalski. Brando’s Oscar nominating performance in a tightly fitted t-shirt caused a spike in sales which put the t-shirt on the landscape as a sexy, outer wear garment.
So what did I end up using? I paired this new burn out knit with McCall’s dress pattern M6886, cutting it short, about ½” below the lengthen/shorten hip line. I liked the V neck detail so cut out the size 16 (the largest in the size range I picked). It is classed as an easy pattern, but maybe it was the instructions or maybe it was the smoke filled air (remnants of large forest fires in the British Columbia Interior) but I COULD NOT figure how to attach the neckband! I went on Youtube and found a few tutorials on sewing the V point but mine ended up a big mess! Instead, I got my French curve out, cut off the V-neck and made it into a U-neck.
I had to cut another neckband but that was easy. To measure the neckband size, lay out flat your T-shirt. With a flexible ruler or measuring tape, measure your neckline. Depending on how much stretch your fabric has, cut your neckband anywhere from 2 – 3” shorter. The less stretch, the less difference. Because my fabric is very stretchy, the neckband I cut was 3” shorter than the neckline measurement. Make sure you mark the center back and center front points. Pin to the matching points on your t-shirt. Measure the distance from the CB to a shoulder seam on the garment. Measure the same on the neckband but decrease by ¾”. Pin. You will need to stretch the neckband to fit the garment but to do so evenly, you anchor it at the center points and shoulder points.
I know many sewists have issues with hemming knits. One issue is the curling of the cut edge of the fabric. Even pressing doesn’t flatten it! I use the “magical” basting tape which holds everything in place then dissolves when washed.
Another hemming issue is when using a twin needle, the fabric peaks between the 2 lines of stitching or what is labelled as tunneling. This is because the bobbin thread that zig zags between the 2 needles is too tight and gathers up the fabric. One way to solve this is to use a narrower twin needle. The lighter the fabric, the narrower the space between the 2 needles. You can also try wooly nylon in the bobbin thread as this has some stretch. You can also try using strips of tear away or rinse away stabilizer to support the stitching area.
If the hem is rippling, it means the fabric is stretching as you sew. Try sewing with a walking foot. The walking foot is an even feed foot so there is no pressure or stretching of the fabric as it is sewn. Also try the stabilizer which will support the fabric as it’s fed under the needle.
As always, try these suggestions on a sample first to see what gives you the best result. Not all machines sew the same!
If you have issues with the needle threads tangling, try putting your spools so the thread is coming off in opposite directions. Check out Nancy Zieman’s article.
If you would like to read more about the history of the t-shirt, here are some interesting articles.
And here is my white, tight t-shirt with the Marcy Tilton’s pants. Its debut was at a local fibre art festival, Fibrations. And I think it got a standing applause from the audience!