Art class Ottobre children’s t-shirt


My little boy LIVES in T-shirts. He doesn’t have to wear a uniform for pre-school, so he puts on a t-shirt pretty much every day. Although he’s not quite four, he wears age 5-6 clothes so he’s grown out of some of the really fun prints and appliques you find for toddlers.

And although t-shirts can be found pretty cheaply on the high street, it’s really hard to find t-shirts for boys his size that feature something other than dinosaurs, sharks, superheroes, stereotyped messages, camouflage or vehicles. And in our house, we’re sick of all of those. For a pretentiously middle-class t-shirt that doesn’t feature any of these, the going rate seems to be £15 and up.

In my head, I think I should be the sort of mother who can easily whip up a batch of neatly made t-shirts with a custom fit in a selection of fun fabrics. It doesn’t seem to be that easy, but here’s my latest attempt.

The pattern

This time I tried a dropped-shoulder, long-sleeved t-shirt pattern from Ottobre Kids issue 2015/1  on the site. My little boy has narrow shoulders and I wanted to see how a dropped-shoulder style would look on him.



I cut the pattern with no alterations to see how it would fit straight out of the envelope, and it turned out oddly long in the arms, so I think the shoulder was too wide still. It’s a little large on him, but the weirdest thing is that the neckline turned out a lot wider than you would usually get on a boys’ t-shirt. (Are Finnish children oddly broad in the shoulders with thick necks?) So I won’t use this pattern again for George.



How cute is this print for a pre-schooler? It’s by Rae Hoekstra, and it’s from Cloud 9 Fabrics’ 100% organic cotton jersey range. I’d say it’s a medium-weight jersey – almost interlock weight. And I think Rae has even used the other colourway to make an Astoria sweatshirt. It was £9.50 per half a metre, but I was hoping I would get something that would last a long while.

The downside of using 100% cotton, of course, is that without some spandex content, the fabric doesn’t have great recovery. I did know this, but I got distracted by the lovely print and forgot. It’s also printed just ever so slightly off-grain – aaargh! Not a lot, but when I thread-traced down the grainline it definitely shifted across the print by around 1cm over 1m. Disappointing, at £19/m.

Sewing it up

I cut the pieces so there would be a complete line of pencils along the hem, and along the sleeve hems, and then sewed it up on the overlocker. As with the last Ottobre T-shirt I made, I ran into trouble with the binding. I’d love to know what I’m doing wrong here, but the pieces didn’t seem wide enough to do the job properly, and when I stretched both fabrics to sew it on as per the instructions, the cotton jersey didn’t recover and I ended up with a sort of lettuce edge on the neckline and both cuffs…

The sleeves were too long anyway, so I cut the binding off and just did a simple folded hem instead. (Well. I say simple, but the cuffs were too narrow to go around the 12″ circumference free arm on my machine, so I had to negotiate sewing them from the inside while stabbing myself with all the pins…)

To get the neckline back into shape, I ripped out the binding and switched it to a band instead. Then I washed and steamed the shirt furiously with the iron to get it to shrink back again. It seems to have worked, at least for now.

George loves the print and he’s got it on today, so I hope it’ll be popular.

Have you made t-shirts for your children? What fabrics and patterns would you recommend? And where can I source fun t-shirt prints that have enough stretch and enough recovery?




Scoop-neck white T-shirt

After my T-shirt fail last month, I wanted to get back in the saddle and find out if I’ve learnt from my sins. So here is the redemption.

I’m really happy with this one – it’s clean and simple, it fits (yet I can still move in it) and it’ll go with pretty much everything in my existing wardrobe. I have a feeling this one is going to get lots of wear this summer.


I used the same self-drafted pattern as for the boat-neck T-shirt, but varied the neckline and added a small pocket. This Colette tutorial for binding knit edges was really useful – it is a fiddle getting it on evenly and distributing the stretch around such a large area, but I think it was worth the two hours I spent taking it on and off again.

For the sleeves, I thought I’d try a folded cuff this time for a change – I just winged that part, so if you know a great way to get a more slouchy cuff in lighterweight jersey, please enlighten me.


The fabric is a plain white jersey I bought in Cheltenham last year. It feels like an interlock, so it was more suited to a fitted shape than a fluid one. The stretch recovery on it isn’t great, but I’m hoping the double pre-wash will help prevent it from going out of shape.

That might be it for T-shirts for a while. I’ve got one or two more jersey projects in my queue, but my overlocker needs a service. So next up is curtain-making (snore…) and, if I can get the fit sorted, hopefully some unselfish sewing for a change.

Do you like to sew the same thing on repeat, or is it more fun to switch between different fabrics and patterns each project?

T-shirt fail

I was hoping not to add to the Sewing Blunders category this year but this one definitely qualifies. A real-life case of pride coming before a fall. Or a fail, in this case.

I was so pleased with my self-drafted boat-neck breton top that I’d thought I’d quickly sew myself another T-shirt from the same pattern. This time I used the scoop-neck variation and some substantial beige cotton/spandex jersey I bought from the Fabrics Galore stand at Sewing for Pleasure.

But as you can see, it’s looking a bit sorry for itself.

Here are the mistakes I made:

  1. I forgot to trace the scoop-neck cutting line from the fabric onto the pattern so I did it after I’d started sewing, but obviously not very well as it came out lopsided.
  2. I didn’t take a large enough seam allowance when I attached the sleeve pieces with my overlocker, so the shoulders came out too wide, and don’t even match each other.
  3. I serged the raw edge of the neck opening before adding the neckband – accidentally taking too much off, meaning that I definitely can’t bend forwards in this top.
  4. My attempts to use up some cheap thread I had lurking in my stash rather than make another trip to the shops (I know, I know… ) backfired spectacularly when my twin needle chewed up and spat out the hem.

t-shirt fail

I tried to fix all these mistakes by giving the top a really good press, but it actually made things worse because I accidentally turned on the self-clean function and the iron spat dirty water that stained the back neck.

Unlike previous blunders, these mistakes are down to carelessness and rushing rather than ignorance, so I suppose you could say I’m learning. Onwards and upwards, hopefully.

Have you had any disasters recently?

Self-drafted boat neck breton top

After a serious think about the contents of my wardrobe – and the gaps in it – earlier this month, I settled on sewing the things that would get me through an average week. Top of my list was t-shirts – mainly because I had two patterns and plenty of knit fabric ready to go.

I opted to try out my self-drafted T-shirt pattern first. Since the initial fitting, I decided to  revise the block to include more ease, and I made four small alterations to the fit:

  • I narrowed the shoulder by 0.5cm
  • I added a smidgen more width around the bust
  • I took in the back waist a touch
  • I raised the armscye by 1cm to give more freedom of movement

I then added the three neckline variations I wear most often – boat (or slash) neck, scoop and crew.


The fabric is leftover from a (pre-blog) maternity top I made back in 2013. It’s a lightweight cotton jersey with decent recovery, bought at Sewing for Pleasure at the NEC, but I can’t remember the name of the shop or the price unfortunately.

I stitched the shoulder seams on my ordinary sewing machine so I could add clear elastic as a stabiliser, but then used my overlocker for the other seams and to finish the remaining raw edges. Instead of the usual bands or twin needle finish, I opted for a zigzag stitch after reading the Grainline Lark sewalong.

I’m really pleased with the fit. It’s close-fitting but not too tight, and that balances the looser-fitting bottom halves in my wardrobe nicely. If I can avoid getting caught in the crossfire of flying egg and blackcurrants that constitutes dinnertime with a toddler, then hopefully I’ll be wearing it every week for years to come.

The pattern was free and the fabric and notions were all leftovers, so I’m calling that a zero-cost new top. Huzzah!

(I considered calling this T-shirt Boaty McBoatface, but thought better of it.)



Hemming T-shirts

Coverstitch? Twin needles? Zigzag?

What’s the best way to hem a knit garment like a T-shirt or a jersey dress? From what I’ve learnt so far your options are:


If you’re lucky enough to have a coverstitch machine this seems to be the way to go. You press up your hem, and then the coverstitch finishes the raw edge and stitches the hem in one go. It gives that RTW twin needle finish on the outside and because of the differential feed you can get it lovely and stretchy so you won’t split your stitches taking the garment on and off. If only I could justify buying one…

Overlock plus twin needle

There’s just a hint of that tunnelling effect on this hem, but the printed fabric hides it well.

This is the one I’ve used the most. It gives a slightly stretchy finish because the bobbin thread zigs and zags between the two top threads, but it probably won’t stretch as much as the original fabric. First you overlock the raw edge and press up your hem. You can also stabilise the hem allowance to avoid a twisted, puckered or ridged finish.

Then fit a ballpoint twin needle in your ordinary sewing machine, use your walking foot, a straight stitch setting, and topstitch the hem in place from the right side.

(If you have a really old sewing machine, like my Singer 201K, that only has a straight stitch, then you may not have a footplate that will take a twin needle, but any machine that has a built-in a zigzag function should be fine. I used my mother-in-law’s 1960s Singer to hem my Moneta dress. If there’s no second spool, then put your two top threads onto bobbins and then you can stack them on top of each other on your spool pin.)

If you’re getting a ridge between the two lines of stitching, then a stabiliser should help, and you can also try playing around with the tension. Lots of people recommend stretchy woolly nylon for the bobbin thread, but I haven’t tried this yet.

If you don’t have an overlocker

You don’t have to overlock the edge before you press it up, you can still do a twin needle hem without this step, but in this case I would definitely use a stabiliser right up to the raw edge – and pick one that won’t wash out. A permanent stabiliser may limit the stretch a little, but that’s better than the raw edge curling back over the hemming stitch and creating a lump there. You might also choose to use an overedge or zigzag stitch to finish the raw edge for neatness.

If you don’t want to buy a ballpoint twin needle…

…because it’s an awful moment when you break one and have to part with another £4, then you can also topstitch the hem with a zigzag stitch, or a stretch stitch. This will stretch a little, but like the twin needle finish, not a lot. Some people are sniffy about how this finish looks, but I quite like the variation. I tried this for my latest T-shirt (which I’ll hopefully post later this week when the weather brightens enough to take pictures).

Unsolved mysteries

Can you help me with any of my unsolved questions?

  1. Is a coverstitch machine so amazing that I should blow the budget and get one? Or are they quite fiddly and hard to use?
  2. What’s the best stabiliser to use for knit hems? Spray-in starch, wash-away, knit interfacing or something else?
  3. I’ve read that you can also use a rolled hem. Has anyone tried this? What sort of fabric would this work best on?
  4. Where can you get woolly nylon thread in the UK?

Ottobre children’s T-shirt

It’s all about the knits here at the moment. This week, I wanted to try out a technique I haven’t used before – binding the neckline with ribbing, rather than a jersey band. So I asked my two-year old son to pick out his favourite knit fabrics from my stash and hunted through my Ottobre magazines for a suitable pattern.

He chose the bicycle-print organic cotton jersey leftover from his latest coat for the front and back. And we agreed on beige jersey (purchased from Fabrics Galore at Sewing for Pleasure in March) for the sleeves. He really wanted to use the rainbow ribbing I found in Stone Fabrics, and it goes surprisingly well with the colourful bikes. The pattern is number 17 from Ottobre 3/2015 in size 104cm and has a two-piece raglan short sleeve.

I don’t do a lot of tracing, so that was a mild annoyance, along with adding on the seam allowances by hand. Because he’s long and lean, I also added 2.5 cm to the length in the body.

This was a quick make, made even faster by using a four-thread overlock stitch for all the main seams. I spent some time puzzling over how to apply the ribbing because there were no instructions with the pattern, but I eventually located them tucked away in the back of the magazine. And them promptly did something different!


For the hems I fused on some seam interfacing before pressing them up and topstitching with a twin needle. The seam interfacing really helps prevent the puckering and twisting you can sometimes get with a topstitched hem on knit fabrics. But it does also restrict the stretch a bit, so I’d like to try another method next time – maybe bands, as demonstrated in the Renfrew top sewalong.


I’d love to show you how it looks on him, but so far he’s refused to wear it. I’m trying not to take that personally. Toddlers, huh?


Fitting my self-drafted T-shirt block

Close-up of sleeve head

A little while back, I spent an evening revising GCSE geometry by making a close fitting T-shirt block or sloper. And this week I finally got around to running up that toile (insert Kate Bush soundtrack) to see if it fits.

Sort of, is the answer. Here’s version one in a scarily bright mint green single jersey I’ve been avoiding using for anything else because of its poor recovery. I didn’t bother adding the sleeves or finishing the edges because I wanted to get the fit through the bodice right first.

It’s just about long enough, which RTW T-shirts almost never are. And it’s got the right shape overall. But it’s too tight for my taste and it also needs more room at the bust – the underarm wrinkles are a dead giveaway. Compare it with the best fitting of my RTW T-shirts, from tall girls’ mecca Long Tall Sally.

So I tweaked the pattern a little to add a teensy bit more ease (1/2″) and followed this Cashmerette tutorial for a simple FBA for knit tops. Jenny’s method adds length to the front bodice rather than width, making the front longer than the back. You then ease the extra length in at the side seams between the waist and the armpit to give more room at the bust.

Here’s version two, in the  mint jersey again. As you can see, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from V1, so I’ve clearly been too timid with the adjustments.

So, some more adjustments to make. (And I’ve run out of mint jersey, dammit.) For the next and hopefully final toile, I’ll:

  • add another inch or so of ease widthways
  • lengthen below the waist by 1/2″
  • scoop out the neckline, even for the block pattern
  • try adding short sleeves.

Wish me luck!

Drafting a T-shirt block

Close-up of sleeve head
Self-drafted T-shirt block on squared paper
My new t-shirt block, ready to toile

My second pair of Thurlows is still under the needle, so here’s a look at something else I’ve been up to.

After trousers, the next thing on my ‘gaps in my wardrobe’ list is some well fitting T-shirts. I’ve been eyeing up both the Sewaholic Renfrew and Grainline Lark patterns, but I was worried that they’d need a lot of fitting adjustments. I have terrible trouble getting RTW T-shirts to fit. I thought I’d probably need to lengthen the bodice and sleeves, raise the bustline, do an (undarted) FBA somehow and potentially also a swayback adjustment. That seems like a lot of adjustments to make to what’s actually a pretty simple three-piece pattern. I should know how to construct a T-shirt because I made the Colette Moneta earlier this year (one version of which is basically a T-shirt top attached to a gathered skirt).

Then I remembered that one of my resolutions for 2015 was to draft a bodice block from my own measurements, and I realised this week that if I just got on and did a block for knit fabrics rather than the one I’d been planning for wovens I could probably get some T-shirts and vest tops completed this side of Christmas. And I can also spend the £13 I would have spent on either pattern on some fabulous knit fabric. That’s the theory, anyway.

So I dug out my copy of Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear and rifled through it for a T-shirt block. It looked a lot simpler than the darted block for wovens, so I knuckled down and, Nike-style, just did it.

Pattern grading square, tape measure, french curve and pencil
You don’t need much in the way of equipment.
Close-up of sleeve head
The sleeve block was quick to do, too.

I already had a list of my measurements and some ready-squared paper so it only took an hour to get the block drafted. Now to add seam allowances and sew up a rough toile to see if it fits…