Merry Christmas- Simple, Chic and Free T-Shirt Pattern

I began working on a private sewing experiment a few months ago.  I wanted a very, very simple pattern for a t-shirt- one that would stand up to a certain set of criteria:

  • Simple enough to sew in an hour or less, beginner/busy mommy-friendly
  • Suitable for medium knits
  • Ease-y through the torso to gloss over my squidge but also to prevent the fabric sticking to me during Brisbane’s endless bright, humid, still summer.
  • Negative bust ease
  • Kimono sleeves to allow air circulation to my underarms without flashing my bra
  • Short enough to wear untucked without the fabric riding up and bunching around my waist, and long enough to allow me to tuck it in if I please.  I like it at 3.5″ below my waist.

I started thinking about this as a sewists’ “open-source” project.  What if I proportioned this in a few sizes and shapes, released it into the wild and then published some fun “hacks”? (Ways to play with the pattern to change the design.)  Once you have a simple pattern, it’s very easy to alter it- especially when someone else can show you how…(and maybe someone else would do something amazing with it that I could copy, myself.)

(The Bow Back is a good hack.  Can’t wait.)

The proportions are based on some ideas I have about sizing and proportion.  I’d really appreciate feedback on the sizing, I paid close attention to the issues mentioned in the “Pattern Alterations, Let’s List and Vanquish Them” post as well as my own notes on fitting clients.

I spent an entire work week last month trying to figure out how to draw in a CAD program.  It nearly drove me over the edge.  This week, I approached the problem an entirely different way.  It’s hand-traced, but neat.  If I can’t go super-high tech, then I’ll go DIY low-tech.  No bigs.  I think the tiling should work for both A4 and Letter sizes, do let me know if you have issues.

That ugly white box just below my avatar in the sidebar is a dumping ground for the .pdfs I upload.  BOWT refers to “Birds on a Wire Tee” and you’ll see why tomorrow.

Here’s the instructions- the sewing style is not what you’d normally find for knits, but I keep working with it and love it.  I’d enjoy hearing how it works for others.  The first pattern up is a “35 II” size, the one I drafted for another blogger and only JUST NOW figured out how to put online.

I will put up the rest over the next several days, the sizes I listed are already drafted.  I didn’t go smaller than 35 II because it looks reeeeeally little to me.  However, if you’re petite and overlooked, I’d be thrilled to practice proportions on a petite person so let me know.

Action shot- taken in the heat of the moment…

I’ll upload the patterns in whatever random order, but I can prioritize sizes if you wish.  Let me know!


  1. I can’t wait to try this pattern, so I’d like to put in a request for the 40 II to be uploaded. I’m really excited to see all the hacks as well.

    How many versions have you made up for yourself so far? I have two stash fabrics I’m looking forward to trying out.

  2. Alright, 40 II tomorrow. :)

    Hmm… All told, probably five or six… Some of them are not fit to be worn outside the house, but I’m rather fond of the last three… The most recent one especially!

    I was also very very lucky to have some of my friends here test-sew for me so I could check the proportioning for bodies not shaped like mine… So maybe ten or so..

  3. Yay for patterns! I adore that bird fabric and I just realized that the little box in your side bar with the fabric is a Spoonflower link. Does this mean I can buy it?!?! Must go see. It’s too awesome! :)

  4. I’d like to try the pattern but I’m a bit puzzled by the size referencing. In Canada, t-shirts come in small, medium, large, extra large which would cover average size folks and 1x, 2x, 3x…. for plus sized folks. Would the american in you be able to translate that size into something this Canadian would recognize? And I need and extra large to 1x size so let me know when that comes up.

    • The sizing is there. Basically, you pick a II or a V based on the difference between your bust and waist measurement.

      A “II” is less than 8″ (20 cm) difference, a “V” is more than 8″ (20cm) difference. Other than that, pick the size based on your bust measurement rounded to the nearest “5.” I’m 38″ though the bust, so I used a 40 pattern. It’s different, but S-XL wasn’t going to cut it for what I’m doing….

  5. Thanks, Steff! This is an early Christmas present to myself. Will let you know how it turns out for a medium-to-large sized middle-aged, U.S. woman.

  6. Yay! I’m so glad you were able to finish this–I know it’s hard work! (And the CAD learning curve can be frustrating at first–long ago I had a forced work deadline that pushed me into learning and it consumed more hours I care to admit!) I’ve definitely been on a t-shirt binge and will try out the 35 when the Christmas craze is over. Between this and Sherry’s slip, I’m totally (happily) sidetracked now.

    • I know I’ll eventually conquer cad, but I’d rather be taught than try to work it out.

      Ooooh let me know how it goes… I spent more time muslining the larger sizes, so I’m interested to know if the 35 works for 35’s… :)

  7. i feel dumb, but what does “35 II” size mean? what is the II? is that a 2? two i’s? does II mean bust? thanks.

  8. As soon as I figure out what the sizing means and one in near-enough-to-me appears, I’m totally trying this. Assuming I’ve finished everything else I’m currently halfway through. And haven’t decided to just throw away my sewing machine.

      • Well.. not my machine. Mine may just be put away for a few weeks and let me do some hand sewing and be selfish for a while. Sewing for other people on a deadline is frustrating. My mother’s machine however.. its been ‘fixed’ once, but is now having seizures every time I turn it on. Its a 15year old computerised sewing/embroidery janome and i think the motherboard is blown :(

      • And, in that case, I shall be keeping an eye out for a 45V. Your sizing system does seem to make a lot more sense than the 12/14/16/18 or s/m/l system they use here. Having to switch between a 14 and an 18/20 depending on fabric and still having nothing fit properly gets very frustrating.

      • Out of curiosity, have you had the machine serviced in the past year or so? It’s more likely that the mechanisms are seizing because they need a deep clean… Those motherboards are generally pretty hard to destroy without a direct effort..

        I can get away with this kind of sizing because this is a knit, I’m mostly testing out a few ideas I have… I’d like to be able to release proper patterns in the future, so this is basically me asking the internets for some test-sewers… And it’s not much of a fabric or time investment… So we’ll see what develops. :)

      • It was ‘fixed’ a year ago when it had to be turned on and off about 6 times before it would work. They originally said it was going to need a 500$ new motherboard, but a service ‘fixed’ it. It worked intermittently until now, and now its doing the same only worse – won’t turn on at all, just keeps flashing the light and making angry noises.

        Knits are wonderfully forgiving. And if it means free patterns, test sewing is fun!!

      • I can’t seem to reply to the right point in the thread, but…. I second the hope for a 45V! This is a really exciting project, and I have some knits lurking about that could be put into service. :)

  9. I have no idea what 35II even means, but I love you for doing this!

    p.s. how much fabric does a med/large size take for the basic top? If you say a yard, I might kiss you.

    • I think a yard would work, provided you turned one of the pieces upside down. Some knit purists won’t do that, but I find for most knits I can’t see any nap to worry about… I can draw a picture if you want, might be a good chance to talk about knits. Otherwise, it will take two “body lengths.” The body length should be from your shoulder to waist, plus 4″. (it’s meant to hit 3″ below the waist, plus 1″ hem)

  10. Thankyou!

    I maybe one of those petite people, I don’t know – 5″0″, 32:26:34. I find a lot of my clothes look really little, even to me! However, please don’t trouble yourself just on my behalf, I probably won’t get to this for a long time, if ever – I don’t really wear a lot of t-shirts.

    (I know I mentioned one of your previous t-shirt posts ages ago, but that was for my husband. He probably won’t be getting his any time soon, either!).

    • I don’t wear many t-shirts, either, but a nice medium weight knit fabric is so useful.. Hard to wrinkle, drapes ok, comfortable, easy to wash and wear. And it reads as “casual.” I find that often my woven tops, even the casual ones, seem to read as “work shirt/ I am super uptight and dress too formally all the time.” So I’m experimenting….

  11. I’m so excited! I think I’d need the 45V, since I’m relatively small through the back and yet rather busty. I have the next week off except for Christmas shopping, so if you upload it I should be able to test it out right away! Of course, all I have is bamboo tshirt knit, which might be too soft and drapey, but I’ll still try it out.

    • Sounds like you would indeed wear a V, Kris… I’ll make the 45 the next one I put up. :) I made two of mine out of bamboo… They really don’t photograph well- silhouette is a little boxy, but they’re so divinely comfortable, and I think they’re more flattering in person…

      I’d just use stay tape on the shoulders and hems… Be careful the neck doesn’t stretch out and you’ll be fine.

  12. steph – you doing a good job! i´m really impressed by your work at this t-pattern. i like to try it in woven fabric, cut in the bias (since i´m getting older i avoid thin jerseys). but it has to wait til january, we move tomorrow in our house in the mountains to live outside the citys “for the rest of our lives” . so there will be a little gap with the internet too :-(. i wish you and your family marry cristmas & happy new year…………..

    • Thanks!

      I think it would work well in woven, especially on the bias but I haven’t tried it so I can’t say for sure.

      It’s for medium jersey, I’m pretty well past my “thin jersey wearing” days, too. If for no other reason, I hate having to search for a perfectly smooth bra in the size and style that suits me. Thin jersey almost always gives me bra lines…

      Merry Christmas to you, too. :) “See” you in the New Year.

  13. This is very cute! I would love to try it out – I wear mostly t-shirts, and love to make them, but there aren’t too many cute patterns for plain knit shirts out there :)

    I am wondering what the minimum size you think a 35II would fit? (32/26/36 – would I be swimming or does this seem like it’s in the range?)

    I really appreciate the work you put into this! It looks great :) can’t wait to try it out!

  14. Pingback: Updating the Blank Canvas Tee so I Can “Make This Look” « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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