Make a Pattern from a Tee Shirt // Stretch Yourself

This series is sponsored by Baby Lock.  For over 40 years, Baby Lock has been dedicated to the love of sewing by creating machines for sewing, embroidery, quilting and serging – all with ease-of-use, high quality and a touch of elegance.

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One of my favorite parts of sewing is being able to re-make clothing that I love. Every so often I find the perfect tee shirt. You know, that one that fits just right? It takes a few months for me to realize that I wear it every other day, and by that time the ever-changing clothing market has moved on to manufacturing and selling something else!

Today I will show you how to use your favorite tee shirt to create a pattern so that you can re-make it as often as you would like! If you don’t have a favorite tee, Miriam is teaching you how to Draft a Tee from Measurements today, so you can make one that fits you perfectly! Since tee shirts are made from knit fabric, these tutorials will get you ready for tomorrow when I’ll show you how to to construct this tee shirt from comfy, stretchy knit fabric and Miriam will teach you some different finishing techniques for knit clothing.

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog

To get started you’ll want to gather a few supplies: your favorite tee shirt, a pencil, some pins, tracing paper  (or printer paper taped into a large sheet), a foam core board (or cardboard) and an acrylic ruler. For tracing paper I use medical exam paper. I called my pediatrician to see if I could buy a roll from the office, and they gave one to me! You can buy it from a medical supply store, if you’ve got one locally.

First, I’m going to briefly show you the original way to take a pattern from an existing garment, or “rub-off” a pattern. You’ll see why it’s called that below. Next, I’ll show the method I use most often in detail. Either way works, but I think the second may be slightly more accurate.

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-Pins Close Up

To make a real “rub off” you will need a crayon, too. In this method you will fold your tee shirt in half, lay the tee on the foam, and stick your pins through the board along all of the seam borders of the tee. You’ll want the pin heads as close to the foam as possible, so stick them all the way down. Make sure the tee is laying really flat as you pin to get an accurate pattern.

Rub Off Pattern From a Favorite Tee - One Little Minute Blog - Real Rub Off

Focus on one piece at a time, so pin along the seam line of the sleeve, rather than all the way around the sleeve. When all your pins are in place, lay your tracing paper on top of the tee shirt and begin lightly rubbing your crayon along the pinned line.

Rub Off Pattern From a Favorite Tee - One Little Minute Blog - Actual rub off. So cool!!

You’ll see that where the pin heads stick up, the crayon leaves a darker mark. Those will become the edges of your pattern! When you’ve made your way around the tee, remove the tracing paper and connect the dots. You’ve got a real rub-off pattern! The center line will be a fold line, and this piece still needs seam and hem allowance added (I’ll show you that below!) Pretty cool, eh?

Okay, let’s begin on the rub-off method I use often. It’s pretty similar, but instead of rubbing off over the tee shirt, we’ll make holes in the tracing paper with the pins, then connect the dots using our ruler.

Rub off pattern from a favorite tee - One Little Minute Blog - step one

Cut a piece of tracing paper just longer than your tee shirt. Lay it on top of the foam core board. Fold the tee shirt in half, with the front of the tee on the outside. Lay it smoothly on top of the tracing paper (which is on top of the foam core board). Begin pinning all along the seam lines of the tee, sticking the pins just into the foam so they stick upright.

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-Pin along all seam lines

Where there are more curves in the pattern, use more pins. Along the straight edges, you will only use only a couple.

Rub off pattern from a favorite tee - One Little Minute Blog - step two

When you have pinned all the way around the shirt half, take out all of the pins and lift off the tee shirt. You will be able to see all of the little holes your pins created. Mark them with your pencil so they are a little darker and easier to see. Begin connecting the dots using your ruler. Make your way around the entire tee shirt half.

Rub off pattern from a favorite tee - One Little Minute Blog - step three

Mark the fold line of your pattern with a double arrow line. Label your pattern piece with the appropriate information. I use: original clothing item (in this case my favorite j.crew tee), the size (in this case L), the pattern piece (this was the front), and cutting instructions (you will need one front piece, cut on the fold). Go back around  the pattern edge, gently rounding out the corners on the neckline and arm scythe.

Next, repeat all of the above steps for the back of the tee. The neckline, arm scythe, and hemline may be slightly different on the back, so try to keep your pinning as accurate as possible!

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-sleeve

For the sleeves, you’ll repeat the same steps, but fold the sleeve flat along the shoulder and underarm seam. Make sure you keep the sleeve really flat to get an accurate pattern.

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-sleeve draft

As with the other pieces, label the sleeve. This time you will want to mention cutting TWO on the fold, rather than one.

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-neck band

To get the neck band pattern, turn the tee shirt inside out and match up the shoulder seams, folding the front and back centers. Lay the neckline flat and pin at all four corners as well as in the center. This is half of the neckband pattern, since the band is folded in half, so for you piece you will want to double the width.

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-neck band piece

Using your ruler, make the neckline a geometric rectangle. After it is drafted, you’ll want to subtract about an inch from the length to account for how the neckband is stretched onto the tee. If your tee is really stretchy, you may want to subtract a little more, if it is not very stretchy, maybe slightly less. Label your neck band pattern piece.

Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-add seam allowance

Next we will add seam allowance. There are all kinds of tools and techniques for adding seam allowance, but this is what I do. Decide your seam allowance. I will be serging my tee together, so I will use a 1/4″ seam allowance (which is really small). If you are going to be using a sewing machine for construction, you may want to add a 1/2″. Lay your ruler along the pattern outlines, with the edge of the ruler overhanging the pattern tracing by your decided upon seam allowance. You can see in the photo above, my pattern line is lying 1/4″ inside of the ruler line, so when I trace along the ruler, I will be adding 1/4″ to the original tracing.
Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-Pattern pieces!

Continue around all of the pattern pieces adding your desired seam allowance.

Rub off pattern from a favorite tee - One Little Minute Blog - note hem allowance

Finally, measure the hems at the hems on your sleeve and shirt bottom and add that amount to the appropriate patter pieces, so your sleeve length and hem length end up just like the original.

Rub off pattern from a favorite tee - One Little Minute Blog - Cut and Store pattern

Cut around the outer edge of your pattern pieces. You should have four: the front, back, sleeve, and neckband. Double check that you’ve labeled the pieces properly, then find a place to keep them safely stored for future use! I use letter sized manila envelopes for all of my patterns, then I can store them easily in a file for easy access.
Favorite Tee Rub Off - One Little Minute Blog-tee to pattern!!

Label the front of your envelope with the pattern information. You’re now ready to turn your rubbed-off pattern into another favorite tee shirt! Come back tomorrow to learn how to cut the pieces and put your tee shirt back together!

Make sure to head over to Mad Mim today to learn how to draft a tee shirt from your own body measurements! Talk about creating a perfect tee!

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  1. Debora
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    This is s fantastic! You did a fantastic job! I can’t wait to do it myself!

    • Miranda
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Thank you Debora! It’s so simple, and this method can be used to take the pattern off of anything!

  2. Posted January 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Oh my gosh… thank you so much for posting this. It is is brilliant! My dog chewed my very favorite shirt ever and I haven’t had the heart to toss it yet – and I am so thankful! Now I can recreate it, thanks to you!

    • Miranda
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      Hi Katie! No signing up, just follow along! We have tutorials coming every day this week and pattern reviews with giveaways every day next week! Enjoy!

    • Miranda
      Posted January 9, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      Ha, sorry! That response goes to Karen. As for you, Katie, I am so happy you’ll be able to re-make your favorite shirt! I have re-made a couple favorite tees for customers who wore them thin and couldn’t get rid of them, either! xoxo

  3. Posted January 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this tutorial! always wondered how you do this 🙂

  4. Posted January 8, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    This is awesome! I’m not too familiar with knits. I find all of this so very helpful. I am totally pinning this.

    • Miranda
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Bethany! You’ve gotta stretch yourself and get familiar with knits, lady! 🙂

  5. Posted January 8, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Oh I read about this in a book but have yet to try it. I might practice with one of my kids tees first.

    • Miranda
      Posted January 8, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      Give it a go! It’s actually pretty simple!

  6. Kate
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    This is so helpful, even to those of us who have little experience or confidence. I do have a question, though. I’m pregnant and my favorite tee right now has ruching on the side seams. Is there any way to use this technique to copy it (without ripping the elastic out of the original)? Thanks bunches!!

    • Miranda
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      Hi there, congratulations! And yes, you can totally use this method with a ruched tee. You’ll want to stretch the front of the tee all the way out to full length to trace the pattern. Then, you can either take the difference of the front and back to know how much gather you’ll need, or turn the tee inside out and check out the side seams. On most ruched tees, the front pattern piece is gathered with a length of clear elastic (measure the elastic to the length of the side seam, where you want the ruching, then pull it to the full length of the side seam as you sew. When you release, the elastic will bounce to it’s original length, gently ruching the sides) then the front and back pieces are sewn along the side seams. Does that make sense? If I had some energy, I’d make a tutorial for you, since I’m pregnant and will be doing just this in a few weeks, but this will have to do for now:) Good luck!

  7. Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Oh…Thank you!!:D

  8. Posted August 31, 2013 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    What a great tutorial! Thank you so much.

  9. Andrew
    Posted November 9, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I think your spellcheck needs to learn some sewing-specific terms – I spotted two occurrences of “scythe” (large bladed agricultural implement, supposedly carried by the Grim Reaper), where it probably should have been “scye” (tailor’s/cutter’s term for armhole opening in a garment).

  10. RabbitEars
    Posted January 24, 2014 at 4:43 am | Permalink

    I’ve tried your method. It worked out really great except that sleeves were not perfect though. How do you account for the slight shaping difference between the front and back of the sleeve?

    • Miranda
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      Because it’s knit, and somewhat forgiving, I usually don’t account for the difference. If you do a really perfect rub-off, you could trace front and back arm sycthe sleeves separately, then you’d get it.

  11. Posted January 28, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Howdy! I just wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for your excellent info you have got right here on this post.
    I’ll be coming back to your blog for more soon.

  12. Hilary Spacey
    Posted April 20, 2014 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    Fantastic – I rubbed off the pattern from a favourite top and completed it the same afternoon using my Babylock machine! Thank you so much.

  13. Anne Ersfeld
    Posted August 3, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I tried this today and made my first pattern from a favorite t shirt. It worked perfectly. Thank you.

  14. Kassie
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Hello! I’m looking to make a costume using this method, but I’ve only ever made one thing, and it was with a pattern. I was just wondering how much fabric a t-shirt requires? Thanks!

  15. Julie R.
    Posted October 10, 2014 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this post! I have an actual t-shirt pattern that I really don’t like, but have continued using or because I didn’t know how to make my own. Thanks for remedying that!

    • Miranda
      Posted October 17, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Awesome! Glad I could help!

  16. Posted May 30, 2015 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    This is awesome! I’ve made t-shirts patterns from t-shirts, but your method is much better than mine. I used to just pin tissue paper to the t-shirt and draw the seam lines by feel. Works, but sounds like this will work better. Really nicely photographed as well! Thank you!

  17. Linda
    Posted June 17, 2015 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Very useful and well written tutorial. Because I make so many of these and have a hard time remembering what “favorite blue tee 2012” actually looked like, I have stated taking a quick pic with my phone. Best case scenario is that i actually get around to printing it and pasting it on my envelope, but even if I don’t, my phone pics are all saved on the cloud, so it’s not hard to look one up if necessary in the future.

  18. Posted July 12, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Been searching for a good tee patter tutorial, and here I’ve found it! Thanks for this great post.

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