I love graphic tees but I hate that many of the designs I want are only available in my size in a boxy men’s fit. Thankfully I can sew! I have spent the last year working out how to refashion my favorite graphic tees into a fit I love. Here’s how you can, too.
Get a T-shirt.
Get yourself a t-shirt that’s as large as possible. My measurements are 45-41-52 and I have had good success with a Mens 3X from somewhere like Threadless. Check your local thrift store, especially if you like sports team shirts. Sites that sell graphic tees beyond a mens 3X are very hard to find – please share resources in the comments if you know of somewhere!
Here’s my pattern piece on a white 2X shirt – it didn’t fit and I refashioned this shirt for my daughter instead. The best way to check if your pattern will fit your shirt is to measure the width of the pattern pieces and measure width of the tee, some retailers have flat width listed. The dark tee is a tall 3X size, you can see how much longer it is.
Also bear in mind when selecting a tee how high up on the shirt the graphic is printed (the lower the better) and whether you will mind if the top of the graphic is cut off.
If you want a long, elbow or 3/4 sleeve tee also bear in mind the base color of the fabric. Many tees are available only in short sleeve so if you want a longer sleeve you’ll have to find matching fabric which is easiest with black and white. If you cannot match your sleeve fabric I suggest making a raglan sleeve shirt with contrasting sleeves. Also consider whether you’ll be able to match or contrast the neck binding fabric color.
I knew this green shirt would be really hard to fabric match for long sleeves so I used a raglan pattern that looks ok with contrast sleeves. You can see I had to cut off the top of the design – this often happens.
Here are some other raglan sleeve color combinations.
Also consider the fabric content of the shirt. I prefer 100% cotton jersey, but have had success with cotton/polyester blends. I tend to avoid rayon shirts, tri-blends or high polyester content because they are thin, drapey and can be harder to work with.
Get a pattern
Size up! 100% cotton jersey graphic tees do not have the same stretch as a cotton-lycra jersey. You definitely need to account for this especially with a pattern like the Concord that has negative ease at the bust. I’d trace or print a new version of the pattern just for refashioning and less stretchy fabrics.
This is a shirt where I forgot to use my larger (for less stretchy knits) version of the pattern, and accidentally used the smaller version that works perfectly in a stretchy cotton-lycra jersey. This shirt feels very tight through the upper back.
Get extra fabric
You need extra fabric for the neck binding and long or contrast sleeves. I use cotton-lycra jersey fabric for both, usually left over from other projects. You could also use ribbing for the neck binding, but whatever you use it must have good stretch and recovery.
For both of these t-shirts the sleeves and neck binding are plain cotton elastane jersey and the body of the shirts are 100% cotton with less stretch. They work fine and you don’t notice the difference.
Cut up the T-shirt
Prewash your graphic tee, iron it and lay your shirt flat. Cut up the side seams (or where the side seams would be, most shirts don’t have them) to the underarm point, then along the sleeve seam. Open the shirt up and cut the shoulder seam and cut the sleeve off along the seams. If the neckline binding is pulling the fabric in a lot you may need to cut this off too, but I like to wait and see if this is needed.
Cut out your pieces
Lay out your new fabric on the fold and place your pattern pieces. You’ll now be able to see where the hemlines fall on the pattern pieces and where the graphic print will sit. You will probably need to be a bit flexible here as this don’t always fit exactly like your pattern pieces. Things to consider:
- Perhaps you can use the original cover-stitched hem of the t-shirt body and sleeves to get that extra bit of length? You won’t necessarily have the same hem shape as before but I have always been pretty happy with the resulting hemlines. It can be hard to get a women’s high cap short sleeve piece out of a mens commercial t-shirt sleeve so I often use the original short sleeve hem for shirt sleeved tees.
- Perhaps you need to cut a slightly higher neckline to keep your graphic intact? (and don’t forget to allow for seam allowance) That’s ok, I’ll tell you how to fit a custom neck binding.
- Perhaps you have to sacrifice the top of your graphic to get the open neckline you like? I’ve done this many times.
Make your decisions and cut your pieces out. Also cut out a new necking binding strip, and contrast sleeves if you need them.
This original shirt was smaller than I really needed but I used it anyway. I used the original coverstitched sleeve and body hems to get the most length than I could and lived with less ease through the body.
Sew your shirt together
Follow your patterns directions or your preferred method.
If you cut a custom neckline you’ll need to change the length of your binding piece. There are two ways to deal with this.
- Measure you neckline along the sewing line (not the edge of the fabric) and cut your binding piece 0.85 times this length. Use as normal.
- Cut a binding piece that is as long as the neckline. Sew one shoulder seam. Sew the binding to the neckline gently stretching the binding as you sew (and not stretching the neckline). Cut off the excess binding fabric and then sew the other should seam closed. This method is easier if you have sewn t-shirts before and have a feel for how much stretch to put into the binding.
This neckline binding is matching cotton-lycra jersey, with the seam allowance zig-zag topstitched after the binding was applied. You can see I chose to sacrifice the top of the graphic to get the open neckline I prefer.
If you were unable to match your binding fabric to the main t-shirt fabric then consider flipping it to inside and sewing it down to hide the binding.
For this shirt I cut a custom neckline to preserve as much of the graphic as possible. I then used a white jersey binding strip, sewn on with lightning stitch, flipped to the inside and zig-zagged down. I closed the second shoulder seam after applying the binding and sewed a few stitches to keep it flat.
Enjoy your one of a kind custom graphic tee!