Changing the Size of a T-Shirt

15 Nov
Shirt size comparison

Shirt size comparison

Here is an update on my project to change large sized shirts into smaller sized shirts. Above you can see the first shirt I “converted.” The brown shirt was a size Extra Large and the orange shirt underneath it is a size Small. So, you can see that I was able to make the brown XL shirt into an S (actually – shorter than S).

There were a few problems though as you can see in the next photo where I am wearing it.

Front view

Front view

Here are some problems I see: 1) the neckhole is off-center, 2) there are folds in the upper chest/shoulder area, and 3) the shirt hem looks bad.

Side view

Side view

You can see in the side view where I had to cut a side-seam to make the shirt smaller. The original t-shirt did not have side seams, so I made some, following the grain of the shirt.

Back view

Back view

In the back view, there are folds in the shoulder area again, just like in the front. I am not entirely sure why these folds appeared.

It does makes sense for the XL shirt to have more depth, since it is made for a bigger person than me. However, I thought the pattern I traced from the small shirt should have been the right size so that those folds would not appear in the modified shirt. I don’t know what happened to cause that, but I think it must have to do with my pattern. The only other explanation is that the fabric itself is distorted in some way.

Pattern pieces

Pattern pieces (click to zoom)

Above is the pattern I made from tracing the outline of my size Small t-shirt.

Cutting shirt

Cutting the shirt

Here you can see that I ran into big problems with the shoulder area. I was surprised to find that the size XL shirt had completely different shoulders than the size S shirt. The small shirt had more of an angle to the shoulder, or at least in the way I traced it, it seemed to. Since I didn’t want to have to re-sew the shoulders and neckline, I had to sort of guess where the shoulder should be. (In the photo above, I have already cut the back and the pattern piece is lying where I will cut the front.)

I did notice that the shirt grainline was off and the two shoulder seams were different — one was slanted and the other was straight. The shirt seemed very poorly constructed, even before I made my modifications to it. Because of the slanted shoulder seam on one side, that shoulder is 1 cm longer than the other after I cut it. That is probably why the neckhole isn’t centered around my neck in the first photo.

Uncut sleeve

Uncut sleeve

The sleeves on the XL shirt were also very different from my size S shirt. As you can see, the XL sleeve is almost rectangular, and it has a small bulge on the hem. There is very little rise on the top part of the sleeve compared to the one in my pattern.

Sleeves cut

Sleeves cut

Here is the sleeve pattern piece I made (lower right), after I cut three shirt sleeve pairs from it.

Sleeve close-up

Sleeve close-up

Overall I think the sleeve came out acceptable. Maybe not great, but not awful either. I think the seam would have been smoother if my pattern had been more like the size XL sleeve, without the big rise on the top and more rectangular in shape.

I have learned a lot about sleeve-fitting and drafting from this project, but I think I still have a long way to go before I can make a nice looking t-shirt…


Posted in Clothing


Leave a Reply


  1. Phyllis

    November 16, 2013 at 04:09

    This sleeve fitting problem is why I said to reduce the height of that bump a bit. I think the sleeves here look fine, though, and the folds on the back may be from not trimming the shoulder seams to be shorter. And they must be same length, of course to center the neck. The real problem here is that you overstretched the hem when sewing it, so that it swings out instead of hanging straight. Bring another one on Sunday and let’s see how we can improve the pattern. I think you’re getting there.

    Oh, one more thing… the grain on a teeshirt tube is often slanted, and if you follow it, the shirt will look twisted, so always cut the sides perpendicular to the hem, regardless of where you see “grain”.

    • Matt

      November 17, 2013 at 06:20

      I didn’t know they could be slanted – I already cut the sides on the other two…

      I don’t think I stretched the shirt hem. I just fed it through the machine like normal. I just don’t know how you are supposed to do a hem on a knit fabric.

  2. Phyllis

    November 16, 2013 at 04:12

    Overall, the shirt is too wide. Remove at least a half inch from the sides of the pattern pieces by FOLDING it thru the center of the shoulder seam, not by trimming the sides. This will shorten the length of shoulder seams and narrow the upper shirt body between the sleevers, as well as narrowing the body below the sleeves.

    • Matt

      November 17, 2013 at 06:17

      Okay, thanks. Well, even the original Small shirt is too wide, but that one didn’t have the folds in the shoulder.

  3. Susan Partlan

    November 18, 2013 at 12:14

    Phyllis suggestions sound correct to me. To my eye the armscye depth looks a bit shallow, but the sewn sleeve looks great so you must have a good armscye.

    I’ve been learning similar things sewing my own self-drafted tee. I’ve got a well-fitting wearable muslin and now am making a another version with better fabric. I’ll have some photos by the end of the week. The main lesson I learned is that if you trace from an existing tee, you have to use the same kind of fabric to get the same fit, and if you change anything at all, for example armscye/sleeve cap depth, the change affects the fit.

    • Matt

      November 19, 2013 at 01:01

      Yep, I made the mistake of making a t-shirt muslin out of woven fabric which was pretty much useless for fitting but I didn’t realize that at the time I was doing it.

      Also another problem is that this ‘single knit’ fabric of my t-shirts is constantly curling at every cut edge, which makes sewing difficult. Supposedly if I use ‘double knit’ it is easier to sew, but I don’t have any of that.


      • Susan Partlan

        November 21, 2013 at 19:04

        Are you using flat rectangular weights when you cut? Also, ironing the single knit before cutting helps.

        I really hate the single-knit curling issue, but I live in a warm climate so if I want some cooler light-weight knits curling goes with the territory.

        Double-knit is so much easier to work with. It’s my favorite knit.

        • Matt

          November 22, 2013 at 05:42

          Actually I am using tomato soup cans for weights. They are not very heavy though and sometimes get in the way when I am trying to cut. I was thinking about getting some different/heavier weights. From what I read online, some people are using washers they bought at the hardware store, and another possibility is lead BBs in a sack.

      • Anne

        November 22, 2013 at 21:12

        Starch will take care of the curling, and will wash out.

        • Matt

          November 25, 2013 at 08:51

          Good idea, I’ll add it to my shopping list.

          I never used starch except when I was a child my mom starched my karate uniform! Hah, what memories