Last Spring, I was lucky enough to go on an arts and culture themed trip to Cuba with High-School-Me's favorite performer and a group of like minded fans (brownie points if you can decipher who it was from the backwards logo). I was excited when the tour group decided to produce T-shirts commemorating the trip, but less so when mine arrived sized extra large. I'm more of a lanky sized person, but I thought this was an opportunity to try something new with my sewing machine friend (who was recently dubbed and will hence forth be referred to as Sally). So I decided to attempt tailoring a T-shirt. Plus, I hear Jennifer Aniston does it, she's still relevant right? After googling a few techniques and watching some youtube videos, I cobbled together a process that I think works well (disclaimer: this sewing series is presented to you by a dumb dumb so at the very least you will receive a detailed account of things to avoid), here's what you'll need:
Start by turning both T-shirts inside out and lay your template (the fitted shirt) on top of the shirt to be tailored making sure it is centered and no wrinkles are in the fabric of either shirt. Trace the outline of the template with a disappearing marker or chalk and pin the front and back layers together along one side. Cut both layers along the pinned outline.
Side note: My initial plan was to pin and cut both sides, but I didn't trust my tracing abilities and I'm glad I didn't... you'll see why further down.
Fold the cut half over the other, pin the layers together, and cut the remaining side.
Unfold the shirt, smooth out any wrinkles, and pin both sides up to the underarms.
As you can see on the left, my initial trace job was pretty shoddy.
The next step is where Sally comes into play. Through my research I learned that technically a serger, a term I had never heard until this point, is used to create most T-shirts. Basically, sergers create overlocking stitches, this means the thread wraps around the edge of the material to prevent fraying. Most sewing machines can create overlocking stitches, but require a special foot (the part that holds down the material). Sergers specialize in the overlocking stitch and are often used in industrial settings... the more you know!
I don't own a serger or an overlocking foot so I figured out how to fudge it with a run of the mill sewing machine. If you use a zig-zag stitch and place the very edge of your material within the eye (hole) of the foot (thing that holds down the material), the thread will wrap around that edge in a manner similar to a standard overlocking stitch. Use this method to sew each side of your shirt up to the underarms removing the straight pins as you go. You can see the result below.
Next step is to hem the bottom of the shirt. Cut off any extra length while leaving enough to fold the edge twice. Sewing the edge inside the hem will keep the material from fraying. Fold the bottom of your shirt twice, pin the material, and use the zig-zag stitch again to hem it.
To reattach the sleeves, trace the sleeve of a fitted shirt and cut along the underarm. Use that piece to measure and cut the second sleeve as well. Then, use the overlocking technique to sew the underarm seams.
Turn the disembodied sleeves right side out and place them inside the arm hole of the inside out shirt. Align and pin the edges of the sleeves to the edges of the arm holes. This is difficult to describe so hopefully the images below are more helpful.
Use the overlocking stitch technique once again to sew the sleeves onto the shirt. You can hem the sleeves to be the proper length of a fitted T-shirt also, but I like the way they look rolled anyway so I saved myself the trouble. Trim any loose threads, turn the shirt right side out, and it's ready to wear!
Final Note: Check the type of fabric used for both your template shirt and your to-be-tailored shirt. My template shirt was made with spandex so it was very stretchy, my to-be-tailored shirt was not. I gave myself a buffer zone while cutting the material in case I messed up and I'm glad I know myself well enough to know how likely that was because this shirt would not have fit if I followed the outline exactly. I definitely had a "duh, you idiot" moment when I realized what happened, but at least my low expectations of myself saved me this time!