Tailored undershirts

Why would anyone tailor an undershirt? I wanted the practice (I still feel like a beginner with my new sewing machine, even if I’m perhaps tackling complicated projects), and I wanted my baggy undershirts to fit better. I bought a package of three a while ago and wore them a few too many times before I realized that I really should have gotten a size smaller and then it was too late to exchange them. It’s annoying to wear an undershirt that’s actually bigger than the nice shirt you’re wearing over it, so needless to say, these undershirts were always the last ones used.

And in my typical fashion, I didn’t do a lot of planning before I started cutting and sewing the first one. I got out an undershirt that actually fits me well and put it on top of the baggy one – both size large crew necks from Hanes, but the baggy one was several inches wider in both the body and the sleeve. This gave me a general pattern/size that I was shooting for.

For the first one I didn’t cut off the sleeves entirely, as I didn’t feel ready to tackle that kind of re-engineering yet. I just cut up each side and the bottom of each sleeve and trimmed a bit and resewed the seams (like an upside down L). This gave a better fit for the body, but the top of the shirt (where it joins at the sleeve) still hung a couple inches down my arm. I also shortened the length of the body, since I’m short waisted and the baggy undershirt was several inches longer than it needed to be for me (I felt like I was reaching for mid-thigh, tucking it into my pants, although that’s a bit of an exaggeration).

I wore the first one and waited several days before working on the remaining two. This gave me time to think about whether I was going to use the same technique or whether I would try to make the shoulder cap/sleeve fit better too. I figured this would be good practice for attaching sleeves, something I’ve never done before. So I cut up the second shirt, removing the sleeves and cutting up the sides of the body.

There were a few things I learned while doing this project:

  • Jersey is ridiculously stretchy, and I struggled to keep the material smooth without stretching it out.
  • Mass produced items are not always symmetrical. But even something as ubiquitous and simple as a t-shirt would be a complicated garment to make by hand!
  • The 3-point seam under the arm is a pain to do.
  • It’s important to have the fabric pieces cut to the right size (with even seam allowance all the way).
  • There’s usually an order of operations for which seam should be sewn first and which after.
Tailored undershirt with unmodified shirt underneath
Tailored undershirt with unmodified shirt underneath

I trimmed the sleeves a little bit to fix the symmetry problems and then shortened them in width. I reduced the top of the shirt in width (at the sleeve cap? I suppose I should start learning the right names for these things). I waited to trim the body until I had sewn the sleeve seams (the sleeve back together and then attaching the sleeve to the body). On one sleeve I got the material bunched up and had to rip out a small portion of it and redo, but mostly I worked slowly and carefully and it came out okay.

When I first did the seams for the body I just did a straight line down from the armpit. But then I tried the shirt on and realized I could make it fit my body since I now had a seam where there hadn’t been one before.  So I did the top part of the seams a second time to curve them in, like inverted parentheses )(, leaving the hips wider. Perfect!

Tailored undershirt with changes highlighted
Tailored undershirt with changes highlighted

By the time I got to the third shirt I started to feel like I knew what I was doing. Probably if I had more than three shirts to modify I might not have been interested in doing them all – I enjoyed this project because I was figuring it out and learning as I went. And now I have three undershirts that I will happily wear until they wear out.