Comfortable Shirts with the Wardrobe Builder T-Shirt

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a white wall facing the camera. They are wearing a black and white striped V-neck shirt with long sleeves. Their fingers are lightly knotted in front of them.

Hello friends! Having spent so much time challenging myself to upgrade my skills with the Dickey Collars pattern, I was keen for a simpler series of makes as a bit of a palate cleanser. In circumstances like this, I turn to stretch fabric. It’s not something I claim to be an expert at sewing, but I love how comfortable and simple it is to pull on something that doesn’t require ironing or buttons. The Wardrobe Builder T-Shirt pattern by Wardrobe By Me has been an absolute winner for me in that regard. After I put some tweaks into place, it’s become such a staple that I test the bodices of other patterns against it to ensure comfort.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a white wall with their back to the camera. They are wearing a black and white striped V-neck shirt with long sleeves. You can also see a little of their blue jeans.

So let’s talk about the Wardrobe Builder T-Shirt is a very versatile pattern, which I bought as a PDF some time ago. It is a fitted T-shirt pattern that runs in a rather limited range from size 0 (bust 30) to size 24 (bust 50), with five neckline options, six sleeve lengths, and three body lengths. According to the website mixing and matching these options can give up to 90 different shirts, although I have not myself made all 90! You might be wondering how the pattern copes with these extreme variations, and I have to say their approach is interesting. It comes in both A0 and A4 format, with one piece for the sleeve with all lengths marked, a lower body piece, and six separate neckline pieces for the different necklines options front and back. I did attempt to pin the two halves down together when making a muslin, but found it much easier to trace them to create one solid bodice piece for each front and back. I do have to gripe that there are no pattern pieces for the neckbands, or armbands, which can be a bit frustrating. I believe that if a pattern piece is required to complete a pattern, it should be one included.

In terms of construction, there aren’t too many steps when putting the pattern together. You begin with the shoulder seams, putting then together a neckband if required, then inserting the sleeves, and sewing the sleeves and side seams all in one. This is my preferred method for inserting sleeves, if I’m being honest. I find setting in sleeves once their underarm seam is stitched can be quite painful, but I don’t have the same trouble with assembling it all flat. However, it is worth noting that their instructions for inserting the neckband are a bit limited, and don’t point out that the shoulder seams aren’t in fact quarter points on most shirts. To insert the neckband, I would first quarter the neckband. Then I would mark the centre front and back on the shirt, and press these two points together. This will then indicate the proper quarter points on either side, which can be marked. Then, all that remains is to pin the neckband to the shirt, matching those quarter points, stretching gently to fit. You should find that there’s far less straining on the neckband, and it should sit better in the shirt.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a white wall facing the camera. They are wearing a yellow, floral patterned V-neck shirt with elbow length sleeves. They are holding their opposite elbow with one hand, and you can see the top of their blue jeans.

One area in particular gave me trouble with this pattern, as when I first began using it very early last year, I didn’t know a thing about flat pattern measurements and full bicep adjustments. It took me quite a bit of time to work out that I need about 14″ of width in the bicep in stretch fabric patterns to be comfortable, with more for ease in woven fabrics. But as I had selected the size 10 bodice to begin with, I quickly discovered that it going to be a bit too dramatic of a change to do that adjustment to the corresponding size sleeve. I had also wanted the shoulder seam to sit further towards the edge of my shoulder. The compromise I made was to roughly grade from a size 10 at the neckline to a size 12 in the shoulder and armscythe, and then back to a 10 below the armscythe. I then added a further 1/2″ to the biceps using a full bicep adjustment. I also removed about 2″ of length from the bodice, to account for my relatively short torso. For those who also often have to do full bicep adjustments, I would recommend the Helen’s Closet tutorial!

I have made quite a few versions of this pattern, some which fit better than others as I worked out sizing. I used cotton-spandex with at least 5% stretch, but I would be interested to attempt the pattern with fabric with one-way stretch, to see if that sits better. Of all the versions I made, the black and white striped V-neck is my absolute favourite, and I reach for it all the time. The fabric is a little thicker than usual cotton-spandex blends, which makes it wonderful for winter. Unfortunately I made some grievous errors with it, and so had to use up what little fabric I had to re-cut certain pieces, which meant I never got a chance to make a short sleeve version. I am eagerly hunting through the secondhand shops in my area for more stretch fabric, hoping to snag more so I can whip up some scoop neck-lines, a boatneck shirt, and at least one more V-neck.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands in front of a white wall facing the camera. They are wearing a yellow, floral patterned scoop-neck shirt with short sleeves. They have a hand on their hip and you can see the top of their blue jeans.

I also stuck to using a walking foot on my sewing machine when assembling the shirts, which was something of an expensive investment, but one which I have never regretted. This foot helps to stablise the fabric by adding a second set of feed-dogs on top, ensuring the top and bottom pieces feed through at the same time. The only downside is that it isn’t possible to backstitch while using the walking foot without throwing off it’s timing and tension – as one of my good sewing friends discovered, so you do have to manually tie off the threads. I also don’t have access to a coverstitch machine, so stuck to zig-zagging along close to the edge of the folded under fabric for hemming the sleeves and the bodice. Each machine has it’s own quirks, but for my machine I set it to a width of 1.5, and a length of 2.5, and made sure to press all the seams as I completed them. This helped each shirt come together and sit well.

I’m also looking to get more comfortable using my overlocker for these kinds of makes, so I would be interested in seeing if I can sew more of this pattern in the future entirely on the overlocker!

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