Quest for the perfect tee: my top three t-shirt sewing patterns

Ruth wear's basic white short-sleeved loose-fit t-shirt tucked into high-waisted jeans. Bookcase and guitar behind.
You can’t beat a good old basic tee

In my last post I suggested we share more basics. It was a note to self as much as anything. So today I return with news of my top three sewing patterns for the basic tee.

With the desire to sew anything fancy subdued by lockdown, I ventured on a quest to find my ideal t-shirt pattern. I think I’ve finally found her… but what kind of blog would this be if I wasn’t to first take you round the houses and introduce you to all the tees I’ve ever loved?

A short blog, that’s what.

I’m rarely a woman of few words, but with the longevity of your eyeballs in mind (and given this is about the classic t-shirt, the variety of which has its limits before it becomes, more generally, ‘a top’) I’ve managed to boil it down to my top three.

Three: Stellan tee

The Stellan in viscose jersey: fabric choice is everything

I’m no stranger to the Stellan Tee: a powerful contender created by South African indie pattern company French Navy. The Stellan features an ever-so-slight dropped shoulder and curved hem. The cut has a nice slouchy relaxed feel, with the hem making for an easy peasy French tuck.

Depending on your fabric choice, the Stellan exhibits a chameleon-like nature. In a stiffer cotton jersey, you get a boxy look – the dropped sleeve juts out ever so slightly to give a cool, 1980s-reworking-the-1950s feel. With the sleeves rolled up there is a definite James Dean/Marilyn via Audrey Horne/Madonna vibe.

I’d made a few in bogstandard cotton jersey before I ventured into viscose jersey (the one pictured right is suuuuuuper drapey). It has a very different feel in a lighter fabric, with the shoulders slinking ever so neatly into place. It saunters towards a pleasing 90s normcore: as perfect under a power suit as with jeans and trainers. Big thumbs up.

Two: Freya

The edited Freya in viscose jersey

I’ve been on a bit of a journey with the Freya these past few years. For anyone who missed the phenomenally successful Tilly and the Buttons book Stretch, the Freya is a versatile pattern that comes as a ‘sweater’ or dress. The dress has a 1960s aesthetic which, if you want, you can embellish with a v-shaped frill at the front.

The design features a kind of faux turtleneck that I have never been able to get along with. I’ve tried it in every fabric, and come to the conclusion that my neck is too scrawny to make it work. I know that I need to taper the neck band so it is narrower at the top, but I still haven’t gotten round to doing it.

Instead, I make the Freya with a crew cut neckband (super easy – just halve the width of the band and sew as directed by Tilly). It comes up nice and snug around the neck, which is perfect for the cooler months when (for this nesh sewist, at least) a lot of t-shirt and sweater patterns are a bit too draughty around the collarbones.

I persevered with the Freya because the cut of the bodice is beautiful. After a bit of trial and error, I realised it’s safer to size up than down, because although the size for my measurements fits well on the body, the shoulders come up a little shy of where they should be (for reference, I have fairly average shoulders). As a result I sometimes get an undesirable pulling across the front. The thicker/less stretch in the fabric, the more you will need to size up.

Recently, and I’m not sure why it took so long, I made a version out of the leftover black viscose jersey from my Stellan, and I have to say it ticked a lot of boxes in a more fluid fabric. I sized up as usual and, for a more casual feel, took the sides straight down to the hips, losing the curves.

The shoulders were spot on – for the first time there wasn’t any pulling across the front or the slow creep of the shoulder seam away from its rightful place.

So, the Freya with a crew neckband and straightened sides in a viscose jersey is a worthy contender for the top slot. Bravo!

One: Tabitha

The Tabitha: hitting every nail on the head

As good as the Freya is with various edits and fiddlings, it was beaten to the top spot by one of its own: slamdunking in at number one is future classic the Tabitha.

I’d spent some time fiddling around with a kind of Stellan Freya hybrid (higher neckline of the Freya, curved hem of the Stellan, straight sides of the Stellan, shorter sleeves of the Freya… and so on…) when out popped Tilly and the Button’s new book Make it Simple.

In amongst a bunch of new designs was the Tabitha. At first I didn’t pay it much attention. But then I found myself flicking back as the penny dropped. Hmmmm… I wonder…

I traced the pattern and cut it out. I wasn’t sure if the fit would work – it looked a little bit small on the shoulders in the photo. Given I’d found the shoulders a bit shy on the Freya, I was tempted to make an adjustment before cutting out, but I decided to stick with the original and see what happened.

Look at those shoulders, sitting obediently

I’m glad I did. The looseness of the fit means the shoulders are absolutely spot on – no pulling or creeping in the wrong direction.

The neckband went in beautifully, and the width of the band is just right.

I wish I’d cut this out much sooner – I would have saved myself a lot of time messing about with other patterns trying to create the same t-shirt. Tilly, I salute you.

It’s funny I never bothered to share this on Instagram (see my last post on why we sometimes censor basic sewing to our own detriment). It is another example of a really great design – all the details are well considered and perfectly executed. Make it simple, indeed.

After my last Instagram post, I was asked if we could start an Instagram tag to celebrate that which we feel is ‘boring’ but which we enjoy constantly in our daily lives. One suggestion was #sewmundane, another was #sewbasicaf. If you want to join in, this might be a nice way of accessing the basics and the everyday of the sewing world without having to scroll for 75 hours. See you over there!

Before you dart off, do you have a favourite t-shirt or basics pattern? I’m prepared to be sent down another rabbit hole on your suggestion! Please comment below!

8 thoughts on “Quest for the perfect tee: my top three t-shirt sewing patterns

  1. Thanks for this, all are patterns I haven’t tried yet and I am particularly intrigued by the Stellan and the Tabitha, although not sure I’d buy a book for just one pattern. My current fave is the Basic Instinct Tee by SecondoPiano. It’s free and is a great relaxed fit tee. I’ve made 5, I think!

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    1. Yeah I think the book would only be worth getting if you fancied making a few things inside. Love the Basic Instinct Tee, though – looks like a perfect option and seems to have really nice subtle shaping on the body. I will be trying that one next time I need a new tee! Thanks for the recommendation!

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  2. There is also the glorious Mandy Boat Tee from Tessutti which I’ve made a tonne of. I don’t know whether this would fall outside of the basic tee shape though. Freebie and a goodie!

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    1. Thanks Nat! I love the Mandy – maybe a bit too much! I had to restrain myself from making any more as I now have Mandy PJs as well as day tops… in fact, come to think of it, I’m wearing one at this very moment 😉

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  3. I love the Stellan Tee – I’ve made 5. I have made the Freya as a sweater – will take your advice on the neckband and try it as a tee. I also like the Panama Tee by Alina Design Co. It is nicely fitted and I made it with elbow length sleeves. I also like the Rio Ringer Tee by True Bias. Thanks for your post. I love basics!

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  4. I totally agree with you that the Tabitha is the perfect tee. However I pretty much always need to make a narrow shoulder adjustment and grade out at the hip. I also lowered the neckline on mine slightly to make it a bit more warm weather friendly. I also love Freya and have messed with different necklines on that one too. Isn’t it great being able to make exactly what you envision?

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