Hi sewing friends! I don’t know about you but I sew and wear a LOT of tee shirts. I love how many different looks you can get with one pattern when you do different sleeve lengths and fabrics – you can get an entire wardrobe out of one great tee pattern! A few years ago when I started to replace more and more of my work wardrobe with handmade items, I realized how versatile basic tee patterns could be as the central part of work wear. I used to work primarily in an office setting, and now I work primarily from home but spend hours each day on video calls. And I work with a lot of people who dress up and dress pretty smart. How am I wearing tee shirts to work in this setting, you may ask? Well, let me share my top tips for dressing up a tee pattern and demonstrate a pattern transformation for you.
First, let me share my top tips for dressing up tee patterns. Here they are, with the most powerful tip first.
Fabric! Of course it’s fabric. I find that choosing a very flowy light-weight fabric is key to dressing up a tee pattern. I am a huge fan of ITY – which stands for interlock twist yarn. It is an easy to find and affordable poly/spandex blend that has a smooth, cool hand. My favorite place to buy ITY is Fabric Mart; they have great sales every week and always seem to stock beautiful and unique ITY prints. I think modal jersey dresses up tee patterns too. You could try Liverpool fabric for a more structured look, but pay attention to stretch if you choose a pattern with less ease.
Small Prints. Related to fabric choice, I think small repeating print patterns both simplify and dress up a top at the same time. I try to go beyond floral patterns when picking fabrics for my work wardrobe, so I look for dots, geometric prints, and small stripes. But you could totally achieve a dressier look with a small floral too.
Fit. This is personal preference, but I find that either shorter or less roomy tees look more formal on me. But you could go the other route too and extend the length for a tunic look with leggings and boots, which I think is also a dressier look. I also like to add customizations like a waistband to achieve a more structured look.
Contrasting bands. Maybe because it reminds me of other pieces in my wardrobe I have picked up over the years from stores like Banana Republic, but I think a different color neckband or adding contrasting armbands or cuffs elevates the look of a basic tee.
Using bindings instead of bands. I feel like this adds a touch of dressy to any tee, especially if you combine a binding with a few of the other tips on the list. I oftentimes substitute a binding when a neckband piece is provided with an E&M pattern – I simply cut out the neckband piece but then attach it as a binding. But be aware that if you do this, your neck opening will be slightly bigger (up to an inch) since you are not adding the width of the neckband. You can adjust for this by adding up to an inch in height back to the neck opening in the bodice piece. I usually just go for it though!
So let me walk you through my easy tee transformation I did with the Half Pipe Tee. I think this pattern does NOT get enough attention. It is a great fitting tee top and an amazing scrap buster. Here is my version of the Half Pipe with no alterations, cut and sewn per the pattern instructions. I made this entirely from scraps in my scrap pile!
I love this top and have worn it a ton since sewing it up!
So now let me take you through the process and tips I used to get this completely different look from the same pattern.
First, I chose a lovely patterned ITY from my stash for this top, and a contrasting pink ITY for the other touches.
My next step was to adjust the pattern to NOT do color blocking on the front and back. I use a projector so this was super easy for me. Since the bodices for the Half Pipe are meant to be sewn from two pieces, you will need to remove the seam allowance and cut the front and back on the fold. The way I did this was to position my folded fabric ½ inch beyond the front seam line on the projected image since I needed to remove some of the width. If you are using a paper pattern, you could just remove ½ inch from the center front and back.
Next step is to sew together the front and back bodices at the shoulder seams.
I decided to do a neck binding in a contrasting color instead of a band, and I also decided to add matching arm cuffs to pull the look together.
To do the binding, I used the pattern piece already provided for the neckband, but then attached is as a neck binding and trimmed off the excess fabric. E&M has a helpful video on how to do bindings, or you could follow the instructions for attaching a binding from a pattern that already has one, such as the free Curved Hem Pocket Tank.
For my bands, I cut two arm bands the height of the original neckband piece and then measured them to 85% the width of the sleeve opening. I did this before assembling the sleeves so just measured the flat edge of the sleeve piece and calculated from there. My process was to sew together the short ends of my sleeve bands, then finish assembling the tee, and attach the bands to the assembled garment.
My last custom touch was somewhat born out of laziness and necessity, but I love how it turned out. If you want to do this last step, do NOT hem your top. Instead, lay the tee down flat and as evenly as you can on your tabletop, and carefully remove the bottom three inches in length. I then took this piece, folded it in half wrong sides together, and attached it as a waistband. I did not reduce the width of the band so it is exactly the same width as the tee, and I like the look. It saved me hemming my top as my coverstitch is not working and I don’t have a double needle. (Because of this, I used a zig zag stitch to stitch down my binding.). This step will remove 1.5 inches from your finished length, which for me made the top feel dressier overall.
I hope you enjoyed this post! And if you haven’t tried the Half Pipe Tee yet, give it a go – it’s such a fun pattern and you can also use it as a basic tee too, so well worth the purchase. You can get the pattern here.
Thanks for stopping by and if you try any of these tips, please share your sews in the Facebook group or on IG!
(Written by: Andrea Goltzer Mulford)