Stitch Exchange: Draft a Boxy Tee with Cal Patch!

We love Cal Patch! Cal comes out to visit us in California from her home in the Hudson Valley, and has taught many drafting and sewing classes at Verb and other venues. We’ve made dresses, shirts, leggings, you name it! Drafting patterns is her area of expertise - so for Slow Fashion October, we thought we’d collaborate with her to create a tutorial on how to draft and sew your own boxy tee.

Here at Verb, we also love indigo. For this project, we dyed several types of fabric in a variety of shades for Cal to work with. The final shirt includes Nani Iro polka dots in a medium indigo shade, Antwerp linen in a light indigo shade, a herringbone / stripe linen in a medium indigo shade, and Antwerp linen that we dyed a light shade, then clamped with round blocks, and dyed a dark shade of indigo.

You can create your own garment with any type of light to medium weight woven fabric, but if you’d like to try indigo dyeing your own, we have an indigo dyeing kit available on our website, as well as a la carte indigo supplies. You can select from a wide range of our dyeable fabric (including the Nani Iro & Antwerp linen from above) to go into your indigo vat. Part of the joy of this project is using smaller scraps - so aim to have at least 1.5 yards of fabric in a variety of textures. By combining different fabrics, dyeing techniques, and shades, you can greatly personalize your own experience. Using multiple shades of indigo results in beautiful layers with lots of depth.

Cal says:

I’ve been drawn to boxy, pieced-together woven shirts for a while, and they are super easy to make! This is a perfect intro to pattern-drafting if you’ve been wanting to dip your toe in the water, and the sewing couldn’t be simpler. And this basic t-shirt shape makes a lovely “blank canvas” pattern to use as a foundation for all sorts of techniques: piecing, quilting, embroidering, dyeing, eco-printing… and of course you can combine and layer the treatments to create the most special garments.

We all have fat quarters or other smallish cuts of precious fabrics, too small to use for garments - until now! I’m excited to play around with different seam placements and piecing together many of the smaller scraps of fabric I have lying around, and place some of those treasured morsels front and center. I sketched up a few ideas to try out, but I’m sure you can come up with lots more!

In drafting the pattern, we’ll need to remember that woven fabrics generally have little or no stretch, so we’ll allow plenty of ease, both for slipping the tee on over your head, and ease of motion while wearing it. We’ll also have to use a neckline with a gentle scoop so that it’s big enough to go over the head; if you really want a higher “jewel” neck, you’ll need to add a keyhole opening to put it on (we just posted a tutorial here!).

+ Paper for drafting
+ Pencil, eraser and sharpener
+ Ruler (18” x 2” clear sewing ruler is best)
+ Tape measure
+ Paper scissors
+ Clear tape
+ Basic sewing kit: Fabric shears, pins, marking tool, seam ripper

+ About 1 1/2 yards total of woven fabric, though this can made up of smaller pieces of a few different fabrics, and is also dependent upon the actual measurements of your pattern
+ Thread to match

First we’ll need to take a few measurements. Jot these down in a notebook, and then I’ll explain each one as we measure it: Length, Bust, Hip / Hem Circumference, Neck Width, Neck Drop, Shoulder / Sleeve Length, and Sleeve Opening. It’s best to do this in front of a mirror so that you can see your tape measure while standing up straight.

LENGTH: Hold the tape measure at High Shoulder Point (the point at which your neck meets your shoulder, abbreviated HSP) and let it drop straight down. Decide where you want the hemline of the shirt to sit on your body.

BUST, HIP / HEM: Next, measure your bust, and your hip at the spot you chose for the Length of your tee. For a truly boxy shirt, the bust and hip must be the same, so choose whichever is bigger. I would add about 15-20% ease to this number (remember, you need to be able to slip this on).

NECK WIDTH: Look in the mirror and hold the tape measure taut in front of your neck. Gauge how wide you’d like the neckline. You should be measuring straight; the curve will come later.

NECK DROP: Then measure from HSP straight down to how low you want the neckline to scoop at Center Front, without angling the tape.

SHOULDER / SLEEVE LENGTH: We are going to keep this tee short-sleeved, with sleeves that are cut in one piece with the body. So for the Shoulder/Sleeve Length, determine where you’d like your sleeves to end, hold your arm straight out, and measure from there to CF.

SLEEVE OPENING: Finally, you’ll need to measure around your bicep, and add at least 20-25% ease, for the sleeve opening.

That’s all of your measurements; we just need to divide some of the horizontal ones by 2 or 4 to draft the pattern. Divide your Bust and Hip/Hem Circumferences by 4. Divide your Neck Width and Sleeve Opening by 2. These are the final numbers that you’ll use for each measurement as you make the pattern, so when I refer to them henceforth, I mean the resulting numbers after dividing by 4 or 2. I like to circle those in my notebook for easy reference! [Note: your Shoulder/Sleeve Length must be at least 1” longer than your Bust/Hip/Hem after it’s divided by 4. If it’s not, just add an inch to the Hip/Hem and use that.]

Ok, we’re ready to draft: You’ll need a piece of paper that’s at least 3” longer than your Length measurement, and at least 2” wider than your Shoulder/Sleeve Length. Be sure the left-side edge of the paper is perfectly straight, or make it so. Designate this edge as Center Front (CF). All of your marks will be drafted from CF. Near the top edge of the paper, make a mark on CF about an inch down. From that mark, measure down your Length measurement, and make another mark. The top mark will become your Shoulder/Sleeve Line. From the shoulder mark, draw a line, perpendicular to CF, that measures your Shoulder/Sleeve length. The bottom mark will become your Hip/Hem line. From that mark, draw a perpendicular line that measures your Hip/Hem Circumference.

For a better fit, let’s add some slope to the Shoulder/Sleeve Line. Mark your neck width (over from CF) on the shoulder line. From the outer tip of the shoulder line, measure down 2” for the slope. Connect this point to the neck width point, resulting in a newly sloped Shoulder/Sleeve Line.

Now you’ll draft the sleeve. From the end point of your new (sloped) Shoulder/Sleeve Line, draw a line straight down (parallel to CF) that measures your Sleeve Opening. Draw a short line an inch or two long, back toward CF, which is the Underarm Line. From the end of the Hip/Hem Line, draw a side seam line straight up (parallel to CF) to intersect with the Underarm Line. Then blend the corner where the underarm seam meets the side seam into a nice gentle curve.

Next, draw the front neckline. Plot the Neck Drop on CF, measuring down from the shoulder. Draw a line, connecting the Neck Drop to the Shoulder Point with a smooth curve, which begins perpendicular to CF at the Neck Drop point, and meets the shoulder seam at a 90-degree angle as well. Draw in a back neckline as well, with a higher neck drop of about 2” or so.

At this point the basic shape of the pattern is finished; you could add your seam allowance and call it a day. But this is also the time to get playful and draw in some piecing seam lines. I drew a vertical seam line, parallel to CF and about 2” over from the neckline (toward the armhole). I’m also a huge fan of pockets, so I added a horizontal line in the side panel, halfway between the armhole and hem, which I used to draft a pocket pattern, but could also be simply a seam.

Measure the rectangle of your pocket section. Double both the length and the width measurements, and add 1” to each for seam allowance. Draft a rectangle with those measurements and that’s your pocket pattern piece.

Add ½” seam allowance to the shoulder, side seams, and armholes, ¼” to the front and back necklines, and a full 1” of hem allowance to the hem. You can either cut the pattern apart on the piecing seam line, and add seam allowance by taping paper onto each side, or do what I did and draw 2 more lines, ½” to either side of the line. By folding on these lines, you’ll be able to use each part of the pattern separately and it will have the seam allowance built in.

Feel free to add other piecing seam lines with the same method. Or pre-piece some fabric together first and then cut out the pattern from that. Use up all of those smaller pieces you have lurking in your stash!

Label the pattern pieces with names and cutting instructions:
+ Front + Back center panels: Cut one of each on fold
+ Side panels: Cut four
+ Pockets: Cut two

Note: As with any newly-drafted pattern, it’s advisable to cut and sew a muslin to test your fit and fine-tune the pattern before cutting into your final fabric. Especially important is to make sure you added enough ease to pull the shirt on over your head! Assuming you’ve done that, and made any corrections to the pattern, we’re now ready to make the final version.

Cut out your pieces. Make ½” single-fold bias tape, or get some pre-made. You’ll need enough to go around the neckline, though you could use it to finish the armholes also.

1. Trim ½” of hem allowance off the side panels, because they’ll be sewn to the pockets, not hemmed.

2. French seam the shoulder seams of each set of side panels:

+ With wrong sides together, sew a scant ¼” seam.

    + Trim, press and flip so right sides are now together, then sew a true ¼” seam.

    3. Hem the armholes with a ¼” double-turned hem.

    4. French seam the side seams, as in step 1.

    5. Pockets:

    + Fold one pocket piece in half, top to bottom, with wrong sides together, and pin. Baste the 3 open sides together at ¼” from the raw edges.

    + French seam the bottom edge of the pocket to the bottom edge of side panel.

    + Fold up pocket to right side of side panel and baste along both sides.

    6. French seam front center panel to back center panel at shoulder seams, as in step 1.

    7. Hem front + back center panels along bottom edges, with ½” double-turned hems.

    8. French seam side panels to center panels, matching shoulder seams, as in step 1.

    9. Finish the neckline with a bias-tape facing:

    + Starting at one shoulder seam, leave an extra 1/2” of tape unpinned, then pin tape, right-side down, to right side of neckline, with one folded edge opened up so raw edges are aligned. Continue pinning tape around neckline, being careful not to pull it snug.

    + Leave an extra ½” unpinned at the end as well, and cut tape (the two ends will meet and touch at the shoulder seam, and then the two extra ½” tabs stick up in the air).

    + Sew around the neckline in the crease of the unfolded tape, starting and stopping at the shoulder seam but not overlapping the tabs. Then sew across the tabs to join them with a short seam. Trim seam allowance of tabs to ¼” and angle the corners. Finger-press the tiny seam open.

    + Fold the tape over and down to wrong side of neckline. Pin in place and sew along the lower folded edge of tape.

    We hope you’ve enjoyed Cal’s tutorial! If you need some help, the following are great resources:

    + Kristine's Indigo Dyeing Tutorial on Creativebug
    + Kristine's book, The Modern Natural Dyer, (including indigo dyeing instructions)
    + Our Waves Bandana indigo dye kit
    + Our a la carte indigo vat supplies
    + Cal Patch's Seam Finishes & Pattern Drafting on Creativebug
    + Cal's book, Design-It Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified

    Happy dyeing, drafting, & sewing!

    -- Sarah + Cal