Basic T-Shirt Pattern

How to Make a Pattern from a T-shirt (without destroying it) -

Today I’m going to show you how to make a basic t-shirt pattern based off of a t-shirt you already have. If you read all the way through the post, there is also a sample pattern you can download that fits sizes 2T-4T.

This tutorial is the first of three parts – I’m going to show you the basic principal of rub-off pattern making with a boys t-shirt, then the second part will be how to alter that pattern, so I can show you how I made the Bean’s Baby V-Neck T-shirt, and the third part will be a tutorial of making a pattern from a blazer – a lot more complicated.

Also, if you have a kid in sizes 2-4T and just want a free pattern to start with, scroll all the way to the bottom of this tutorial.

Let’s get started. You will need:

  • Pins
  • Pencil
  • Large Paper – this can be kraft paper, butcher paper, medical exam table paper or even just printer paper taped together.
  • Garment to copy
  • A large piece of cardboard – this can be any large piece of cardboard, I just like this one because it folds up and stores neatly.
  • A ruler, preferably a clear quilting ruler
  • A measuring tape
  • Scissors

First, lay your paper on the cardboard. Then you want to draw perpendicular lines on the paper. This is where the clear ruler comes in handy – you can use it to make sure you’ve got a 90 degree angle.

Next, fold your t-shirt in half, front sides out. We’ll be making the pattern for the front first. Make sure you have the side seams (if there are any) together, and have matched the sleeve and shoulder seams. I pin the shirt in half to make sure. Next, line up the center front of the shirt with your vertical line, and line up the hem with your horizontal line. Stick a couple of pins all the way through the shirt into the cardboard to hold it in place.

Don’t worry about the sleeves right now, we’ll pattern them in a minute. Next, trace the side of the t-shirt and the shoulder seam onto the paper.

So far, so good. Here’s where the rub-off method comes in – using pins pushed all the way through into the cardboard, outline the sleeve seam and the collar seam – the two seams you can’t trace easily since there is other fabric in the way. You could fold up the shirt some more to see these seams to trace, but it wouldn’t be as precise. It would work fine to do it that way for an easy garment like a t-shirt, but when we do something more complicated, like the blazer, that won’t work. Your garment should look like this:

Remove those pins and you will have a pinpricked outline of the curved seam. By connecting the dots with a pencil, you can draw in the seam.

Now you have an outline of the pattern without seam allowances.
Using your clear ruler, you can now add seam allowances. I like to add 1/2 inch allowances instead of 1/4 inch because it give you more room for goof ups and serging seams. On curved seams like the neck and sleeve, I trace a little at a time, constantly moving my ruler to create the same curve. You can also do this with a compass set 1/2 wide and trace the curve with the point end, allowing the pencil end to recreate the curve plus seam allowance. Also, adding seam allowances lets you straighten out your tracing, which will always be kind of wobbly looking.
REMEMBER NOT TO ADD TO THE CENTER FRONT SEAM since you’ll be placing the pattern on the fold of the fabric to cut out one piece. Also remember to add more for the hem than 1/2 inch, unless you plan to re-use a hem off a repurposed shirt or you just want to serge the bottom edge without turning it.  And then you have a front pattern.
You’ll do the back pattern the same way as the front. I like to cut the front piece out after I make it and compare the side seams on the front and back before I finalize the back pattern. That way I can make sure they’ll match up, since knits tend to stretch even when you pin them together and down to the cardboard and are very careful.
You’ll find some tutorials online that suggest using the same pattern piece for the front and back of a t-shirt. This works if you only pattern the front, but I don’t do this because if you look at a finished shirt, the back neckline always comes up higher than the front, and I like that fit. Like I said, I’m a little persnickety.
For the sleeve, again draw perpendicular lines on your paper. I know these don’t look perpendicular because of the camera angle, but they are, I promise.
Pin your sleeve together, making sure to smooth all the wrinkles so the seam is on one edge, the hems line up and the top line is flat. Line up your sleeve with your perpendicular lines so the top of the sleeve is with your horizontal line and the hem is with the vertical line. Then pin trace the sleeve seam and add seam allowances as you did for the other pieces.
When you’re done, you’ll have 3 pattern pieces that look like this:
For the neckline, I usually just measure the neckline of the shirt once I have 1 shoulder sewn, and then cut a piece of jersey slightly shorter than that measurement.
To download the free toddler size 2-4 pattern, subscribe to the Melly Sews Weekly Newsletter. AFTER you sign up, you’ll get a confirmation email – and you have to confirm or my email service can’t send you the free pattern. But once you do confirm, you’ll get access to not just this but several other free patterns. Woot!

(PS – if you have trouble finding either your confirmation email or the email with the pattern link, try checking your spam, trash, junk, bulk, social and/or promotional email tabs or folders. Free pattern links are also included in every weekly newsletter; these go out on Friday afternoons. Due to the number of subscribers I can’t email pattern links to individuals.)

This pattern fits sizes 2T-4T if you adjust the length by cutting off the bottom of the shirt or the bottom of the long sleeve (the short sleeve looks OK on all 3 sizes). To determine the length of the neckband for this shirt, after sewing one shoulder, measure your neckline and then multiply that number by .9 for the neckband length. Before cutting, make sure that neckband will stretch to go over your child’s head – if your child has a larger than normal head you may want to scoop out the neckline more and extend the length of the neckband.  If you need to make the pattern bigger or smaller, check out this post.

More Rub Off Patterning Tutorials

Rub off Blazer
Rub off Pajamas
Rub off Jeans

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  1. says

    Great tip! I’ve always just folded the sleeves, etc. in to trace the piece that I needed, and you are right, its not as accurate. Thanks for sharing this new method for making a pattern!

  2. Becky S says

    I am brand new to sewing and my goal is to make dresses for my daughter (who is 9) I get frustrated because most people post tutorials on making dresses for toddlers. I am happy to see maybe I can make my own pattern to do the top part of her dresses and just follow the rest of the design. thanks for putting this up.

  3. lynne says

    I am new at sewing and want to make a costume. The top for the costume is really like a vneck tshirt. Using your method to make my own pattern, I am free to choose the right fabric. What I need is tips on making the vneck neckline piece. I don’t quite understand what you said above about making a pattern for the neckline piece, so can you tell me in more details? :)

    Thanks in advance. I love the idea of using pins to trace the curve of the sleeve too.

  4. kadasher says

    i really love your work, its been very inspiring. i have two boys 6 and 8 years, can i modify this patterns to their size? how do i go about it? thank so much.

  5. llynnda says

    I have been doing this for years but usually just with knits. Didn’t know it was called Rub. I always thought of it as Rob! I was a stretch and sew instructor for years and frequently used this method for knit fabric when there wasn’t a pattern available. I have also used this method for woven fabric with some success. My estimate for ease does not always work out . Love your explanation and I will now call is Rub. It sounds so much better than Rob!

  6. Silvia says

    Lovely tutorial, I just made the patter from a tshirt, but the back is a bit different from the front : longer and the shoulders are a big bigger and the curves where the sleeves are don’t really match with the front…what do you suggest me to do? Shall I just use the back and cut out the rounded part of the neck?

    • says

      The front and back arm curves should be different; usually there is more curve to the front than the back. The shoulder width should match, however. You need to modify your pattern to make sure the shoulders are the same width and that the length of the side seam is the same.


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