T-shirt serger-y

September 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm 1 comment

I’ve had my serger for almost a year now, and I have to say, I’ve used it very infrequently during that time. Those times I have used it have been fabulous (in particular, finishing the hem on Lauren’s wedding dress), but, perhaps like my beautiful spindles, my spinning wheel, my banjo, guitar, bagpipes, flute…there is a specialized time and place for them, just too seldom. So, the other day, I began my mission to use the serger for good, so as not to let it pine away under its polyurethane dust cloth.

I had the perfect project – my Sock Summit tee. I had only 2 areas of complaint for Sock Summit. The first was the lack of chairs and lounging surfaces at some of the events, and the other was the somewhat disappointing swag array. Despite being an event almost exclusively attended by women, the organizers chose a boxy unisex shirt to sell to attendees. Of course I had to order one, but I was less than thrilled with the fit. A small would have been more flattering, but I’m changing sizes in the bust and waistline pretty rapidly these days, and I wanted a little room to grow.

unflattering boxy unisex tee, size M

There are a few main differences between a women’s fitted tee and a standard unisex boxy one – the neckline, the sleeve setting, and the side shaping. Because of the desired roominess factor, I decided to leave the third part alone. The following illustrations show the main differences in shaping:

Unisex Tee

Girly Tee


The compromise:

That’s not to say that my compromise made a particularly flattering shirt. Trust me, making the sides more fitted would have changed this for the better significantly. But I can always do that later, when I’m sure things will continue to fit me. Right now, I want the belly room.

So, how to make these alterations? First, I went and pinned down the slope of the arm inset, and cut as evenly on both sides as I could:

pins along my new armhole

arms off

Then, I cut the sleeves smaller, lining them up the arm holes I’d already cut so that they would fit the holes. Because the new armholes are curved and inset, they’re necessarily larger than the old ones, so in order to use the old sleeves, I’d need to make something of a cap sleeve, cutting on the diagonal. Otherwise, the armhole would bunch up, not very attractive.

little sleeves

Then, to sew. I lined up the sleeve and armhole, turning the body of the shirt inside out so the “right sides” were together, facing each other, and I was looking at the inside of the body. My serger has a teeny “free arm” that allows me to remove the main sewing table and slip a tube up to the needle to sew. Very useful. Using my serger at a pretty medium setting, I sewed both sleeves on, like so:

There’s still a bit of bunching, but this is a lazy, lounge-around shirt, so I didn’t mind so much.

After attaching both sleeves, I decided to widen the collar, by making a serged edge just outside the original collar. I freehanded this, so I don’t actually have good photos. Another freehand job was shortening the sleeves. After trying the shirt on, I thought that the hemmed edge looked a bit frumpy still, so I serged from the armpit around the edge of the sleeves, bringing them a bit closer to the body, and also causing them to ruffle just a bit, for extra cuteness.

In the end, a much more feminine cut, despite leaving the loose and baggy sides (which I’ll really appreciate in upcoming weeks, anyway). A little shabby-chic, which isn’t my usual style, but I think I can pull it off.

By the way, the basic restructuring can be done with a basic straight-stitch machine. Move the sleeves, take in the sides, no problem. Contrary to popular belief, serged stitching doesn’t add extra stretch necessarily. It does keep little annoying frayed edges wrapped up nicely, which is why it gets used for knits/jerseys so much. The serger does a nice job with decorative edging, though. You could zig-zag and trim close on a regular sewing machine for a comparable effect, but it’s not quite the same, and it’s nowhere near as fast to accomplish. The serger is like white lightning!

Ah my serger. Not too expensive (well, $350ish. I think my sense of “expensive,” particularly for tools, is very different than what it used to be), and very effective. I’ve recently learned how to do a blind hem with it! After the disappointment of learning that I could not make the “coverstitch” that you see on the edges of most commercially-hemmed jersey garments (look at the parallel lines at the bottom of your t-shirt) without significantly upgrading my machine or buying a separate unit just for that task, I found the serge-able corollary, and am pretty happy with it. Time to design that long jersey skirt and get going with my autumn sewing (before the quilting bug gets me)!


Entry filed under: sewing, techniques, Uncategorized.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Rycrafty  |  September 14, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Very nice remake!
    I didn’y buy a shirt, because they were so large and boxy. I thought it an odd choice for an event attended mainly by women too.


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