Pop Quiz: Fitting the common women’s t-shirt pt.2

how_to_fix_ladies_teeThanks for your many responses, quite a few of you intuited where I was going with yesterday’s challenge so we had many correct answers. By the way, that doesn’t mean anyone else was wrong. Only that solutions were inappropriate given the (admittedly undefined) context. Correcting my oversight of provided context, this was a mass market product not a one off designed to fit a given figure.

The short version answer is this shirt’s pattern was cut to optimize display in a folded position as opposed to having been cut to fit a body (that was the hint). If you’re making commodity products, that’s fine, no judgment implied. However, if you’re cutting higher cost/value goods, the front and back should not be identical in size if only in upper body length. The front upper chest should be shorter than the back because the too long upper front creates ROM (range of motion) discomfort.

Using the comparison of the photo below, you can see that the too long sleeve edge in front gets in the way of your arms moving forward. The direction (pitch) of the sleeve should match the direction in which one’s arms move.


Sure, the fabric is soft and moves readily but then that’s also a problem; it moves readily. After not much time wearing it, with constant movement of one’s arms forward, the whole shirt shifts up into the neckline and then you have to grab it to yank it down from your throat. Which is by the way, how I noticed the problem and thought to write about it. [Sure, you could blame me but I didn’t buy it but that wouldn’t have gotten me off the hook either because I wouldn’t have tried it on either. I hate trying on clothes at the store -because that means I have to go to the store and being as agoraphobic as I am, well, it’d just ruin everything. I’d rather have a poorly fitting summer weight (pajama) top I didn’t have to go through the hassle of buying. Everyone has their priorities!]

The long answer version:

Q. Is it particular to this form (or a given body) or would a manifestation of the problem be evident on other bodies? Why?

A. This problem is not particular to this body and would be evident on other figures. The problem is that the front and back tee are cut exactly the same size through the armhole length. The front bicep/armhole line should be shorter than the back. Because the front is the same length as the back, the front sleeve pitches forward; its extra length is an impediment at the armscye creating a range of motion problem. Even a sleepwear tee -which this is- should have unfettered range of motion.

With respect to the hint I left (a review of a children’s pattern making book), I intended to refer to the concept of cutting a pattern to enable it being folded neatly. This seems to be more common all the time. You need to decide whether the appeal of your products favor display as folded or whether your products will be cut to enhance the human form.

This particular item wasn’t exactly a commodity product but it was a lower cost item amid the range of products offered by this retailer (a push manufacturer). Considering the disposable income of their average customer, I suppose this item would be akin to commodity pricing. I couldn’t find the style on their site but based on prices of similar items, I’m guessing it was about $25 to $30. [Mr. Fashion-Incubator usually leaves the price tags on my gifts because he knows I care more about keeping up with the market than I do about the cost of things he buys me but either he or the clerk was unusually thorough this time.]

If you’re shopping for a gift for somebody who is picky about fit and want to minimize this problem, lay the garment as flat as you can. If you can make it completely flat with no bubbles, this is not the shirt you’re looking for.

Q. What problems does the fit represent if this figure had arms?
A. The range of motion -more specifically- the primary ROM was impeded. If you have my book, this is discussed in Fundamentals of Fit pgs 163-169 but specifically 166-168.

Q. Is the vast majority of what is wrong with it, fixable without darts?
A. Yes. Shortening the front upper chest and cutting the sleeve to match it, would have helped with respect to comfort.

Thanks for your participation everybody! If you dissent or have questions, feel free to leave them in comments.

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  1. Marilynn says:

    So, this patterning was planned – not a mistake? How common is this practice? Is this taught or does a manufacturer ask a patternmaker to do this? Does it save any fabric or is it just to save space in the container? Thanks

  2. Doris W. in TN says:

    After not much time wearing it, with constant movement of one’s arms forward, the whole shirt shifts up into the neckline and then you have to grab it to yank it down from your throat.

    Wow! That is exactly what happens to me with 99% of the RTW tee shirts I have. Your correction is essentially what I’ve been doing for years to patterns before I sew.

  3. Laura says:

    I think you are definately on to something here. How do you correct the wrinkles created in the back when you remove the fabric from the front armhole? Thanks!

  4. Barbara says:

    Oh, thank you, this was enlightening!
    I always wondered why would t-shrts always pull up on the chest, and atributed it to being too tall/long for the shirt or having bad posture. Even though those facts add to bad fit, I guess.

  5. CMak says:

    The shape of the armhole is incorrect. If you pull the sleeve through the armhole and adjust it to lay without creases, you will find that it is an “oval” shape going east and west. If the patternmaker adjust the armhole shape to be “oval” going north and south it usually takes care of the crease at the bust.

  6. Clarisse says:

    Marilynn, very much intentional. I learned about “flat” pattern cutting (vs. “form” pattern cutting) the hard way. One DE, in our first meeting, stressed how important fit and precision were to her garments, and after I made her first patterns, she returned them to me because the fronts and backs were cut differently, and her sewing contractor was pushing for her to use flat patterns, so they would sew up fast and fold flat for display. Still seems to me that the DE’s high-end styles and fabrications were not well suited for the flat cutting approach. It’s not my preference but I’ll do it if the DE asks for it.

  7. weeza says:

    All this time I’ve been getting this wrinkle in front of the armpit on my rtw tops and thinking it was because my boobs were too small… will definitely bear this in mind when making my own tops.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Marilynn: in addition to what Clarisse said, I doubt it saves any fabric or space in the container. What it does do is allow the unit to be neatly folded in that it won’t need pressing or steaming to be floor ready. I’ve never worked on products like this personally but from shopping and shop talk, realize it is very common. It took a long time for it to sink in that people did this *on purpose*. Then Laura wrote:

    How do you correct the wrinkles created in the back when you remove the fabric from the front armhole?

    The only way to fix that -and I wouldn’t do it, way too much work/cost for a tee- but let’s pretend it’s a nice shirt. There isn’t enough length over the bust for this particular figure (I put one of my bras on the form and stuffed it; the tee was fine and had no wrinkles without the bra). I would lengthen the front over the bust (south of the armscye) and take up the excess side seam length with a dart.

    CMak: The front and back armhole are the same shape -and length, the latter being the bigger problem. I tried to lay it out as smoothly as possible (difficult with the sleeve in there!) but would have to say the armhole was shaped more oval north to south. I do know what you mean tho, I’ve seen that but not so often these days. Then Clarisse wrote:

    One DE, in our first meeting, stressed how important fit and precision were to her garments, and after I made her first patterns, she returned them to me because the fronts and backs were cut differently

    Unfortunately this more typical than not. I mean, common that quality and precision is desired most of all and it’s the first thing out the window -I find we don’t share the same definition. Which is why I get very nervous if a DE talks about quality quality quality. The more they talk about it, the less there usually is. Lines that do top notch stuff rarely even mention the word quality, their descriptions are more like this.

  9. sarah schrupp says:

    Wow, I am shocked & not crazy. As an intermediate sewer, I had decided that this T-shirt fitting issue was attributable to my middle-age, forward pitched, broad shoulders and, ahem, small, south-going bustline. In a million years, retail shirt aethetics would have never crossed my mind as the fitting culprit!

    As I am constantly adjusting my purchased tops via a shirt heimlich maneuver to counter the shirt’s shift towards the back, I decided to sew my own t-shirts. I consulted Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design to create a knit foundation but found the resulting sloper, basically the front and back cut the same, unsatisfactory. Do you have a better reference for developing the knit sloper?

    I guess Armstrong makes a case for a difference in front and back pieces on her pattern draft for Firm Knit – Draft 2 (I made the Stretchy Knit Draft 1), but still the offset between front & back patterns is only slight in the bodice pieces, and there is no mention of reducing the front of the sleeve at all.
    Thanks for providing the insight. You have given me something for which to try.

  10. Quincunx says:

    weeza–same symptom, opposite conclusion here.

    Now I -have- seen that slash and overlap into the sleeve cap as part of some prescribed alteration, but where and when, and prescribed for what fitting problem. . .tracking that down will be fun, not.

  11. Kathleen says:

    I also notice a difference in construction. The stitching on the red shirt’s neckline falls on the band and the body. Meaning, the edge of the band on the underside isn’t as stable. The stitching on the green shirt catches the band and anchors it to the body without that unsightly ridge.

    red shirt = designed to look good folded flat (store)
    green shirt= designed to look good on the body (mail order)

    I appreciate your effort and comment very much Liz. Thank you

  12. CMak says:

    The only way you will see the incorrect oval shaping of the armhole is if you put it on a dress form and pull the sleeve though the armhole. Now pin the underarm seam so it is hanging straight down the side of the form. Do this on the tee shirt you have pictured above. When you stand back you will see the oval shape is going east and west. If you lay the tee shirt or pattern flat you will not see the shaping problem. So I guess you could say the armhole depth needs to be adjusted, you want to make sure you still have range of motion so you don’t want to make it to deep. If you do that the shirt will rise up when you raise your arm. This is also why on so many women you see a fold of fabric at the front armhole, the armhole shape is incorrect.

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