A Tale of Two T-shirts

While working on my kimono-sleeved top for the PJs, I got a bit obsessed with t-shirt shaping. I should warn you before diving in any further–there are enough stripes in this post to make your eyes buzz.

It’s been a long while since I made a plain ole t-shirt. I mean, what could possibly be easier than a t-shirt? Right. They’re not rocket science but just start sewing and watch how even the most basic clothing turns into a scintillating dissection of fit and abstract shapes.

In the spirit of pattern face-offs, I decided to give a go at mocking up two different tee patterns. Long, long ago, there was the Lydia pattern. I’d just discovered BurdaStyle and the pattern was free and I was dying for a new stripey t-shirt. I love me a stripey knit. It wasn’t long before I was off and messing with the pdf in Illustrator turning the pattern into everything but a t-shirt.

Problem is, I never properly fitted it the first time around, sewing a 38 when 36 is usually a better Burda size for me. I had two yards of the original stripey knit left over, enough to squeeze in two tees. It was cheap and pills like crazy and will never become that striped tube dress. So side by side, here is Kwik Sew 3338, a popular tee pattern, with Lydia on the right:

The two sizes (36 in Burda, Small in Kwik Sew) were close enough in measurements, but there are little differences that stack up.

First up, the lengths. The Kwik Sew is designed to be shorter, hitting more at the hipline, while Lydia falls below the hip. The only changes I made to both patterns was to shorten the neck to waist length by an inch. Even after that, the Burda waistline is still a bit lower than mine (and an inch lower than Kwik Sew’s).

In both patterns, reducing the front and back lengths above the waist was a good idea, but I should add length into the waist-to-hip area. (Short torso, but high waist.) Shape-wise, the Lydia has a much more curved waistline and flared out hip. Which suits my hippy pear self. The Kwik Sew wants to hike up to my waist. This wouldn’t look so goonish if it was a tight-fitting t-shirt:

Now the sleeves. Burda tends toward high sleeve caps are high and narrow armscyes. Even this t-shirt has sleeve cap ease (about 2 inches of it!) The KS has no cap ease. You can see the difference in how the shoulder looks:

I guess it all depends on what kind of look one is going for. Burda’s tall sleeve cap looks good when the arms are down, a nice sleek shoulder and top of the arm. But just try to raise the arm and see what happens. Immediately the top of the sleeve puckers and pushes up, while the under arm feels a bit restricting because it falls so far below the armpit. This is more noticeable in their woven patterns.

(And if you really want to get into sleeve pattern geekery, check out this post at Pattern School. He writes a bit about the the visual and fit effects of sleeve angle–and indirectly, cap height–in stretch patterns.)

Aside from the height, the shape of the front and back sleeve cap made a difference in fit. The KS sleeve is almost symmetrical front and back, while the Burda slopes slightly to the front:

I think that’s why the KS tee has some jiggy going on around the front armholes. This is after I’ve pulled it down straight (after wearing it for 10 minutes or so these wrinkles pull from the neck more):

It’s obvious from looking at the stripes in the side view that I could be a candidate for forward shoulder adjustments, which could fix the pulling as well. Still, I’d love to know whose arm/shoulder is shaped equally in front and back like the KS pattern. I’m guessing a lot of people think they have forward shoulders when perhaps a pattern is just too symmetrical to start with?

Finally, the back. The KS definitely fits better in the upper back.

{edit: lydia is on the right}

Are those folds around the Lydia armholes from excess upper back width? Length? Armhole length? All of the above? I don’t know–but I do wish it was a little sleeker back there. Its shoulder width is slightly longer than the KS shoulder as well. I’m wondering if I should unpick my binding and see if that changes how the shirt relaxes.

The rest of the differences are just in style. The Lydia is meant to just skim the body, not fit tightly. The Kwik Sew is slightly slimmer. I like the neckline of the Lydia better–crew necks make me feel kind of boyish–although necklines are interchangeable. The Kwik Sew has unique little feature in the form of a hidden bust dart that is eased into the back. This probably adds a bit of length and better fit for those with bustage. I personally need that length and width in the hips, which are four inches wider than my bust.

Overall, the Lydia wins my favor, if I could fix the back. Or maybe morph the two to get the best of both worlds.

Well then, I think I’ve thoroughly scratched my obsession of the month! (For the moment.) Any t-shirt fitting gurus out there care to comment, or have a preference?


  1. Alison says:

    I have not idea about all the technical parts, but I like the Lydia on you best. And I completely adore those orange pants!!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Alison–it does help to have an objective, non-sewing-obsessed opinion! I can’t see the forest through the trees sometimes.

  2. oonaballoona says:

    wait i’m confused…. is the lydia always on the right? i think it fits you better in the back! i like the lydia best on you too hands down. mais, no sleeves up 😉

    • Amy says:

      oops, in the last photo they’re switched. the lydia is on the left. thanks, I think I prefer it too. less work!

  3. Tanit-Isis says:

    Ooo, interesting! I had such a terrible time fitting the Lydia, although now I’ve got it figured out it works fine.

    Now I want to make about fifty more warm, snuggly long-sleeve tees. ‘Tis the season…

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