How to clone your favorite T-shirt


Written by Roxanne Lopez Category: Free Sewing Projects

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Do you have a favorite piece of clothing?

I love to clone my favorite clothes, and I’m going to tell you why you should try it! I think we’ve all been in this sewing scenario – you know the one where you’ve picked a pattern you like, chosen some fabric you love, and think you have an idea of what the end product is going to end up looking and feeling like, only to finish the project and never wear it because it came out different than expected! To be fair, making a muslin or toile of a garment first can help to prevent this type of unwelcome surprise, but cloning kind of skips over that step, assuming you trace accurately and use a similar type and style of fabric. When you start with a garment you already love, it takes out that element of surprise. Cloning a favorite t-shirt from your closet just about guarantees you’re going to end up with something you know you will love to wear. It’s also a great way to boost your sewing confidence. The video above teaches you the simplified steps, but those who like to dig deep can read on for the detailed version of the process…

Step 1 – Gather your supplies:

First, gather your supplies. You will need:

Step 2 – Select the shirt you are going to clone

Once you’ve gathered your supplies, and selected a t-shirt that is symmetrical, and that is free of buttons or other hardware (to make it easier to learn this skill at first), turn your t-shirt inside out to make it easier to see the seams.

Step 3 – Mark up the shirt with tailor’s chalk

Now fold your t-shirt in half vertically, being very careful to line up the side seams, shoulder seams, and armscyes. Using pins to mark that fold from top to bottom, unfold it and use your tailor’s chalk, or a soap sliver and a straight edge to mark this line from the hemline up to the back neckline.

Step 4 – A Note About Pencils – Choosing Your Tools

This step is optional, but throughout the instructions, it can be helpful to either trace lightly or use a colored pencil for all the drafting lines (connecting of pinhole dots) and internal lines (like fold lines, stitching lines), and use a dark pencil line for the cutting lines only. This is helpful when tracing the pattern, as these lines will be darker, and when cutting, since they will draw your attention more and will help to prevent accidental cutting out on the wrong line. Also, I have found that stray or messy lines on my pattern are distracting, and have led to mistakes, so it can be helpful to draw your cutting lines in a darker or bolder line or trace a fresh copy to keep a clean, easy to use pattern. You can choose to do either or neither as you see fit, but I can assure you that this is helpful!

Step 5 – Prepare the paper for tracing

Next, lay the t-shirt out flat on a table or flat surface and measure the space that the shirt takes up vertically. You can measure from the highest point -where the neckline meets the shoulder seam to the bottom of the hemline. Another, easier way to do this is to lay the t-shirt out on a gridded cutting mat, making sure the hemline matches up with a line, and measure the length of the t-shirt from hem to tallest point. Cut a piece of tracing paper 4-6″ longer than the section you are about to trace. Using your gridded ruler and pencil, measure and lightly mark the center point of your tracing paper top and bottom, then draw a vertical line to join them. Next, draw a light horizontal line 3″ up from the bottom of the paper, using your gridded ruler to make sure it is perpendicular to the center front line. Lay that piece of tracing paper onto the foam core board, and then lay the t-shirt on top. Take care to line up the center front of the shirt & its hemline with the lines you just drew on your tracing paper. First, line up your hemline with the pencil line & pin it down. Then, lifting up the fabric to peek underneath it as you go, pin down the center front to make sure that you are aligning your chalk line on the shirt with the pencil line on the tracing paper as closely as possible. Smooth out all wrinkles and stack armhole seams right on top of one another. Once smoothed out and centered onto the tracing paper, use pins all along its perimeter to secure the t-shirt in place, pinning through the fabric and tracing paper, into the foam core board.

Step 6 – Create the pattern with tracing paper

Now you are ready to trace the bodice! Do your best to follow the lines smoothly and accurately, but don’t worry if they wobble a little – we will be smoothing out our lines and curves after we trace. Using your pin tracing wheel, trace along the center line you marked with chalk. Now trace along the edge of the hem and up the side seam of the shirt. Next, follow the armhole seam and trace from the side seam to the shoulder seam. Next, trace the edge of the fabric along the shoulder seam, and then follow the curve of the neckline, either at the edge of the neckband or along the seamline. Using your pencil, make note of where you have included seam allowance (like at the side seam or shoulder seam), and where you have not (like at the hem or neckline). You will be adding it where appropriate later. Trace the BACK neckline (which will be higher than the front neckline) onto the same piece of paper. This method will work for simple shirts with no bust dart. If the shirt has back details, such as a cutout, keyhole, or seam lines, those can be traced as well. Once done tracing, unpin your t-shirt from the paper and foam core board. Label the paper with the date, “bodice,” and t-shirt clone’s name, and set the paper aside.

Step 7 – Trace the Sleeve

Now that you have traced the bodice, you will trace the sleeve, using the same methods. Measure the length of your sleeve and cut a piece of tracing paper 4″ longer. Draw a vertical line down the center of the tracing paper lightly with pencil. Draw a hemline perpendicular to the centerline, about 2″ from the bottom of the paper, also lightly with a pencil. Keeping the sleeve smooth, pin it down to the tracing paper and foam core board, lining up the sleeve’s fold line with your vertical pencil line, and the sleeve’s hem with the horizontal line you just drew. Pin it in place. Be sure to line up the armhole seams and hem, and have the folded edge as straight as possible. Now use your pin tracing wheel to trace along the sleeve’s folded edge, hem, inside edge and armhole seam, noting in pencil where you chose to include the seam allowance or not. Once done tracing, unpin your garment from the paper and foam core board. Label the paper with the date, “sleeve,” and t-shirt clone’s name, and set the t-shirt aside.

Step 8 – Pencil in the Dotted Lines with a Straight Edge

You can set the foam core board and pin tracing wheel to the side now since we are finished with the tracing process. For the next step, you will need your traced copy of the front bodice, a pencil, your french curve, and 3/8″ seam allowance ruler if you are using one. We are going to be connecting the little “braille”-like dots that our tracing wheel made, and to do this, it is helpful to have good lighting and also to set your tracing paper on a dark surface (like your gridded mat) or even a sheet of dark construction paper. Starting with the center front line of the bodice, check to see that the majority of the pinwheel dots match up with the pencil line. Since we took the extra step at the beginning to draw in our center lines, these lines should match up with the pinwheel’s, so there is no need to retrace them. Go ahead and label it as the centerline. Do the same for the hemline, after ensuring that it lines up with most of your dots, label it as the hemline. Now, after measuring the hem in the original garment, add to it the length hemline and draw it in using a dark pencil line. Use your 6×24″ gridded ruler to ensure this line is parallel to the hemline. Next, using the straight edge of your french curve, trace a straight line over your shoulder seam line. Add seam allowance with a regular pencil if needed and mark your cutting line using a dark pencil line.

Step 9 – Pencil in Side Seam with a French Curve

Starting with the side seam, lightly connect the dots with your colored pencil as smoothly as possible. Now, match up the curve of your side seam with your french curve. This can take some experimenting: try it upright, flip it the other way, slide it up, & slide it down. When you find a section that lines up, then trace it lightly with a pencil. Do this for the length of the side seam, remembering to use the straight edge where applicable, and smoothing any sections together as necessary. Remember – the goal is to have a smooth, continuous line. Measure and add seam allowance using the same section of the curve to achieve a parallel line to your stitching line, with a dark pencil line.

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Step 10 – Pencil in the Armhole with a French Curve

Now, we’ll use the french curve for the armhole. First, lightly connect the dots freehand as smoothly as possible with your pencil. Notice the shape. Try matching the bottom of the armhole with the “head” or curved circular part of the french curve. Trace a smooth line for as far as the curves match up. Then shift or flip it as necessary to finish the line. One important note: the armhole stitching line should always meet the side and shoulder seams at a 90-degree angle! See the picture below. Use your gridded ruler or gridded portion of the french curve to ensure this. Now measure and add seam allowance in the same manner as with the side seam, with a dark pencil line.

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Step 11 – Pencil in the Neckline with a French Curve

The process for the necklines is almost identical to that of the armhole. You will be using your french curve unless you have traced a garment with a square neckline. Just connect the dots lightly with a pencil & use your french curve to find the best and smoothest matching curve. Again, like with the armhole, the stitching lines of the neck opening must always meet the center front line and shoulder seams at a 90-degree angle! The only exception to this rule would be in the case of v-neckline or an asymmetrical top; the v-neck would just cross center front at whatever angle the v is cut at, and the asymmetrical would have to have the whole front traced and not be placed on the fold. Connect your traced pin dots with a light pencil line. If you traced around the edge of the neckband, measure the width of the band, and subtract that from your traced line and draw in your stitching line lightly with a pencil. If you traced the stitching line from the get-go, then connect the pin dots and move on to the next step. Now, measure and add your seam allowance and draw in your cutting line using a dark pencil line. Label these lines! Repeat the whole process for the back neckline.

Step 12 – Pencil in the Sleeve Pattern

Now, you have practiced your skills on the bodice and the process for the sleeve pattern is the same! Lightly connect your pin dots. Using a straight edge when straight – like the hem or lower arm, and a french curve when curved – like the armhole or underarm area, smooth out the traced lines and mark in lightly with a pencil. Add seam allowance where noted, and mark in a dark pencil line parallel to the stitching line. Important note: the armhole stitching line will always meet the center fold line and underarm seam at a 90-degree angle!

Step 13 – Truing the Armhole Seam

Truing a seam refers to the process of measuring the stitching lines on each pattern piece that will be sewn together to ensure that the lengths of these lines is equal! We don’t have to worry about truing the side seam for this pattern because the front and back bodice will be identical since they were taken from the same tracing. The only place we will need to worry about this for this pattern is for the armhole seam. Take the bodice pattern piece and using your tape measure, measure the length of the curved armhole stitching line (not cutting line). Write that length down on the pattern and then do the same for the sleeve’s armhole stitching line. Ideally, these should be equal. If they aren’t, you will need to measure the armhole stitching line of your original garment and divide it by 2. This is what you are striving for, so adjust your pattern pieces by adding to or taking away to make these reflect the original. See the pictures below. Make sure you are adding in or taking away only what is necessary

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Step 14 – Finalizing the Pattern! Yay!!!

For the final step, fold the pattern pieces along their centerlines and trace the dark pencil cutting lines onto the blank half of the tracing paper. I prefer having full pattern pieces rather than cutting on the fold because it makes laying my pattern pieces out much faster and easier, and I think it makes cutting out more accurate as well. You can also choose to just keep them as is and just lay them on the fold of your fabric when cutting out. You also have a choice about the bodice pattern piece. Option 1 is to trace the entire pattern onto another sheet of tracing paper with the back neckline thus making two separate pattern pieces for the front and back. Option 2 is to use the same pattern piece for cutting out the front and back bodice, just to add the raised neckline piece when cutting out the back. See the picture below for clarification. The last step is to cut the pattern pieces out on the cutting lines, and you are ready to cut your fabric out and sew up that twinsy masterpiece!!

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