Vintage Sewing: Simplicity 8550 T-Shirt

T-Shirt for husband is done! I found about a yard of this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fabric at the bins (Goodwill Outlet store, where goods are priced by the pound) and told Steve I was going to sew a shirt for him with it. I'm really pleased with the finished project, especially considering the fabric is a rib knit-- so quite stretchy, and annoying to manage.

If you look closely at the picture below, you'll see a couple of weird things. 1) the sleeve pictured at left has a seam down it, because I didn't have enough fabric to cut out the shirt unless I shortened the sleeves by about 1.5 inches, the length of the shirt by about 1.5 inches, and pieced together the sleeve and neckband pieces. The neckband should have only had a seam at one shoulder, but I ended up with one at each shoulder and it's fine. 2) If you look closely at the neckband, you'll see that I used a twin needle to tack it down, which shows a zig-zag on the inside. The sewing pattern said to fold the neckband down to the wrong side, and stitch in the ditch with a straight seam, but I thought the stitches would pop if I did that on such a stretchy fabric. The pattern also advised me to trim the leftover fabric of the neckband after sewing it down... which I did, but feel uneasy about. I'm concerned the fabric might roll or run.

Fabric is copyright 1991, and t-shirt pattern is copyright 1978. The line drawing of this basic tee caught my eye; it's pretty classic and not oversized like many modern t-shirts. I like the long sleeved versions and hope to find some fabric that suits my husbands every day style a bit better. This fabric is awesome and hilarious, but it's not the sort of thing he'd choose to wear day to day.

For the actual construction I used my Bernette 334D (that mom gave me for Christmas one year-- she found it on!) for most of it, remembering to swap out for jersey needles, and increasing the differential feed to ~1.5. I serged the shoulder seams, side seams, the weird seam in the sleeve I added, the fabric finish the edges at sleeve and waist hem, and attaching the neckband to neckline initially.

For finishing, I first attempted to hem the sleeve with my Singer 403A Slant-O-Matic. To relieve some of the pressure/stretch on the ribbing, I twisted the little knob that raises up the presser foot a bit and lessened by thread tension. It didn't help, and the sleeve was all wavy and terrible. I ripped out the stitches, and went downstairs for my Bernina 1008 instead.

I have to be honest-- I don't love my Bernina 1008 all the time. We have a pretty hot/cold relationship, mostly because of FREQUENT tension issues. I put it away about a year ago after getting fed up, and have used the Singer 403A as my daily driver because it's just so reliable and easy to use. I knew, however, that I'd need a walking foot to get the hems right on this shirt so decided to deal with my anger and commit to spending the time needed to get my tension acceptably adjusted for this. About two hours later, we were in business. Seriously-- two hours! The problem I've had with my 1008 for YEARS now is that the top tension is always too tight. In the past 10 years, I've never increased my tension over about 4 and often 0-4 results in the exact same tension: too tight, with no change when I'm adjusting it. I've cleaned my discs with no luck, and even when taking it to get serviced, within a short time period it's back to having overly tight tension and it just pisses me off. Hence, it going to the closet for the past year and never coming out again.

To make this work, after much testing and trying and reading and a trip to the store for two new spools of white guterman thread, I landed on this:

1) decrease the bobbin tension by loosening the screw about a half turn (use caution, because tension issues can be a real headache) so the thread comes out FAST and EASY with no resistance
2) use wooly nylon in the bobbin
3) use quality/consistent thread spools in the top
4) when threading, ensure the thread comes off the spools in opposite directions; this meant that I inverted one of the spools on my machine.
5) drop the top tension to zero (on my machine, because it sucks)

Thanks to the fiddling I did, it finally worked out. The walking foot prevented stretching the fabric and my double row of stitching didn't cause any tunneling like sometimes happens with a twin needle.

About the size: because I was using ribbed knit for the entire shirt, I decided to size down so it would fit better. My husband's chest measures 44", but his waist measure closers to the sizing for the 38" or 40" chest pattern included on the back of the envelope. I know he likes his shirts more closely fitted through the shoulders, so coupled with the stretchy fabric, I figured a 38" tee would be fine. I think it looks great, but he finds it be a little snug in the waist. Next time I'll probably size up to 40" if I'm not using rib knit.

 Happy sewing, friends!


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