Erin from E.C.B. (Especially Creative Broad) and the g.c.b. Kids shop has a degree in apparel and textile design and a knack for creating flattering items that are also comfortable and wearable. Learn more about Erin in her introduction, and enjoy her free Swing Shirt tutorial today!
I have a new favorite shirt. It’s loose, it’s flowy, flattering for my growing belly and it’s easy to make. This summer has been oppressively hot, and doesn’t promise to cool down any time soon, so I’m planning on making even more of my favorite shirt and thought you might want to make one too!
I haven’t yet added “creating PDF patterns” to my collection of skills, so unfortunately I don’t have a downloadable version of the pattern for you. What I can do however, is walk you through how to create the pattern yourself.
Here’s what you’ll need (to create the pattern):
- Tracing paper on a roll (you can find this in the drafting section of Michael’s)
- A pen or pencil
- A ruler
- Drafting curves*
- A large corkboard
- A t-shirt that fits you well (look for armhole seams to hit on the bone in your shoulder, not inside or outside it)
There are several types of drafting curves available. The two types shown will both work for pattern making, but I strongly suggest buying the two, separate, clear curves if you can find them.
Making the Pattern:
The first piece we’re going to create for our pattern is going to be the front neckline piece. In my experience with pattern making, the most difficult part is making sure your pieces turn out symmetrical. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do that.
Flip your t-shirt inside out (it makes it easier to find the seams) and fold it in half. We will create half of each piece, and you will be able to cut your fabric on the fold. No more crooked pattern pieces! From here on out, we can refer to that fold as your shirt’s “center front” or “CF” for short.
Once your t-shirt is folded in half and on your cork board, pin a piece of tracing paper on top of it with a flat edge even with the fold in your shirt. You can leave your paper attached to the roll if you’re concerned with it being long enough, but for this first piece your paper only needs to extend a few inches below the armpit of your shirt.
With your paper pinned on top, use your pencil to mark the inside edge (where the ribbing meets the knit fabric) of your tee’s neckline along the shoulder seam and a second mark 4.5” below the ribbing on the center front. This second mark will determine how deep the “v” in your neckline will be, so if you would like it to be more modest (or more daring!) alter it now.
Next, measure the length of your shoulder seam (from collar to armhole seam) and divide this roughly in half. My shoulder seam was a little longer than 4”, so I moved 2” along my shoulder seam from my first mark and made the second. Add half an inch to the measurement you just made and make a second mark on your shirt CF that distance below the original (2.5” below for me).
Use the fatter of your two curves to create a smooth line between each of your two sets of marks. Connect the two sets with your ruler. Your finished piece should look like this:
At this point, our neckline front is essentially done. We just need to make a few small marks on it to finish it off. The first mark is where the body of the top will connect to the neckline. We want this to be high enough that it will keep whatever bra you wear with the top covered, but not so high it looks funky.
If you have a particularly large bust, you may want to do your own measurements for this mark, but as a starting point, my mark is 5.5” below the shoulder seam (not including any seam allowance). Mark this with a small triangle to tell you to create a notch for matching pieces.
Approximately an inch below your triangle (towards center front) make a second mark. This mark isn’t important until we start constructing the shirt, so don’t worry about it too much. So long as it’s a bit inside of where the body connects to the neckline it’ll be fine.
To complete your piece you now need to add your seam allowance. I use ¼” because I do most of my sewing on my serger and that’s the width of stitch it automatically uses, but standard seam allowances are 3/8” and 5/8”. Which you use is up to you, just remember to be consistent with it on all your pieces! If you don’t have a serger to finish your fabric edges, you probably want to leave a larger seam allowance so you can turn your edge over twice to finish it.
Use your ruler to measure your seam allowance distance out from your piece on all sides EXCEPT for the center front. You won’t be adding any seam allowance here since you’ll be cutting the piece on a fold (there won’t be a seam there). When your marks are made, use your curves and ruler to fill out the lines just like you did when you were creating the piece before.
Congratulations! You just created your first pattern piece! Label it “neckline front, cut 2” and get ready for the next piece.
Leave your completed front neckline piece where it is for the moment and layer a second piece of tracing paper on top. Looking through your paper, mark the outside edges of the top (shoulder seam) of your neckline front. This will be where your front and back match up, so they need to be the same size.
Next, looking through both sets of paper, find the ribbing for the back neckline of your t-shirt. Measure down half an inch from the inside edge of the ribbing and make a mark. This will be the top of your back neckline piece. Now, measure up 2” from the top edge of your front neckline pattern piece and make a second mark. This will be the bottom of your back neckline piece.
Use your rounded curve to connect your top two marks to create the neckline of your back piece. Next, measuring from your lower center back (on the fold of the shirt) mark, move over 2.5” (or whatever the depth of the bottom of your front neckline was) and up .75”. Make a mark.
Using the same curve make an arc between the two marks to create the bottom of your piece. Use your flatter curve to create the curve between your remaining shoulder seam mark and your second bottom mark. Be aware that your curve may not fit with the angle of your line traced from your front piece. Don’t let this bother you as so long as the pieces are the same size at the seam they will fit together. Your finished back piece should look similar to this:
Add your seam allowance (I’ve already done mine in the pic above) in the same way you did with the front piece (again leaving the part that will be cut on the fold without a seam allowance) and label this “neckline back, cut 1”.
Remove your neckline pieces from the board, trim them and cover your t-shirt with a large piece of tracing paper. Make sure that if you want your finished swing shirt to be longer than your t-shirt that your tracing paper extends a decent distance below the bottom hem. I wound up adding an extra 2” to my length for the shirt, and will be adding another 7” (9” total) to create the dress I’ll be sewing to walk you through the construction.
Layer your neckline piece on top of your new piece of tracing paper, making sure to line it up properly with the shoulder seam and center back (we’re going to start with the back piece). Using pins, punch holes through your pattern piece (on the seam line, not the seam allowance edge) into your new paper as shown.
The more places you poke holes the easier it will be for you to recreate this line when you remove your neckline piece. This will be the top edge of your back body piece. Use your pencil to define this line, being sure to clearly mark where it ends.
Next, use your ruler to measure up .75” and in 1” from your t-shirt’s armpit. Mark this spot and use your rounded curve to connect it to the end of the line you just created with the pins.
At the bottom of your shirt (along center back) add the length you’d like. As I mentioned earlier, I added 2” length to my shirt. From the outer corner measure out 3”. Use a long ruler or yard stick to create a straight, diagonal line from the bottom edge of your armhole (the 1” in and .75” up point) down through your 3” out point. Continue the line until it meets with your added length at the hem. Use your flatter curve to create a softly rounded hemline that curves up slightly at the outside.
To create the front body piece, follow the same general steps as for the back body piece. Make certain when tracing your neckline front piece with your pins to mark your notches as well as the edge of the piece.
For the armhole, measure up 1” and over .5” from your tshirt’s armpit to find your starting point.
Add the same length and width to your hemline (2” down, 3” over) and curve the hemline. Do your best to make sure your side seam lines for your front and back pieces are the same length!
Add your seam allowance to the piece and cut it out. Keep the scraps of tracing paper.
Now it’s time to add the fullness to the piece that will cause the draping. Grab your scissors, ruler, pencil, tape and a couple scraps of extra tracing paper.
Start by laying your ruler along the neckline edge of your piece (it won’t fit exactly, just lay it diagonally). Pick a point a little more than halfway up and mark this as your gather cut off point. My point is 4” from CF.
Using this point as a reference to not go above on the neckline, create a sunburst of lines reaching from your neckline to the outside of your piece. Don’t worry about making TOO many lines, I only used 4.
Using your scissors, cut down your lines from the neckline all the way to the outside edge, leaving just the smallest tab of paper to hold the edge together. (You may want to do these one at a time so you don’t have to worry about them ripping apart while you do the others). Spread the two parts of your pattern apart slightly, creating a wedge shape. Slip your extra tracing paper underneath and tape. The bigger the wedge you create, the more gathering you will have in that portion of your garment.
Do this for each of your slashes until you have created additional wedges across the entire piece. Use your curves to round your neckline out across the newly inserted pieces and trim them to have an even seam allowance. Your finished piece should look like this:
At this point, if you’d like to add some fullness to your back body piece, you can use this same method of slashing and inserting paper. It isn’t absolutely necessary for fit, but it will make for a more flowy top.
After that, you’re done! You’ve created your own pattern! Now it’s time to move on to the fun part.
To walk you through the process I’ll be creating a dress. It’s the exact same process, mine just has an additional 7” of fabric below the hem. This is a quick and easy piece to sew… There’s only one little part that you’re going to hate and want to swear at me, and I promise I’ll do my best to walk you through it!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1.5 yards of knit fabric (the amount you need will depend on the size you create)
- Wooly nylon thread to match your fabric
- Sewing pins
- Hand sewing needle and thread (any color)
Iron your fabric and cut out all of your pieces. You should have one copy of each piece, except the neckline front, which you should cut two of. Make certain to keep your pattern pieces lined up with the grain of your fabric so it will drape properly. Most knit fabrics stretch more from side to side than top to bottom, this will make your top hang the best. Remember to cut notches poking out of your fabric to mark both of the places we noted on the neckline front.
Our first sewing step will be to attach our back neckline piece to our back body piece. If you added fullness to your back body piece, start by gathering it to match the width of your back neckline piece. Typically for gathering I suggest using your longest stitch setting on your sewing machine, but with this piece, I actually prefer using a hand sewing needle and thread as it gives a more organic gather. You can easily pull the thread through the piece after you are finished sewing if you make certain to sew a little bit below your seam allowance.
Pin the rounded bottom of your neckline piece and the gathered neckline of your body piece together and use a serger or traditional sewing machine threaded with wooly nylon thread to sew them together. If you’re new to sewing with knits (or are curious about this wooly nylon I keep talking about) I have more information here. The joined pieces should look like this:
Now join your front body piece to your back body piece at the side seams. Iron all of your seams so they will lay flat. Your side seams should be pressed towards the back and your seam between your back neckline and back body piece should be pressed down. Finish the edges of your pieces (except the neckline of your body front) either using a serger or by turning them over twice and sew them flat.
Now here comes the swearing part… We’re going to attach the front neckline. Stick with me as it’s all worth it in the end!
Start by turning your dress inside out. Lay one of your neckline front pieces, right side up on a flat surface. Turning your dress so it is laying in the v of your neckline, you’ll be matching the edge of your body neckline to the bottom edge of your front neckline piece. Placing the right sides of the fabric together, start by placing the upper corners of your front body piece in line with the triangles indicating where the pieces should connect (that’s the mark we made at 5.5”). Layer your second neckline front piece on top, front side down and pin all three pieces together from shoulder seam to your second, lower mark. All pinned, it should look like this:
Sew from the shoulder seams down to the second mark, leaving the center open.
…And if you were to turn it right side out after you finished sewing it, it would look like this:
Made it through that? You’re pretty much home free. The rest of the neckline is only a hair tricky, and nothing if you figured out that inside, outside and backwards nonsense!
Turned inside out, your neckline currently looks like this:
Use your serger or sewing machine to sew shut the upper edges of the neckline (leaving the shoulder seams open) and turn it right side out by pulling it through the open bottom of the v. Iron your neckline flat.
Use your hand sewing needle and thread to gather your front body neckline in the same way you did your back body piece.
Use your pins to attach your gathered body neckline to the open portion of your front neckline with the right sides together. Unlike the portion you did before, you won’t be sandwiching your body portion inside of the two neckline pieces but just sewing all three like a normal seam. When you reach the portions where your seam allowance turns under to go inside the piece you can either notch the fabric or ease your stitches towards the edge, whichever is easier for you.
When the neckline is connected, sew the shoulder seam s together, continuing the stitching from your edge finishing on the back neckline piece for a short distance onto the front neckline piece to tuck your seam allowance underneath.
Serge or turn under your hem and finish it as you did the armholes and back neckline and your piece is finished and ready to wear!
If you have any specific questions or need any clarifications of these directions, send me an email at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to help!