Renfrew (t-shirt) muslins

In my various e-mail conversations with Mrs Mole over the past year, we have talked at great length about sleeves and sleeve cap height. To reinforce what I’m learning from her, she periodically sends me photos from random sewing blogs, and I am quizzed on what I think the problem is and how it might be corrected. She’ll then send an annotated version of the photo with arrows and notes on what the drag lines mean. (Seriously, she is an awesome teacher.) She neatly summarized how to recognize and fix sleeve cap problems here and here.

Thus “armed” (ha) with new knowledge about sleeve caps, I wanted to give the Renfrew tee a try because I saw many striped ones around the sewing blogosphere with good-looking sleeves, ie, the stripes were running pretty horizontal (parallel with the floor). Sixteen bucks is a lot of money for a t-shirt pattern, no 2 ways about it, but I have learned from Tasia’s blog and wanted to support her. Also, I was curious to see how my customized pattern compared with the Renfrew draft.

Renfrew’s sleeve cap is considerably higher than mine (the pencil points to the apex for the corresponding size). Also, it’s symmetric from front to back, whereas my draft accounts for arms that swing forward.

Using my measurements and customized Jalie pattern as a guide, I traced a size 10 at the shoulders and widened to a size 12 at the bust and below. I added an extra inch to the front at the bust level (which prevent the front edge from riding up). I added 2 inches to the front and back at the shorten/lengthen line because I did not want the banded hem specified in the pattern. I kept the height of the sleeve cap but changed the shape to follow the asymmetric cap that I drafted last year.


Muslin source – free mens XL shirt from work

I think I’ve heard Mrs Mole say more than once that darts will practically drape themselves, if you let them.


Please forgive the unflattering photos. But let’s do this for science!

That seems to be the case here – I left part of the side seam open (skipped the side easing part), and you can see how the fabric is pulling deep folds under the bust, like it’s begging to turn into a dart. I used stickers (again!) to locate the bust apex, drew the approximate location on the pattern (and included what Mrs Mole calls “the no-fly zone” – a 3-inch circle around the apex that the dart legs must not enter), and pinched out a French dart. I didn’t have enough seam allowance to make it too deep, but you can see that even a shallow one help reduce the folds considerably. I made a mental note to purchase a t-shirt pattern with French darts.

The fit seems mostly OK but overall uncomfortably tight, I am seriously sucking in my gut in that photo. The back side shows some excess wrinkling at the level of my elbows.

On the plus side, I liked that I did not have to shorten the height of the armhole (a common alteration for 5’4″ me), the sleeve cap seemed smooth, and the sleeve allowed good freedom of motion.

I retraced the pattern again, this time making a size 12 above the bust and a size 14 below, plus the same adjustments as described above. I cut up a thrifted men’s t-shirt for the muslin and didn’t bother with making a second sleeve.

I didn’t feel so sausage-like in this shirt, yay. I closed the whole side seam this time but didn’t bother with easing the extra fabric at the bust. Note the deep drag lines around the bust again.

This shirt clearly confirms too much extra fabric in the lower back, time for a 0.5″ swayback alteration.

All right, 2 trial garments are finished and I’m feeling OK with how things look. Even better, I think I know what minor adjustments remain. Let’s move on to making this up in nicer fabric!

Final list of pattern changes:

  • Size 12 above bust, size 14 at bust and below.
  • Front lengthened by 3″ (1″ @ bust, 2″ @ shorten/lengthen line); excess bust length is eased in over 5″
  • Back lengthened by 2″ (@ shorten/lengthen line)
  • Swayback adjustment 0.5″
  • No bottom hem cuff
  • Made sleeve cap shape asymmetric from front to back

6 thoughts on “Renfrew (t-shirt) muslins

  1. Thanks for the engineering advice, June! I was looking through all my patterns since I finally have some time to do some sewing for me. Then I realized that I don’t actually need any new clothes. T-shirts, however, are perfect for my new lifestyle!!

  2. This is amazing–it may very well explain why I have such trouble with finding garments that don’t restrict arm movement or don’t ride up when I move my arms.

    Looking forward to seeing your finished shirt!

  3. Wow, you are dedicated to getting these things right. I won’t ever sew again (my life has been overtaken by other hobbies) but I can really see how the things you are doing change the fit of your result and that’s interesting.

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