create a child's tee pattern

The instructions here are actually for two different types of tee shirt patterns from an existing garment: a regular tee like so,
(which is actually too big for the wee model, but you get the idea)
and a lap tee, such as this, This tutorial is about how to create the pattern, and not how to sew the pattern together. I am assuming a basic familarity with sewing this type of pattern, although I can in the future, if anyone wants, go over the basic points on how to sew a tee shirt.

Oh, and another quick disclaimer: this way of creating a pattern will work well for children, but not so great for adult clothing. The reason is is that most small kids are basically straight up and down and you can make the front and back the same dimesions. With adults (and some kids) we've got all sorts of bumps and curves that interfere with a garment hanging down nicely. Most patterns compensate for and enhance our curves with darts, extra ease, etc. But for us who just need to build our small ones some comfortable tees (and we need to be able to make it during nap time), this pattern works quite well to make quick, easy, comfortable and attractive tees.

And now on with the show.

The foundation for this pattern is an existing tee that fits well. This one here is very orange, but comfy and, obviously from the stains, well loved:
Lay the tee out as flat as you can (keeping in mind that it will not lay perfectly flat or straight ever, especially if its been worn alot).
Mark with a dot the points where
-the shoulder seams meet the neckline
-the shoulder seams meet the sleeve
-the bottom sleeve seam meet the bodice
Don't worry about the sleeve right now, we'll do that part later.
To make two pattern pieces, a front and a back, mark with a dot the mid-point of the back of the neck hem, and another mark for the front of the neck hem (you'll have to lift the shirt, keeping your finger on the mark, and get your pen in there as best as you can).

Sketch in the shape of the neck hem, one of the shoulders, and one arm hole (hold the seam and lift the sleeve away from the paper to mark approximately the shape - same as with neckline). Also trace the line of one side and half the bottom of the shirt.
The reason why only half the shirt is drawn in is that you are going to fold the paper over along the vertical center of the shirt and then cut out along the lines you have drawn plus seam allowances. The seam allowances go all around the outside of the bodice (not the folded edge) with a little bit extra at the bottom to make a hem with.
Fold the paper in half and cut either a 3/8" or 5/8" away from your lines (which ever seam allowance you feel most comfortable with). You may want to measure out this distance, but I usually just sorta wing it (see picture below).

Important: cut the neckline according to the highest neckline (the back piece).

Once you've cut your pattern out of the folded paper, unfold the paper and cut down the center along your fold:

Allocate one pattern piece to be the front and the other the back. Cut the front piece according to the front neckline.

That takes care of the front and back pieces. When you use your pattern, place the vertical center along a fold and cut around the bottom, sides, and top of the piece.

To make life easier for you, I recommend taking a moment to label the pieces, write down the size, 'align with fold' marks, seam allowances, and any other information you'll find helpful in the future.

Time for the sleeve.

Take one of your bodice pattern pieces and lay it down on a sheet of paper so that the top seam (but not the seam allowance) is aligned with the top edge of the paper.

Trace the curve of the armhole onto the paper.

Take away the pattern piece and using your child's arm and wrist measurements, mark where the sleeve should end and how wide the wrist should be (note: for the wrist measurement, add a few extra inches of room here. Best bet is to take the measurement off a long sleeve shirt that your child already enjoy's wearing.)

This is your approximate shape (the double line here represents the seam allowance):

The arrow in the picture indicates where I've draw in a little slanted triangle at the armpit where experience has taught me that without that little angle, the fit is awkward and tight. Just put a little nooby thing in the same place on yours and then trace around for the seam allowance.

The wrist is indented then flares because that is where you are going to fold under and hem. Mine is rather dramatic, you may with to make yours less so. (Since I have a little girl, I sometimes just do lettuce edging instead and the dramatic flare adds a little something.)

Cut out your sleeve and label it. When using your sleeve pattern piece, lay the top edge along a fold and cut around the rest. This will open up into one sleeve.

That is one complete pattern for a tee shirt. If you get the impression that it is a little loosey goosey and slap-dash, you are right. It lacks finesse, I admit. But, again, it will create a very functional tee, and it is fast and fun. I say, keep the meticious sewing for special occasions (or when you have a hankerin') and enjoy yourself with fabrics and embellishments.

This basic tee can be altered in a hundred ways, and embellished in thousands. Try different techniques for heming (lettuce edging, ribbing, using bias tape, rolled hem, etc.) Add a hood or pockets. Embellish with ribbons and appliques.

A tee made with the pattern created here:

And you can use this pattern to make another pattern for a lap tee. Like so:

Take your back pattern piece and trace it out on a fresh piece of paper folded in half along the vertical center (it will act the same as when you folded vertically to make your front and back pieces for the regular tee):

The paper on the left is the fresh paper with the regular tee pattern traced onto it. It has been folded in half along the vertical center so that there will be two half bodice pieces when we are done, the same as the above directions.

Cut the pattern out along the bottom and side. Leave the shoulder area intact.
Figure out how far over you want the overlap of the lap tee to go down the armhole. Mark this point and measure it.
Measuring straight up from the shoulder, mark the same distance above the shoulder seam.
Fold the paper from the point of the shoulder seam where it meets the arm across to the vertical center at a 90 degree angle.
With the paper folded, cut out the armhole.
Open the paper up and draw a curved line up to the topmost mark you have made from the point where the neck hem meets the shoulder seam. This is the angle in which the overlapped portion of the lap tee will come down over the shoulder. Cut it out. (btw, my armhole always turns out a bit pointy right at the shoulder seam rather than a nice regular curve - a quik of making your own curves on a two dimensional surface without any funky curvy rulers. I just trim that little bit straight so my shoulder looks normal. If this bit of information just confused you, ignore it.)
Unfold the vertical center fold and cut the bodice in half.
You have two back pieces at this point and want to turn one of them into a front piece.
Use the front piece of your regular tee pattern to mark the front neckline.
It is even more important than your regular tee pattern to mark the seam allowance measurement on the pieces since you do not have any handy lines drawn in. Also, the mark place along the armhole should be transfered onto the front piece and onto your fabric when you cut out your pattern (try tailor's chalk) to indicate how far to overlap the shoulders when sewing. (I always forget this and have to go back to my pattern pieces after I've sewn the shoulder seams.)
And there is your lap tee pattern since you can use the sleeve from the regular tee pattern. (Just make sure to store them together.)
As always, I welcome questions and comments.


This is a free tutorial and I encourage you to use the information in any way you need to (check the disclaimer at the bottom of the page). If it works for you, please consider supporting my etsy shop by purchasing a Little Print Design pattern or toss a dollar or two in my paypal to show appreciation and to encourage me to offer up even more quality patterns and tutorials.

Thank you!
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  1. I recognize that wee monkey! I found this via Elemental Stiches blog. Thanks again for an awesome tutorial, I haven't looked to the kid boards at Craftster in months, so it's nice to see you here.
    Anyway...Looking forward to utilizing your tutorials once my sewing area is set up, again.

  2. I LOVE your tutorials...definitely going to be trying some of these!!!

  3. Every small person needs a Tom Waits t-shirt. Come to think of it, so does every big person.

    Thoroughly enjoy your work.


  4. Hi,
    Love your site. I have a question about the tee shirt neck. Everytime I try to finish it off, it curls outside. How do I get that nice flat neck line. I use the same material (knit) that I made the body of the tee shirt out of. I made little strips out of it. Can you help? Thanks...Aggie

  5. Aggie, there are a few ways to finish a knit neckline. The curling is caused by stretching during stitching.

    If you are using a bias tape made from the same fabric (I think that is what you mean, but I may be wrong), it does have to be cut on the bias for it to follow the shape of the neckline. I've really had limited success with this, so I may not be the best person to ask.

    There are other ways though. I like using ribbing. Or if just a regular hem, most of the time I use a stabilizer, such as tissue paper or used dryer sheets, both which rip off well when you are finished. Place the stabilizer between the feed dogs and your material and stitch normally.

    Using a double needle is good too, and looks professional.

    You can also use a 'walking foot', which has grippers on it to help move the fabric evenly through.

    And when pressing your neckline afterwards, use the steam from your iron and just hover over the fabric. Pressing it directly (particularly if you rub the iron back and forth) will really pull the whole thing out of shape, but steaming the stitches tightens them and the fabric.

    I hope that helps (and that was your question).

  6. Thanks for this one! I made my little boy a new shirt today off an old one of mine's and he loves it :) Would show you pics if I could? Anyway, thanks for all the tutes, I hope to try out more soon.

  7. Do you know how much I could have used this tute 5½ years ago when I couldn't convince my then 6 month old (now 6 years) to allow me to pull a regular tee over her head? At any rate, I ended up taking apart, tracing, and then putting back together one of her onesies that fit well (which still left me having to wing it every time she grew a you for this.

  8. I just found you... I love this turorial - I am going to have to try it.

  9. Just found your blog via whip up- some great tutorials and patterns! I have been pondering the problem of making toddler clothes that fit lately, and this is great- sensible and some good tips. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Wow, brilliant, thanks for sharing! ;)

  11. Just found your site. Great tutorials! Thank you :)

  12. Love this instruction! Thanks for sharing! I'd love to like to my blog, if that's okay with you!

  13. thanks SO much for this!! I just gave it a try, check it out here:

  14. Thank you for sharing this! I have attempted it too and am really happy with the results which you can see here:
    and I've linked to your tute.
    Thanks again! x

  15. Could you possibly make this a download-able pattern?

  16. Crystal, do you mean just a basic t-shirt pattern, ready to cut and sew?

  17. gotta love your baby wearing T. Waits! Nice choice and great tutorial, thank you for your time putting it together! :)

  18. This site is so great THANK YOU THANK YOU. Im going to share this on my facebook and eveywhere i can

  19. Help! Successfully made my shirt pattern thanks to your site, but can't figure out the proper way to assemble it (very new sewer) Can't wrap my brain around how to attach the sleeves. This is for my daughter's robot Halloween costume...the pants came out great...but now I'm stuck!
    Any help would be awesome!

  20. Bethany,

    Start with aligning the front and back at the shoulder, right sides facing each other. Stitch the shoulders. Then pin and stitch the sleeves. Then sew up the sides from the bottom hem right along up and the underside of the sleeve. This will get you started. Ask specific questions and I can help more :)

  21. Hello,
    I'm just trying to sew a "Link" Costume for my son for carneval and I found your tutorial and it saves me, as I never sewed anything in my life before...
    Although I'm not an english-speaker, I find your tutorial very easy to understand and I want to thank you for your tutorials. If my costume looks nice, I'll send you a photo of it :)
    Maybe a question: In which way do you sew/assemble? Can I assemble the front and the back, pin and sew them, and finish with the sleeves? Or do I have to sew front, back and sleeves at one and the same time?
    I hope my english is understandable enough...
    Thanks in advance!!!