T-shirts are durable, versatile garments with mass appeal that may be worn
as outerwear or underwear. Since their creation in 1920, T-shirts have
evolved into a two-billion dollar market. T-shirts are available in a
variety of colors, patterns, and styles, such as the standard crew neck
and V-neck, as well as tank tops and scoop necks. T-shirt sleeves may be
short or long, capped, yoked, or raglan. Additional features include
pockets and decorative trim. T-shirts are also popular garments on which
to display one’s interests, tastes, and affiliations using
customized screen prints or heat transfers. Printed shirts may feature
political slogans, humor, art, sports, as well as famous people and
places. T-shirts are also inexpensive promotional vehicles for products
and special events.
T-shirts fit just about anyone in any size, from infants to seniors. Adult
sizes are generally small, medium, large, and extra-large, while sizes for
toddlers are detennined by month and weight. In addition, to compensate
for the larger heads of infants relative to their bodies, shirts are
specially designed with shoulder openings that may be fastened with
buttons or snaps.
The majority of T-shirts are made of 100% cotton,
or a cotton/polyester blend. Environmentally conscious manufacturers may
use organically grown cotton and natural dyes. Stretchable T-shirts are
made of knit fabrics, especially jerseys, rib knits, and interlock rib
knits, which consist of two ribbed fabrics that are joined together.
Jerseys are most frequently used since they are versatile, comfortable,
and relatively inexpensive. They also are a popular material for applying
screen prints and heat transfers. Some jerseys come in tubular form,
simplifying the production process by reducing the number of seams. Rib
knit fabrics are often used when a snugger fit is desired. Many higher
quality T-shirts are made of durable interlock rib knit fabrics.
Neckbands add support to the garment and give the neckline of the T-shirt
a more finished look. Neckbands are generally one-by-one inch rib knits,
although heavier fabrics or higher quality T-shirts may require two-by-two
rib knits. Neckband fabrics may be tubed rib knits of specific widths, or
flat fabric that must be seamed. Additional T-shirt materials include tape
or seam binding, made of a twill or another stiff fabric. Binding
reinforces the neckline and shoulder seams and by covering the seams, it
protects them from ripping apart under tension. Alternatively, elastic may
be used at the shoulder seams so they remain flexible.
Thread is of course an essential element in sewing any garment. Several
types and colors of thread may be used to make a single T-shirt. Some
manufacturers use white thread for seams on all their shirts, regardless
of color, thus eliminating the extra labor involved in changing the
thread. Visible topstitching is done with a color of thread that blends
with the fabric. Colorless, or monofilament, thread could be used for hems
of any color fabric, again eliminating the need to change thread often,
though monofilament thread may irritate the skin somewhat. Finally,
optional decorative features may include trim, such as braiding,
Making T-shirts is a fairly simple and largely automated process.
Specially designed machines integrate cutting, assembling, and
stitching for the most efficient operations.
contrasting cuffs, appliqués, and heat transfer or screen print
Making T-shirts is a fairly simple and largely automated process.
Specially designed machines integrate cutting, assembling, and stitching
for the most efficient operations. The most commonly used seams for
T-shirts are narrow, superimposed seams, which are usually made by placing
one piece of fabric onto another and lining up the seam edges. These seams
are frequently stitched with an overedge stitch, which requires one needle
thread from above and two looper threads from below. This particular seam
and stitch combination results in a flexible finished seam.
Another type of seam that may be used for T-shirts are bound seams, in
which a narrow piece of fabric is folded around a seam, as at the
neckline. These seams may be stitched together using a lockstitch,
chainstitch, or overedge stitch. Depending on the style of the T-shirt,
the order in which the garment is assembled may vary slightly.
1 The T-shirt style is designed and the dimensions are transferred to
patterns. Adjustments are made for size differences and stylistic
2 The T-shirt sections are cut to the dimensions of the patterns. The
pieces consist of a tubed body, or separate front and back sections,
sleeves, perhaps pockets, and trim.
Assembling the front and back
3 For fabric that is not tubed, the separate pieces for the front and
back sections must be stitched together at the sides. They are joined at
the seam lines to form a simple, narrow, superimposed seam and stitched
together using an overedge stitch. Care must be taken to avoid a needle
cutting the yarn of the fabric, which can lead to tears in the garment.
Assembling the sleeves
4 The hems of sleeves are generally finished before they are fitted into
the garment, since it is easier to hem the fabric while it is flat. An
automated system moves the sleeves to the sewing head by conveyor. The
edge may be finished by folding it over, forming the hem and stitching,
or by applying a band. The band may be attached as a superimposed seam
or folded over the edge as binding.
5 If the T-shirt body is tubular, the sleeve material is first sewn
together, and then set into the garment. Alternatively, if the T-shirt
is “cut and sewn,” the unseamed sleeve is set into place.
Later during the final stage of sewing the shirt, the sleeve and side
seams are sewn in one action.
Stitching the hem
6 The garment hem is commonly sewn with an overedge stitch, resulting in
a flexible hem. The tension of the stitch should be loose enough to
allow stretching the garment without tearing the fabric. Alternative hem
styles include a combination of edge finishing stitches.
7 Pockets may be sewn onto T-shirts intended for casual wear. Higher
quality T-shirts will insert an interlining into the pocket so that it
maintains its shape. The interlining is inserted into the pocket as it
is sewn onto the T-shirt front. Pockets may be attached to the garment
with automated setters, so the operator only has to arrange the fabric
pieces, and the mechanical setter positions the pocket and stitches the
Stitching the shoulder seams
8 Generally, shoulder seams require a simple superimposed seam. Higher
quality T-shirt manufacturers may reinforce seams with tape or elastic.
Depending on the style of the T-shirt, the seams at the shoulder may be
completed before or after the neckband is attached. For instance, if a
tubular neckband is to be applied, the shoulder seams must first be
Attaching the neckband
9 For crew neck shirts, the neck edge should be slightly shorter in
circumference than the outer edge where it is attached to the garment.
Thus, the neckband must be stretched just the right amount to prevent
bulging. Tubular neckbands are applied manually. The bands are folded,
wrong sides together, stretched slightly, and aligned with the neckline.
The superimposed seam is stitched with an overedge stitch.
Bound seams are finished with a cover stitch and are easy to achieve.
Bound seams may be used on a variety of neckline styles. The process
entails feeding ribbed fabric through machines which fold the fabric
and apply tension to it.
Some neckbands on lower-priced shirts are attached separately to the
front and back necklines of the garment. Thus when the shoulder seams
are stitched, seams are visible on the neckband.
V-necks require the extra step of either lapping or mitering the
neckband. In the former process, one side is folded over the other. A
mitered seam is more complex, requiring an operator to overlap the
band accurately and stitch the band at center front. An easier
method for a V-neck look is to attach the band to the neckline and
then sew a tuck to form a V.
Finishing the neckline
10 Necklines with superimposed seams may be taped, so that the shirt is
stronger and more comfortable. Tape may be extended across the back and
over the shoulder seams to reinforce this area as well and to flatten
the seam. The seam is then cover stitched or top stitched.
11 One or more labels are usually attached at the back of the neckline.
Labels provide information about the manufacturer, size, fabric content,
and washing instructions.
12 Some T-shirts will have trim or screen prints added for decorative
purposes. Special T-shirts for infants have larger openings at the head.
The shoulder seams are left open near the neck, and buttons or other
fasteners are attached.
13 T-shirts are inspected for flaws in the fabric, stitching, and
14 High-quality T-shirts may be pressed through steam tunnels before
they are packaged. Packaging depends on the type of T-shirt and the
intended distribution outlet. For underwear, the shirts are folded and
packaged in pre-printed bags, usually of clear plastic, that list
information about the product. Shirts may be boarded, or folded around a
piece of cardboard, so that they maintain their shape during shipping
and on the shelf. Finally, they are placed into boxes by the dozen or
Most of the operations in manufacturing clothing are regulated by federal
and inter-national guidelines. Manufacturers may also set guidelines for
the company. There are standards that apply specifically to the T-shirt
industry, which include proper sizing and fit, appropriate needles and
seams, types of stitches, and the number of stitches per inch. Stitches
must be loose enough to allow the garment to stretch without breaking the
seam. Hems must be flat and wide enough to prevent curling. T-shirts must
also be inspected for proper application of neck-lines, which should rest
flat against the body. The neckline should also recover properly after
being slightly stretched.
Exposure to sun’s harmful rays has become a concern to many people
who enjoy outdoor activities. In addition to
and sun glasses, sun-blocking T-shirts are now available. Founded by
Harvey Schakowsky, SPF Wear company has introduced a line of clothing,
including T-shirts, that blocks out 93-99% of ultraviolet rays. A typical
T-shirt blocks out only 50% of the rays. Using a fabric called Solarweave,
these new T-shirts are made out of synthetically woven nylon treated with
a special chemical substance.
Where To Learn More
Carr, H. and B. Latham.
Technology of Clothing Manufacture.
Oxford BSP Professional Books, 1988.
Glock, Ruth E. and Grace I. Kunz.
Apparel Manufacturing: Sewn Product Analysis.
Apparel Manufacturing Handbook.
Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980.
Callahan, Peter. “Sunday Best: Protective Wear for Your Day in
October 1992, p. 35.
Kopkind, Andrew. “From A to Tee.”
July 1993, pp. 34-36.