How to Copy a Shirt – No Pattern Needed!

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Copying an existing shirt that fits well is an easy way to sew great clothes that will fit perfectly. And it is such a wonderful feeling to sew something that fits without any adaptations!

In the following, you will learn how to copy a shirt by following a detailed step-by-step plan with lots of pictures.

Materials You Need for Copying a Shirt

Sewing a shirt by copying an existing one is a great project for motivated beginners. The step-by-step guide comes with lots of pictures that make it easy to follow. 

These are the things you will need to sew a shirt:

  • A shirt you want to copy
  • Fabric for the new shirt
  • Thread (preferably a matching color to the fabric)
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Some kind of fabric marker
  • Ruler
  • Some pins or clip
  • Sewing machine

How Much Fabric is Needed to Sew a Shirt?

When choosing the fabric for your new shirt, make sure to choose a fabric that is similar to the fabric of the shirt you want to copy. Hold the shirt you want to copy in your hands and feel the texture and stretchiness. 

To copy a sleeveless shirt, you need approximately 1.5 times the fabric of the shirt you want to copy. Put your shirt on the fabric you want to use and make sure that there is enough fabric for 1.5 front parts and 1.5 back parts as well as seam allowance in all directions. 

Don’t choose a fabric if you are not sure if there is enough fabric left. There is nothing more frustrating than realizing that you don’t have enough fabric to continue after already spending a lot of time and effort on a certain sewing project.

How to Copy a Shirt. Step by Step

Step 1 – Choose a Shirt to Copy

Choose a sleeveless shirt you want to copy. Choose a simple shirt such as a tank top.

Step 2 – Choose the Fabric

Now choose a fabric you want to use for your new shirt. This fabric should be similar to the fabric of the shirt you want to copy. If that shirt is very stretchy, you also need a stretchy fabric, otherwise, the shirt will be too tight. The fabric needs to be a really good match to the fabric of the shirt. Shirts are often made of a rather lightweight jersey that is very stretchy.

Step 3 – Trace a Pattern – Fold the Shirt Correctly

There are two ways to do this step. When you sew something like a shirt, you need some kind of pattern. I personally prefer using the shirt I want to copy as a pattern, but some people want to create a paper pattern. 

If you want to create a paper pattern, you need thin paper for the pattern that is large enough for a shirt. If you want to copy the shirt directly on the fabric, you only need a fabric marker and either fabric scissors or a cutting roller.

In the following, you will learn how to copy the shirt directly on the fabric, but if you prefer to create a paper pattern first, you can use the paper pattern instead of the fabric to trace the pattern.

Fold the shirt you want to copy in half with the back sides facing each other. The middle line starts in the middle of the neckline and goes all the way down to the hem. Make sure that the shirt is folded neatly and that there are no wrinkles.

Step 4 – Trace a Pattern And Fold the Fabric

Fold the fabric from the edge of the fabric just enough to fit the folded shirt on it. 

The fabric has to be laid out nicely and flat and not pulled in any direction before continuing.

The left and right sides of the shirt will be the same. Therefore, you can cut through two layers at once and have the exact same on the left and right sides of the shirt.

Step 5 – Trace a Pattern – Position the Shirt

Lay the folded shirt down exactly along the fold of the fabric. Now the center fold of the shirt should lay along the fold of the fabric.

The shirt should lay nice and flat, just like the fabric.

Step 6 – Trace a Pattern – Start Tracing

Start tracing around all the lines of the shirt.

Where you can’t see the lines (e.g. neckline or armpits) you can use a pin and push through the shirt on the fabric to make marks along the lines. After taking the shirt away, you can follow along the line of dots on the fabric and draw a line (+ seam allowance).

Make sure that you actually follow the line of the side you want to copy. It’s easy to get confused about which seam you are following.

Do the same for the front and back sides of the shirt.

Step 7 – Trace a Pattern – Add the Seam Allowance

Add 1,5cm (= 0.6 inches) for the seam allowance with a ruler along the line you drew.

Step 8 – Trace a Pattern – Cut Out the New Pattern

Pin down the pieces and cut them out. You can either use a pair of fabric scissors or a cutting roller with a cutting mat underneath. 

Make sure to remove the original shirt wherever you are cutting through so that you don’t accidentally ruin your original shirt.

Tracing and cutting out the back of the shirt

Step 9 – Correct the Pattern 

If the front and back have different lengths, you can cut off the excess fabric of the piece with the longer length. Both front and back pieces should have the same length and should fit together nicely. 

Step 10 –  Cut Out the Remaining Pattern

In order to create pretty edges around the neckline and the armpits, you will need two extra pattern pieces for the front and back of your new shirt. 

You only need the upper parts of the back and front piece. Copy the front and back pattern pieces that you already cut out until just below the armpits, just like in the picture below.

Step 11 – Start Sewing – Do Test Stitches

Before you start sewing, use some fabric scraps to make some test stitches. Make sure that the settings are correct and the seam is nice and clean before you proceed. 

Use two layers of fabric as well to see how that works out. The fabric should not be drawn together or ripple. If it does, you should adapt the stitch length to make sure that the fabric lays flat.

Step 12 – Start Sewing – Preparation

Now pin the front pieces together and the back pieces together. The right sides should face each other.

Step 13 – Start Sewing

Sew along the neckline and the arm holes with a rather narrow zig-zag stitch. Do not push or pull the fabric while you sew to avoid any wrinkles.

Do not sew the sides or the opening on the straps together, only the neckline and armpits in this step.

Step 14 – Seam Allowance

Trim down the seam allowance around the neckline and the armpits to approximately 0,5cm. Make sure that you don’t accidentally cut the seam.

Step 15 – Shoulder Straps

Now put the front piece inside of the back piece so that the shoulder seams can be sewn together. The front piece needs to have the right side outside while the back piece has the right side on the inside.

The right sides of the shoulder straps should now face each other.

Pin the shoulder seams when everything is in place. 

Sew the shoulder seams together. This can be a little tricky, so take your time.

Step 16 – Seam Allowance

Trim down the seam allowance to 0.5 cm.

Step 17 – Put the Back and Front Together

Once the straps are sewn together, you can turn the shirt around and push all edges out properly. Once everything is sewn together, you won’t reach the inside of the shirt anymore.

Now the sides need to be sewn together. Place the front piece on the back piece with the right sides facing each other. Fixate the fabric once it is in place.

Sew the sides of the front and back pieces together. The right (pretty) sides are facing each other. Use a zig-zag stitch. Only sew along the sides since the straps and the neckline is already sewn together.

Step 18 – Final Touches

Iron the bottom of the shirt if the fabric is wrinkly.

Fold the bottom with a hem allowance of 2 cm to the inside and pin down the hem.

Sew along the hem with a straight stitch.

Lisa is a freelancer from Germany who loves to create new things. She enjoys painting and drawing, as well as sewing. In the past few years, she has learned how to upcycle and build furniture, create colorful objects with mosaics, work with clay and glass, and even make her own shoes.

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