Sewn Sustainably Blog


Find out about the patterns we use, what we've been sewing, what's cool in sustainable fashion and our inspirations.

Sewing a classic t-shirt - why you'll never look back

By Sewn Sustainably, Sep 24 2016 07:11PM

Looking back over the course of time, the classic t-shirt still remains a simple yet iconic garment. Marlon Brando showed how a a white t-shirt can look effortlessly cool over 60 years ago when he set hearts on fire with his killer jeans and t-shirt combo in both Street Car Named Desire and The Wild One.

However over the course of time, the t-shirt also has become synonomous with fast fashion. Records state that over 2 billion t-shirts are sold each year worldwide and it takes over 700 gallons of water to produce just one cotton t-shirt. Yet, despite its vast consumption of energy and water, the cotton t-shirt is sold cheaply, sometimes at the same price of your medium latte (if not less). Being made to be as cheap as possible comes at a high cost to both social welfare and the environment. Garment workers are paid low wages and often work long hours in unsuitable conditions. T-shirt fabric is also environmentally damaging - cotton farming requires not only an incredible amount of water but also uses a significant amount of harmful pesticides and herbicides. The simple t-shirt on your back now leaves a horrible trail behind itself.

Why not make it yourself?

This is where home-sewing can be a champion in the fight against fast fashion. By learning to sew a simple classic t-shirt, you'll remove the need to ever buy from the high street again. You'll be able to control what you make, the fit you want and most importantly the materials your t-shirt uses.

Although working with stretch fabrics can seem intimidating, they are not as difficult as people think and you don't need a special sewing machine to do the job. A basic domestic sewing machine with a zig zag stitch can competently sew two pieces of stretch material together - you just need to ensure your machine has the correct (stretch) needle and that the tension is tweaked according to the fabric. We suggest doing this with a swatch of the fabric you're going to use. Of course, this all comes with experience and practice, but it's definitely not rocket science. To be able to make your very own t-shirt is super rewarding not to mention kind to the environment. If you think you want some help you can enrol in our upcoming Classic T-Shirt sewing class in Cambridge at the Kaetsu Educational & Cultural Centre. Our class costs only £100 and you get free organic British jersey included! Click for more details here.

What pattern to use?

In recent years, home sewing has become quite the phenonmenon meaning that the surge of patterns has become more creative and fashion forward. The regular commercial pattern companies all have basic t-shirt patterns, but new independent designers have also released tried and tested patterns that are pretty close to a ready-to-wear finish.

If you're a beginner looking for a classic t-shirt look, we recommend th Sewaholic Renfrew T-Shirt (we teach this pattern in our Classic T-Shirt class) and the Megan Nielsen Briar T-Shirt.

Once you've chosen the right pattern for you, your options are endless. We've adapted the Sewaholic Renfew pattern into a stylish 'Breton' style top, which is always a style winner.

I want to sew my own t-shirt but where can I buy ethical fabric?

There are various online resources offering GOTS certified organic jersey fabric suitable for making t-shirts. Organic cotton is most common and comes in a variety of solid colours and printed patterns. However, it must be said that organic cotton is still a thirsty crop and more sustainable fibres are considered to be bamboo and hemp. Although bamboo also requires a significant amount of water, it is a hardy and fast-growing crop requiring little use of pesticides. Hemp however is the leader in being the most sustainable fibre, its only issue is that it is sometimes blended with other fibres to improve its look and feel. Hopefully as its use and popularity progresses, fibre production will improve.

If you're looking to buy ethical t-shirt fabric we recommend the suppliers on our Resources page. Bricks & mortar retail fabric shops are also beginning to sell more organic fabrics, but please always ask if the fabric is GOTS certified and where it has been produced and travelled from - a label is not always truthful!

The Classic T-Shirt Sewing Class

@ The Kaetsu Educational & Cultural Centre

22 October 2016


Free printed sewing pattern and organic British jersey provided plus free park for Sewn students.

Add a comment
* Required