You wear them almost everyday. Whether you put one first thing in the morning, wear on to work-out in or to sleep in; the T-shirt is part of nearly everyone’s daily life. It is definitely present in some form in every wardrobe in every household in America. We pull them on, tug them off, and throw them in the laundry, but have you ever stopped to wonder how they’re actually made? Like almost all products, they are largely made by machines in large factories. But there’s definitely more to it than that.
While making t-shirts is pretty simple and straight-forward, there are still a lot of steps that bolt of cotton, polyester or cotton-poly blend goes through before it becomes a t-shirt for you to wear. Special machines have been designed to integrate cutting, assembling, and stitching. There are different seams that can be used to put the shirt together. One type is the superimposed seams, which use an over edge stitch and results in a flexible finished seam. A second type of seam that can be used is the bound seam, and may be stitched together using the chain stitch, lock stitch, or the over edge stitch. This type of seam is typically found at the neckline of your tee.
Of course, the style of the t-shirt is important. Once the design has been decided on, the dimensions are transferred to patterns, with adjustments made for different sizes.
The different sections of the t-shirt consist of a tube body or separate front and back sections (depends on design, here), sleeves, and optional pockets and trim.
If a tubed body is not being used, the front and back sections are joined first, by stitching them up at the sides. An over edge stitch is most commonly used in this step.
With sleeves, there are a few more steps involved. First of all, the hems must be finished before they are sewn to the body of the tee; it’s much easier to hem the fabric when it’s flat. The seam, however (found on the underside of you arm) is not stitched yet. That comes later, when the sleeve and side seams are done at once. If the sleeve is being attached to a tubular body, the sleeve is completely sewn together (hem and seam) and fit into the body.
Next, the t-shirt body is hemmed. Again, the most commonly used stitch here is the over edge stitch, which helps the tee remain flexible and allow stretching. Sometimes, a combo of edge finishing stitches is used.
After the sleeves have been hemmed and attached (and seamed if going onto a tubular body), and the body of the tee hemmed, the pockets can be added. High quality tees will come with an inner-lining in the pocket; this helps the pocket hold its shape throughout all washing and wearing of the t-shirt. Pockets are simply laid in place, and the machine stitches it.
Shoulder seams are next. They typically require a simple superimposed seam, and may be reinforced with tape or a strip of elastic.
Attaching the neckband varies depending on the style of the shirt. With crew necks, the edge closest to the neck should be a bit shorter in circumference than the edge where it is attached to the garment. Tubular neckbands must be applied by hand; it’s important to prevent bulging, and a machine cannot be relied upon to be that precise. V-necks require an extra step; the point of the V must be overlapped or mitered. Another way of attaching the V-neck is to sew the neck band to the shirt, and then sew a tuck in to form the V.
Labels are inserted next. They are usually found at the back of the neckline, on the inside. More and more, labels are printed directly on the shirt, as opposed to on a tag. Comfort is the main reason that manufactures are moving to this type of labeling.
Now that the shirt is assembled, decorations may be added. Screen prints, air brushed designs, or trim are added last. Snaps or buttons are added to t-shirts made for infants, as these shirts have larger opening at the neck to accommodate baby’s head.
Finally, the shirts must be inspected for flaws and then packaged and distributed to the merchants who will be selling the tees. In the end, you go out and buy yourself a new t-shirt and perhaps wonder just exactly how that shirt was made. Now you know!