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Pattern Hackers: Create a Custom Color-blocked T-shirt

Learn clever pattern hacks for a DIY approach to patternmaking, by Haley Glenn.

Posted in: Patterns • September 30, 2020

Patternmaking can seem like this really intimidating skillset. But you don’t have to draft an entire pattern from scratch to explore these techniques. Simple tweaks and adjustments can completely change the look of a pattern. You also don’t need to be a patternmaker to hack a pattern—they are supposed to be fun experiments that will help you create something unique to you!

Pattern hacking helps you get more out of a single sewing pattern. Think of the pattern as a roadmap—you can take more than one route to get to the destination, and the pattern is there to give you the lay of the land.

This month's pattern hack is actually three pattern hacks, that’s right, THREE. I love 70s-inspired color-blocked T-shirts, so I wanted to share three different ways to add color-blocking possibilities to a simple tee.

I’ll show you how to:

• Add a sleeve hem band
• Draft an armhole contrast band
• Draft a color-blocked rainbow

The really cool thing about these hacks is that you can use them on many knit—and even some woven—tops. Just look for patterns with simple fit and construction and avoid projects intended for really heavy or light fabric, as those may not handle the seaming required for color blocking very well.

Draft Sleeve Hem Bands


Measure the bottom edge of the sleeve.


Subtract 1” from the hem length measurement.

Measure the bottom edge of the sleeve.


Draw a rectangle that is this measurement by 2 3/4”. This will create a 1” hem band.


To sew, assemble the band. Fold wrong sides together and attach the band right sides together with the finished sleeve.

Draft Armhole Contrast Band


Draw a line parallel and 1.5” away from the raglan seam on the front shirt piece.


Transfer the grainline to the contrast band and label, “raglan contrast, cut 2."


Cut along the drawn line.


Add 3/8” seam allowance to both edges.

Repeat on the back shirt piece.

To sew, attach the contrast bands to the front and back shirt pieces. Then sew the pattern according to the pattern instructions.

Draft a Color-blocked Rainbow!


On the front shirt piece, use a curved ruler and a pencil to draw a curved line from the side seam to the center front.


Use a ruler to square off the curve by 1/2” at the center front.


Draw a second line parallel to and 2” away from the first line.


Draw a third line parallel to and 2” away from the second line.


Cut along the drawn lines and add 3/8” seam allowance.

To sew, assemble the front shirt pieces. Then sew the pattern according to the pattern instructions.

You can also try…

By now you probably get the idea—creating color-blocked pattern pieces is simply as easy as drawing style lines and adding seam allowance. Here are three other hack ideas to fuel your creativity.

Be a literal ray of sunshine with this beam-inspired color-blocked look. Bonus points are given for heavy use of the color yellow.

Why wear one rainbow when you can wear two? Create arcs at the sleeve cap of a T-shirt (like Jane) for a cool rainbow effect.

Keep it ultra-simple by adding a shoulder seam to a raglan top to create a two-toned sleeve.

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