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How Are T-Shirts Made?

January 13, 2022 5 min read

Have you ever wondered how the t-shirt manufacturing process works?

A wardrobe essential for most, the humble t-shirt comes in many different styles, including short sleeves, long sleeves, and even tank tops.

However, how are t-shirts actually made?

Let’s take a closer look.

Raw materials

The first step in t-shirt manufacturing, if you want to produce high-quality t-shirts that are guaranteed to last, then you need to have the right raw materials.

Most t-shirts are made from either 100% cotton, polyester, or a cotton and polyester blend. If a clothing manufacturing company makes sustainable t-shirts, these are typically made from organic cotton and chemical-free tie dye.  

Stretchable t-shirts are usually made from knit fabrics such as jersey, rib knits, and interlock rib knits. These are the ideal materials for t-shirts that require a snugger fit.

T-shirts also tend to have a neckline that offers support and a more finished look. These are usually made from one-by-one-inch rib knit.

You also need additional materials during this clothing manufacturing process, including tape or seam binding to reinforce the neckline and shoulder seams, and of course, thread to sew the t-shirt together.

The manufacturing process

During the actual t-shirt manufacturing process, most shirt suppliers rely heavily on automation. This allows them to make a large number of t-shirts quickly and without the risk of human error.

In the shirt factory, you will find specially designed machines that cut and sew t-shirts using systemic operations for maximum speed and efficiency.

When it comes to the best seams for a quality t-shirt, you find that most shirt brands use narrow, superimposed seams, which are made by placing one piece of shirt fabric onto another. Superimposed seams are typically sewn together with an overedge stitch.

Bound seams are also common, and this involves folding a narrow piece of the fabric around a seam. These types of seams can be stitched together using a lockstitch, chain stitch, or an overedge stitch.

You may find it interesting to know that as much as 15% of the fabric used to make a t-shirt will end up on the cutting room floor.

 

Depending on the style of t-shirt being made, the order in which a t-shirt is assembled is as follows:

  1. T-shirt styling

The t-shirt is designed, and the specific dimensions are placed onto patterns. It is during this crucial first stage that any adjustments are made for different sizes and styles.

  1. Cutting the pattern

During stage two, the different sections of a t-shirt are cut to the dimensions of the pattern. These sections include the front and back, the sleeves, and sometimes pockets and/or trim.

  1. Stitching the front and back sections

Sometimes the t-shirt fabric consists of a tubed body, but if the front and back sections are separate, these need to be sewed together at the sides. During this stage, care must be taken to avoid tears in the garment.

  1. Assembling the sleeves

Most t-shirts have sleeves, whether short or long, so these need to be attached to the main body of the garment. Typically, the hems of the sleeves are completed before the sleeves are attached to the garment, as this process is easier with flat fabric.

  1. Stitching the hem

Most types of t shirting hems are sewn with an overedge stitch as this type of stitch is loose enough to allow the t-shirt to stretch without tearing or damaging the fabric.

  1. Adding pockets

If a t-shirt requires pockets, now is the time that they are added. Typically, pockets are attached to a t-shirt with automated setters. Depending on the quality of the t-shirt, an interlining will be inserted into the pocket to help it keep its shape for longer.  

  1. Attaching the neckband

The type of neckband used will be dependent on the style of the t-shirt. For example, crew neck shirts require a neck edge that is shorter in circumference than the outer edge where it is sewn onto the garment.

In cheaper, lower-quality t-shirts, you may find that the front and back of the neckband are attached separately. This often results in the seams being visible on the neckband.

During this stage, the t-shirts are also labeled. T-shirt labels are usually placed at the back of the neckline and provide important information about the manufacturer, the size of the garment, and its washing instructions.

Screen printing

Once each t-shirt has been assembled and sewed together, it is now time to finalize the design specifics, including the Pantone colors, the sizing, the placement, and the type of ink that will be used. This is how custom t-shirts are made.

During this screen printing process, each color in the design is separated and printed onto a piece of clear film, known as a film positive. When ready, these films are used to expose the chosen image onto mesh screens that have special photo-sensitive emulsion.

Each screen is exposed on a vacuum-sealed LV light table and then rinsed with water and checked for any errors. As with most manufacturing processes, speed is always an important factor, and an automatic screen press can print roughly 900 t-shirts every hour.

Although there are other ways to place prints onto t-shirts, such as using a heat press and vinyl applique, screen printing remains one of the most popular methods for custom t-shirt manufacturers due to its durability and superior finish.

Quality control

Most clothing manufacturers are regulated by both federal and international guidelines, and some will also have their own quality standards that they abide by. These guidelines help to ensure that every t-shirt is made to the standards set by the t-shirt industry.

These can include aspects of a t-shirt such as its size, fit, and the cut and sew process. For example, stitches must not be so tight that the garment cannot stretch without breaking the seam. Hems must also be wide and flat enough to prevent curling of the fabric, and the necklines should lay flat against the body.

This is a crucial part of the t-shirt manufacturing process as it pinpoints any flaws in the fabric, stitching, and the thread.

How to reuse t-shirts

Now that you know how much time and effort goes into making a single t-shirt, wouldn’t you like to discover ways that you can make the most out of your t-shirt collection? Even when your favorite tees are no longer wearable?

A t-shirt blanket, also known as a t-shirt quilt, offers a great way to reuse loved t-shirts. Not only does a customized t-shirt blanket make the perfect keepsake or gift, but it also helps to reduce the amount of discarded textiles that end up in a landfill or are incinerated.

Other ways to recycle old t-shirts include:

  • Make t-shirt curtains
  • Create a t-shirt wall hanging
  • Make a classic t-shirt blanket
  • Donate unwanted t-shirts to charity

If this sounds like something you would be interested in doing, get in touch with us today.



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