There’s Something About the Renfrew

Happy 100th birthday to the T shirt!  When it makes a human form look better than it really is, we need to revere it’s humble origins.

Renfrew Top pattern

In this post, I’ll focus on my new FTS (Favorite Tee Shirt) pattern, the Renfrew, designed and sold by Sewaholic Patterns.   Members of the site voted the Renfrew as number one of the top ten patterns of 2012.  Many reasons are cited, including the Renfrew being easy to sew for beginners, for those new to knit fabric, and the pretty shape of the garment. There is a fantastic post of additional reasons for the Renfrew’s popularity on the CherryPix blog. Go on over and read it!

All the analyses are en point, and here’s mine.  After analyzing the “skims-over-the-figure” and “easy-to-sew-for-beginner” properties, and all else, there is one conclusion that stuck with me after the first try-on.  It is the close fit of the armscye*!! In my humble opinion, this is what makes the Renfrew top/t-shirt so slimming and flattering. We all know that flattery will take a sewing pattern everywhere.  Well done, Tasia (owner/designer of Sewaholic Patterns)!

It’s now evident that I’m such a sewing nerd. So, bear with me while I compare the Renfrew size 16 pattern with a size 16 t-shirt pattern from another independent pattern company.  To compare, I outlined the size 16 front and back bodice in red ink on the “other” pattern sheet, then laid the Renfrew on top. Enlightenment ensued.

front close
Front close up

The Renfrew armhole was about 1/2″” closer to the body at the underarm. Half an inch does not sound like much but multiply it by four edges and you have 2 inches. In garment fit, 2 inches is the universe! The Renfrew also had a much deeper armhole in the center of the armscye, which means that it is closer to the center of the body. Therefore, it is making my body look narrow. Renfrew, you had me at the sleeve…

I made my first Renfrew in a black and white horizontal stripe knit with some abandon since it was supposed to be a “muslin”*. It turned out so flattering that it became one of my most worn items this summer.

Striped sleeve

Next, I made a cowl neck version in solid green knit. Success, again!  More Renfrews are planned, where I’ll make minor design changes for variety, but never in the armscye! The Renfrew was a keeper as soon as I put my arm in the sleeve.

Emerald sleeve

Small Armholes in High Fashion

Chanel book

To add a bit of historical reference to small armholes in big fashion, Coco Chanel was reportedly obsessed with the sleeve/armhole in her iconic jacket designs.  Rumor has it that she would work and re-work the armscyeand sleeve on the fit models for a long time to the point of obsession. The much-coveted look of the original Chanel jacket is no doubt due in large part to those narrow sleeves, closely fitted at the armhole.

Mademoiselle Chanel was said to be a pragmatist and a firm believer in functional details in clothing. She insisted on a small armscye because she wanted the garment to keep it’s shape when the wearer moved her arms. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Ever since I became aware of this I always raise my arm just to see how much the rest of the garment will move along with my movement (bad) or not move and keep it’s shape (good)!

Note: I highly recommend that you look up Threads magazine, issue #167 for a great article on the armscye/sleeve relationship. It’s authored by Jeffery Diduch who is a tailor, in “the trade” and writes a great blog for sewing nerds like me.

Blogging note: I’m adding a new feature on this blog for new seamstresses, some of whom are following the Sew Everything Blog (you know who you are). Each post will have an explanation of  one or two sewing terms used therein:

*Armscye: A technical name for the armhole.

*Muslin: A trial garment is usually made with cheap cotton fabric called a muslin. The term is also used for the actual trial piece. You can make your “muslin” in any cheap fabric; old sheets are an option provided the recommended fabric for the final garment has the same weight and draping qualities as the old sheet. Any adjustments can be made on the “muslin” before cutting into the fashion fabric.

Another blogging note:   Like any other writer, I love to read my own words. But, I do not love to look at photos taken by me. I apologize to all readers for the lousy photography skills. There’s Mickey and Minnie again, photo-bombing my picture!!

So, readers, do you have a T-shirt pattern which you use repeatedly? Let us know which one and why you like it. Or are you not bothered with sewing T-shirts? Or do you call them knit tops?

Thanks for reading! Just so you know, I am not affiliated in any way with Sewaholic Patterns; I always rave in public about a company whose design and sewing aesthetics I admire.


4 thoughts on “There’s Something About the Renfrew

  1. I love T-shirts and will be talking about those soon!
    I agree that a close fitting armhole is extremely flattering. My
    favorite T-shirt with sleeves is Burda Style 02/09 #108B.
    It has the same close fitting armhole.


  2. I regularly use the Great Copy 420 Tee, slim fit. While I am not slim, the tee in any size is closer to the body for a nice feminine fit. I altered the basic pattern to fit my smaller shoulders, and use it over and over. My second favorite is a Stretch & Sew 324 French Trim Tees. It has a couple of options including a cross-over front. It uses a forward shoulder seam so be careful when inserting sleeves. Use good quality knit fabric and you have a wardrobe staple.


  3. I don’t why it’s taken me this long to read your great post on the Renfrew…but I’m glad to have found it! VERY interesting analysis re armscye depth and position! Makes total sense! I wear Renfrews at least twice a week! Definitely a FTS!.


    1. Thank you so very much! I had fun re-reading my own post after your comment. Am still working out variations of the Renfrew.


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