Tee pattern to retro tank – plus ice scream template



It’s time to bring home this early Summer post I wrote up for the Sewing Rabbit. Just in time for Fall right? Maybe some of my southern hemisphere friends will get some use out of this : )

Retro Tank – A Tee shirt pattern hack (plus ice scream template)

I created this tutorial after making several retro muscle style tanks with a favorite tee pattern. I also have a fun template for making a freezer paper stencil with a screaming ice cream dude.

The best part, though….the pictures of Violet eating ice cream in her tank.

Ice scream shirt and stencil by girl like the seaIce scream shirt and stencil by girl like the sea

It was her first cone and she was majorly in the zone

Ice scream shirt and stencil by girl like the sea


Ice scream shirt and stencil by girl like the sea

Ice scream shirt and stencil by girl like the seaIce scream shirt and stencil by girl like the sea

These are simple skinny muscle style tanks with ribbed armholes and neckline, with open ended room for creativity with fabrics and customizations.

Supplies Needed:

<well fitting tee as a pattern. Dana has a tutorial on how to do that HERE

<< Jersey knit – about a half yard to 3/4 yard depending on what size your child wears – OR a large men’s tee to upcycle

<<1X1 ribbing or regular jersey with a good amount of stretch for armholes and neck

<<Freezer paper for stencil if you want to

<<Fabric paint

<<Basic sewing stuff

<<Some imagination


  •  Cut out your tee front and back just like you would if you were making a regular tee. (skip cutting sleeves! you totally don’t need them!)
  • Lay your tee back on a cutting surface and lay the tee front directly on top with the shoulders and upper part of arm hole aligned exactly
  •  Measure in from the OUTER edge of the shoulder edge 3/4″ and make a mark. You could even cut off  more depending on the look you’re going for. My end result is a shoulder that is about 1.5″ wide
  •  Starting from the middle of the armhole curve, cut with a smooth slope up to meet your 3/4″ mark. You’ll have a little piece cut off like mine above.
  •  (I totally didn’t get a picture of this) Depending on how loosey goosey you feel with your improv cutting, you can

Deepen the curve of the armholes on the BACK piece to make it more racerback style. Just cut away about a half inch throughout the middle curve of the back arm holes


TIP: In all steps, sew using a zig zag or stretch stitch. I also finish my seam allowances with a serger just to make the garment stronger for my crazy kids who like to stretch the hell out of their clothes.

  •  Sew the shoulders and side seams as you usually would for the tee but INCREASE YOUR SEAM ALLOWANCE by 1/8″ to 2/8″ of an inch on the side seams.

You just want to make the tank fit nice and skinny, and it’s a judgment call for you based on the normal fit of the tee and your child’s size. If you make one of these to experiment with, you should have a pretty good idea of how this will work out in the future and adjustments to make (I used the Flashback Skinny Tee pattern from Rae because I know it well and have used it on my kids many times)

  •  Get your super scientific cap on and find a piece of string. Measure your arm hole by running the string along the edge of your tank. Mine was 4 3/4″ Then MULTIPLY THAT BY TWO. I know, I know…..math is the worst. But if I can do it, so can you.
  •  Cut two armbands and one neckband from ribbing or jersey. Arm bands will be LENGTH OF YOUR STRING MEASUREMENT X 2″ tall

Neckband will be the size your pattern calls for OR you can do the string measurement thing and subtract about an inch in length so it doesn’t lay saggy – cut it that length x 2″ tall


  •  Sew armbands along the short edge RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER with a 1/4″ seam allowance. This will make it ever so slightly shorter than the shirt measurement, but it works fine.
  •  Turn your tank wrong side out and your arm bands wrong side out
  • Slide the arm band onto the arm hole aligning with the raw edges of the tank. This will be a little fiddly at first because it’s a pretty small opening if you’re doing a little kid’s size. Just keep shimmying it on until you’ve got your arm band scootched all the way over onto the tank. It’s a hard step to photograph but will look like the top right in the collage
  • Sew with a 3/8″ seam allowance all the way around
  • Press your armband really well away from the tank and then turn the raw edge in halfway to the WRONG SIDE to meet up with the raw edge of your seam allowance. Fold it in half again to the right side of the tank, sandwiching the raw edge inside the arm band. Pin with the fold of the arm band just covering the previous stitching line underneath.

This is how you would apply bias binding to a woven fabric, but with a woven you would press the binding in half and the edges into the center line. You can’t really do that with jersey though because the pressed lines just come out anyway.

You will now have your binding pinned all around the arm hole.

  • Turn your tank inside out again if you’ve turned it right side out to pin it. Stitch along the folded edge of your arm band on the right side of your tank. Press well with lots of steam.


Almost finished! Time to sew on the neck band. You could either do it the way I’m going to show next or use the same bound method as the arm band. Its up to you. I’ve done both and like both ways

  •  (and hopefully I’m still talkin sense because I’m holding a tired, cranky, flailing 10 month old now) Sew neckband right sides together with a 1/4″ seam allowance, or however your pattern calls for, along short side
  • Press in half lengthwise and slip it onto the neck of the tank. Raw edges aligned, right side of tank facing out, pin neckband on, stretching to fit.
  • Sew with a 3/8″ seam allowance. I usually just use my serger for this part and let it be a little wonky because I’m lazy like that. Press up and away from tank using lots and lots of steam. Then press it some more.


Add a rad tag with the size noted on it and then admire your work!

If you have a weird sense of humor like me, then maybe you’ll appreciate this template I drew up to share. When I was brainstorming summery things to make into a stencil, I kept thinking ice cream. Then as I started drawing different versions of cones and thinking the phrase “we all scream”, I started discussing it with my husband and then this “Ice scream” came out…..


To use it like I did, trace this onto freezer paper and cut out the black areas with an exacto knife. Save the little white heart shaped tongue piece to iron on in the center of the mouth. I forgot to iron mine on and had to freehand the tongue after the fact. Iron the stencil down onto your fabric and use fabric paint to color it in! FYI, the “Ice Scream” lettering isn’t included because I freehanded it with a paint brush and fabric paint. And you can too!

In the end, mister Ice Scream got splashed on. hahaha. The best.

Have a great week, and thanks for reading!




  1. Sarah says

    YES, MANY FAB PHOTOS OF VIOLET eating her ice cream cone! Your retro tank tutorial is detailed with cute photos! I like the bright green jersey knit with black & white stripe trims on scooped neck & armholes. I’m informing a couple nieces (who sew) for their young girls as they’d be interested. Your ice cream cone design & “ICE SCREAM” underneath is UNIQUE. THANKS for sharing! LOTS OF MOM’S LOVE sewn into this tank top. Sarah Helene in Minneapolis

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