Saturday, July 18, 2009

Remodeling a T-Shirt

T-shirts really are our go-to garments, aren't they?

Some of us end up with more of them than others. We have passion for something — likes sports or a rock band — and think, "I must have that T-shirt!"

Or, we get a lot of them for free.

There are many books and blog tutorials out there about how to transform your T-shirt into a new garment or accessory, by cutting, tying, or embellishing. I'm not adding to that, but I am showing a way to fit a T-shirt that's too big.

Here's my shirt, an American Apparel man's shirt in medium. The manufacturer uses the softest cotton jersey anywhere and it's very nice to wear and work with. I would have been better off buying a larger shirt, but this fabric is a lot more giving than other shirt fabrics, so it's okay.

Lay shirt as smooth and flat as possible on your work surface. Don't cut it yet! You need to see if you have enough fabric in all the places you need it.

Use an old, favorite T-shirt (in this case, a totally pitted-out shirt from a low-priced chain) as your pattern. Cut the sleeves off your old shirt. Cut the old shirt open on the sides. Leave the shoulder seams sewn, though, and align them with the already-sewn seams on your new shirt.

Take a look at what's going on here: My old, ladies' shirt is wider at the chest than the man's shirt. We need the room in that part of our bodies, while men need width at the upper chest and shoulders. That's just one reason why a man's T-shirt looks so terrible on a woman.

Okay, but I was safe, anyway. I cut my new front (and back) pieces with a wedge of sleeve in them. It's kind of an unplanned gusset in the sleeve!

Now, and only now, you can take the sleeves off your new shirt, and cut open the side seams (in lots of cases there will not be any seams on the sides — many shirts are sewn from tubular knits). Cut your armholes, and your sides, using your old shirt as your pattern. They will invariably be very different from the man's shirt. Use the sleeves from your old, gross shirt as a pattern for your new sleeves.

In this case, I decided not to give myself the extra work of hemming the sleeves, so I left the hemmed sleeves from my Destroyer T-shirt just as they were, instead of cutting them into the cap style that my old shirt had. What I really wanted to use was the sleeve cap curve, and the armhole curve.

Serge the sleeves into the armholes. Then, join the side seams of the body and the side seams of the sleeves in one, fluid seam.

My new shirt was originally a little longer than my old shirt, so I cut some off and hemmed it at a length that was right for me.

The final result.

This is a quick project because I didn't take the factory-sewn shoulder seams apart (those are very good, you can't do as well at home yourself on those). And I didn't take the neck band off (although I may change that because it's a little high for me). And I used the original sleeve hems.

All I did was set in the sleeves, join the new side seams, and re-hem the bottom, and I was ready for SXSW week (which is the time I usually wear something like this).

Now, will this work for all your T-shirts? Not always. It will not work when:

your new T-shirt is not large enough

your new T-shirt is made of a fabric that has much less give than the fabric of your old, favorite-but-not-wearable shirt

I discovered this when I remade a SXSW volunteer shirt in the very same manner I have just described here. The fabric in that shirt, a "Beefy T," is a more stable knit (and less comfortable) than the knit fabric American Apparel uses. So, when I was done, it fit me, sort of, but had far less wearing ease than I like.

It pays to spend a little time learning more about knits, and why your projects will turn out a bit contrary to expectation sometimes. I took "Understanding Knit Fabrics" with Sarah Veblen online on, and it helped a lot.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Tourist Fabric

Seen this printed, cotton voile fabric? I think every sewist has, now. I got it, oh, I'll say 4 years ago at B & J. But since them I've seen it sewn up into an oversized, unisex-looking shirt (replete with beads and sequin trim, no less). And I saw it on a bolt in Mill End Fabrics in Oregon. Must be a giant overrun for some designer.

My plan all along has been to make it into this Neue Mode dress and put that garment into the summer rotation. My first attempt at this pattern I'll call a semi-success. It was my first go-round with silk chiffon, and it was way fun (not).

Looking at these two fabrics and seeing how similar they are in color and tone, and now I'm using the same pattern for both of them … oh, what am I thinking??

Monday, July 06, 2009

Gump Dress Project 1.0

So, the Gump dress has been separated and I'm playing with its skirt. I removed the left, side seam pocket (oh, it was set in so lovely, it almost hurt to remove it) and put in an invisible zipper, following the method Sandra Betzina describes in her book, Power Sewing Step-by-Step. The hardest thing about the invisible zipper for me is staying organized long enough to get through it.

Remember how I thought I didn't have a nice, long piece of fabric on the grain? Right, except for the lovely, interfaced front plackets! I have basted the placket that has the buttonholes in it to the skirt, using it for a waistband. This skirt fits me, without shame, at my waist.

Overall, this project could be just okay, not great. I still think this fabric is so pretty, but I'm not sure I love the garment. A little eyelet trim at the hem would perk it up, but are we veering into Hee Haw territory again, maybe? (As with my black-and-white gingham Decades of Style dress last year?) The thing is, I would see something like this on the body of a hipster waif, but she would have just the right accessories for it. What would those accessories be???


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Vintage Garment Case Study #1: Brown & Black Gingham

I often find myself in almost a no-man's land when it comes to my love of the clothes of the 1950s and 1960s. Women older than I am often share no such fondness, and women younger than I am often just don't get it — the reference means nothing to them.

But since I was a tot, I have been a fan of the post-war shirtwaist style. This dress, which I may have acquired about 8 or 9 years ago in a New Year's Eve buying frenzy at the Citywide Garage Sale, typifies many construction details I love and that would never be used in a factory today.
The first thing you notice is the bias-cut front button placket, applied to the center front (as opposed to being enclosed in a fold in the front facing, which would be a much more labor-saving method). Look, the button holes are worked on a diagonal!! You could try this on one of your own garments, and use covered buttons, too, like this dress. You could even get the buttons professionally done for a smart look.

As with the Gump Dress, the waist seam is stablized with tape, in this case, rayon seam binding. Clothing was expensive when this dress was made. Clothing was supposed to last.

I think this fabric may be a cotton blend, judging from the absence of bad wrinkles, but I wouldn't know for sure unless I did a burn test. It has a marvelous fit (which would be better if I laid off the blue cheese). There's something on the collar, however (hellooo, applique?) and the left sleeve is faded from closet or shop wear (helloo, cardigan?). This dress used to have a belt, probably a self-fabric belt, but it's long gone now.

Another detail is the snap-in sleeve heads, secured with twill tape, and removable for washing the dress.Too bad there's only one left.

The front skirt has four waist pleats and is joined to a typical two-dart bodice; the back has three gores and is joined to a back bodice that has two small waist pleats handling the dart control. The fact that the back and front are not just cookie cutter, mirror images of each other is another great style choice that would not be repeated in an everyday garment today. It felt wonderful when I put this dress on.

The label inside the back facing reads, "Atlas of Houston," which I think probably was the boutique the dress came from.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gump Dress Revisited and Ready for Remake

An ever-growing part of my fabric stash is fabric that is pre-formed or pre-used — in other words, garments, old sheets, and barkcloth drapery panels. I first mentioned this dress right after I found it in a Palm Springs thrift shop and today I returned to it to see what it had to say to me. I still found the fabric beautiful and I tried the dress on again. There are two big problems about the fit of this garment:

1. The dart control is all rotated into gathers in front at both the bodice and the waist, and in back it's in an inverted pleat that's tacked shut in two places. This makes the fit very loose; in fact, it's baggy.

2. The generous wearing ease is not a welcome feature, especially in this fabric, which is a high quality cotton poplin. I find this fabric fine for bottom weight, but terrible for a blouse. It's got too much body and feels (and looks) tent-like. In the current weather I'm enduring, it traps a lot of heat. Noooo. We want the opposite effect from our clothes.

There are a lot of great "couture" construction details, however. The label says it's from Gump's San Francisco, but it was made in Thailand (maybe a custom job??). It just looks like it was expensive. The care label says the fabric is hand screened and calls for washing by hand in "pure soap flakes." I've mentioned the ball buttons before, but there is also a wonderful, delicate loop by which you could hang the dress on a hook, if you needed to.

The bodice is joined to the skirt in two ways: in a 1/2"-5/8" seam reinforced by narrow twill tape, and then the two raw edges are enclosed in a Hong Kong seam finish. Try finding that in a dress today, even if by a schmancy designer in a schmancy boutique.

I tell you, this seam isn't going anywhere, and I know because I'm trying to take it apart. Even with my Cadillac seam ripper, it's slow going. I may give up and simply cut the skirt off the bodice instead. My plan is to use everything on the bottom half for a skirt and set the bodice aside to use for another project. One thing that won't be in my favor is, I will not have a nice, long piece of this fabric that runs on the grainline to use as a waistband. I will either have to do petersham-faced waistband, or find something else to use and gather the skirt into it.

I think a green, light blue, pink, or white top would be pretty with this. This will be my first foray into repurposing a garment.