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.


  1. ohh! you're posting again- coool! this post is very helpful, thank you ;) hope you've been well! xx, j

  2. Good post. I usually change the neckline as they usually are not right for me, but I do try to preserve the shoulders.