Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How to Resuscitate an Old T-shirt

One of the secrets to successful Unfashionism is the ability to take something plain and ugly and make it cute, fun, eye-catching, or all of the above! Some people accomplish this by leveraging their natural beauty. Others, through accessorizing. Me, with a sewing machine. In today's post, I'm going to show you how to nip and tuck an unattractive schmatte into a top that will make you weep with pride! And I'm trying out a new format: the How-To! Be sure to let me know if you like it.

1. Acquire the feedstock

Heck, I look so bad in this shirt,
I can't even show my face!
The T-shirt to the left (We'll refer to it as "Old Blue" or any other monikers that come to mind as I'm writing) has been in my collection for about 5 years. I was feeling fat when I bought it; consequently, it's a size larger than I really need. I'm also not as crazy about V-necks as I was half a decade ago. While this shirt used to be a staple in my wardrobe, I hardly ever wear it any more. It's time to fix that.

Here's the plan: I'm going to take in the sides a bit so the fit is more flattering. I'm going to lop off part of the sleeves to loosen them up where my shoulders hit. And I'm going to carve vast swathes of material out of the neckline to get rid of the V.

Let's begin!

2. Mark up the cuts

While some people who make a living out of artistically altering clothes will freehand the whole process (they'll also "sew" the shirt back together with strips of fabric that were originally cut from it, which I'll show you if I can ever get it right), the Unfashionista prefers a more refined look, and plans her work carefully. For this part, you will need tailor's chalk. Or some other washable drawing tool.

To start, turn your shirt inside out. This is so your markings and seams end up on the inside of the shirt, invisible, when you are finished. Draw a circular shape around the neckline, making sure that the original hem is completely enclosed within the circle. Don't forget to mark the back of the neckline, too! I cut that one just low enough to excise all of the "tag," which was printed right on the fabric.
The line is faint here, but if you look closely, you can see that it starts at the armpit and extends upward to about the 2/3 mark of the sleeve.

3. Mark up the new seams

In the photo on the left, you can see I've laid another shirt on top of Old Blue. The Virginia Beach shirt fits me to a Tee (ha ha, get it?), so I'm using it as a template to help me determine how best to adjust the side seams. I traced along the outside of the template shirt and ended up with the dashed line you see in the picture to the right. Obviously I got a similar line (though curving in the opposite direction) on the other side.

4. Chop Chop

Alas, I have no photos of steps 4, 5, and 6, because I was having some technical difficulties at that time. But I think you're smart enough to figure it out. In this step, you cut along the lines you just drew. (Not the ones on the side seam! They are for sewing!) But feel free to take your scissors to the neckline and the arms and shorten them up! For good measure, cut off the bottom hem. See, what we're going for here, is a shirt that looks refined in its very lack of refinement. We're not actually going to hem the parts that we trim; we'll leave them with raw edges (because knit shirts do not fray, we can get away with this). So even though the bottom hem is at a good length, we want it to match the other edges in appearance.

5. Sew the seams

Get out your trusty sewing machine and have at it. Because T-shirt jersey is a stretchy material, it would be nice if you used a stitch designed for making elasticized hems (or a serger). A plain old straight stitch is not recommended, because it will rip if you attempt to stretch it. But since my sewing machine is on its last legs, a straight stitch is what I used. Simply make sure the two layers of the shirt are flat and even with each other, and trace along the dashed line. Trim your thread ends, and congratulations! You're done!

6. Add the finishing touches.

I'm going to add one more step to this process (entirely optional!)—sew a decorative border along all the raw edges in a darker color of thread. This is what turns my kind-of-dull, monochrome shirt into a not-quite-as-dull, duotone piece of art!

Here's the finished product:


  1. Loved your July 12th, 2017 posting on Refashion Co-Op. And the one showing above. Laughed my silly head off.
    I can't find where I can sign up for receiving your posts via e-mail. Do you do that? Or do you not do that? Please do that - it would be great! Get my morning laugh! What a great way to start the day!


    1. Hi Cathy! I'm so glad you enjoyed my blog! Not all my posts are as hilarious as the you mentioned (sometimes I just have to be in "that" kind of mood), but I'm glad you are interested in subscribing! It's always been possible to subscribe via RSS, but you were right that being able to sign up for emails would be a great idea. I put a signup widget at the bottom of the right sidebar.