July 10, 2012

t-shirt makeover {a tutorial}

Over a year ago, I posted about my Goodwill t-shirt makeover. It's one of my more popular posts so today I'm going to share a tutorial about how to use a little elastic thread to turn this basic t-shirt:

into this shirred top:

If you haven't used elastic thread before, this stuff is amazing. You can usually find it hanging with the packaged elastics at your fabric store. Using elastic thread in the bobbin, just sew a few rows of stitching and you'll get instant gathers. Amazing!

t-shirt (one or two sizes bigger than you normally wear)
thread that matches your t-shirt
elastic thread
empty bobbin
ball point needle
sewing machine
rotary cutter and ruler (optional)
plate (or some other circle shape to trace)

I found my t-shirt in the men's section at Goodwill--99 cents for a super-soft Banana Republic t-shirt.It's a medium and I normally wear an XS or small.


1)  Lay out your t-shirt and devise your game plan. I am going to add elastic at the end of the sleeves, at the bottom of the shirt, and around the neck so the first step is to cut the hems off the sleeves and the bottom of the shirt. This is easiest with a ruler and rotary cutter, or you can draw a chalk line and cut with scissors. Knit won't fray so there's no need to finish the raw edges and the fabric will gather better without the added bulk of the hem.

1)  Using a plate as a guide, cut a scoop neck. (For size reference, I used a dinner plate.) I cut through both layers of fabric so it will be scooped in the front and back. If you have a rotary cutter, you can cut right along the plate. Otherwise, trace a line around the plate and cut with scissors.

3) Prepare your bobbin and sewing machine. Loosely hand wind a bobbin with elastic thread being careful not to stretch the thread as you wind. Insert the bobbin into your sewing machine as you normally would.  Increase your stitch length--I used a stitch length of 4. Make sure you have a ball point needle in your machine. Because each sewing machine is different, I highly recommend practicing on a scrap of knit fabric to make sure your tension/stitch length is correct and to get familiar with sewing with elastic thread.

4)  Start at the bottom of your shirt and line up the edge of your presser foot with the raw edge of shirt.  (Make sure your are sewing with the right side up so the elastic thread (bobbin) will be on the wrong side.) I start at one of the side seams and sew a row around the bottom of the shirt running the edge of the presser foot along the raw edge of the shirt.

After sewing for a little bit, you'll notice a beautifully-shirred edge is already starting to form behind your machine.

5)  Continue making rows of stitching by lining up the edge of the presser foot with the previous row of stitching.  For the second and subsequent rows, your fabric will already be gathered.  

Be sure to gently pull the fabric flat before it goes under the presser foot.  

I made 3 rows of stitching on the bottom of the shirt.

6)  Repeat for each sleeve. I made 2 rows of stitching on each sleeve. (Because the sleeves are narrow, make sure to keep the extra fabric out of the way so it doesn't get caught under the presser foot and you end up sewing both layers together.)

7)  Repeat on the neck. I made 2 rows of stitching.

8)  Gently iron the elastic using a little steam to shrink it even more.

9)  Pull all the threads to the wrong side and knot them with the elastic thread. This takes awhile but will secure the elastic so it doesn't pull out. Backstitching is much faster but mine always seems to come undone.  Trim threads and you're done!

I made this in the morning and wore it work that same afternoon. So I do actually wear my crazy creations out in public.

I like how it turned out, but I'll do a few things differently on my next shirt. When I was cutting off the bottom hem, I cut off some extra length because I didn't want my shirt to be too long. I forgot the adding elastic around the bottom and neck would take up some of the length so my shirt is slightly short for my taste and I ended up wearing a tank top under it. I think I'll also try a long-sleeved shirt and make a 3/4 sleeve or one that ends just above the elbow. The monetary investment is pretty low, so it doesn't hurt to experiment!

Please let me know if you have any questions or if something is unclear.  If you make a shirt, I'd love to see it!

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