Refashioning and Sewing Men’s Shirts: Tips & Tricks

So I spent the majority of the day today working on a tutorial for upcycling yet another men’s shirt into something way cuter for the girls!  I can’t wait to take the photos of the finished product to share with all of you.

But that got me thinking…a reader asked me on to share some tips for working with men’s shirts…and so I thought maybe I should share with all of you how I choose my shirts to re-work, and some techniques I use when sewing them.

 How to Choose a Shirt

First of all, I’m assuming that you are going to use a shirt that is not new or off-the-rack (right??).  Using shirts that have been pre-worn for your re-fashions is one of the best ways to be eco-friendly, save something from being discarded and give it new life, and make a one-of-a-kind piece just for your very own.  But it does pose some unique challenges.

*Choose a shirt that is NOT SEE-THROUGH.
Unless you’re planning on making a lining or always wearing your finished piece over something, you have to make sure that the shirt you choose is completely opaque, even when you’re standing in front of a light source.  Many men’s shirts are made of “summerweight” cotton, which makes them very see-through if you’re not wearing an undershirt like a guy would be.  TRY IT ON if you’re in a thrift store that has changing rooms; if not, place your hand inside the shirt.  If you can see your hand, it’s a no-go.

Pilled fabric.  These shirts can only be upcycled very creatively. img source

*Do not use a shirt whose fabric is thinning, pilled, worn, frayed, or with stains/holes.
The more times the shirt has been through the washer/dryer, the thinner the fabric will be.  If it’s visibly in bad condition, adding seams and making it into a dress it won’t help the situation.  Do not choose something that is stained or has rips or holes in it unless the final design will cover those areas.

*In the same vein, do not choose a shirt whose seams are pulling.
Even if the shirt looks like it’s in good condition, pull at the side seams.  If the fabric pulls away from the stitching and you can see obvious/large stitching holes down the seam, the fabric in that shirt cannot withstand seams that take stress.  Stitching (even re-sewing) such fabric will result in visible holes, if not the fabric tearing completely away from the seam.  DO NOT USE.

*Choose a shirt that is LARGER than you are.
This is a no-brainer.  You need the extra fabric to work with and to make the details (and especially in case you make a mistake!).  In most situations, I choose a shirt that’s as large as I can find.

How To Sew a Shirt
(so it doesn’t look like a re-fashion)

The shirt in question (since it’s pre-worn) will also probably be pre-washed…if not, wash to remove the sizing using the hottest water recommended for the fabric, and dry it according to the directions.

 img source

*Use the same color thread as what was used to sew your shirt together in the first place.This is a little obvious.  Bring the shirt with you to the sewing store and match the thread color visually.

*Use the same type of thread as what was used in the shirt.
I know it’s a hassle, but read the fiber content of the label and choose the thread accordingly to get the most professional results.

100% Cotton or Linen Shirt (a typical Men’s Button-Down): Cotton mercerized thread [size 50]
Cotton/Poly Blend Shirt: Cotton/Poly thread [size 50]
Rayon or Stretchy Shirt; Knit Shirt: Polyester thread [size 50]
Lightweight Silk Shirt: Silk Thread [size A]
*Use the right needle for the fabric.
Usually I’ll specify the type of machine needle needed in my instructions, but in case you’re using a different type of shirt than what the instructions call for, match your needle accordingly.  Needle for knits = used for any knitted fabric.  Needle for wovens = used for any woven fabric.  Even if your woven fabric has a bit of stretch to it (like a cotton/rayon blend, let’s say), still use a needle for wovens.  If you’re unsure how to tell the difference between a woven fabric and a knit fabric, check out this easy explanation here.  And learn how to choose the right size needle here.
img source

*Replicate the stitching in the shirt by practicing first.
Alot of my instructions for re-fashioning men’s shirts call for visible stitching, topstitching, hems, etc.  To make sure the stitches you are adding to the shirt match those that are already there, practice on a piece of scrap fabric that’s similar in fiber content to the shirt.  Adjust the thread tension and stitch length until your row of straight stitches looks exactly the same as the topstitching in the shirt.  And don’t adjust your stitching beyond that – just leave your machine on that setting for the entire project.

And there you go!  Hope that’s a bit of help – and just by following these simple rules on selecting and sewing shirts, you should have no problem creating a finished piece that rivals any ready-to-wear!

If anyone has any further questions on issues I didn’t cover, please leave them below in the comments section!
Leave Comment

How to Make a Ruffled Top from a Men’s Shirt

done3openingimg Tomorrow being Administrative Professionals’ Day I wanted to create something that’s fashionable yet doesn’t scream “look at me!” (and is totally appropo for the office!).  With Earth Day just around the corner as well, what could be more eco than upcycling?  Steal a button-down from your guy’s closet and give it a feminine makeover…that will make it a mainstay in yours.

You Need: (more…)

Leave Comment

Ideas for Refashioning a Men’s Jersey ( reply)

Awhile ago I received the following question on

I have this really cool old hockey jersey, but every time I wear it, friends say I look homeless. Do you have any ideas for what I could make it into so it’s more hip/flattering?

This was my answer:

OMG, I had one too! I loved it like a brother – it was the NJ Devils – and whenever I wore it (during my long-ago teens), friends would laugh at me because it was so big and mannish.
To make one more flattering…hmm. You could always do what those girls in Philly get done – have their mens’ football/hockey jerseys altered into dresses/cute skirt-and-top combos that are more girly. (I used to work at one such store…there was even a customer who bought a gigantic Sixers’ jerseys and wanted it made into a full-length dress for her PROM. /* o *
I’ll post a couple sketches of styles typical to what we used to make as soon as I get back and have the use of a scanner.
However, it’s been my experience that with a sports jersey, you’re severely limited by the polyester mesh fabric, the color combo, and the gigantic logo, and so you have to end up altering it into something that is still sporty instead of being able to hide its origins altogether. (And unfortunately the re-designs of mens’ jerseys like they do in Philly still scream 2003.) Perhaps you could chop it into something sporty and cute a la Alexander Wang? A cropped short-sleeve jersey (rolled sleeves) to wear with cuffed khakis and wedge-heeled sneakers?
What do you think?


And finally I’ve gotten around to posting some sketches I did this evening of the kind of styles we did by refashioning the jerseys.  (I was waiting for my Victoria’s Secret catalog to come so some of those lovely ladies could be my models, hehe.)  I know some of these designs are really dated (and they aren’t exactly what we made way back when…I honestly don’t remember the exact details), but maybe they give you a starting point to work with?

And these were the neck corsages I used to make – cutting flowers out of different colors of jersey mesh, sewing them on to velvet ribbon, and adding “dewdrops” with a glue-gun.  They proved really popular – especially around prom-time…there was even a girl who had us make her red Sixers jersey into a full-length halter-neck gown with matching elbow-length gloves (all out of mesh jersey material)!!  *shudders*  Each to her own, I suppose!

Hope that helps!

Leave Comment

DIY Avant-Garde Artistic Button-Embellished Top

Inspired by the original DIY’er, Martin Margiela, I’ve dipped into my overflowing stash of mismatched buttons to craft a fabulously avant-garde-style t-shirt. I’m using an old shirt that I was considering discarding because of a couple tiny stains on the front.  But that’s what DIY’s for!  Cover up stains, patching, pilling, or a design you don’t like…or add interest to an otherwsie boring piece.  There’s a ton of great art and photos out on the internet – or you can create your own image and use it as a template for button placement.  I chose monochromatic buttons so that the image would appear “pixellated” when standing from afar – and though I chose to make an eye (in my own homage to Salvador Dali), you could make anything your heart desires.

You Need:

t-shirt*large number of buttons in various sizes and shapes (preferably in shades of black, white, and gray)  //  Jewel-It Embellishing Glue (or other glue for affixing plastic embellishments to fabric)  //  piece of cardboard or t-shirt board


printout, drawing, or photo  //  tape  //  sewing machine & needle for knits  // hand-sewing needle  //  thread matching buttons

How To:

Prep Time

1. Pre-wash t-shirt if it hasn’t been washed already.  Place cardboard or t-shirt board inside t-shirt to flatten front.2. (Optional) If you are using a piece of artwork as a template, slide it inside your tee, just on top of the board. Secure with tape.



3. Now’s the time to channel your inner artiste!  Place tee on a flat surface and start covering it with buttons.  Start with the black outlines, then place the brightest white buttons on the brightest white parts of the eye.  (You’ll probably spend a lot of time squinting at your picture.)  Stand back every few minutes to see if you like the effect, and adjust your placement as necessary.

Make it Permanent

4. When you’re pleased with your button artwork, now you need to take each button off and affix it to the t-shirt.  For the larger buttons add a daub of glue to its back; for the smaller dot glue onto the shirt itself.  If you plan to go back and sew your buttons for more security – be careful you don’t get any glue in the buttonholes.  (If you are using shanked buttons, you’ll have to hand-sew them on to the shirt.)

5. After you’ve glued all your buttons down, allow the glue to dry per the instructions.

6. (Optional) Remove board from tee, and proceed to sew all the buttons down to the front of your shirt.  (Drop the sewing machine’s feed dogs, and zigzag into 2 holes of each button – which should be secure to hold it on and allow you to machine-wash your shirt.)7. Wear and enjoy all the extra attention.  (If you have chosen not to sew your buttons down, follow the washing instructions on the glue.  Some glues are not fast when put in the wash, so be careful when choosing!)


Pair with black and white pieces to make your monochromatic look.  Here’s looking at you, kid!

Thanks for reading – and if you have any questions, ask them in the Comments section below and I’ll do my best to help you out!
Carly J. Cais

as posted on Threadbanger


Leave Comment

Threadbanger Post: How to Sew a Summer Tank Dress

The temperature’s rising, but maybe you’ve tired of the ol’ tanktop-and-jeans ensemble.  Maybe you want a go-to summer dress but still want it to be comfortable for when it gets really hot.  Revamp a tanktop with the addition of an old men’s tee,** and live in soft-washed cotton comfort all summer.
**I’ve adapted this recon from the book Kakkoii Kuchuuru Rimeiku [“Cool Couture Remake”], by Hiroko Yamase [Bunka Publishing, 2009].  The book is in Japanese, and I’ve converted the sizing to Western sizing, and changed the methodology here and there.  Hope you like it! 

You Need:




 *1 tanktop that fits you well
*1 men’s t-shirt (preferably XL)
*thread matching t-shirt
*fabric scissors
*marking chalk
*measuring tape

*velvet or satin ribbon (1″ – 1.5″ wide)
*pronged studs, sew-on jewels, hotfix nailheads, or fancy trim

How To:

Prep Time

1. Wash and dry both your tanktop and t-shirt if they haven’t been washed before.  Turn the t-shirt inside out and cut off the label at the back of the neck. (not pictured)  Cut off the shoulder seams all the way to the sleeve seams.

Start Sewing

2. Sew the ends of the t-shirt’s sleeves closed, just inside the sleeve cuffs.  These will become pockets.

3. Fold down about 1/2″ along the slit shoulders (the raw edges) of the t-shirt, all the way around, front to back, neck ribbing to neck ribbing.  Stitch down, creating a 3/8″ hem.

4. Turn the t-shirt right side out, tucking the sewn sleeves inside.  Fold in half and mark the center front and center back at the neck ribbing.  Do the same with the tanktop.

5. Measure 4″ straight down from the mark you made on both the front and the back of your tanktop.  Make another mark at each point.


6. Place the tanktop inside the t-shirt.  Line up the center front of your t-shirt on top of the mark you made on the center front of the tanktop.  Pin in place.

7. Pin the neck ribbing of the t-shirt to the front of the tanktop, following the natural curve of the t-shirt’s neck.  (I folded the edges of the t-shirt under about 1/2″ again, since I liked the way that looked.)

8. Repeat Step 6) and Step 7) to pin the back of the t-shirt onto the back of the tanktop.

9. Stitch the t-shirt to the tanktop, following the lines of the neck-ribbing of the t-shirt.  Sew TWO lines of stitching to secure: one line at the very top of the neck-ribbing, and one line at the point where the ribbing connects to the t-shirt.  Do for both front and back of your piece.

Embellish It! (Optional)

9. Use a piece of ribbon as a tie for the waist, stitching at the back to secure. (not pictured)

10. Add studs, hotfix embellishments, sew-on jewels, or fancy trim to the the tanktop neck, the t-shirt ribbing, or the hem of the garment to doll your piece up.

You’re finished!

Without the belt, hands in pockets.

Belted with a velvet ribbon.

Tip: If you feel the weight of the t-shirt distorts the tank too much, sewing the sides of the tee to the tank will help eliminate the “pulling.”

Wear with some espadrille wedges and a cool pair of shades for a chic casual look as the mercury rises.

I’d love to hear your feedback everyone!


for Threadbanger Blog Projects


Leave Comment

Pin It on Pinterest