DIY: Men’s Shirt to Bow Tunic Dress

Once I saw this bow tunic dress in Vivi Magazine, it was all over.  I’m such a sucker for bows and anything really girly – especially when it’s multifunctional!  This sweet little piece you can wear with the bows running down your back or down your front depending on your mood.  Fashioned from an oversized man’s long-sleeved shirt, with a couple fixes it becomes a cute A-line batwing tunic dress – paired with pretty tights if you like your dresses super-short, or perfect over a miniskirt or leggings.

You Need: (more…)

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

Get This Tutorial As a PDF

7 DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers ebook

This tutorial has been updated, and is now available as a full step-by-step with photos in my new book 7 DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers, part of the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System.

Tomorrow being Administrative Professionals’ Day I wanted to create something that’s fashionable yet doesn’t scream “look at me!” (and is totally appropos for the office!).  openingimg
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:

before1 man’s button-down shirt (sized larger than you are; doesn’t matter what size)  /  thread matching topstitching in shirt

fabric scissors  /  seam ripper  /  pins  /  marking chalk  /  sewing machine  /  needle for wovens  /  iron and ironing board  / hand-sewing needle (optional)

How To:
Prep Time:

1. Put shirt on.  Button 3rd and fourth buttons on shirt.  Place one hand underneath your armpit; mark where armscye depth should be on the front of your shirt, as close to the side seam as possible. (I used a pin.)  Take off the shirt and also mark the armscye depth for the other arm.

2. Lay your shirt on  a flat surface and cut off the sleeves.  Cut off the cuffs and discard; slit the sleeves down their side seams (as close to the seams as possible without going through any lapped seam detail).  Remove the pocket with a seam ripper and discard.

3. Cut off the center button placard and buttonhole placard, below the fourth button, leaving enough allowance at the sides of each placard to fold under about 1/4″.  (If your placard is finished and bound, you won’t need the folding allowance, but mine wasn’t, so I have the extra step of finishing it below.)  Cut the collar from the front of the shirt (as close to the collar band as possible without going through it), and cut about 1″ along the bottom line of collar band into the back of the shirt.  (You won’t remove the collar entirely from the back of the shirt; you’ll just be freeing it from the front of the shirt.  We want that sucker still attached at the back!!)

4. Turn shirt inside out and button remaining buttons on the shirt.

Sew Front Center Seam 

5. Sew front together, down buttoned placard that’s still attached to the shirt, so you only have a single center front seam.

6. Trim seam and buttoned placard off on the inside.

Adjust Fit

7. Take shirt off and lay it flat.  Pin down sides, straight down from the pins you added at the armscye depth.

8. Turn shirt right-side-out and try it on.  Adjust pins as necessary for a more tapered fit at the waist, and a freer fit at the hip.  Make sure the armscye depth is still correct, and that you can get the shirt over your head.

9. Take shirt off, turn inside out, and trace a “best-fit” line between your pins at the sides.  Remove pins.  Add 1″ to the outside of the lines, and retrace the shape of the sides.

10. Cut shirt front from shirt back at the sides, cutting along the outside lines you drew in the previous step.

11. Trace shirt front onto shirt back.Draw lines on back about 3/8″ to the inside of the lines you just draw.  Cut shirt back on these lines.

12. Pin shirt front to shirt back.  (Your shirt front should now be about 3/4″ larger than the back.)

Sew the Sides

13. Sew shirt sides together.

14. Iron shirt and sleeves flat, paying special attention to the button placard still attached to the collar.

If your button placard is not finished on one side, now is the time to fold the unfinished side under, and topstitch so that both sides are finished.

Make the Ruffles 

15. Lay your sleeves flat and cut two pieces from the sleeves, next to the angled sleeve seams. (These pieces will be your Angled Ruffles.) Cut on the grain, cutting a piece about 1.5″ wide at its smaller end and 5.5″ wide at the widest end.  Trim any raw edges near the bound edge off.

16. Cut 2 long rectangles from each sleeve about 3″ wide by  the length of your sleeve.  Square off the ends.  These pieces will be your Long Ruffles.

17. Sew 2 long rectangles together, short end to short end.  Repeat for the other 2 pieces.

18. Fold over the long edge of one of the pieces from the previous step about 1/4″; sew a scant 1/16″ from the edge. Trim the raw edge next to your line of stitching.  Fold over the stitched edges about 1/4″ again; topstitch close to the edge to create a bound seam.  Do the same for the other connected long rectangle piece.

19. Using either a hand-sewing needle or a long basting stitch on your machine (or a gathering foot if you have it!), stitch long, basting stitches along the long raw edge of each long rectangle, and along the unbound raw edges of the angled ruffles.  Pull the thread to gather the pieces into ruffles.

Finish the Collar

20. Pin one long ruffled rectangle under the button placket of your collar piece, matching the length by pulling on the basting thread. Pin the angled ruffled piece underneath the long ruffled piece – the piece will only go down about 3/4 of the way of the placket.  Fold the bottom of the placket under the long rectangle ruffle end about 1/4″.21. Topstitch the edge of the placket, through all layers to secure.  (I chose to connect the top of the rectangle ruffle under my collar band piece, but leave the top of the angled ruffle free, like “wings.”)

21. Repeat for the other side and the buttonhole placket.

23. We need to re-connect the collar to the shirt now – so start with the button placket side, and pin down overlapping the open hole in the front of the shirt.  (Make sure the buttons are centered over the center front seam!)  Pin the placket to the shirt, going straight upwards all the way to the collar area.

Pin the collar to the back of the shirt, overlapping the back of the shirt as much as you can by angling the collar downward.  Between the top of the placket and the shoulder seam of the shirt, you’re going to have excess fabric, so gather it and pin the collar over it.24. Topstitch the button placket to the shirt.  (I had to zigzag over the collar band connection at the back of the shirt – there was a small gap that no amount of angling that collar piece was going to fix.)

25. Place buttonhole placket end over end of button placket, and do up the bottom button.

Topstitch end down, through all layers, and reinforce stitching.

26. Un-button bottom button, and pin buttonhole placket to front of shirt in the same manner as you did the button placket.  Topstitch through all layers.

Finish the Armscyes

 27. Try on the shirt and draw the shape of the shoulder how you want it.

28. Take off the shirt, and cut the armscye shape about 1/2″ on the outside of your markings.  Trace the shape onto the other shoulder, and cut it out too.

29. Turn under 1/2″ of an inch, and stitch about 3/8″ from the edge to finish, notching as you go.  (If you want a more finished look, cut the armscye 3/4″ outside of your markings, turn once and topstitch; turn again and topstitch to create a bound seam.  I find this very difficult along a curve, as often the armscye becomes tighter and smaller the more times you turn the edge, and notching the inside on such a small seam allowance is quite difficult.  If anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them!)

Hem and You’re Done!

30. Try on the shirt and mark where you want the hem to be.

Cut about 1/2″ below this line, fold under, and stitch at a 3/8″ hem on your machine.


Voila!  A super-ruffly, super-feminine piece for the office.

DONE1 (As you can see, I also added 2 bust darts to make the feminine fit even better; you might need to do the same depending on the size of your bust and how you “fill out” the bust area of the top.  I do also need to press the armscye seams and remove the yellow chalk lines…I was just so excited to be done and couldn’t wait to take the photo…;-)

Thank goodness there’s someone around to redo all these stuffy men’s shirts and breathe some girly life into them!

done2Happy DIY’ing!


as posted on in 2010 (no longer hosted there since they changed networks)

Get This Tutorial As a PDF

7 DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers ebook

This tutorial has been updated, and is now available as a full step-by-step with photos in my new book 7 DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers, part of the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System.

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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!

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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


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