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Woman wearing blue and white striped top made of man’s shirt

Sarah’s diary - how to upcycle a man’s shirt

Upcycling has been my preferred way to make clothes for most of my life. It wasn’t called upcycling when I started out – it was just a way of making new things from old, or refashioning something I’d found at the charity shop. But whatever it is, or was, called, it’s a great way to refresh your wardrobe, save money, personalise your look AND save the environment.

When I was younger most of my upcycling involved either sticking slogans to the front of T-shirts, or shortening skirts. However, as I’ve got older (and after hours of binging the Great British Sewing Bee), I’ve got more adventurous with how much I’ll change a piece.

After a well needed wardrobe clear out, I came across an ex-boyfriend’s shirt, which immediately got thrown in the charity shop donation bag (clean start and all that!). However, the shirt was hardly worn, and I absolutely loved the stripe, so I started thinking about how I could make it fit me (and not look like something my ex would wear).
Woman wearing man’s blue and white striped shirt

Unfortunately, there was no way I could just pop some darts in the shirt – it was far too big for that. And, in reality, shirts aren’t really my style – I prefer something a little more fitted. Bravely, I unpicked all the seams to see what pieces I’d get and then I started sketching out what I could do with each piece, before sewing it all back together.

As I’m a little larger in the bust, I decided that the button closure should go on the back of the top – that way there would be no gape. Adding a tie waist is a quick way to shape a top, especially if you’re not a fan of the baggy look (I’m not).

In the end I decided that the look of the top was better without sleeves, but didn’t like how high that made the garment sit on my shoulders. Using the original cuffs I made some tiny little cap sleeves to finish it all off. Getting these to line up perfectly, and getting the neckline right, were the biggest challenges when sewing this top.

You will need

  • One oversized or man’s shirt
  • T-shirt for using as a size template
  • Cutting mat
  • Scissors
  • Rotary cutter
  • Quilting/patchwork or regular long ruler
  • Chalk or soluble pen
  • Pins
  • Thread
  • Iron
  • Sewing machine – we used the Brother Innov-is A80
Blue and white shirt and sewing materials on table

Step 1

Carefully cut the collar off where it meets the main body of the shirt, put to one side.

Step 2

Carefully cut the arms off the shirt, where they meet the shoulders. Cut the cuffs off the end of the arms, place to one side.

Step 3

Place your template T-shirt arm over the shirt’s armhole. Using tailor’s chalk, or water-soluble pen, mark the size of your armhole. Repeat on the other side of your shirt.

Step 4

Turn your shirt inside out. Pin the raw edge of your sleeve holes over, on the wrong side of your shirt.

Step 5

We’re using the cut off cuffs to make cap sleeves, so take the cuffs and open them out. Pin right side to wrong side along the edge of your sleeve hole, facing into the shoulder, with the button facing the back of your shirt. Make sure the middle of the cuff lines up with the centre shoulder seam, so there will be equal amount of cuff on each side of the garment. Stitch in place on the wrong side of the shirt. Carry on stitching round the arm hole to close the edges you folded over. Repeat on the other side. Open out.

Step 6

We’re using the sleeves to make a waist tie for the top. Take your sleeves and cut along the centre seam to open out. From each sleeve cut a rectangle that measures roughly 40 x 25cm.

Step 7

Cut each rectangle in half lengthways. Take each half of the rectangle and place wrong-side to wrong-side. Sew across one short edge and open out into a long strip. Do the same with the other cut in half rectangle, so you have two long strips.

Step 8

Fold your long strip in half lengthways, with the wrong sides touching. Sew along the open long edge, 0.5cm from the edge, to create a long tube. Repeat with the other strip, so you have two long tubes.

Step 9

Turn the tubes inside out, so the right side of the material is now on the outside. Flatten your tubes, with the sewn seams in the middle, and iron flat.

Step 10

Fold the ends of your tubes 0.5cm inwards and sew shut. Sew 0.25cm from the edge. Repeat to close all four sides. Put to one side.

Step 11

Using the marks you made with your template T-shirt, pin your sleeves close to the size you require. You might want to try the shirt on at this point to see if they’re the right size for you. Sew together, with the shirt inside out, 0.25cm from the edge.

Step 12

The back of the man’s shirt will be the front of the top we’re making. Turn the shirt the right way round and lay your template T-shirt flat on the back of your shirt. Trace the neckline of your T-shirt onto the shirt. Cut the shirt’s neckline as traced.

Step 13

Turning the shirt inside out again, fold over 0.5cm of the raw edge of the shirt’s neckline and pin into place. Again, try on the top to make sure the neckline works for you. Sew 0.25cm from the edge.

Step 14

Trim any loose threads and your top is now ready to wear
Blue and white striped top against yellow wall

So, what did I learn:

  • Make sure you know how you’re going to put it all back together before you start sewing! There are lots of blogs, social media channels and YouTube videos that will give you plenty of inspiration if you’re unsure. Search ‘thrifting’ and ‘upcycling’.
  • The shoulder caps can be a little hard to sew on as you’re sewing through stiff cuffs, so line up, use pins and go slowly if you need to.
  • I haven’t put bust darts in this project, but if I sew something like this again I will. Though the fit is ok, it can gape a little.
  • Start small when upcycling. Change the length of a skirt, add a dart to a top, add a cute collar to a jumper, or add some beads for sparkle. Then, when you’re more confident, try something more adventurous!
  • You don’t need to use clothes to upcycle – old bedding and curtains provide lots of quality material. Charity shops often stock vintage 70s sheets that provide enough material to make skirts or A-line dresses.

Will you try upcycling?

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