Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-down, Day 1: The little white tunic shirt (plus ideas for the leftovers)

Ever wanted to sew but didn’t know where to start? Ever been to a fabric store and noticed that fabric costs a ridiculous amount? A first sewing project should be easy and self-explanatory, and this one is. Furthermore, the materials may be as cheap as zero dollars, depending on whether you have a boyfriend/father/butch girlfriend/pal from whom you can steal an oversized button-down shirt. If you can’t find any of these people, or get them to part with their shirts, try a thrift store. They cost as little as $1 there.

Materials:

  • 1 oversized button-down shirt
  • Sewing machine (or needle and thread, if you’re incredibly patient)
  • Pins
  • Matching thread (or close-enough, really)
  • Scissors

Step Zero, for any project: Figure out what project best suits the amount of material you’ve got. For this project, try the shirt on. It’ll just give you a better sense of what you’re working with.

  1. Lay shirt flat.
  2. Cut arms off of shirt, and cut off collar (neatly!) Set aside.
  3. Draw a line across the front of the shirt as high up as you can. This is the top of your shirt. Cut along this line on both sides.
  4. Using a seam ripper, remove the pocket. Set aside for later.
  5. Your shirt should look like nothing at this stage. Like a sad shell of its former self. That’s normal.
  6. At the top of the shirt, pin the raw edges where the sleeves used to be together. Now, trace a line down the shirt. This line should curve to follow your natural curves. If you don’t know what those are exactly, start big and tailor down to fit. This might take a few try-ons, but once it’s right, you’ll be happy. Sew along this line.
  7. Roll that top raw edge of your garment down, the way you would for a hem (fold it over, and then fold it over again.) Pin and sew.
  8. Button your shirt up and lay flat.
  9. Find some remainder fabric–I took mine from the sides of the garment, but if you don’t have enough you can take it from the sleeves–and cut two strips that measure about 5″ by 16″. These are going to be your shoulder straps. You can make them narrower or wider to your taste. Pin the two sides of the fabric together and sew, then turn inside out. Sew along this tube a few times with your sewing machine so it’s not a tube but a flat strap.
  10. Pin your straps to your tunic.  Go put it on and look in the mirror. Adjust straps to own preference. Then sew into place.
  11. Pin pocket on where you want it–either up at the bust, adjusted for the new garment, or down near the hem.

And you’re done!

Ifyou want to make this top into a dress, follow the instructions but get a longer shirt–tall men’s shirts are ideal for dress-making. Remember when sewing the skirt of your dress that you’ll need it to fit over your widest point of your hips. If the buttons are still pulling after that, sew the bottom part of the button band shut (but not the top–you need the buttons to be able to get into the dress.)

THE LEFTOVERS:

After this project, you should have an intact shirt collar and one or more sleeves. The shirt collar makes an excellent accessory, with or without ties. The sleeves will be covered in tomorrow’s tutorial, the sleeve scarf, so if you have both remaining, don’t throw ’em out. If you’ve only got one, consider this lovely project found on Adventures in Dressmaking.

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