I may have perfected the art of the man’s shirt to dress recon. Maybe.

I have a minor obsession with men’s button-down shirts, as you might have noticed from previous posts and a strangely truncated run of tutorials therewith. I like that they arrive as pre-constructed things with lots of style and structure already; it’s fun to play around within the limits of the original shirt. And I’m finally starting to get really good at it. For example, here’s my latest baby:

If you’re a particularly obsessive reader of my blog, you might have noticed that this is the shirt I was complaining about in the post “On Failure.” I ripped out all the seams I’d sewn into it and began taking it apart with an eye toward making a little sundress. It’s a heavier fabric, but I like to wear short dresses into the fall, so I figure it’ll be okay. It’ll look especially nice with tights and cardigans.

If you look up at the dress, you’ll notice a particularly neat detail. See how it comes in at the waist and then fans out at the top? That was part of my multi-step solution for getting rid of the extra bulk of the fabric while still having a full skirt and bust.

You’ll also notice that there are no buttons on the front of this dress. That’s because my mother came in while I was doing a try-on, mentioned that the buttons were pulling in the front, and suggested I spin the dress around and wear it backwards. It turned out that it looked much better that way. Here’s the back:

The back is heavily darted and tailored because it was originally the front, but I think it looks good. I have a tendency to ignore the backs of dresses; maybe what I need to do is just make a front and then spin the dress around.

I’m feeling particularly autumn-y this week, maybe because I just got back from Portland and the Virginia stickiness is getting me down. So I put my electric fan on its highest setting and took a photo of the dress in its native environment, a fall outfit:

(Socks and boots both gifts from my mother, who knows exactly how to pick things for me. In case you can’t tell, the socks feature crows on a telephone wire.)

This outfit makes me so happy. It’s sort of innocent and country-girl but also sort of witchy, a perfect combination for fall. I have this whole story in my head that goes with it, and maybe later I’ll get myself out to a place where there are some hay bales and do a photo shoot. I can already tell that this is going to be one of my favorite outfits as soon as it gets cool enough to wear long socks again; in fact, I’ll probably wear it on a day I know is probably going to be too hot and then tell everyone I “misread the weather report.”

Total cost for this project? $2 and change, plus a lot of time. And a lot of seam-ripping. But turning failure into success is beyond price.


Dress Thing!

This isn’t a new tutorial, nor is it anything else remotely useful. But it is a new project! This is a variation on the tunic/dress I did earlier. I wanted a kind of loose dress that could be worn with or without a belt.

I’m thinking it’s too short to wear on its own, but I think it would look great with tights and boots. I’m trying to think of ways I could elongate it just another inch or so, but there’s no fabric left! (cue dramatic music.) I’m considering contrasting fabric, but I don’t want to interrupt the lines. With a longer shirt (perhaps a men’s extra-large tall), this wouldn’t even be a problem. I wonder if there’s a place where tall men all go to discard their used shirts…maybe a thrift store in a neighborhood populated by basketball stars…

Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-Down, Day 3: Modified T-shirt

And now we’re back on schedule with Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-Down, which is in retrospect, a really long name. Maybe I can just call it ButtonDownFest. Or something. Anyway, here’s project #3.

(Picture taken by TJ, boyfriend and photographer extraordinaire. He’s also really tall, as you can tell by the downward angle.)

I swore I’d never buy one of these shirts, the two-shirt hybrid. I tend to find them a little silly. But if the button-down is falling apart, or the t-shirt is falling apart, or if you have sleeves and a collar left over from another project, this is a good way to dress up the t-shirt and/or bolster a sad-looking neckline or sleeves, which is what I did. And I’m actually pleased with the results.

One note: for this shirt, I went with short, cuffed sleeves. If you do longer sleeves, instead of sewing the button-down sleeves to the very edge of the t-shirt sleeves, sew them at the shoulders instead. Otherwise they’ll be saggy.


  • 1 t-shirt that needs some stuff added to it
  • 1 button-down shirt, or sleeves/collar from same
  • A sewing machine, or needle and thread
  • Scissors


  1. Lay out button-down shirt, flat.
  2. Cut off collar and sleeves.
  3. Place t-shirt over collar and sleeves. Take  a gander and make sure it’s all you thought it’d be before you sew. Still good? Good.
  4. Pin the back of the collar to the back of the t-shirt. Sew.
  5. Pin the front of the collar to the front of the t-shirt and sew. Be sure to leave it unbuttoned, and don’t allow the two sides of the button-down collar to overlap when sewing. If you don’t, the neckline won’t fit over your head.
  6. Be sure to zigzag stitch all the edges of the button-down (which is now sewn into the shirt.) This will keep those edges from fraying.
  7. If you’re doing long sleeves, try the sleeve on your arm. If the sleeve is too baggy on your arm, take to your sewing machine. Turn it inside out and and sew it smaller, in the same genera area as the seam. Try on, see if it fits your arm now, trim the excess.  Pin the button-down sleeves to the insides of the t-shirt sleeves and sew, being careful not to sew sleeves shut.
  8. If you’re doing short sleeves, unbutton and roll up the cuff. Pull the sleeve up your arm and mark on the sleeve the place where you want it to overlap the shirt. Take the sleeve off, and leaving about a quarter to a half an inch excess, cut off the unnecessary part of the sleeve. Use this first sleeve as a template for the second one.
  9. Unroll the cuffs. Pin the sleeves of your button-down into the sleeves of the t-shirt, all the way around, gently stretching the t-shirt fabric if necessary. Sew.
  10. Roll cuffs back up, so that they cover the edges of the t-shirt sleeves. Sew into place in a few different spots around the sleeve, so that they won’t come uncuffed at inconvenient moments. 

If you’re doing a long-sleeved shirt, you can ignore this step. You were already done back at step 7. Why are you still reading?

And there you have it! A much dressier t-shirt, and a lot of extra fabric to play with.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about what you can do with the leftovers. Are you excited? I know I am.

Seven Ways to Dissect a Button-Down, Day 2: Sleeve Scarf

So remember those sleeves you have left over from Day 1? Today you’re going to put them to good use. The sleeve scarf is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s an incredibly simple project–so simple it should only take you about ten minutes. Here’s me modeling the finished product, using my new digital camera and tripod courtesy of an uncle who upgraded.

(again with the ailing model-face…I’ll learn.)


  • Discarded sleeves in need of a home
  • Sewing machine (or needle and thread–this is a project that could probably be done with hand-sewing)
  • Scissors
  • Pins


  1. Take sleeves and place next to one another. Notice how they’re both cut at diagonals? Put the long part of one diagonal against the short part of the other diagonal, and vice versa, like so:This will help you maximize scarf length.
  2. Unbutton the cuff on one of the sleeves. Now, turn that sleeve inside out over the other sleeve.
  3. You now have a sleeve-within-a-sleeve. Pin the raw edges at the tops of the sleeves together, all the way around. This is going to be your one line of sewing for the day. You ready?
  4. Now, sew the raw edges of the sleeves together! If you’re feeling really fancy, you can go back over your stitches with a zigzag stitch to prevent fraying.
  5. Take the sleeve that was inside out, and turn it right side out. And there you go.

See, wasn’t that easy and painless? And now you have a distinctive–dare I say it–classy summer accessory. This lightweight scarf is downright breezy.

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.


  • 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.)


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.

How to Shop For Textiles at Yard Sales

So yesterday I went to a string of yard sales on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I was looking for a bookshelf, but it ended up being a great day for fabrics and textiles. Look at all this stuff!

All of this came out to about $2.50, and I’m pleased with everything here.

Yard sale digging is a great way to find things on the cheap that would normally be pretty darn expensive, and it’s also a good way to practice what I like to think of as creative openness: looking at objects not in terms of what they are at the moment, but in terms of what they could become. Sounds hippy-dippy, but trust me, it’s a good way to be. It helps you do things cheaply. So how do properly scour a yard sale for fabrics? Well, just like this. You can apply these rules to other craft materials as well, actually.

  1. If you’re at an area with a lot of little yard sales going on, or a flea-market type scenario, take a quick look around to spot which vendors have things you’d want to look at more closely. Don’t discount the other possibilities; just home in on the places that have the most visible displays of what you want. Example: if you’re in the mood for fabric, don’t start with the lady selling home medical equipment, even if she’s closer. Get to the good stuff first, before someone else does.
  2. Think outside the clothing box. Clothing at yard sales tends to be a little ratty. You’d be much better off examining linens: things like tea towels, tablecloths, curtains, bedsheets.  Similarly, look at items of clothing as–fabric in a transitional stage.
  3. Examine anything you’re interested in with a critical eye. Ask yourself the following: is it stained? Is it washable? Can I repair/replace whatever’s wrong with it, or is it beyond my skill level?
  4. Don’t praise the item loudly. Calmly ask the seller what the price would be. Try to perfect your “I couldn’t care less” expression for lower prices and greater bargaining power later. If you say you’ve got to have item X, it will always turn out that item X is $20. If you must use an adjective for an object, use “interesting.”
  5. Buy big. At yard sales, there’s no trying things on. If it seems like it might not fit, pass it up–unless you’re honestly willing to take apart a slightly-too-small dress for scrap fabric.
  6. Buy only to your taste, or that of someone you love. If there’s a great deal on a floral tablecloth, enough to make an entire dress–but you hate floral–put it the heck down. Similarly, don’t buy out of pity.
  7. Stay away from people with copious amounts of stuffed animals and baby stuff for sale. They usually don’t have fabric to unload. Sorry.
  8. And finally–be sure that you only buy as much as you can use. Otherwise, it will accumulate–faster than you’d ever imagine. Trust me on this one.

And now, without further ado: back to pictures of today’s sweet finds!

This floral print dates to the 1960s, according to my mother, who knows a thing or two.

These ties may be my favorites. They’re from a woman who inherited them from her father, who was apparently quite the snappy dresser; she said that when she cleaned out his house after he died, he had over 200 ties. I think I picked the best ones; bold, geometric prints. I may end up using the fabric to cover headbands, or maybe make some belts.

This fabric came from the same gentleman as the vintage flower print. I don’t know what a person does with striped herringbone; maybe I’ll re-cover some fancy furniture. Or make some piratical suit pants.

And of course, this is just begging to become a circle skirt.

And remember: buying at yard sales is not only good for those who are totally broke, but also for anyone who wants to reduce the demand for new consumer goods, the production of which is bad for the environment. It also reduces landfill waste. So feel good about being cheap.

Not shown is a white button-down shirt that I bought for 50 cents. Tomorrow it will become part of the first tutorial on how to deconstruct button downs. It’s not a particularly high-quality button-down in terms of construction, so we’re mostly going to salvage it for fabric. Good? Good.

Upcoming Tutorial: Seven days, Seven ways

So, you probably don’t know this yet, but I used to have a sewing machine. And it was a fine sewing machine, for what I used it for, which was as a desk decoration. Unfortunately, I tried to use it to sew, and apparently it didn’t like that because now it’s broken. So while I wait for it, I’ll be posting things like this, warning you of the awesomeness to come. It’s going to be a veritable tutorial maelstrom once I get my new machine.

And to start off, I’m going to do seven days of ways to deconstruct an oversized men’s button-down.

I’ve seen about a million tutorials for this kind of thing on the Internet, neat lil’ ways of using…parts of a button-down. That don’t fly with me. In a back-to-nature gesture, like those romantic hunters who use every part of the deer, I will show you how to make the best use of this shirt you’ve slain–er, found. While some of the pieces may get repeat uses (there’s only so much you can do with a cut-off shirt collar) each day will feature at least one new item, with a total of 12 distinct items. Some will even be things you could make with hand-sewing, if you’re a more patient person than I.

Until then, I’ll be posting a few knitting tutorials, as well as a guide to thrift store shopping. I may also link shamelessly to other blogs that are already chockablock with neat projects. Stay tuned.

EDIT: My sewing machine is coming tomorrow! Unfortunately, I don’t have oversized button-downs yet. We’ll see how this plays out.