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.

Gray and Black Lace Tank

Today has been a long day, but oddly enough, not much has gotten done in the way of “final” products. I’ve made most of an underbust corset, gone to the fabric store for supplies for a project I’m doing for my aunt, bought metal eyelets, and knitted. However, it wasn’t until a few minutes ago that I got around to making my Item Of The Day. I was struggling for inspiration, you see.

Finally, it struck when I found a bunch of gray knit jersey left over from an ill-advised dressmaking project. (Where does all this stuff come from?? Did I sew a lot more than I remember as a child?) It was kind of a mess, all bunchy and tangled, but I managed to get it into some semblance of order:

After that, I spent some time doodling ideas, at least one of which will become another shirt.

I think I want to make the cloud one; it’s a little cutesy, but I did just make a shirt with an anchor applique. Clearly, being cheesy is not my biggest fear any longer. But I also like the idea of making a gray tank top with cutouts that show orange tulle underneath. Perhaps in the shape of an orange.

After some cutting, some sewing, and some swearing, here’s the final shirt:

This picture tells you a couple of things. First, that I’m tired; I’ve been up for quite a while. Second, that this shirt is too small for me; I used another shirt as a template and this fabric wasn’t as stretchy. This shirt goes straight into the shop. Which is a shame, because I rather like it. Maybe I’ll make a bigger one out of the leftovers…

Recycled Cuteness–Tutorial!

Hello, good folks out there in readership-land! Today I have for you a tutorial for a thing that I made in a very un-tutorial-like fashion. You see, I’ve been wanting to do a t-shirt remake for a while now, but I didn’t know where to start. So I started out with a plan for a sort of colorblock dress, and ended up with a nautical-themed two-tone tank top. Luckily, I documented the process, and you can now have your very own! Here it is, so you can decide whether or not you want one:

This project is an excellent way to use up the collections of useless t-shirts that a lot of people (cough, me, cough) accumulate. Check your closet for materials before you go out and buy. And remember: upcycling is cheaper than buying new.

MATERIALS:

  • One white, baggy t-shirt. It can have writing on it, as long as there’s about 11″ that doesn’t have anything printed on it at the bottom, and maybe a little extra at the sides or top for straps.
  • One blue t-shirt. This one doesn’t have to be baggy. It can also have writing on it.
  • Two buttons in either white or blue
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Sewing Machine (or needle and thread, yadda yadda)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Cut off the bottom of the blue shirt, as close to the bottom of any lettering as possible. In fact, leave just the bottom edge of the lettering; you can hide it in the seams. If you have a smallish blue shirt, as I did, you’ll want as much material as possible on the bottom. When paired with the white shirt, it should look like…absolutely nothing. See photo:
  2. Turn the piece of the blue shirt inside out and put it over your head. Using the Pinch-and-Pin Method, which is exactly what it sounds like, follow the contours of your body. Don’t poke yourself with a pin a million times like I did. Pull this new tube off over your head, reposition any pins that don’t form a smooth line, and sew along the line of pins. Remember to take out the pins as you go; if you sew over a pin it will FLY OFF AND HIT YOU IN THE EYE AAAAAAGH* Your new tube should look something like this:
  3. Take out that white baggy t-shirt, and cut off the top, leaving no writing. Take this second tube and lay it out next to your contoured tube. Now here’s where things get tricky. If the white shirt is way bigger than the blue shirt, slim it down by making a line of pins on either side so that the shirt is only about an inch wider on either side of the blue shirt. Sew along these lines.
  4. Turn both shirts inside out. Pin the side seams together so that that ugly edge sticks out, towards you. Now you have to account for that extra fabric on the top tube. Make pleats (fold the fabric over itself) twice on the left side, and twice on the right, as symmetrically as you can. Pin all the way around the shirt, doing the back in the same fashion. Sew up this seam.
  5. Fold the raw edge at the top of the white shirt, and then fold it over again, and pin in place. Sew this edge down so that no raw edge is visible.
  6. Make two straps. This is so easy. You take two pieces of fabric of a little more than twice the width you want, fold them over, sew, and then turn them inside out. Have a friend pin them into place on your shirt so that they cover your bra straps. Sew in place, and then sew a button over the join between shirt and strap in the front on either side.
  7. Now draw an anchor. Or print one off the Internet. I won’t judge.
  8. Cut out your anchor and use it as a template to cut out an anchor made of fabric from the sleeve of your white t-shirt. I decided that I wanted my anchor to be chubbier than the one I drew, so I would have room to sew it on.
  9. Now, pin your cloth anchor to your shirt where you want it. Sewing it’s gonna be hard, and I made the mistake of assuming it’d be easier with a piece of anchor-shaped paper over the anchor. If you’re going to do that, don’t do what I did: for the love of Pete, don’t glue it on. It will not come off and you’ll have to pick at it for about half an hour and hope that the little fragments come out in the wash.

Sew on your anchor, SLOWLY. You might want to do this by hand. Doing it by machine was kind of haphazard and dangerous because the machine always did one more stitch after I told it to stop.

Et voila! You are done!

The technique you just used, I am told, is called “applique.” You could probably look it up and use it to customize this shirt; it would probably look equally stunning as an aeronautical shirt with a zeppelin on it. Or you could make it in a different set of two colors and add a color-appropriate applique design of your own. Actually, come to think of it, why didn’t I make one with a zeppelin on it? Here’s a drawing of a zeppelin that I found on the Internet, so you can avoid my mistakes:

Don't forget--don't try to sell any item you make with another person's design on it! That's called plagiarism!

Don't forget--don't try to sell any item you make with another person's design on it! That's called plagiarism!

Meanwhile, over on the Craftster forums, the suspense continues as I wait to learn the winner of the challenge I entered. Stay tuned for more excitement and drama on that front.

*I’m not sure if this is true. It might be an urban legend. Take no chances.

Tanks!

So I’ve been in a kind of lightweight summery tank mood lately, and this is what’s come out of it so far. I’m finally daring to work in knitted fabrics, realizing that stretchiness is fun.

This is the first one:

Why, yes, I do look spiffy. Let’s stare off into the distance, shall we?

I made this out of a piece of fabric I found in my basement, left over from an ill-advised project I did when I was 15 or 16. I didn’t really know much about sewing then; I always learn by jumping in, making a lot of crap, and then later regretting ruining so many materials. Luckily I didn’t use up all this purple; there was just enough for an asymmetrical shirt with knot detail. Total cost for this project? $0.

This second one was made out of an oversized gray t-shirt. Using a tank top as a pattern I cut it down to size, and then I just stuck crap on there. I’m not completely happy with this one; it feels like there’s not enough going on. I want there to be a third element, like a cluster of black shiny things covering the non-lace end of the chain, or maybe a skull-and-crossbones button, or SOMETHING. Total cost for this shirt? $3, for the chain. Lace and t-shirt were both found in my basement.

From this…(The t-shirt is underneath, just fyi.)

…to this.

I’m also thinking it’s time to go into business, because I kind of like this new batch of things. I also just tried a new cheap-ass screenprinting technique that I’m loving (non-toxic mod podge and leftover sheer fabric, hooray!) and I think I could easily print t-shirt designs that are way more complicated than my previous stencilling technique allowed. The results of that experiment in tomorrow’s post.

Basement Find–Vintage shirt? Lingerie?

I went basement diving yesterday. My parents both like to save everything, and our basement is pretty extensive, so there was a lot of ground to cover. And I found some interesting things, including this piece that belonged to my paternal grandmother back in the 1950s or 60s. And now, I’m not exactly sure what to do with it.

In case you can’t tell from the picture, it’s beautiful. It was also ripped in three different places, two of which I could fix and one of which I couldn’t. I decided to give up on the tear on the sleeve since it was missing some fabric, and so I cut both sleeves off to make cap sleeves.

Now, I really want to use this piece and wear it, because it belonged to my grandmother, and because I think it’s super-neat and sort of a classic example of careful garment construction. I mean, look at all those tiny pin-tucks, the care with which everything is edged…it just makes me happy. But I run into this problem; how do you wear something that’s simultaneously very stuffily cut and completely transparent?

I don’t think that a bra is enough clothing. I only wish I were Lady Gaga.

Alternately, with a camisole, it looks stuffy and old-ladyish…

I think that maybe the answer is a bandeau bra, or a less fussy camisole, but I don’t want to buy a new thing because new things cost precious, precious money. If you have any ideas for how to wear this thing and not look silly, feel free to speak up in the comments.

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.

MATERIALS:

  • 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

INSTRUCTIONS:

  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.

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