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T-Shirt Upcycle or Recycle


Take a once favorite T-shirt, or one that always was impossibly large or disturbingly too small, alter or cut the sleeves, refashion the neckline, side seams and hemline and the T-shirt is changed into a creative expression of this most universal example of modern clothing.

That same T-shirt can be cut into squares, added to others and becomes a memorable quilt or a pillow cover, woven headband, market tote, even a rag rug. All examples of upcycling. Yet cut the T-shirt into large sections and use them as dusting rags, garden vegetable slings or braided into a doggie tug toy and they seem to become recycled items. Even recycled T’s though have value added – perhaps the slight distinction between the two words is not so much in the transformation as in the continuing use of the refashioned, reimagined, restyled soft piece of cloth.

No matter, the discussion remains worthy of debate in any conversation concerning sustainable living. Consider the following for T-shirt refashions:

To change a too-small T-shirt into a more useable or desirable casual top – add a triangular insert to the side seams. Open the side seams from the hem to just under the sleeve. Leave the sleeve seam undisturbed if it is not a problem. Stitch a 4” or more wide lace or fabric strip to this now open seam, decreasing the width of the strip as the armhole is neared. The increased width of the bodice will make the T-shirt more comfortable as well as imaginatively refashioned.

To make a side-ruched T-shirt that will reduce the size of one too big - cut off the sleeves if refashioning for summer wear and cut off the neckline band to make a scoop neck. Gently stretching the cut neckline will make for a raw edge softer look. Cut off the hem and fold up in a ˝ inch seam, then fold again. Stitch the new hemline. Hand wind elastic thread onto the sewing machine’s bobbin. Use a regular thread spool for the top thread. From the garment’s right side, sew right over the existing side seams using a long stitch length and the side seams should slightly gather when sewn producing a ruching effect.

If ruching the sides is not wanted, the new bottom hemline can be made into a casing to thread a length of ribbon into. Just slit an opening in the hemline casing, either at the front of the shirt or one of the side seams, so a ribbon or cord can emerge to be tied. The bottom of the T-shirt will then have a softly gathered rather than a ruched look. For a much simpler hem bottom, merely cut off the factory hem, cut a 6” vertical slit from the new cut hemline either centered or on one T-shirt side, then tie cut ends into a knot.

Alternative to reducing the size of an overly large T-shirt – turn shirt inside out. Pin the side seams to a new smaller width. Restitch side seams. Cut off the hemline and restitch as well. To make peek-a-boo shoulders, cut off the sleeve hems, fold sleeves so they lay flat, then cut a straight line from the new cut edge to the top of the shoulder seam, tie the loose ends together. Cut off crew neckline, leave edge raw and unfinished.

Dark T-shirts can be a creative fabric canvas to hand draw or stencil a design using a bleach pen. Start by sliding a piece of cardboard into the shirt so the bleach will not bleed to the back side of the T-shirt. Smooth out wrinkles. Pin the T-shirt front to the cardboard if necessary to keep the fabric taut. Freehand draw a design or use a stencil. Allow the bleach time to set into the fabric. Wash in cold water and dry. Alter T-shirt as desired.

T-shirt refashioning seems to be the ultimate in retrieving space in cluttered closets or dresser drawers while satisfying a creative urge that is an easy an inexpensive DIY experience.

Sew happy, sew inspired.

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Content copyright © 2018 by Cheryl Ellex. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.

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