Saturday, 29 June 2013

Men's Shirt Refashion To Cute Summer Top

Regular readers (hello! :) ) will know I fell in love with a couple of checked/plaid tops uploaded to the Flickr group during Me-Made-May and have been hunting for an extra large men's shirt to refashion ever since. I still haven't found one that yields enough fabric for the little sleeves I envisaged, but I did find one just large enough to make a sun top. Since the sun is making sporadic appearances here in the UK at last, I needed this urgently as I had precisely no shoulder bearing tops...

Completed front

Completed back

Most people who read this blog can already sew and make stuff much more complicated than this, but in case anyone is searching for men's shirt refashions and by some freak of the internet ends up on this page, there follows a run down of how I made the top. These are more guidelines as the beauty of refashioning is everyone's finished garment will look different and basically you can do whatever you like to put your own stamp on your top. It's a good idea to read all the instructions before you start to make sure you incorporate the ideas you like best.

These are the first set of instructions I have ever written so I apologise in advance if they aren't crystal clear. I haven't described how to do every bit of sewing - such as how to make a buttonhole, how to hem, how to sew a seam, in great depth because otherwise these would be a book and they are already pretty long. For beginner's sewing lessons on the net, one place to go is here (use Learn To Sew tab).

1. Choose a short sleeved shirt that is as large as possible as this style requires gathering and a close fitting shirt will not yield enough fabric. Mine was a men's European size Large. As it's going to be a sun top, make sure the fabric is light and made of cotton, or you will be too hot!

2. Wash and dry your shirt then carefully remove the collar and sleeves by cutting close to the stitching line.  Measure half an inch/1 cm up from the stitching  used to form the hems of the arms of the shirt. Cut the thick hems off from the bottom of the arms of the shirt plus this additional half an inch/1 cm approx. - this is to turn a hem to make straps with these later if you want to. If you look at the picture above of my straps you will see how these are used. Set all pieces aside, do not throw any away.

3. Select the front and back pattern pieces from your favourite gypsy/peasant style top pattern, in your usual size. I used Butterick 4685 pictured below, but pretty much every mainstream pattern company offers a pattern of this style (through virtually all decades from the 1930's onwards, if you want to buy a secondhand one - there are lots on Etsy).

4. Fold the back of the shirt in half using the centre line as the fold. For both front and back, I kept the existing seam of the shirt as I wanted a long shirt I could style in different ways (untucked with skinny jeans/shorts, tucked in, belted), but you can keep to the pattern if you prefer. Cut new front piece from old back of shirt.

5. Fold the old front of the shirt in half keeping it buttoned, using the button holes as a guide for centre line. Cut your new back piece.

Note: If you want the buttons to appear on the front of your top, use the front of the shirt for cutting your new front and the back for cutting your new back.

6. Sew your side seams using the seam allowance given on the pattern, finish seams and press.

7. You will now have a large tube of fabric with unfinished edges at the top that would usually join with the bottom part of your sleeve. You can choose to either finish them with a contrasting bias binding from fabric you already have, or bought bias binding, or do as I did below:

Front                              Side seam                                                 Back
Unbutton your shirt so that you can lay the underarm out flat. Using the (already trimmed) sleeves of the former shirt, sew them right side to right side along the armhole using the seam allowance suggested by your pattern. (It should look like the above photo when complete.) Although the sleeve fabric that has been reused isn't cut on the bias, the armholes aren't very rounded for this style so this works fine for binding. Finish or trim the resulting seam to approx. 0.5cm/ 2/8ths of an inch, so it is narrow for binding.

8. Then trim the sleeve fabric approx. 2.5cm from the underarm seam (see below). Press the seam upwards, away from the body of the garment.

9. Now enclose your underarm seam using the fabric you have attached by folding it over the seam and then under again as you would bias binding. You can pin and slip stitch the inside or tack and stitch in the ditch from the outside by machine, whichever you prefer. Press.

Inside of underarm ready to stitch

10. Gather or pleat the front section. I worked out how much gathering/pleating to do by measuring across the top of my chest to either side of my bra straps, at the height I wanted the top to be. 

I went for pleats along the top front, you could do these randomly but I measured mine to space them evenly, pinning then tacking them in place.

Front pleats close up

I then made binding using a single thickness of fabric from the yoke of the old shirt, attaching in the same way as for the underarms and finishing in a neat point.

The front should now look something like this. Ignore the buttons - they were added later!

11. Either pleat or gather your back section using the same method. I gathered either side of the button stand and pulled up the threads separately, as the button band had some interfacing in which meant it was unsuitable to gather. I then made binding in exactly the same way straight across the top of the back. (See photo of completed back at beginning of post for visual reference).

12. Finally make your straps. You can use any style of strap you like - ones the same thickness as the binding would look nice, ribbons would add a pretty touch or if you have used a contrast binding contrast straps would carry on the theme nicely. If you don't like faffing you can attach them front and back to tie on the shoulder, that way adjustments are easy.

I wanted my bra straps covered, so I made thick straps from the edging of the sleeves of the old shirt saved earlier. I turned under the half inch/1 cm hem I left at the beginning and topstitched them. I sewed on a funky label from the old shirt, too.

If you go for thicker straps you will need to try on your top before you attach them and ask a nice someone to pin  them in the appropriate place so that they cover your bra straps. Measure afterwards to ensure they match. Somehow one side always seems to look better than the other so use this one as your guide for measuring (or is that just me?!).

How to attach your straps is up to you. I went for sewn down points on the back and functioning buttons and buttonholes at the front. You could also sew the straps down over the points, maybe sewing on non-functional buttons, or hide the ends away inside.

13. If you haven't kept your existing hems, hem to preferred depth and press the whole garment.

14. Finally, go outside and get yourself some SUN!!

I think this top would also look cute with some lace sandwiched between the binding and the main body, to prettify it further. For me, I am a practical type and very happy with my functional new top!

For more tutes on what you could do with old shirts, go here! Click on Refashion Resource for lots of fab ideas.

Happy sewing, 'til next time!


  1. This is a lovely top! It looks great on you

  2. Thank you! The fabric is soft and light and because it's not a tight style, it's so comfortable to wear :)

  3. Love the refashion - and a detailed tutorial is great.

    1. I just hope it makes sense. I really appreciate all the work that goes in to online tutorials (especially those with lots of photographs) now. It's surprisingly difficult to explain a creative process clearly. But that could just be me!!

  4. What a splendidly lovely top! I often see checkered and plaid mens shirts that I think I'd love to wear, but they're acres too big for me, so I pass them by. If I had your skills as a sewer, that would become a moot point! :)

    Thank you very much for both of your lovely recent blog comments, dear Philippa. I thought it was so interesting that you had a Canadian couple in your neighbourhood while you were growing up, because I had a dear elderly British lady named Eunice who lived right across the street from us for a few years when I was a little girl. She was sweet, slightly kooky (I say that in a positive way), and a terrific cook (her lemon curd recipe was the best I've ever had - I even posted in on my blog back in 2010). How neat that we both grew up around folks from one another's respective countries.

    Gentle hugs,
    ♥ Jessica