Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!

Makeover Monday: A Shirt Story


Last week on Makeover Monday, I showed you how to remove a collar from a button-down shirt, and finish the raw edges to create a fun, versatile accessory piece. Today, I decided to experiment with the rest of that shirt. We’ll see how this turns out…

Faced with the raw-edged remains of my now collarless-shirt, I thought I should at least give it a chance at a new life. After all, it’s a nice-quality, soft, lightweight cotton in a beautiful coral-meets-terracotta color, and it’s only the collar that’s gone:

Collarless shirt

My shirt after last week’s collar-removing project; this week, I’ll see what I can make from what’s left.

There’s still a fair amount of fabric real estate here, but what can be made with the body and two sleeves? Here are my initial thoughts:

1. I could simply finish the raw neck edge and call it a day. (I would probably do this with matching single-fold bias tape, to stabilize the neck edge of this soft fabric, as well as give it a nice finish.)

2. I’m thinking about things to do with the sleeves… these sleeves are almost too long, even on my arms (most sleeves are just a little short on me), but I could possibly make some sort of Western-style arm warmers. Or just take off the cuffs, finish them like I did the collar, and wear them like bracelets; that might be cool with other bracelets layered over them. I think cuffs would be really fun to wear with a 3/4-length-sleeved sweater.

3. The body of the shirt is basically a tube, so maybe… a cowl?

Aha! Cowl it is. The first thing to do is cut the body. Actually, before that, I’ll lay out a tape measure to mark where to cut, then place pins just underneath the tape; I’ll cut right above the pins.

Tip: If you have a rotary cutter and a cutting mat, this job will be easy. Just use a rigid ruler as a guide for your cutter.

Shirt with tape and pin

Marking cutting line: use a ruler or tape measure to determine where to cut, then mark with pins (through all layers of shirt) before cutting.

Tip: Try to place your cutting line so it falls between buttons, leaving at least 3/4″ of fabric (from the cut edge down to the first button on your cowl) for turning the edges under.

Once you’ve pin-marked your cutting line, go ahead and cut:

Cutting your cowl

Cutting the cowl; the pins are there to stabilize the multiple layers of fabric, so I cut just above my pins.

Now that I have my tube separated from the rest of the shirt, I just need to finish that cut edge. First, I’m going to do some stay-stitching, though; since I’ll be turning this cut edge under, stay-stitching the gap at the button band, so that all layers are sewn together, will make turning the edge under much easier.

Tip: Stay-stitching is just what it sounds like: a row of stitching to stabilize, or stay, part of a garment piece. This is frequently done on curving edges, to prevent them from stretching during stitching, for example. For this project, I’m stay-stitching to hold the multiple layers of fabric at the button band together.

I’m making 2 stitching lines, the first about 1/3″ from the cut edge, and the second very close to the cut edge:


Stay-stitching across the button band; I’m making 2 rows of stay-stitching, to make the next step (folding the edge under twice) easier.

Here’s my finished stay-stitching:

After stay-stitching

After stay-stitching; notice that I start and stop stitching beyond the edges of the button band.

Now that the stay-stitching is done, the cut edge gets turned under twice, about 1/4″ each time; this encloses the raw cut edge, which prevents fraying. (This is somewhat ironic, considering all the intentionally-frayed edges on this shirt!)

Tip: If you have a serger, you could serge the cut edge, then fold it under just once before stitching. I do have a serger, but in this particular case, I think I’d rather fold it under twice, because it’s a lightweight fabric that could use the extra substance on the edge, and because it’s a nicer finish when the inside of the edge could show when you’re wearing it.

Turn the edge under 1/4″, a little at a time, pressing it down as you go. After you’ve gone all the way around once, and the cut edge is completely turned and pressed, repeat this process, turning under an additional 1/4″. Here’s what it should look like:

Turning edge under

Turning edge under. Each fold should be about 1/4″; press as you fold, a little at a time. (Wrong side shows.)

The last step is to sew this folded edge down. Very straightforward, just work with the wrong side up, and sew all the way around your folded edge.

Tip: The key to a nice finish is keeping your stitching line a consistent distance from the folded edge. In this case, I lined up the folded edge with the right-side groove on my presser foot:

Sewing folded edge

Sewing folded edge. Choose a marking on your presser foot to align with the folded edge, then maintain that distance consistently.

Tip: This double-fold-press-and-stitch technique is also known as the “narrow hem”. Many pattern instruction sheets will simply tell you to make a narrow hem— but not how to do it. Now you know!

Hmm. As I looked at my finished cowl, I realize I didn’t really think before now about the waist shaping on the original shirt. Because this fabric is so lightweight, it might not lay very well when I wear it, with the top being wider than the middle, so I’m going to turn the top edge under about 4″; the narrowest part of the piece is now at the top:

Finished cowl

Finished cowl. I think it will work better if the top is folded to the inside, down to where the width is narrowest. (Almost looks like a bustier, doesn’t it? Hmm…)

Okay! Ooh… how do I wear it?

Some ideas, expertly modeled by the long-suffering Lola:

Wearing the cowl

Wearing the cowl. 1. Worn simply hanging down like a scarf. (I discovered that the weight of the snaps actually helps it hang nicely.) 2. Around the shoulders like a capelet. 3. With bottom snap undone, off one shoulder, snaps off-center. (I like how this highlights the curvy shirttail hem.) 4. Also with bottom snap undone, worn like #1, but spread out to the shoulders.

Hmm. I really should have thought ahead of time about the dimensions of my cowl; the circumference of my piece is not quite wide enough come down on the shoulders like a capelet. But it’s also kind of long when worn hanging down as in #1…

Tip: If you want your cowl to fit more closely to your neck, start with a shirt with a smaller body; my shirt, even at its narrowest point, is about 36″ around, and you can see how that size hangs on Lola. (If you’re not sure about what the measurement should be, try pinning a scarf into a tube, and experiment with different sizes.) And if the shirt you want to use is too big, you could also take in the side seams until it’s the right size; be sure to do this before you stitch the cut edge down.

Also, keep in mind that maintaining a larger circumference around the bottom of the cowl than around the top edge will give you a piece that will fit and drape beautifully, without being too much around your neck. If you’re going to take in your side seams, I’d recommend starting above the original shirt hem, and gradually tapering in as you sew towards the top of your cowl.

I think the lightweight, semi-sheer fabric of my cowl will make it perfect to pop on any time I feel like a little extra layer, even in warmer weather. (I could have used it at the movies the other day.) I love cowls; I think they’re incredibly versatile, and I wear my hand-knitted ones all the time. But if I’m really honest, I’d have to confess that I don’t really see myself wearing this particular piece; I think it’s just an awkward size. Also, in spite of loving the color, it doesn’t work very well with much of my wardrobe (could this be why I wasn’t wearing the shirt?). Maybe I’ll try my above suggestion about taking in the side seams, and see what happens.

Que sera, sera… So not all my experiments are resounding successes. I still think this idea could work, though; wouldn’t it be fun if you did this with a crisp linen blouse with beautiful sparkly buttons, maybe from a thrift shop? Or you could start with a sweater instead of something made out of woven fabric— thrift shops are full of knits that accidentally shrank. In both cases, it wouldn’t have to be your size, just the size of the cowl that you want, so don’t forget to take your tape measure with you!

For my next Makeover Monday, I’m debating whether or not to try making something with the sleeves that are left from this shirt. (I already have a couple of ideas for them…) What do you think? Should I give it a go, or just move on to making over something new?

Author: Colormusing

I'm a writer, color palette creator, and designer of fashion, lingerie, graphics, knitwear patterns, and yarn.

4 thoughts on “Makeover Monday: A Shirt Story

  1. Wow – creative – I like the look of #1 and #4 and am intrigued now about your ideas for the sleeves!

  2. Pingback: Makeover Monday: The Tail End of a Shirt Story | Changing Your Clothes

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