Thrifty Patternmaking – Recycled T-Shirt

I’m mentoring an 8th grade student at WSP through a sewing project, and the first garment we’re making is a t-shirt. In preparation for our next few meetings, I drafted and quickly made up a t-shirt of my own this evening, so I can guide her more effectively through the tricky parts in the coming weeks.

The smart thing to do when designing your own pattern is to make a muslin/test garment out of inexpensive fabric before cutting into the good stuff. However, I don’t want to spend any more money than I have to on craft supplies. I’ve managed to make virtually all of my craft projects over the past four or five months out of things I already had in my stash. I didn’t have any cheap knit fabric to test my t-shirt on, and didn’t want to sacrifice the good stuff.

I’ve been knocking an idea around in my head to use an old t-shirt as my test fabric, to recycle a t-shirt into a t-shirt while testing a pattern. Unlike just cutting up an existing t-shirt and making a few changes, I’m actually cutting all the pattern pieces out of the shirt material and re-sewing the seams for a very fitted, custom t-shirt. A while back, Jeff gave me a bunch of t-shirts he no longer wears, and I’ve been using them here and there for various projects. They are all at least a man’s size large, so they had plenty of fabric available for my woman’s size small-ish shirt. I pulled one of them out of my craft room and didn’t have to spend a dime!

I documented the process with my iPod camera so apologize for the low-res pics.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Cut off the sleeves. Cut carefully around the armhole as close to the seam as you can.
  2. Cut up the underarm seam. Save both sleeves.
  3. Cut out the collar. Again, cut carefully around the neck edge close to the seam. Then cut along the shoulder seam.
  4. Cut up the sides. If there are side seams on the shirt, cut as close to the seams as you can. If not, lay the shirt flat and estimate where the sides are, then cut straight up. Separate the front and back pieces.
  5. Fold the front and back pieces in half. Press with a warm iron if needed to define and neaten the folded edge.

Here’s a diagram that I made:

Now you have lots of nice fabric and can cut out your pieces:

  1. Pin front and back t-shirt pattern along fold and cut.
  2. Fold the sleeves in half and repeat the pinning and cutting for the sleeves.

Here are my back and sleeve pieces already cut, and the front pattern piece pinned onto the fabric. You can also see a little pile of scraps. This is a pretty efficient use of this t-shirt, as not much is left. Also note how the sleeve edges and bottom hem of the shirt make clever use of the finished edges already in place.

Time to sew!

  1. Stitch side seams and shoulder seams.
  2. Stitch sleeve underarm seams. Set in sleeves.
  3. Secure and clip threads, turn right side out, and wear!

Here I am in my recycled t-shirt. You can see that the shoulders are a little tall and poofy, so I’ll adjust that when I make any future t-shirts from this pattern.

I am totally awesome.

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