Whiptips: refashioning the button-down shirt

by Admin on 14/07/2006

in Green Crafting, News+Letters

Whiptips is an advice column for readers to ask questions or offer advice by leaving your comments. View the Whiptips archive here. You can submit questions, to whiptips@gmail.com. Please include photos with your questions!

A Whipup reader, Terry, wrote in to ask about how to remake her shirt wardrobe and bring it up to date. There seem to be alot of t-shirt makeovers posted online. These great ideas and patterns take advantage of the parts of the shirt and seams already there, and make it into something new.
But what about regular button-up shirts? As she said, “How can something look so “right” one time and so wrong a couple years later?”

“Years ago I thought I looked great in oversized shirts. I was wrong. I have a large investment in beautiful cotton, linen, velvet, etc. shirts that are too broad in the shoulders, too big in the armscye, too wide in the body, often too long as well…what to do? I want to keep the shirts as shirts: I do not want to make sleeveless tops or button-front skirts. I want to make new shirts from old. And I want them too look good. Any help in coming up with a method to redo my shirt wardrobe would be greatly appreciated.”

I know Terry mentioned no skirts with buttons up the front… but this skirt by Three Cat Night shows one using 2 men’s shirts. However, it looks like a great skirt that could be made from any fabric, rather than taking advantage of the parts and seams already existing in the shirt. I think that’s what makes the t-shirt surgery ideas so appealing. Hopefully there might be some ‘quick’ tricks for button down shirts out there?

In highschool, my friends and I used to raid the second hand shops for men’s shirts. On nice thing you can do is cut the collar off first. Then make an empire-waist with a ribbon-belt. The bagginess in the sleeves is nice then- albeit a bit more whimsical than you may be looking for. Come to think of it… it was the late 80’s early 90’s when we were doing that!

Refashion mens shirt

Has anyone seen any good tutorials on how to make flattering, fitted and stylish shirts out of the baggy mess that was the 90’s?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Diane July 14, 2006 at 9:52 am

I just revamped a thrift store men’s shirt (it’s posted on my blog) and even though I like the loose fit this shirt could be shortened and fitted with some tucks front and back. To make a basic shirt from scratch seems like it would be time consuming so redoing a 60 cent thrift store shirt seems quite economical. Not to mention the fact that the buttonholes are already made!


2 Emy July 14, 2006 at 12:20 pm

Craftster has tutorials for everything from halters: http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=96415.0 to dresses: http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=101404.0

I absolutely love the dress. Now if I could just find a shirt long enough! There’s a million more ideas there too.


3 Emma July 14, 2006 at 2:14 pm

I still kind of like baggy shirts, but we’ll leave my odd taste out of it. If I was going to recon a shirt, I’d take the arms off so that I could resize the body. Then I’d cut off the cuffs, resize the sleeves, and maybe sew the ends of the sleeves back on themselves to make a neat 3/4 length sleeve. Then I’d sew the sleeves back on. Seeing as I haven’t done this I’m not sure I could be very clear about how to do all this mind you. Sorry.


4 Miss Dot July 14, 2006 at 3:04 pm

I did a makeover on a plain shirt some time ago, it recieved praise from the lovely MeggieCat http://meggiecat.blogspot.com/ so I was thrilled. It was just a whole lot of bias binding sewn in strips with a Carrie Bradshaw corsage. See it here http://missminnie.typepad.com/minnie/2006/07/whip_tips_topic.html
Of course this doesn’t address the fit of the garment but it is something cosmetic. Good luck!


5 Miss Dot July 14, 2006 at 3:07 pm

I have reposted a shirt conversion I did some time ago. http://missminnie.typepad.com/minnie/2006/07/whip_tips_topic.html

It doesn’t address the fit issue but is a more cosmetic change. Good luck!


6 Miss Dot July 14, 2006 at 3:10 pm

please delete my duplicate post! sorry, thought it had timed out! cheers


7 admin July 14, 2006 at 5:21 pm

how about making a shirt dress – see this one on craftster
which is sort of inspired from this pattern at fitz patterns


8 MJ July 15, 2006 at 12:05 am

What I often do is take in the whole side of the shirt from bottom to somewhere in the sleeve. I sew over this new seam twice with small stitches and then once a little further out so it will hopefully never rip completely out. Then trim by cutting about 1/4 inch from that last outside seam. This doesn’t handle where the shoulder seam is but have given up experimenting with ways to create a pleat there, because it always seems wierder than what I started with.

If it’s really too long it’s pretty easy to shorten all the way around and I usually add a short (3″) opening at sides. Sometimes when a shirt is too big the collar seems over-large so I cut just the top part of the collar off; just above seam for the piece about 3/4 inches wide that goes all the way around and has the top button in it. Then pull on threads to get as many out as possible, after washing may need to pull loose threads more and cut them.

Also, if you’re dealing with any short sleeve shirts I’ve found that a combination of the new side seam and shortening the sleeves keeps the shirt from looking too large and sloppy.


9 salt July 15, 2006 at 1:47 am

I’m struggling with the exact same problem: shirts that are too huge but that I want to be shirts, still. I’ve come up with two strategies that work.

1. For shirts that I’ll wear under other things, like vests or jumpers, and for which the sleeves aren’t too gigantohorrific in dimension, I take a long tuck/dart up the front, right straight over the shoulder and down the back. This pull the shoulders back in to the natural break as well as gathering in the bulk of the body, and can even be done with yoked styles. The tuck is visible, but either covered by the overgarment or something that can be pretended is on purpose. I suppose that an unyoked shirt could have a yoke of a contrasting fabric sewn on top to mask the shoulder part of the tucks, but I’ve never felt a need to go quite that far in departing from the original design.

2. For shirts that I really want to continue to be standalone shirts, though, I use a properly-fitting pattern to recut the armsyce/side seams and then reattach the sleeves after I reduce them in width to the new pattern’s dimensions. I leave the cuffs and where the sleeves join them alone, so these are sometimes a little larger than would be absolutely in scale with the rest of the shirt; since I almost invariably turn my cuffs up, however, this isn’t a problem for me. For the body, I use the (finished) front opening to line up the front of the pattern piece, which effectively reduces the body width by the cut along the underarm seam and armsyce, and I don’t touch the shoulder seams or collar/neck opening. I’ve not found that, for the style of shirt I have, the neck is so large that it is a problem, and that saves having to do all of that fiddly reconstruction. I do sometimes have to unpick the stitching to remove a pocket, and if the fabric has faded, that sometimes means a shirt is only suitable for the first reduction method, above, so that the unfaded part is covered by another garment. But there’s nothing that undoes this whole reconstruction subtlty more than half a pocket in your armpit. Aside from the pocket, paying attention to how seams are finished in the original (things like topstitching) and matching thread color of any stitching that’s on the right side of the garment can go a long way towards making the alteration undetectable.

These aren’t perfect solutions, but aren’t terrifically fiddly either. So for me these have been a nice middle ground between having to use these shirts as simply a raw source for reclaimable fabric and a garment that just isn’t wearable any more.


10 Linda July 4, 2013 at 7:56 am

Hallelujah. Finally, a sensible instruction for something other than a tee. I work in an office and need to look professional. Thank you for these guidelines!


11 Miss Twiss July 15, 2006 at 9:08 pm
12 Terry August 10, 2006 at 11:35 pm

Thank you all for your thoughtful replies. My thanks especially to “Salt” who addressed every one of my concerns, including giving me the confidence that “shirt shrinking” can be done in a skilled manner. It is so helpful not to have to reinvent the wheel when starting a project–allowing the focus to be on making it one’s own customized wheel!
These replies also got me thinking about the cuff issue: I imagine it would be possible to cut off the cuff, leaving the slit up the wrist, pleat the fullness, then attach a bias edge hem, fastened by either button and loop or tied.
I will post photos when I am able to start this project.


13 Erica September 19, 2006 at 4:17 am

For the pear-shaped person, reconstructing XL mens shirts is a great way to get a cheap tunic. I do the basic sewing up-the-arm-and-down-the-side, but stop just above my waist, leaving the hip area large.
Another good trick to “girly”-up the shirt is replacing the boring buttons with cute ones.

This is a great blog, thanks!



14 Madame O December 9, 2006 at 10:45 am

Check out what Margiela does for a jacket to make it smaller, more fitted –and at the same time very chic and edgy. The same can be done for a shirt —-Margiela did it in fact but I can’t find a photo quickly—-Note ”dart” on the top over the shoulders (front and back) bringing in the shoulder line. Diagonal tucks down much of the sleeve length narrowing the sleeves. The resulting uneven hems on the cuff is a special look. The length is shortened by a horizontal fold at the waist—–. Try this —it is fresh and moderne—genius.



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