Make It New: Take In A T-Shirt

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Often in my thrifting adventures I find something I love, but is not the right size. I generally advocate passing on those items because if it doesn’t fit well, you still probably won’t wear it, regardless of how cheap it is. But, every once in awhile, I find something cute enough (and cheap enough) that I just can’t pass it up. Because of this, I’ve learned how to take in some tops in order to give me an even wider range of sizes to shop in. Beware, this qualifies as a slightly more advanced DIY, but worth it!

What you need:

    • Shirt that is a size too large. Aim for something that will still have a looser fit once taken in. Short sleeves are easier to work with initially, you can graduate to long sleeve later.
    • Sewing machine. If you don’t own one, I bet you know someone who does. And I bet they don’t use it often enough!
  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors
  • Matching thread
  • Sewing pins

This bicycle t-shirt was hard for me to pass on. I’m a sucker for bike prints, it was only a couple dollars (so no biggie if I screw up the alteration) and it’s also an easy shirt to work with. This lightweight cotton knit was forgiving with fit (needing to make a sure too fitted is much more difficult than a looser drape), and while sometimes knits can be a little harder to work with because they stretch, but this one was “stiff” enough that any slight errors in the sewing wouldn’t leave weird puckers.

1. To start, put the shirt on and get an idea how much you would like to take in. I took in a little over an inch up most of the side, and went down to about a half inch at the waist because of my shape. You can keep it easy if you want and take in the same amount throughout the whole side.

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2. Once pinned, try it on (be careful not to prick yourself please!) and make sure it isn’t too tight anywhere. You’ll have to use your imagination to decide if it has been taken in enough.

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3. Once you have the pins in place, put that seam ripper to work! Not much, just nicely along the seams of the sleeves. You can leave the seams of the body intact for now, but take off the sleeves. Also, open up the seam on the underside of the sleeve, its width will have to adjust a little after you sew up body.

4. When taking off the sleeves, keep track of which sleeve is which. You’ll want them to fit right when you put them back on. Also, no need to undo the hems (the folded pieces at the bottom of the shirt and the end of the sleeves).

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5. Once the sleeves are off and appropriately labeled, you can begin sewing the body. Use your pin placement as a guide. Use a slight zig-zag stitch if you are sewing a knit fabric, as this allows for some stretch in the final product. Since I don’t have a serger, I like to sew over the seam twice, the second time with an even wider zig-zag as a backup to breakage and fray of the fabric. This part is optional but helpful.

If you choose to do the backup stitch, when you get to the bottom hem, flatten it like picture below and sew it this way. That way, when you trim off the excess fabric, it will be less obvious.

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6. Once the body is taken in, you will re-attach the sleeves. Start by pinning the top of the sleeve to the seam at the top of the shoulder. Pin evenly down both sides. You will have some excess at the underside seem that you will sew together once the sides of the sleeves are on.

These seems you should do a standard ¼” or ½” unless you wish to shorten the length of the sleeve. Feel free to experiment with pinning first to see how it looks. You can even sew with a very “loose” (long/wide) stitch and easily tear it out if you don’t like it. Once you’ve found what you like, sew up the sleeves. This is not as easy as it sounds, it will feel like you have a tight pile of fabric and you have to avoid accidentally sewing other parts of the shirt into the sleeve. Just take it slow and make sure you are only sewing the parts want to be sewing. Be sure to sew up the seam at the underside of the sleeve, flattening the seam at the hem as well.

Try on the shirt once more to make sure everything looks as expected. If you need to make adjustments, it’s OK! It may not happen to the best of us… but it does happen to many of us, myself included. If it’s looking good trim off the excess fabric along the seams and wear your DIY with pride!

Learning how to take a shirt in has been a game changer for my second-hand shopping. I hope it helps you see your existing closet or your closet to be a little differently!