Sewing Project: Turn a T-Shirt Into a Trendy Tank
Bored with those old t-shirts? Want to recycle a shirt that you just can’t bear to throw out? By using the easy technique of appliqué (applying a smaller, shaped fabric piece to a larger foundation fabric), you can cover a hole or worn-out section, and turn a boring t-shirt into a cute tank. Best of all, it’s easy! Here’s how you do it.
Regardless of which appliqué method you use, it’s a good idea to prewash and press both the patch and foundation fabrics. Prewashing guards against shrinking and bleeding dyes and may also tighten the fabric weave, resulting in a stronger finished piece.
Most appliqué methods use templates the exact size of the finished piece. Seam allowances, if needed, are cut by eye. You can make your own multiuse templates from sturdy, reusable materials such as thin cardboard or template plastic. For single-use templates, try fusible web or freezer paper. Whatever type of template you use, be sure to label it and indicate whether it’s right-reading or a mirror image of the final piece. Where pieces overlap, extend the shapes underneath with a ¼-inch seam allowance.
Trace carefully around cardboard or plastic templates, or iron freezer paper templates to fabric as indicated for individual techniques. Allow extra room between patches if seam allowances are required. Match foundation and appliqué grainlines so the fabrics can move together without puckering.
Unlike traditional appliqué, reverse appliqué puts the foundation on top. Two or more fabric layers are stitched together before the top layers are trimmed away to reveal the fabric underneath. Knits and nonfraying fabrics work best for this technique.
Here’s how to create a reverse appliqué:
- Using a removable fabric pencil, mark the right-reading appliqué design on the right side of the top layer of fabric.
- Layer the patch fabric (or fabrics, if you’re working with more than one layer) right side up with the marked layer on top. Pin or tack the layers together to hold them in place.
- Being careful to cut the top fabric layer only, cut ⅛ to ¼ inch inside the marked shape, removing the inner portion of the design and revealing the second layer of fabric.
- Clip or notch curved sections as needed, and turn the ¼-inch seam allowance to the wrong side along the marked line, tucking the seam allowance between the layered fabrics before slipstitching. Alternatively, stitch on the marked lines before cutting out the shapes and leave the seam allowance raw for a more casual look.
Hide the seam allowance between the fabric layers, and slipstitch along the folded edge to secure.
Use reverse appliqué to transform readymade T-shirts into a trendy textured tank. Adding your favorite text message or characters makes it uniquely yours!
Text a readymade tank with raw-edge appliqué. (Photo by Jessi Butler)
Tools and Materials
Two light- to medium-weight T-shirts, in coordinating colors*
Template material of your choice
Basic hand- or machine-sewing tools
*T-shirts should be new or in good condition, without excess wear or holes.
Marking and Cutting
- Prior to cutting, wash and press the T-shirts.
- Layer the T-shirts one inside the other, and test the fit. Pin-mark the center point for a lowered neckline. Pinch and pin excess fabric together along each side seam for a fitted silhouette. Place two pins on each shoulder seam to indicate shoulder strap width and the altered armhole edge.
- Remove the shirts and note the edge-to-pin measurements in the following figure.
Average side seam measurements, if necessary, so the side seams mirror each other when stitched.
- Remove the pins and separate the shirts. Place the outer shirt flat on the work surface. Cut off the hemmed bottom edge, and cut an additional 1 ¾-inch strip from the bottom edge. Reserve this strip for armhole and neck edge binding.
- Cut through the side and underarm seams on the outer shirt, and place it flat on the work surface. Referring to the measurements recorded in step 3, mark a new front neckline, shoulder strap, armhole edge, and side seams. Mark a slightly higher neckline on the shirt back, matching the front at the shoulders.
Mark the cutting and sewing lines for the tank top edges.
- Fold the outer shirt in half along the center front and center back. Cut the new neckline edge along the marked line. Refold the shirt along the shoulder seams, matching side edges, and trim the armhole edges.
- Trim the hemmed bottom edge, and cut the side and underarm seams of the lining T-shirt. Place the shirt right side up on the work surface, and layer the trimmed outer shirt right side up on top of the lining. Match shoulder seams, and pin the shirts together.
- Use a computer word processing or graphics program to compose and print text messages approximately 2 ¼ inches tall. Print and cut right-reading templates. Follow the instructions for reverse appliqué earlier in this guide to embellish the T-shirt material, referring to the photograph to position the appliqués. If desired, add decorative stitching to accent the appliqués.
Use a ½-inch seam allowance unless otherwise noted.
- Baste ¼ inch from the outer shirt edge around neckline and armhole openings, stopping 1 inch from marked side seams. Trim the excess lining from the basted neckline and armhole edges.
- Trim the side seam edges of the outer shirt ½ inch outside the marked fitting line. Using the outer shirt as a guide, trim the lining side seam, armhole, and neckline edges.
- With right sides facing, sew the outer shirt side seams together. With wrong sides facing, sew the lining side seams together. Press the seams open.
- Align and pin the outer and lining seams at the underarm edge. Straight stitch the outer and lining shirts together along the neckline and armhole edges, sewing ⅜ inch from the raw edge.
- Cut the reserved binding along a side seam to form one long strip. On the T-shirt right side, align one long edge of the binding strip with the raw neckline edge, beginning at one shoulder seam. Pin the strip in place, trimming and overlapping the short strip ends at the shoulder seam. Use a ½-inch seam allowance to stitch the strip to the neck edge.
- Fold the strip to the T-shirt wrong side, encasing the neckline raw edges. The binding raw edge will extend slightly below the seam. Pin the strip in place, and stitch in the ditch along the neckline seam to secure.
Use decorative stitching to secure the binding strip in place along the neck and armhole edges.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 to bind the armhole edges, piecing a 1 ¾-inch binding strip from the T-shirt scraps, if necessary.
- At the hemline, cut the lining T-shirt even with the outer shirt. Fold and press ½ inch of fabric to the inside along the bottom edges of both the lining and outer shirt. Align the shirt side seams, and pin the bottom edges together. Straight stitch close to the folded hem edge to secure.
Upcycling old T-shirts into uniquely textured tops is a great way to test appliqué techniques. Now that you know how, it’s time to showcase your creativity. Happy sewing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sewing by Missy Shepler and Rebecca Kemp Brent