Let's Upcycle that Tee!
Have you ever had a tee that you really liked but would never wear for whatever reason?
Over the years, I've volunteered at plenty of events where I have gotten a free tee to wear during the event. They are usually ours to keep afterwards, which is a smart marketing tool, if people wear them. Not only is it a nice personal reminder to volunteer again, it helps people feel connected long after the event when they see someone else wearing the same tee. That said, for various reasons I have had plenty of tees that I would not wear outside of the event they were made for.
After volunteering with Creatively United for the Planet in 2017, where I was part of the T-shirt Up-cycling workshop, I thought otherwise. Not only was the workshop topic extremely relative, but I really liked this particular tee. It's black with a yellow and white print, and the name of the event is something worth sharing and remembering. Bonus: it's made of organic cotton!
While volunteer tees are not the only tee worth up-cycling, they are certainly a great place to look. They tend to have something memorable worth preserving and they are not always of a quality or fit that you would want to wear everyday. Up-cycling a tee allows you to change the fit and overall look and style of the tee, customizing an otherwise blah tee.
I transformed this basic unisex tee into a funky festival tee, complete with beaded tassels. I opted for a boat neckline that sits off the shoulder and a capped sleeve length. Below is a step by step re-cap of how I did it, visuals included.
Step 1: Consider what you are working with. Try it on, look in the mirror and let your eyes dance around with ideas. The possibilities are endless with a basic unisex tee.
Step 2: Mark the spots. Use safety pins to mark where you want to cut. Do this with the tee on the body, being careful not to pin yourself or pin the tee to anything else you have on underneath. I use safety pins for extra safety. Here I have marked the neckline opening, the front neck drop and the undersleeve length. I have also measured how long I want the sleeve to be (from the new neckline mark), as indicated with the measuring tape. Instead of adding another pin, I just made a note of the measurement as it will be more accurate to work from when cutting. Just remember the golden rule of craftmanship: measure twice, cut once.
Step 3: Cut the sleeves off. There are several ways you can do this, I opted to cut them straight across, keeping in line with the existing sleeve hem. This is often the easiest option for keeping with the grain of the fabric and avoiding other possible issues.
Step 4: Snip the shoulder seams where you want the new neckline to be. These are used as permanent markers for the next three steps.
Step 5: Fold the tee along the CF (center front), laying the neckline together so the snips at each shoulder seam are aligned on top of one another.
Step 6: Cut your front neckline, starting at the CF fold, creating a nice gentle curve towards the snips. NOTE: you can always adjust the shape after, so if you are uncertain about where to cut, start closer to the existing neckline and adjust your shape after you have a chance to look at what you have initially cut.
Step 7: Similar to steps 5 & 6 above, fold along the CB tee, aligning the neck and cut from the CB towards the snips at the shoulder seams. Start by cutting conservatively and adjust as needed. How low to cut the back neck really depends on the style you are aiming for and how the fabric hangs. Start by keeping it higher up and fairly straight across, adjust as needed. You may need to cut lower than you would expect to get a nice shape. There is no 'right' shape, only personal preference.
Step 8: Secure the shoulder seams with a machine stitch (if possible). If you do not have a sewing machine, or simply do not want to haul it out, get creative with a needle and thread or try some some fabric glue. Just make sure the seam stays secure so it does not unravel as you are wearing it, because it will over time.
Step 9: (optional) As shown above, serge and clean finish the neckline with a simple 1/4" fold and straight stitch. You can also do a tiny double fold before edge stitching to get a nice clean finish, although this method is more prone to rolling and warping. If your fabric is really stretchy, you will need to use a stretch stitch setting on your machine. Afterwards, give it a quick press from the inside to make it crisp and flat. The other option is to leave the edge raw. It will be softer and have more malleability when wearing, and any handy details you've added will stand out.
Step 10: With the tee on, determine how far up from the hem you want to cut into the tee. Keep in mind this will create exposure to your midsection, so your measurement will differ. It not only depends on your personal comfort level, but also on the length of the tee. Measure up from the hemline to a comfortable position and make note of your measurement. My measurement was 7 inches, yours could be much less or much more, it'll still look great!
Step 11: Evenly distribute your tassels. There are a number of ways you can do this, so if you have your own way, forge ahead. I started with the hem laid flat, first marking each side fold with little snippets. Then, I continued to fold each section to find the half way point and marked new snippets. I did this until I got to about 1 inch sections (as shown in step 12). Then you want to cut up into your tee. It is best to do this following the grain of the jersey knit. You don't want your strips to break when you stretch them out in step 14, and cutting along the grain will prevent this.
Step 12: Once you have 1 inch strips, you can determine how big you want your strips to be, thus determining how many there will be in each 1 inch strip. Go ahead and cut them even smaller, just be sure to do the same thing around the entire tee. I opted for 1/4 inch strips in the end.
Step 13: Lucky #13, accept that you will make mistakes, and roll with them! My scissors slipped...whoops!
Step 14: While securing the top of each strip with your fingers, pull generously along each strip to stretch it out. It will get thinner and roll into itself a bit (or a lot), that is what you want. Be sure to evenly stretch each strip out for consistency.
Step 15: Beading (optional) I could have left this without beads, but I was up for the challenge and wanted the fun of twirling around when I wear my fun festival tee and having the beads jingle. I found large plastic beads at my local thrift store, the kind from a kids jewelry making kit. I choose colours that complimented the logo in my tee, silver and gold, and got to work. Over the course of several Netflix shows, I unravelled the bit of hem at the end of each strip, put a bead on, and tied knots in each tassel. Each tassel needed 4 to 5 knots to secure the bead from falling off. I alternated silver and gold, with a couple of red beads on the shorts strands where I made a boo boo. Why not highlight my mistakes and make them look more intentional...
This tee was a lot of fun to #upcycle. I found easy and affordable resources and put my imagination to work. Really, at the end of the day it allowed me the space to play, something I encourage my clients to do every time they get dressed.
Got an up-cycle idea you want to run by me? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for some tips and pointers on how to make it happen.
I'm always working on something in my home sewing studio, and most of my projects are up-cycle projects. I'll be sharing more of these here as I write them up.