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[personal profile] becala
I started typing this out in a private message to a friend, but I realized that maybe I wanted to share my methods more publicly. Eventually I'm going to put in pictures of the completed products, maybe before and afters, but I just wanted to get this down now.

Following is what I have learned over the past few years about taking band t-shirts, often only available in Men's sizes, and often enough only L or XL as well, and making them fit. The focus here is on people with the following skills/qualities:

  • You know how to thread, load a bobbin, and do a basic stitch on a sewing machine, but don't have experience using patterns or doing anything fancy like that.

  • The shirts you are modifying are of the traditional type, meaning centered-logo on front and optional centered-artwork on back. I can't help you if you have sideways off-center logos or full-shirt prints.

  • You have, or can borrow, or buy, a sewing machine.

  • Additionally, you have enough money to get basic, but not excessive supplies. Probably about $25-30 worth of initial items.

  • You don't want to keep the sleeves on your shirt. I hate sleeves, so I have never tried to figure out how to take in a shirt and maintain the integrity of the sleeves or take them in as well.

So that's my target audience. If you're actually a good seamstress, or have the patience to learn to become one the "right" way, there are plenty of books and articles out there for you elsewhere. This is for a music fan who doesn't have a lot of patience or a lot of skill, but wants to not dress like a blob.

Quick and Dirty: Method #1: Hack the sleeves and make it a babydoll.

This one involves no sewing, but it does assume that the shirt fits you relatively well in the first place, but is just cut for a man. If you are a petite woman trying to do something with a size XL, this won't work that well.

  1. Hack the sleeves off the shirt, below the seam to start so it doesn't fray. By "below the seam" I mean leave the actual seam where the arm meets the torso ON the shirt.

  2. Put the shirt on. Use safety pins, anywhere from 1-3 depending on the shirt and your bodyshape to pull in the back of the shirt just under the boobs. You can continue to take it in further down the back if you'd like it to follow the curve of your waist.

  3. That's it. Wear it with the safety pins in. If you want to get fancy and cut sew it that way later, you can.

Method #2, slightly more work-intensive: Safety pin and sew, THEN cut.

The order of these steps is to leave several stages of failsafe before you screw up a shirt that is hard to find or in some other ways has sentimental value to you.

  1. Hack the sleeves off first. I find that taking the sleeves off a shirt drastically changes the way it fits the rest of your body, so do this before anything else. If you're going to leave them on, I have no advice. As I said, I think sleeves are the devil.

  2. Save the sleeves to run test seams on after you have to rethread or replace your bobbin, or to test the stretchiness of the fabric to figure out which settings to use so that the neck and sleeves don't stretch and then pucker.

  3. Turn the shirt inside out and put it on. Make sure it's right ways forward, or you'll hate yourself later. Use safety pins to take in each side until it fits the way you want it to. Run the safety pins vertically, not horizontally, and leave a little bit of slack, like 1/4 inch or so, so that you can sew next to them later. And so that you can gain weight and still wear the shirt, should that happen someday.

  4. Turn it back right side out and see if you like the way it fits. Make sure your front and back logos are centered, as they may have gotten off center while you pinned.

  5. Note that doing the pinning yourself make take some contorting. You might ask a friend to help, if one's available.

  6. Once you have it pinned the way you'd like, use your sewing machine to run a straight seam right along the inside of the safety pins. If you've positioned the pins vertically and in a reasonably straight line, and left yourself slack, you should be able to do this without pulling them out, and without making the shirt too tight.

  7. Once the seams are sewed, try the shirt on yet again- if you've totally screwed it up somehow, you can still get out the seam-ripper and start over.

  8. If it fits properly, then cut the extra fabric off. What I usually do that this point is use a zigzag stitch to hold down the little flaps of fabric that I just cut loose, and to add extra stability.

  9. NOW you can look at the neckline, and also alter the sleeveline to make tank-style straps once you know how it is going to all come together. Put the shirt on right side out, and use a white fabric pencil (available at any craft or sewing store, and in other colors than white if you are for some reason modding a non-black shirt) to at least mark out the guidelines of how you want the sleeves and neck to go. Then pull it off and fill in the outline of where you think you want to cut, then put it back on to make sure that's what you want.

  10. Remedial tip that bears mentioning: If you are altering the shoulders to make it a tank, make sure that the lines you've drawn up the back match where the same line comes up in the front and meet at the shoulder seam.

  11. Then, once you've marked out the neck and sleeve lines, put the shirt back on yet again and make sure it falls where you think it's going to fall. Cut along the lines you've drawn, and run a straight seam along them to keep them from fraying. I find that running a zigzag can stretch the fabric out and cause it to pucker a bit, but this might just be because I don't know how to properly adjust the settings on my sewing machine or don't know the right foot to use or something. Like I said, NOT a seamstress.

  12. Note that if you move the sleeves in to make it a tank top, you may run into some interesting issues where the arms meet the torso, and might have to do a pin-and-tuck there. Just put the shirt on inside out, fold and safetypin the fabric in a way that makes the sleeves look right, then turn it right side out and make sure you were right about that. If you were, either use your sewing machine or hand stitch to fix your pinning job into place.

  13. If you need to alter the length of the shirt, now is the time. I always wait until last because yanking seams around can alter where the bottom falls. This is a pretty standard hemming job, so I hope you can figure it out. I tend to do a single-fold when I hem shirts, but I think I am going to move to a double-fold because a lot of mine are starting to roll up a bit.

So if you get that right, you can advance to actually cutting before you pin. This method is actually much simpler and faster, but requires a bit more skill and forethought, as once you make the cut, it's pretty permanent.

Method #3: Use another shirt for a pattern.

This is as close as I get to using an actual pattern.

Now that I've had a few near-perfect successes with my shirts, what I tend to do now is take a shirt that does fit me correctly and use it as a rough pattern for the shirt I want to sew, since most shirts are simply a symmetrical front and back, maybe with a slightly deeper neckline in the front.

  1. Lay the shirt that you like the fit of down on top of the big huge t-shirt and use a white fabric pencil (which you can from any craft/sewing store) to mark out the seams on the front and back, giving yourself about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of clearance, depending on your sewing machine. When you lay the pattern down, make sure the sleeves and torso are centered, using the collar, original sleeve seams, and logo for guides. When you pick your pattern shirt up, if you are off center, you can just adjust it either with your eye, or by using a washcloth to erase your old lines, and starting over.

  2. Once again, make sure that where your cut marks match where the lines go up the shoulders/neck of the shirt. Srsly, I have actually forgotten to check this, because I am SMRT.

  3. Turn both pattern shirt and new shirt over and do the same with the back side. Note that we are just doing the sides here, not the neck or length at this point.

  4. Cut along your marks, making sure you've left room for a seam, and turn it inside out. Pin it together. I use safety pins rather than straight pins because they hold up to all the trying-on better. Run them vertically, not horizontally, and leave yourself some slack so that you can just leave them on when you sew and sew along the inside. Depending on your machine and foot, you probably need about 1/4 inch between pin and where you actually want the seam.

  5. For the neck and length, see steps above.

  6. Notes:
    • Again, I mark and cut the sides, including sleeves, before I do the neck or cut the length, then try it on a few times as I cut, paying attention to where the white marks I made for the neckline actually hits on my body, and giving myself more room on the side hems at first and taking it in bit by bit with the safety pins. Having boobs makes both seams and neckline a little harder. Flat chested folks like me have an easier time. But by pinning and leaving extra room before you cut, you should be able to arrive at something that works. And then once you get one shirt right you can use that as a pattern for the next.

    • One caveat if you use another shirt for a pattern though: Make sure the pattern shirt you use is the same approximate stretchiness as the shirt you are already using. This is how I completely messed up a shirt that I really liked: I wanted to make it into a sort of racerback muscle tank, and the shirt I used for a pattern was super stretchy. The Intestine Baalism shirt I screwed up was not, so it was just way too small and didn't actually cover my bra adequately.

    • Another standby pattern that I used to use, and no longer do, but is an option if you accidentally cut a shirt too narrow: Turn the shirt into a tunic, meaning it lays over your front and back with the sides open, and in some way lace together the sides, so that you can adjust the fit at will. I have an industrial grommeter, so I put in grommets and lace those together, but i've seen girls sew on tie-straps and just tie each of them. This does make for a sluttier look, and it's also less stable- I've had more than one grommet rip out.

    • Do not try to work on a shirt you care about if you are tired, in a hurry, or have been drinking or using any substances. (Unless you know yourself really well and know that you can sew really well while stoned.) Really, just save yourself the pain, even if you REALLY want to wear your new shirt to a show tomorrow.

    • So this is obviously not anything like the limit of what you can do with your shirts, especially if you're not too concerned about maintaining integrity and want to really hack them up. I tend to want mine to stand the test of time, and also want them to hold together in a pit should I have enough to drink to think I should get in one again, so I've picked some of the more stable patterns for sewing them back together. Additionally, I'm just really not that creative, and probably haven't thought of a few million other things that one could do.

    • Additionally, you may have noticed that these suggestions are not detailed or exhaustive. This is simply because I don't do it the same way every time. Possibly using a real pattern and a set series of steps could be simpler, but I just don't operate that way. So these are really just a series of suggestions to get someone with a similar lack of patience and skill started, and I expect that you will make up your own process, and probably come up with much cooler things that I've ever done.

    • Start out with shirts you don't care about or that are replaceable at first, until you get the hang of it.

    • Hey, if you do totally eff your beloved shirt up, you can always turn it into a patch. I don't have a punk vest, and don't want one, but I do have a collection of plain hoodies, or hoodies with old work logos on them, that are dying for some patches.

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May 2013

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