upcycle before: men's shirts

upcycle before: men’s shirts

Hi there! Sarah from The Crazy Tailor here. I’m so thrilled to be a part of KCW this season! I’ve had every intention of sewing along in the past, but it always coincided with other things, so this time I am all in! Literally. Like, I’m a contributor, so I will do this. Haha! If you know anything about me, then you know I love to upcycle. I rarely don’t upcycle! Whether it’s buttons or zippers off an old dress, or the binding from a too-small tshirt, you name it, I’ve probably used it! So I’m today I’ll be sharing a few tips for getting the most out of the garments you plan to use. Specifically, men’s dress shirts. When it comes to upcycling, ‘the bigger the better’ usually applies! When I’m browsing thrift stores, I try to keep these things in mind:

Is it large enough? I always start at the biggest sizes and work backwards. That works in organized thrift stores, so if that’s not an option, I start by looking for the color/pattern I’m after. Be on the look out for things that might eat up your usable fabric space such as grommets, random button holes or bar tacks. Those types of things leave permanent holes or marks, and you’ll have to work around them (or incorporate them!) leaving you less fabric to use. Also keep in mind the parts that you may be planning on using, such as the button placket or pockets.

men’s shirt to romper, Feather’s Flight

Is it a washable fabric? This might seem obvious, but sometimes you come across crazy things like silk or linen that require drycleaning. You can be like me and just wash it anyways, but otherwise, take a peek at the care label. Kid’s clothes get washed A LOT. So keep it in mind. Also, watch out for stained pits (I know, I know, but come on, it happens!) or other markings.

Once you’ve got the shirts you want, you need to cut them up. Depending on what you’re making, you might just cut all the pieces apart right away (if you don’t want to incorporate any specific part of the shirt details). Here are two great walk-throughs on cutting up, or deconstructing your shirt (they are related to quilting, so don’t worry about the cutting into strips parts!).

deconstructing a shirt

1. deconstructing a shirt, Luke Haynes 2. Mamaka Mills

 If you ever struggle with what pattern to use, or how to layout your pattern pieces, then here are a few things to consider. You probably aren’t going to be able to make a very full dress or top. Look for a-line patterns, or pants/shorts. It’s fun to use daddy’s old shirt to make a mini dress shirt! You KNOW all of the parts are already there! A few patterns that I would use for upcycling dress shirts would be the Compagnie M Mara Blouse, Made by Rae Geranium Dress (you could squeak this out if you’re doing little sizes), Peekaboo Classic Chinos and Classic Oxford Button-up, Mouse House Creations Norah dress/tunic.  And here’s a fun little chart I found that gives you some ideas for pattern layouts – it’s vintage though, so don’t mind the old pattern numbers!

shirt layouts for children's patterns

cutting layout, Seams Sustainable

And if you need some inspiration, I’ve rounded up a few amazing transformations! These dresses are simply stunning, and so creative!

dress transformations

1. polka dot dress, me sew crazy 2. school dress, girl. inspired. 3. sailboat dress, life is beautiful

And something for the boys too!

boy inspiration

1. neck tie, maiden jane 2. shirt to shorts, saltwater kids 3. buffalo baby, the crazy tailor

So there’s a little bit to get you ready to do some chopping! I’ve got a few garments snitched from our closets, and a whole pile of thrift store gems just waiting to be transformed! Are you getting excited yet?

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Cate January 13, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Yay! What fun. And perfect timing, too. I’ve already set aside a great old shirt for a new life during kcw!

    • Reply sarah January 14, 2015 at 11:41 am

      I can not wait for all of the amazing transformations I’m going to see this coming KCW!

  • Reply marisa January 13, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Great ideas – and I just love that cutting layout chart!

    • Reply sarah January 14, 2015 at 11:45 am

      I know – upcycling sure isn’t a new concept! That entire book can be read here for lot’s of vintage inspiration!

      • Reply Robin January 9, 2019 at 12:24 am

        thank you! 

  • Reply Petra January 14, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Wow, favorite type of sewing. Your layouts are incredible!:)

    • Reply sarah January 14, 2015 at 11:46 am


  • Reply Lightning McStitch January 15, 2015 at 6:29 am

    yep that cutting chart is awesome. Kind of like cheating, but so awesome! 🙂 I love the puzzle of cutting a kid’s garment from a minimal amount of fabric. great post!

    • Reply sarah January 15, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      Yes! I love to see how little I have leftover when I’m all done cutting! It’s a challenge sometimes, that’s certain!

  • Reply Erin Keith January 18, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Oh I love these! I have never successfully made my kids clothes from my husband’s shirts yet, but when my son was a baby I used them for tie appliques for onesies. You can’t beat the masculine print on a little baby tie. But I’m dying over that Sailboat dress above.

    • Reply sarah January 19, 2015 at 3:39 pm

      Great idea! I’ve made little ties before and had such a hard time finding masculine striped prints – why did I never think about using dress shirts! Brilliant!

    Leave a Reply