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Personalize An Off-The-Rack Tee

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Now's the time to stock up on cute summer tees. They're on sale nearly everywhere. We hit the local Target and Old Navy in our area and didn't spend over $6.99 for any of our shirt samples. Once you have a pile of T-shirts, now what? It's time for a fast fashion update! Our goal today is to show you how fun and easy it is to use your sewing machine to turn standard off-the-rack items into something special. We pulled together a handful of fave fabric scraps to add pockets to some of the shirts and a few lengths of gorgeous lace to alter the others with inset panels and cropping. Let's Sew It Up 4 Summer!

On two of our shirts, we added little fabric pockets. On one, we further embellished the pocket with diagonal lines of decorative stitching, using our Janome Satin Stitch foot. On the other, we fussy cut a pretty motif from our scrap fabric then edgestitched it in place with a decorative seam. 

We offer downloadable patterns for two sizes of pockets. You could certainly go even smaller with your add-on pocket (we saw some shirts out there with teeny-tiny pockets) but we wouldn't recommend going much larger than our 4½" pattern option or it could begin to overwhelm the front of the shirt. 

Lace played the main embellishment role for our other two shirts. We cut away the T-shirt fabric to add a wide lace panel on just the front of one tee (see above). On the other, we cropped the shirt for a sassy, short style and added an all-around narrow lace inset (see below). We found our pretty lace on clearance in the bridal section of one of our local fabric stores. Bolt-ends are a great way to get amazing lace at a fraction of the cost. 

Look for lace that is finished on both the top and bottom edges. To apply, we again used our Janome Satin Stitch foot, with its handy red guide arrow, to easily follow along the dips and curves that made up the edge designs on our lace.

If you are new to working with knits, take a look at our Sewing with Knits tutorial. Working with T-shirt knit is pretty forgiving; we really didn't have to alter our machine settings at all.

Sewing Tools You Need

INSERT JANOME MC9900 MACHINE BOX: http://janome.com/en/machines/embroidery/mc9900/

  • Sewing Machine and standard presser foot (we recommend a sewing and embroidery machine for the ultimate in embellishment options, like the Janome Memory Craft 9900)
  • Satin Stitch foot (optional but great for stitching along the curved edges of the lace and for the decorative stitching)

Fabric and Other Supplies

  • ONE or more nice quality T-shirts
  • For pocket tees: Scraps or ¼ yard cuts of fabrics to coordinate with the tees. We offer two sizes of pocket patterns below. The smaller size is best for a V-neck style shirt; the larger is best for a standard crew neck.
  • For the pocket tees: Scrap or ¼ yard of medium-weight fusible interfacing; we used Décor Bond by Pellon
  • For lace tees: ½ - 1 yard of decorative flat lace that is pre-finished along both the top and bottom edges. We show options below to inset both a wide lace on only the front panel of the shirt (we used a 5" wide bridal lace) or a narrow lace all the way around (we used a 2" wide bridal lace). 
  • All purpose thread to match fabric for sewing 
  • Embroidery thread to contrast with fabric for decorative stitching on the pocket tees
  • Transparent thread for lace application
  • See-through ruler
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Tape measure
  • Seam gauge
  • Seam ripper
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. If you are making a pocket tee, download and print out our Pocket pattern sheet. Both 3½" and 4½" pocket patterns are included on one sheet.
    IMPORTANT: This pattern is ONE 8½" x 11" sheet. You must print the PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page. There is a guide rule on the page so you can confirm your final printout is to scale.
  2. Cut out the pocket patterns along the solid lines. 

Small Pocket Tee with Cross-Pocket Decorative Stitching

  1. Find the 3½" pocket pattern. Using the pattern, cut TWO pieces from your chosen fabric.
  2. Using the pattern, cut ONE piece from the fusible interfacing, but cut along the inner dashed seam line rather than the outer solid line.

Large Pocket Tee with Decorative Edgestitching

  1. Find the 4½" pocket pattern. Using the pattern, cut TWO pieces from your chosen fabric. We fussy cut a bird motif from our fabric to feature on the center front of the pocket.
  2. Using the pattern, cut ONE piece from the fusible interfacing, but cut along the inner dashed seam line rather than the outer solid line.

Wide Front Inset Lace Tee

  1. If possible, have the person who will be wearing the tee try it on to best determine placement. You want the top edge of the lace to be far enough down so her bra doesn't show. With our wide 5" lace, the bottom of the lace ended approximately 7" up from the bottom hem of the T-shirt, but this placement will vary based on the size of the wearer, the width of your lace, and the style of the tee. 

Narrow All-Around Cropped Lace Tee

  1. As above, if possible have the wearer try on the T-shirt to figure the placement of the top of the lace so her bra will not be visible. 

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Small Pocket Tee with Decorative Stitching

  1. Find the two pocket pieces and the fusible interfacing. Center the interfacing on the wrong side of one pocket piece. There should be ½" of fabric showing beyond the interfacing on all sides. Following manufacturer's instructions, fuse the interfacing in place. 
  2. Pin the two pocket pieces right sides together around all four sides, leaving a 1" - 2" opening along one side for turning. 
  3. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch around all four sides. Remember to pivot at the corners and the bottom point, and to lock your seam at either side of the opening. 
  4. Clip the corners. We also trimmed back the seam allowance to ¼" (you could even go all the way back to ⅛") so there was as little bulk as possible along the seam lines. 
  5. Turn the pocket right side out through the opening. Use a long, blunt-end tool to gently push out all the corners. Fold in the seam allowance at the opening so it is flush with the sewn seam. 
  6. Press the pocket flat. 
  7. Thread the machine with contrasting embroidery thread in the top and bobbin thread in the bobbin. We used a silvery gray.
  8. Refer to your machine manual to set-up your machine for decorative stitching. Choose a decorative stitch. We used Stitch #07 on our Janome Memory Craft 9900
  9. As a fun contrast with the subtle horizontal motif woven into our T-shirt, we decided on diagonal lines of decorative stitching. We used guidelines on our Janome machine's throat plate to keep our stitching even. You could also draw in stitching guidelines with a fabric pen or pencil. Our seven lines of stitching were ¾" apart. 
  10. When all the lines of decorative stitching are complete, and with the machine still threaded with the embroidery thread, stitch one standard straight seam across the pocket ¾" down from the pocket's top edge. This simulates a traditional pocket hem.
    NOTE: We made a simulated hem rather than the traditional, wide double-fold hem used on most pockets in order to keep the pocket as flat and even as possible for easier decorative stitching.
  11. Place the pocket on your tee and pin in place along both sides and across the bottom. If possible, have the wearer try on the T-shirt at this point to help determine the best pocket placement. 
  12. With the machine still threaded with the embroidery thread, edgestitch along both sides and along the bottom. Go slowly and remember to carefully pivot along the bottom angles of the pocket.
    NOTE: We are using our Janome Satin Stitch foot for all our stitching. We love this foot because it is not only transparent, allowing a clear view of the fabric and any guidelines, it also has a very handy bright red guide arrow that marks the center needle drop – great for keeping edgestitching on the straight and narrow. 

Large Pocket Tee with Decorative Edgestitching

  1. The large pocket is created in the same manner as the small pocket. The main difference is that we wanted a very specific fussy cut to center a cute little bird from the fabric's motif. We folded the pocket pattern into fourths to find the center. This gave us a set of "crosshairs" to get a perfect fussy cut. 
  2. There is no decorative stitching across the pocket, so with the machine threaded with thread to match the pocket in the top and bottom, run the "faux hem line" ¾" from the top edge.
  3. Place the pocket on the tee (again checking position on the wearer if possible) and pin in place along both sides and across the bottom. 
  4. With the same color thread, machine baste the pocket in place approximately ⅛" all around. This not only secures the pocket, it will give you a guideline to follow for the decorative stitching. 
  5. Re-thread the machine with the contrasting embroidery thread in the top and bobbin thread in the bobbin. We used a bright red.
  6. As above, refer to your machine manual to set-up your machine for decorative stitching. Choose a decorative stitch. We chose quilting stitch #39 on our Janome Memory Craft 9900 because it looked like little bird feet to go with our little bird motif. 
  7. Using the machine basting as your centering guideline, edgestitch the pocket in place along both sides and along the bottom. 

Wide Front Inset Lace Tee

  1. Place the T-shirt front side up on your work surface. Smooth it out so it is as flat as possible and the side seams are truly along each side – not rolling to the front or back. 
  2. Using your pre-determined top edge placement, pin the wide lace across the front of the T-shirt. Trim the lace so it extends beyond the each side seam of the T-shirt by about ¼".
  3. Remove the cut lace and finish the raw side edges. To do this fold back the raw edge by the amount that extended beyond the tee (¼" in our sample) and zig zag in place. 

    NOTE: For both of our Lace Tees, we are using transparent thread in the top and bobbin thread in the bobbin to keep our stitching as invisible as possible. You could also use an all-purpose thread that is an exact match to your lace. 
  4. Re-pin the lace onto the front of the tee. The finished side edges should now exactly align with the T-shirt's side seam lines. 
  5. Edgestitch the lace panel in place through the front of the T-shirt. You can simply pull the back of the shirt out of the way as you sew, or if you have a free arm option on your machine, now is a good time to use it. 
  6. Stitch straight along each side edge.
  7. Along the top and bottom of the lace, follow along the design of the lace. That great red arrow on our Janome Satin Stitch foot made this super easy. We used a standard straight stitch; you could also use a tiny zig zag.
  8. Turn the T-shirt inside out, and using your bobbin thread as a guideline, carefully trim away the front of the shirt to create the inset. Your cutting line should be about ⅛" away from the stitching line. There's no need to finish the edges since the knit will not ravel. 

Narrow All-Around Cropped Lace Tee

  1. Place the T-shirt front side up on your work surface. Smooth it out so it is as flat as possible and the side seams are truly along each side – not rolling to the front or back. 
  2. Using your pre-determined top edge placement, and starting at one side seam, pin the narrow lace across both the front and the back of the T-shirt. Leave ½" extra at the head of the lace and ½" extra at the tail of the lace. 
  3. Once the lace is pinned in place all around and lays nice and flat, pull out a few pins near the side seam where the two ends of the lace come together. 
  4. Pull the T-shirt away so you can turn the lace ends right sides together. Pin the ends together. 
  5. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the ends together. 
  6. Trim the seam allowance back to ¼".
  7. From the right side of the lace, run a small vertical zig zag along the seam line to flatten the seam allowance. 
  8. Flip the lace right side up and re-pin it back into position on the shirt. The seam line you made in the lace should align with the side seam of the tee.
  9. As above, follow along the design of the lace, but stitch JUST the TOP of the lace in place all around. We used a tiny zig zag; you could also use a standard straight stitch.
  10. Turn the T-shirt inside out, and using your bobbin thread as a guideline, trim away the bottom of the shirt all around. Your cutting line should be about ⅛" away from the stitching line. 
  11. As above, there's no need to finish the edge since the knit will not ravel.
  12. If possible, try the in-progress shirt on the wearer to determine the length of the crop. We wanted an additional 5" below the bottom of the lace to allow the tee to just brush the top of her jeans or leggings. To this length, add ½" to account for the top seam. We measured 5½" up from the bottom hem of the cut-off tee. 
  13. Cut away the excess. 
  14. For a slimmer fit, before you pin the bottom section in place, lay the trimmed bottom portion of the shirt next to the lace and determine if you need to take in any of the side seam. We took in ½" on both sides. To do this, start at the upper edge of the bottom section's side seam with a full ½" seam allowance. Similar to how you'd make a dart, gradually decrease the seam so you end up flush with the bottom hem. Repeat with the opposite side seam. 
  15. Slip the top of the tee over the bottom and align the bottom edge of the lace with the cut edge of the tee. Pin in place all around. 
  16. Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the bottom edge of the lace in place just as you did the top, following the lace's edge. 
  17. Trim back the excess fabric ⅛" from the seam line to match the top seam line. 

Contributors

Project Design: Alicia Thommas  
Sample Creation and Instructions: Debbie Guild

Section: 

Comments (7)

Fani said:
Fani's picture

Cute and practical alterations. Very useful in our difficult financial times.

iknithappy said:
iknithappy's picture

Very cool ideas. I think these will make great gifts for my mom, sister and daughter. Thank you!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

iknithappy - they'll love them! Let us know how they turn out.

Tami said:
Tami 's picture

Hi,  what is the little bird fabric?  So cute.  Thank you 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Tami - It's an older collection by Dena Designs for FreeSpirit Fabrics. The Collection is Love and Joy and the fabric is Birds in Aqua. Your best bet to find it will likely be a Google search - Etsy or eBay sellers might still have some options. 

DebS said:
DebS's picture

I feel as if I've seen this somewhere before, but not with Sew For Home's fabulous instructions. I really like this idea. A cute way to make an old (or new) tee wearable again.

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