Upcycle Two Shirts in a Denim Shirtdress

December 22, 2016By Angela WolfGarment, Upcycling 20 Comments Opinion by Paid Consultant

Looking for a fun project to try with that holiday break around the corner? Upcycle a denim shirt into a fashionable shirtdress! It’s the ideal time to take two of those shirts you’ve grown tired of in your closet and UPCYCLE them into this adorable denim shirt dress! I used two denim shirts but you can use two shirts of your choice of course!

Machines:

Sewing Machine: Strong & Tough ST371HD
Serger: Project Runway™ Limited Edition 5234PRW

Supplies:

  • 2 denim jean shirts
  • ¼” double folded bias tape
  • All-purpose thread
  • ½” wide elastic
  • Fabric marking pen or tailors chalk
  • Quilter’s ruler
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Measuring tape
NOTE: I will be using contrasting thread and bias binding so it’s easier for you to see the stitches, you would use coordinating colors.

Professional organizers often say, if you haven’t worn a garment in 2 years, get rid of it! (Good thing they don’t mention fabric!) So with a desire to purge our closets, my husband handed me a couple of denim shirts to donate. I couldn’t help but notice the nautical flags on one of the shirts reminding me of our summer boating trips – I couldn’t bear to allow that one to go. A friend mentioned making a quilt, but I don’t foresee that on the shortlist anytime soon. Then it occurred to me, UPCYCLING! I do need a sundress for the boating season and what better than a couple of denim shirts to play with!

Trying on one of the denim shirts, I have decided the hemline is a little too short for the dress I am envisioning. Instead, I will use 2 different denim shirts; one for the top from the waist up and one for the skirt.
2 denim shirts

Designing the Tank of the Denim Shirtdress

  1. Try on the shirt and check the fit. Start by marking the width of the desired tank onto the shoulder seam.

  1. As I am holding up this sleeve, notice how wide the top is and how low the armscye falls. This will all be changed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What’s the ARMSCYE? It’s the armhole opening in a garment, specifically the shape of it when used in dressmaking/tailoring. Where did the name come from? It’s of Scottish origin, and folk etymology says it may come from “arm’s eye.”
  1. Measure from the back of the neck to your natural waistline and draw a line. Measure down the front of the top as well.

  1. From the waist marking, measure down an additional 3” and place another mark. (I am adding the 3” to allow a little blousing when the dress is belted). Measure down another ½” to allow for a seam allowance.

denim shirtdress

Cutting up Shirt #1:

  1. Draw a line from the underarm seam up to the shoulder mark as shown.

  1. DO NOT cut along the chalk mark, that is just a guide for later. Instead cut off the sleeves at the seam.

  1. Locate the lowest marking on the center back and draw a line straight across as shown. (Note: If your mark on the center front of the shirt is lower than the mark on the back of the shirt, either use the front marking as your straight line or draw a line with a slight curve at each side seam to accommodate for the different lengths)

  1. Cut across that line in the front and back; be careful not to cut through a button!

Checking the Fit of the Denim Shirtdress

  1. Try on the top. Pin the side seam. Notice when the side seam is pinned, the underarm armscye gets higher.

  1. Mark the pinned seam with tailors chalk. This will give a guide for sewing a new seam.

  1. With right sides together, stitch a new side seam using the chalked markings as a guide.

  1. Finish the raw edges with a 3-thread overlock stitch on the serger or a zigzag stitch on the sewing machine.

  1. Press the seam towards the back of the shirt.

  1. Use a tailor’s Clapper to hold the seam in place.

  1. Try the shirt on again and notice the change in fit! This sleeve would actually be pretty cute, so feel free to leave the length and you can finish the armhole the same way I do with the tank.

  1. Using the chalked markings as a guide, cut from the underarm seam up to the shoulder marking. Notice how the cut line curves in towards the body as it moves up to the shoulder, it not just a straight line.

  1. Keep the excess fabric from the first shoulder to use as a pattern for the other shoulder. This will guarantee that you cut both sides the same with.

  1. Check the button are on the front of the shirt. If there is a button within 1 inch of the hemline, remove it.

  1. The tank looks good so far!

Designing the Skirt with Shirt #2

  1. Layout the second shirt and locate the area just below the back yoke. Draw a line perpendicular to the button placket.

  1. Draw a straight line from the tip of the first line to the hemline, keep the line just inside of the armhole and side seam.

  1. Cut along the chalked lines.

  1. Check the length of the skirt. Hold up one of the front pieces at your waistline. Measure the amount you want to shorten, and remove that amount from the top of the fabric piece. Here I have removed 4 ½ inches of length on my right front piece. Shorten both front and back pieces the same. In order to remove the same amount for the front left piece, I need to remove the pocket.

  1. Line up the skirt pieces with each of the coordinating top pieces and mark the side seams. The width of the front top piece needs to match the width of the front skirt.

  1. The width of the back top needs to match the width of the back skirt.

  1. With right sides together, pin front to the back side seam making sure the bottom hemline matches up. Stitch.

  1. With right sides together, pin skirt to the top – aligning the center fronts and each side seam. Stitch.

  1. To cover the original pocket discoloration, I will pin the pocket right over the same spot just a little bit lower. Topstitch the pocket following the original stitch lines.

  1. Because we did not add darts to the back of this shirt, we need to figure out a way to prevent the back from buckling.

  1. Cut a strip of elastic 4” shorter than the width of the back-waistline seam.

  1. Pin the elastic to the seam allowance as shown. Depending on the size of the shirt, you might need to ease more or less. The idea is to gather the back fabric and allowed the top to blouse over the waistband. If you’re unsure of the amount of use in the elastic, pin in place with safety pins and try on the dress before sewing.

  1. Stitch the elastic to the seam allowance with the zigzag stitch

Belt Loops on your Denim Shirtdress

  1. Using excess fabric from one of the shirts I’m going to cut strips 3 inches wide by 6 inches long to use for belt loops.

  1. Finish the raw edges of the long side of each belt loop.

  1. Press in the long edges ½”

  1. Lengthen the stitch length to 3.0 and Topstitch 1/8” from the edge of each fold.

  1. Topstitch a second row about ¼” from the first stitched line. This would be a great place to use decorative stitches!

  1. Press under each and of the belt loop as shown. After pinning the belt loops in place, I decided to make them a little bit shorter, trim off the excess seam allowance.

  1. Pin the belt loops to the dress at each side seam and center back.

  1. Topstitch in place.

  1. I topstitched a second row of stitches for support; Another idea is to bar tack or zigzag stitch across each end. Remember you are the designer!

  1. You can see how adding the elastic at the waistline has gathered the fabric in the back and created a nice affect!

Finishing the Armholes:

  1. The last step is to finish the armholes. Try on the dress one last time and check the fit at the armhole. If the armhole is gaping in the front, you might consider adding a dart.

  1. Press open the double folded bias tape as shown below.

  1. Open the fold on one edge of the bias tape and pin to the armscye with right sides together.

  1. Remove the toolbox from the from of the Brother sewing machine, revealing the free arm, and slide the armhole onto the machine.

  1. Stitch along the fold line of the bias tape that you have ironed open.

  1. Fold the bias tape out towards the opening and press.

  1. Flip to the inside of the garment. Fold the entire seam, including bias tape, toward the inside of the garment and press.

  1. Topstitch along the edge of the armhole, pinning in place if necessary.

Tip: when stitching along the thick folds of fabric at the shoulder and back yoke, use the handwheel and stitch slowly to prevent breaking the needle.

  1. Topstitch a second row all around.

Congratulations your Denim Shirtdress is finished! Add a cute belt and you’re out the door.

We have four sleeves left! Be sure to save those sleeves for a future project. What should we make with them?!? A custom belt? Coordinating handbag? What would you like to see? Be sure to share the before and after photos of your denim shirtdress and tag us in the post #BrotherSews #AngelaWolf #StitchingSewcial!

Cheers,
Angela
angelas-sig





The Tailor’s Clapper is an Angela Wolf Pattern Collection™ product and Brother International Corporation makes no representations or warranties regarding such product.

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20 Comments

  • This is AWESOME! I have learned so much from this tutorial. It is excellent. Even if I don’t make a dress like this, I learned a lot of techniques and have more ideas. You explained this so well and have provided so many great pictures. Thank you so much, Angela!!

  • Thanks Angela for the tutorial on the dress. I’m glad to hear someone else is a visual learner. I don’t know when I will get one made and if I don’t, the
    directions and tips will help in other projects. I love all the pictures, it really
    helps.

    • Hi Karen,
      Absolutely! You have a few options – leave the first top with the original sleeves and simply shorten them to the length you want. Either way, be sure to not cut back the shoulder seam – leave the shoulder seam alone of only cut back to your shoulder position. Cut a short sleeve out of the excess sleeve fabric and attach.
      Can’t wait to see your dress 🙂

    • While there are many methods for recycling/reusing sleeves, here are two straight-forward ways to keep the sleeves for this garment. One method is simpler than the other.

      First, the quicker, simpler method. If you like the looser fit and style of the shirt with its sleeves, don’t take in the side seams and leave the shirt top as is. If you are skilled at alterations and the shirt is much too large, it is possible to open up the underarm armscye seam, carefully take in matching small amounts on both the underarm sleeve seam and side seam, and resew the underarm armscye seam, blending into the existing stitches. This alteration to narrow the shirt and sleeve can be tricky, since the results may affect comfort and movement. Then, shorten and hem the sleeves to the length desired. You may want to add elastic all around the waistline (instead of just the back) to control the remaining fullness of the shirt style. Usually, this method will result in a looser fitting garment if you start with a loose, rather than fitted, shirt.

      For a more customized fit that keeps the original shirt-sleeve look, but adjusts the shoulders and fit to your shape, try this more advanced method. In order to reuse the sleeves and retain their fit, you will have to carefully remove the sleeve seam stitches and remove the sleeve before sewing the new, closer-fitting side seams. Be careful to not damage the seam allowances on the sleeve as you will need to trace the shape onto your altered top. Be sure to label both right and left sleeves to make sure the sleeves are reattached to the correct side. Press the seam allowances flat. Then, using the sleeves you have carefully removed, trace the armscyes/sleeve seams onto the altered garment. If you have changed the length of the arm opening by narrowing (taking in) the top section, you will have to decide if you want to keep the full sleeve opening (thereby increasing the armscye depth to match the existing sleeve) or if you want to take in the sleeve to match the new, snugger fit. It may help to baste the side seam adjustments, pin in the full sleeve, try the garment on to see how you like the fit, and pin fit the sleeve to the body to match your preferred look, which may be somewhere between the fullest and snuggest options. If you wish a closer fit to the sleeve, you will have to take in the sleeve underarm seam and may have to slightly alter the resulting armscye curves to allow for comfort and movement. Once you have the desired fit in your sleeve, you can mark the sleeve placement, sew the side seams, and sew the sleeve into the armscye seam. As with the other method, then trim and hem the sleeve to the desired finished length.

  • WOW!!! What a new exciting idea to recreate denim. This denim outfit will be my first to sport this spring…thanks for this tutorial.
    Rhonda

  • Angela, you should submit this for publication in Threads magazine. It is so creative! I would change out the buttons down the front to something fun and a little bit noticeable!

  • I found an extra large man’s shirt at the thrift store (it is hard to recycle clothes when you are a plus size as most things are too small). Now just to find the time to turn it into a summer dress!

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