How to Restyle a T-Shirt With Pin Tucks

comments (23) February 24th, 2009     

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CalPatch cal patch, contributor
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I love how this neckline looks, with its ruffly edge.
The before view of the unflattering, oversized T-shirt.
Fold the shirt to cut the neckline identically on both sides.
I love how this neckline looks, with its ruffly edge.

I love how this neckline looks, with its ruffly edge.

Photo: Cal Patch

I've always been a fan of pin tucks, those tiny stitched pleats often seen on vintage blouses or dresses. They add a dimensional element, but each one also uses up a smidge of fullness, and that means they can be used to add shape to something shapeless, like the ubiquitous boxy T-shirt. Traditionally, they run parallel and close together, but I like to change the rules. You can use this technique to practically sculpt the fit of the shirt without creating any new seams. So find yourself a big old T-shirt, a ruler, a tape measure, and some chalk or a disappearing pen, and let's get busy.

The "before" view of the unflattering, oversized T-shirt.

1. Trim your T-shirt. We're going to remove the neckband and sleeves so we're left with a sleeveless chemise. To cut the neck symmetrically, fold the T-shirt along the center front and center back, overlapping the shoulder seams.

Fold the shirt as shown to cut the neckline identically on both sides.

Next, start cutting at the center front a few inches below the neckband, and continue cutting in a smooth curve around to the center back, close to the band.

Cut the neckline a few inches deep in front and close to the neckband in back.

Then cut off the sleeves just inside the armhole seams.

Trim closely along the armhole seams to remove the sleeves.

The trimmed shirt is ready to tuck.

2. Using the ruler, begin drawing the lines for your pin tucks in a design that you like. Be creative! I did tucks radiating out around the neckline and over the shoulders, leaving 1 inch free at the raw neck and sleeve edges for a ruffled effect. I also plotted a large diamond shape at the center back, centered at the lower back where your waist is smallest. Remember that each pin tuck will nip out about 1/4 inch of fullness, and this can add up quickly! So you may want to measure your T-shirt and yourself, find the difference, and make sure your tucks won't take out any more than that measurement.

First, draw some lines at the shoulder...

...then draw more pin-tuck lines radiating from the back neckline. Later, you can fill in the front so they surround the entire neck.

They're hard to see, but the tuck lines are all mapped out for the back.

3. Sew the tucks. Choose any tuck to begin, and fold the shirt on the marked line. With the fold on the right, stitch from the top of the line and begin sewing (don't forget to backstitch) 1/8 inch over from the fold.

Sew each pin tuck 1/8 inch over from the folded edge.

Continue down to the bottom tip of the line and backstitch again. It may be helpful to place a pin at the top and bottom to mark where the line begins and ends. Repeat for every tuck around. It may be easiest to work the tucks from right to left, but experiment to see what works for you.

The finished T-shirt back is more fitted and has dimension.

The radiating tucks on the finished front draws the eye upward, toward the wearer's face.

4. If desired, unpick the bottom hem of the T-shirt to maximize the length and create raw edges.

That's it. The shirt looks difficult to create, but it was easy, wasn't it?

The finished top from the back has lots of drama.

Here's the finished top from the front. I love the tunic length.

posted in: shirt, sportswear, tshirt, neckline, pintucks

Comments (23)

victoriawatts writes: love the back
Posted: 11:31 am on April 11th
sumoe writes: Cal, did you finish the edges in any way?
Posted: 6:21 pm on March 11th
Anairdra writes: Soooo cute
Am trying it right now!

Posted: 6:32 pm on August 28th
Anairdra writes: Soooo cute
Am trying it right now!

Posted: 6:32 pm on August 28th
Bigpurpledragon writes: Wow! that turned out great. I love the back. I might have to give it a try. Thanks. x
Posted: 5:04 am on January 12th
mar32428 writes: This is a great idea and very chic. I started taking water arobics last Nov. and ahve lost 11 lbs. and one dress size. My tees are all too boxy now. What a super idea for me.
Posted: 6:06 pm on April 25th
sdt writes: ah--- now I know what I'll be doing with a few maternity tops too...
Posted: 2:17 am on March 20th
LunaSee writes: So original and usable. I would make raw edged flowers out of the sleeves to embelish the front (a detail I noticed on a Clavin Klein tee).
Posted: 6:57 pm on March 14th
ien writes: cool!!! gotta try this soon!!
hope i still have some oversize tees :P
Posted: 1:43 am on March 4th
sarahelizabeth writes: awesome!! thanks!
Posted: 2:07 pm on March 3rd
ShayMarWood writes: Awesome idea & great directions! I'm working with an old burgandy sweatshirt right now. I was painting a fence & 1 of the "girls" brushed against the white paint. Not a good look, btw.

My experiment is taking safety pins & basting to create a rouching effect, take spray paint to it, remove pins and thread & hopefully get a funky tie dye type result. Cross fingers for me!
Posted: 10:33 am on March 3rd
dette writes: What a fabulous idea. I love the back too and agree with claudia I might try it on the front too. I hate ordinary t-shirts, I always look like a box in them I'll have to search and see If I have any tucked away (for pj's) or go out and buy one to give this a go with!
Posted: 2:22 am on March 2nd
claudiasburningink writes: I love the look on the back and would be tempted to get a shirt big enough to make the front and back match,,,,hmmmmm
Posted: 12:07 am on March 2nd
Isagaard writes: I had never considered using pintucks on knits before. I modified my fitted T-shirt pattern last fall to create a surplice T, with forward shoulder seams and gathers. I had planned to embroider the left side and shorten the sleeves for spring. Now I will pintuck the front and have 2 new looks for spring! Thank You for sharing.
Posted: 7:28 am on February 28th
SewDanish writes: This is a great idea! I have used pintucks and twin needle'ing to create texture on surfaces before, but never on garments. Love the effect on the t-shirt. The back is really beautiful.
Scandinavian Textile Art, Unique Handmade Supplies
Posted: 2:38 am on February 28th
clothingeng writes: what a great idea...something to try, definitely.
Posted: 12:27 am on February 28th
sigridsoto writes: Hi I just had to add your design to my facebook if you don't mind
Posted: 11:15 pm on February 27th
WendyQM writes: Amazing transformation! I have never tried a pin tuck... they sounded so intimidating. Now I know that they are not as hard as they sound and look! Thank you for the inspiration!

I made the ruffly cardigan you posted about earlier! It is my favorite clothing item right now! I took it a step further and added some Alabama Stitch Book style appliqués, too! I will try to post a picture soon.
Posted: 8:35 pm on February 27th
Jay_B writes: More terrific inspiration, Cal - I wish I had your imagination. Thank you for making the effort to explain your great ideas (again).
Posted: 7:35 pm on February 27th
FaveCrafts writes: Really cute idea. I'm definitely going to try this.
Posted: 4:16 pm on February 25th
TaDaBoutique writes: Love the pin tuck in the back. I think I might try pin tucking.
Great instructions.
Posted: 6:53 pm on February 24th
JenniferStern writes: I love the pintuck detail in the back, it creates a nice shape!
Posted: 6:39 pm on February 24th
samsstuff writes: Cute idea!
Posted: 3:14 pm on February 24th
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