DIY: Turn a T-Shirt into a Strapless Top with Pockets

May 17th, 2010 § 17 comments

My friend L. emailed me one day with this link, asking if I was up for trying this simple T-shirt refurbishing project. Since she was offering her crafting expertise and sewing machine, I could not refuse. I struggled a bit with the initial instructions, so I decided to document this DIY project in every minute detail to help other novices (like me) be able to do this even without the help of an expert seamstress. (Thanks, L!)

Materials Needed:

  • Old t-shirt (we thrifted these discarded German Army shirts for under 3 Euros each)
  • Elastic (approx. 1.5 meters per shirt)
  • Scissors
  • Sewing Machine (preferred)


After you’ve chosen your t-shirt to deconstruct, begin by measuring the circumference of your chest (watch L. demonstrate…)

Cut the elastic to size so that it will fit around your chest snuggly (this will hold up your top, so a snugger fit is preferred.)

The bottom hem will now be your new top hemline, running across your chest. Using a seam cutter, tear a hole large enough to run the elastic through it. (Tip: choose a spot on the side of the shirt that will likely be hidden under your arm when worn, rather than in the front or back).

After you’ve run the elastic completely through the seam, bring the two ends together and try the shirt on. You may find that you have to pull the elastic tighter still before sewing the ends together. Once you’ve determined the perfect fit, sew the elastic ends together and hand-sew the cut in the seam shut.

Now your shirt will look like this…

Flip the shirt upside down and begin working on what will become your bottom seam and pockets. Pinning the neckline together helps keep the shirt from shifting as you cut across the neckline to widen the opening and make it your new waistline…

Next, flip the sleeves in and upward on the shirt, positioning them as the pockets they will become. Use pins to fasten them in place so that they remain in the desired position while you work on the bottom seam…

Turn the shirt inside out so that you can secure the bottom seam in place with pins…

Turn about an inch of the seam upward and pin into place, so that you can sew a new seam along the bottom of your top. Before you sew it in place, I suggest trying it on once more with the pockets and seams pinned into place to make sure that you have cut an opening that is large enough to fit comfortably around your hips and that the pockets are well positioned for how you would like them to look. Once you’re satisfied with how it looks, sew that bottom seam into place (you will also be sewing the sleeves/pockets into their new position along that hemline as well). . .

At this point, you will have tried on your shirt several time and will have moved and re-shifted your pins more times than you can remember, so it’s only fair to go ahead and pour yourself a margarita. Yes, that is a legitimate step in this shirt-reconstruction project.

This next step is optional. If you want to creating ruching along the top of your new pockets, then measure and cut a piece of elastic that is slightly shorter than the circumference of top of your pockets and follow the same steps you took in running the elastic through the seams the first time around (as described above).

Once you’ve rushed the tops of your new pockets, secure the pockets to the top by sewing along each side of the pocket like so…

Congratulations! Your shirt is complete. At this point, you can leave it as is or add any embellishments, adornments, or other such details. L. and I decided to add a couple of abstract floral decals to the top, so we used a bit of scrap fabric she had from her sewing left-overs and cut out a few floral embellishments…

I added one little decal to the pocket and one to the top right side of my new shirt. I attached them by hand-stiching all along the border of my decal to secure it to the shirt. Another alternative would be using a no-sew adhesive tape to attach your embellishments, as E. did with these flower decals on her cardigan.

And you’re done! While this project took a bit of time the first time I around, I wanted to share these instructions with you because I think it is a relatively easy project that even a novice like me can try. And it takes a plain old shirt from your wardrobe (or thrift store) and completely changes it up.  The resulting shirt is still a blank canvas – add ribbon, lace trim, floral embellishments, buttons, or even straps to it.

For my next one, I would like to try using a graphic t-shirt that could take on a fun abstract result when flipped upside down, or a solid colored tee, adding some lace trim and ribbon straps that  could tie into a bow on top of the shoulders.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful and have fun reconstructing your own old t-shirts! S.

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§ 17 Responses to DIY: Turn a T-Shirt into a Strapless Top with Pockets"

  1. angie~* says:

    It’s a lovely idea, I just think the wonky looking half cut flower spoilt it. A more complete flower pattern would have been a better idea :)

  2. katie says:

    Like the idea…I would probably leave off the pockets if I were doing it. I wonder, since you’ve sewn across the bottom of one of these, would it be easier to find a shirt long enough that it could be cut off above the sleeves (like near the pits) or whether it would be OK to just sew the sleeve ends closed?

  3. Elle Sees says:

    Cute, but how long in total?

  4. Sara says:

    I love this idea – so cute and clever! And I love the margarita step. That’s my kind of crafting!

    Thanks for the tutorial!

  5. kristen says:

    That is so cute. Thanks for the tutorial!

  6. Clare says:

    SO COOL! Gosh, I need a sewing machine!

  7. Amelia Logan says:

    would be very cute with ribbon or lace sewn to the front with hanging ends for tying.

    or ruffles if you want a challenge.

  8. What a fun idea. I have way too many old t-shirts that need a new life. Could I use one of my freebie XXL shirts that are otherwise useless, or would that be too large?

  9. TOO cool!! I wish I had a sewing machine, I would totally do this =D

  10. devon says:

    thanks so much for the step-by-step! i never would have considered even looking at a project, since i am a hand-sewer only, but this looks totally doable. and perfectly timed for summer weather.

  11. Alyssa says:

    This is SUCH a fantastic idea… thanks for sharing this awesome DIY post!

  12. BB says:

    I love this! I can’t wait to try it. Beautiful color and flower accent too. It’s a beautiful touch.

  13. admin says:

    @Elle Sees – it really shouldn’t take too long, ours took so long because we struggled so much to understand the initial instructions. That’s what prompted me to photograph and write this out in such minute detail, to hopefully make it more clear for someone wanting to do this. I think a second one would take me less than an hour.

    @Redcactusflower – I think those freebie XXL shirts would be perfect, since this looks great when a little longer and looser and more tunic like.

    As for the pockets, I’m sure that if the shirt was long enough without them on, one could cut that bottom part completely off. I just liked the pockets so I kept them on,


  14. [...] Romania got a good few inches chopped off and is now ready for wear, and one German army shirt got a complete overhaul in an attempt to flex some DIY [...]

  15. Lydia says:

    love it! but how do you put it on when its not finished?? do you cut the neck hole off so oyu can fit your waist through? please clarify!

  16. Stacia Fino says:

    You unquestionably put a new twist on a subject that’s been written about for years. Magnificent stuff, just great! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think, thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner also.

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