Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Alterations 101: Taking in a Basic T-Shirt

Maybe it was a thrift store jewel, the perfect shade with a cute pattern that you just had to have, but it’s two sizes two big and unflattering on your figure. Maybe it looked great on the rack, but once you got it home, you realized that it’s too roomy in the middle. Or maybe you’ve been dieting and now that you’ve shrunk out of all of your favorite shirts, you’re in the great debate…do I spend more money on clothes when I’m not done dieting, or do I dare tackle taking in a shirt?

If it’s a simple shirt, alterations are surprisingly easy, especially if you’re taking it in around the bust and the waist.

The quickest and easiest way to take in a shirt is to fit it to yourself and then adjust the seams (at the sides). You’ll need to remember to take in each side equally. If you take in your shirt all on one side, the shirt will look twisted.


If you’re taking in the shirt for yourself, all you’ll need for this step are these items:

A mirror, like the mirror in your bathroom or a full-length mirror.

Your shirt



Turn your shirt inside out and put it on. While in front of the mirror, pinch the fabric at each side to determine about how much you’d like to take in. While it might look good while you’re standing straight (and sucking your stomach in) to want to alter your shirt skin tight, you’ll want to leave a little wiggle room there. Grab a couple of pins and place them through both layers of fabric in the pinched area, one on each side.

Tip: If you place your pins pointy-end down/away from your head, it will make it much less painful to take off your shirt for the next step.

Once you have your basic guides in place, you can then shape the rest of your shirt the way you’d like, remembering to take in equal (or close to) amounts of fabric on each side so that your shirt will lay correctly. Take special care at the waistline to make sure that your front and back hem line up correctly if you’re taking it in over your hips. You can take in the chest, stomach, and hip areas of your shirt this way.

If you want to take in your sleeves, you can pin them the same way, though usually you can just take them in along the existing seamline (no need to pin and sew on both sides). Pin and check the way your new sleeves are going to lay. If you don’t like it, you can still troubleshoot before you start sewing.

Tip: If you’re going to take in sleeves and the waist, I would still recommend leaving the area around the shoulder/bustline intact on most styles of shirts, because many shirts have 4 pieces of fabric joining under the sleeve, and if you start messing with that area, it’s no longer a simple alteration. You can still take in the areas close to this area, but slant what will be your new seamline toward the existing seamline in the underarm area so that it doesn’t bunch up.

Once you’ve pinned your shirt in place, see how it lays. Slouch. Wiggle. Turn to look at it from all angles. Stick your stomach out like you’ve just had a full meal because sitting can affect the way your waistline. If you’re comfortable with the way you look in your shirt with the new seams secured with pins, then you’re ready to take off your shirt and begin the next step.


If you’re ready to take in your shirt, here’s what you’ll need for this step:

Sewing machine and thread or needle/thread and a lot of patience. If you’re lucky, you can get access to a serger. However, if you have access to a serger, you are unlikely to need this tutorial.


Seam ripper (just in case)

Now you’re ready to sew your shirt. If you used enough pins, you’ll be able to easily tell where the new seamline will be, even as you remove them to sew. If you want extra assurance, you can always draw in the seamline between the pins with tailor’s chalk or a washable fabric marker.

Sew your shirt along the new seamline, taking special care to make sure that your hemlines are lined up properly and that your fabric isn’t bunching near where your seamline will end. For women, you’ll likely be forming an arc (even if it’s minor) that travels outward to meet up with the old seamline at the bust. You can just sew right off this edge. Remember to secure your stitches by sewing, reversing, and then sewing again for about an inch in the same spot at the shirt bottom and sleeve edge so that it doesn’t come unraveled.

Once you’ve sewn in your new seamlines, it’s time for your second fitting. It’s important to actually DO the second fitting because once you start cutting, there’s no turning back.

Flip your shirt right side out and try it on. You’ll have some bunching from the extra fabric you’re going to remove in the next step. Try to lay the fabric flat against your body so you can see the new fit.

If you’re not satisfied with the new fit, you’ll have to take a seam ripper to the new stitches in the problem area, refit, and do this all again. If you ARE satisfied, then it’s time to cut off your extra fabric

Tip: Some fabric frays, and some fabric frays really badly. While Fray Check can keep some fraying at bay, it doesn’t stand a chance at holding together some fabrics. Satin will sometimes fray, but it isn’t too bad with Fray Check. Linen also frays. Some fabric seems to have been created specifically TO fray (lamé and I are bitter enemies). If it’s t-shirt material, it’s likely to be okay. If it’s a disco shirt from the 1970’s, cut the fabric at your own risk. For most fabrics, cutting will only lead to minimal fraying. If you start to notice fraying, see if you can control it with Fray Check. If you start to cut and the edge turns into a poofball with threads going everywhere, find a serger to cut and finish your seams for you.


Now you’re ready to cut. Here’s what you’ll need for this step:


Fray Check (potentially)

Ruler, measuring tape, or seam gauge

You’re going to cut your new edge ½ inch to the outside of your new seamline.

You might also want to secure the seams at the waistline or sleeve edges so they’ll lay flat and not stick out of your shirt. You can open the seam and sew each edge to the part of the shirt it lays against, or you can sew them both to one side if the seam will lay that way. There are other ways to finish this part, but that’s the easiest.

You’re done! Now you have a custom fitted shirt that should flatter your figure exactly the way you want.

Need more alterations done? Look for my upcoming article on taking in an elastic waistband/basic waistline!

Labels: Alterations 101: Taking in a Basic T-Shirt

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