The idea for this T-shirt reconstruction came to me one day whilst I was going on a rampage with my scissors, chopping up all of my shirts in preparation for the summer months. As much as I love crop tops, the one thing that I don’t like about making them is having to waste so much material in the process. Instead of letting the scraps pile up, it seemed like the most logical thing to do would be to somehow combine the bottom half of the T-shirt and the discarded sleeves to create new, fancier looking ones! And now I will show you how to do the same.

You’ll need:

  • A non-fitted T-shirt
  • Scissors
  • Chalk
  • Sewing pins
  • A ruler and measuring tape
  • A sewing machine (though this project could easily be done by hand if you’re good at sewing!)

Cropping the T-shirt:

1. Fold your shirt in half and determine how short you want to crop the tee. Using your measuring tape, measure from the shoulder seam to the point where you want the waist to be (17 inches is a good length for me, but this is really a personal preference). With a sewing pin, mark that measurement.

2. Place the ruler next to the sewing pin and use it to draw a straight line across the T-shirt.

3. Cut along that line through all layers of the shirt. Also, map out new armholes, and cut those out as well. I like to cut mine starting at the bottom seam of the underarm, moving in a slight curve as I get towards the middle, and then up towards the shoulders.

Constructing the sleeves:

Now it’s time to make the sleeves! I promise this will be super easy, even if you don’t consider yourself experienced at sewing.

To make the ruffle sleeves we’ll need the bottom half of our T-shirt and the sleeves that we just cut off.

1. Cut off the hem and any excess fabric from the sleeve. Also, cut through the bottom of each sleeve so that they’ll open up like this:

2. With the sleeve open, measure the straight end (or what was formerly the underarm seam) of the sleeve. This measurement will vary depending on what size/brand of T-shirt you’re using, but I find that it’s usually three to four inches. Anyway, take note of this measurement, because you’ll need it in the next couple of steps! You can set the sleeves aside for now, though.

3. Next, grab the rectangular piece of fabric left over from cropping the tee. Cut along both sides of the rectangle and snip off the hem. Fold the rectangle in half, lengthwise, and measure four inches (or whatever your sleeve measurement was) from the top of the rectangle with a ruler, and mark with a pin. From that point, measure and mark yet another four inches. (You will need to cut off any excess fabric.)

4. Use a ruler and some chalk to draw a straight line from that mid-point measurement. Cut along this line with your scissors through all layers of fabric.

After that you should have four strips of T-shirt material of equal width.

5. Take two of the strips and line each one up on either side of the original T-shirt sleeve. Sew them to the sleeve using a straight or zigzag stitch. This will form a really long strip with a bump in the middle. Repeat this with the other sleeve.

Once you have the strips attached to the sleeve, run a continuous line of basting/gathering stitches along the straight side of the sleeve about a half-inch away from the edge. The line of basting stitches should run the entire length of the sleeve, including the strips that you attached to the sides. The dots in the photo above represent where the line of basting stitches need to go.

If you don’t know how to gather fabric, or hate doing it all by hand, I have a trick that might help you out! I like to set my machine’s tension up as high as it goes (this would be nine-ish), and then I set my straight stitch on its longest length. And finally I just run whatever it is I want gathered through my machine, and it gathers the fabric perfectly! I actually found a tutorial with photos that someone made while using this method, check it out here.

After you have both sleeves gathered, they’ll look all fancy and ruffle-y like this!

Attaching the sleeves:

1. Take one of the sleeves and fold it in half. Mark the middle point of the sleeve with a pin.

2. Place the ruffle sleeve on the T-shirt making sure that the right side of the sleeve and the right side of the shirt are facing each other. Line up the pin marking the middle of the sleeve with the top-shoulder seam on the shirt, and pin the sleeve in place.

3. Continue to pin the sleeve in place around the armhole. You may need to redistribute the gathers as you pin. The ruffle should be long enough to reach the bottom of the armholes. After you’ve pinned the sleeve in place, sew it to the T-shirt using a straight stitch. Lastly, you’ll want to sew the bottom two halves of the ruffle together. Repeat this step on the other side of the tee.

And with that you’re finally done! Doesn’t that look tons better than what you started with? Be frilly, have fun, sweat–it’s summer. ♦