T-shirts: Making them larger

Let’s talk tees.

Altering t-shirts to fit a size larger

Tees are cool, comfortable, and inexpensive.  They are also cut straight and long, which does not flatter my short-waisted, curvier figure.

I may not yet have enough handsewn frocks and slacks to honor Me Made May.  But a Me Modified May?  That I could knock out of the park.  I’ve hacked up almost all my t-shirts one way or another, and those that I haven’t are just waiting for the scissors.

I come back to a few techniques over and over.  Today let’s look at those for making a too-small tee a bit bigger.  I can generally take a tee up a size.  If the shirt is too small for that, I stick with cutting out the motif I like and appliqueing it onto a shirt that really fits.  Not saying you can’t do it—it’s just more remodeling than I’m willing to undertake.

First things first: alter the length.  They usually come way too long for me.  I chop three to four inches from the lower hem, then fold up the cut edge up and use a zig-zag stitch to create a new hem.  (A serger would be great for all these seams; but I don’t have one and a regular machine with a zig-zag or stretch stitch works just fine.)  Alternatively, cut the hem off about 1/2″ above the serge line, then cut off the desired length and reattach the hem.  This saves folding over the hem and you get a finished look in just one line of stitching.  It can be a bit of a pain to fight the rolling of two pieces of knit at once, however.

It took me a few tries to stop cutting too much off the bottom.  The shirt scrunches up on the body a bit when you wear it, and you need to leave enough length for that.  If you’re like me, I’d suggest leaving the shirt an inch or two longer than you think you need to and seeing how it works out.  You can always go shorter later.

Now for the alterations that take the shirt up a size.  There are two things I usually try:

Open up the neckline.  Tees often come with crew necks, which don’t look great on me.  Cutting the neck out around the ribbing, and making the front into a vee or scoop, not only looks better but gives the shirt just a bit more room in the chest.  This technique is usually good for about one cup size.

I used to leave the edges raw, or run a quick zig-zag stitch around the opening.  The knit fabric won’t fray, though it may curl a little.  But lately I’ve been binding the neck openings.  This gives a cleaner finish to the shirt and stabilizes the neckline.  I’ve noticed some of my older shirts are pulling apart at the top of the shoulder seams, and binding will stop that from happening.  On the shirt above I used 1/4″ gold bias tape that I had in my stash, but I usually cut some binding from the discarded fabric I cut off the length.

Panel inserted into back of tee.Add a panel.  You can slice an inch or so out of the back of the shirt, then sew in a panel cut from another tee.  You can even use the vertical cut in the back to shape the tee just a titch, making more room in the chest.  Approach this gently, because the fabric does not reward dramatic tailoring.  And keep your insert straight: do any shaping with your cut.  I’ve found this works for about one size up.  More than that and I run into problems with the arms being in the wrong place.

I’ve seen pictures on Pinterest of shirts with room added down the side seams, which looks promising and could work for a larger size-up.  I haven’t tried it myself though.

Have you altered a tee before?  What was your experience?


2 thoughts on “T-shirts: Making them larger

  1. I’m too lazy to do that kind of sewing but my daughter once made a dress with pockets from two contrasting t-shirts. The sleeves of one became the pockets once they were tucked inside. The other t was the top of the dress.


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