T-shirts: Making them smaller

Before we get into the sewing thing, take a peek at this wonderful exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA).  It’s called Flatlander.

Flatlander exhibit at BMoCA
Opening night at the Flatlander exhibit, BMoCA

The exhibit addresses how our compulsive relationship with our flat screens has changed our view of the world.  So naturally, many of the pieces are three-dimensional.  There are tiny murals made from laser-cut currency, lacework cut from maps, hovering electrons, and recursive mirror images.  If you’re in or through Colorado this summer, stop by to see it.  Also, admission is one dollar.  I mean, a dollar!  Local museums are awesome.

A too-large tee.

But what if you need something to wear to the museum?  Perhaps a clever t-shirt?  But all the good ones seem to arrive in giant, boxy men’s sizes.  Here’s how you fix that.

First, check out Melly Sews for her simple “How to make a t-shirt smaller” tutorial.  She’s cutting down men’s size tees for her son, but the principle works for any tee that needs to lose some breadth.

I use my favorite stretchy tee—probably the only one I haven’t altered—as a pattern.  I lay it down over the too-large shirt, cut and sew as Melly instructs, and bam, I have a tee that fits just right.

If you like the neckline as is, you can just leave it there.  I usually cut out the crew neck and make it into a v-neck or scoop, binding the edges for stability.


A couple tricks help me ensure good results.  First, keep in mind the fabric’s heft and stretch.  My pattern tee is very light and stretchy, so when I lay it over a heftier knit I leave a little extra room around the sides.  Since there’s less stretch in the tee I’m altering, that ensures I have enough room in it.  Second, don’t flare the shirt out at the bottom.  You can count on it to stretch over your hips.  You can, however, shape the sides just a little to better skim over the body.

As always, cutting conservatively at first and trying things on as you go is a good strategy.  You can always cut something smaller, but you can’t go back.  A few of my early attempts wound up in the rag bag because I got too radical with the scissors.  This is also a good reason to start with an event giveaway shirt instead of your favorite one with the great design.

Do you have any habitual tweaks you make to your clothes?  What are your favorite strategies?


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