Getting the Fabric for Free

The price of knit fabric has gone up in my area and the design of many kid knit patterns leans towards the dorky and ill-fitting. (I love you pattern companies – but sorry, it’s true.)  Additionally, children’s patterns are often so oversized that they are unwearable and the contours are not updated to current fashion.   The end product, though well-sewn, can look a little “off” and the kid just won’t wear the garments.  The “off”-ness also screams home-sewn, but not in a good way.

But having some basic knit patterns for kids can be essential.  Kids sleepwear can be as expensive as daywear and I sometimes want to quickly create an easy top or bottom for playtime or to accessorize a more intricate garment. 

That means I need to spend some time customizing some kid knit patterns.  I have chosen these to work with.

Butterick 5510: I am looking at the knit tee and bottom as a source for summer pj’s.

Kwik-Sew 3043: Kwik-Sew usually has such great standard patterns that I actually traced this one hoping to refine a top pattern that I can easily sew in my daughter’s school uniform colors.

Butterick 6659: I have made this before and it is hugely oversized. My daughter who is a 6X can easily wear the size 5. I am looking at making her a few sleeveless nightgowns and using the pants and panties as PJ bottoms.

And I am getting the fabric for free.

From where? 

From here – the great motherload of free fabric.

Our closet.

Summer is such a short season but my family sure runs through the summer clothes.  Between the summer gardening and the summer sweating we manage to grime up quite a bit of our wardrobe each season.   A recent purge of my husband and my closet resulted in the above basket of cast-offs.

I could have thrown them away or made more cleaning cloths, but this year I decided to consider this a source of free material to create practice muslins and summer jim-jams.  With the new baby getting any sewing time has been so hard, but I am hoping that these small projects can be managed.  And if I ruin it, who cares, it was a cast-off tee.

I am looking forward to getting started! 🙂


The No-Sew Nighttime Nursing Bra

First let me thank everyone for their kind words and wishes during my pregnancy and for celebrating with me upon the birth of my son.  It meant a lot to me to read those comments during the past several weeks. 

Bless you all! 🙂

Busy with baby, now I keep looking longingly at my machine but I haven’t much time to sew. However I do have one tiny clothing project, a refashioning project actually.

This is my first post-partum sewing project.  A no-sew project really.

I thought a soft and clingy A-tee would work nicely.

I was looking for something soft and comfortable to wear under my nightgown as early nursing can be a sensitive business.  I grabbed some men’s tee’s from the store, the type while growing up we used to call wifebeaters, not a pretty name but we did not think anything of it at the time, pre-PC and all.  The manufacturers obviously object to that name and call them A-tees I think.  The draw for me was that they fit close to the body and were very cheap.

Guestimate and cut. I had to cut off the bottom because men's hips being so slender, there was no way I was going to get the hem to fit my post-partum hips.

I have kept the bottom cut-off portion to use as ribbing in future knit projects.  Otherwise the shirts are disposable and I will warn you as you continue nursing, your breast size will increase, and you will have to keep cutting a new shirt allowing for more space at the top.  Also, any leaking goes right through and you may find yourself changing up a few times a night.  Not a long term solution, but it got me through the early days when I was most tender.

Here it is in two parts. The bottom I am squirreling away for ribbing in future knit projects. The top portion is probably going to be so used up and worn that I recycle it as a dusting cloth.

A Dog Bed Made From Leggings, a Pillowcase, and a Zipper

Ya’ll remember these?

This is a photo of my practice muslin sewn when I reviewed McCall’s 6173 Leggings pattern.

The fabric was from an old knit sheet set I scavenged at my local thrift shop.  It came with a pillowcase.  About the time I was sewing leggings I was seeing other sewing bloggers making dog beds.  I admired theirs very much, but knew that the expense wasn’t worth it.  My dogs chew.

They also stink.  I love’em.  But they stink.

I have to be able to wash the bed frequently.

My dogs’ previous bed was oval with a rounded stuffed cylinder all the way around.  They liked it very much.  And it was washable.  I wanted to recreate that idea in a dog bed using scraps.

This is what I came up with.

The pillowcase, a separating zipper, and a pair of leggings.

1) I sewed the zipper into the pillowcase opening.  I didn’t want the zipper sticking out.  I laid one edge of the pillowcase on top of the zipper and sewed down.  They I reversed by laying the zipper on top of the other edge and sewing down.  That way the hemmed edge of the pillow is completely hiding the zipper.  If the dogs don’t notice it, maybe they won’t chew it.

2) Next I took the legs of the leggings and sewed them around the edge of the pillowcase from the topside.  Didn’t worry too much about precision.  If this thing lasts a year in this house it will be lucky.

3) Then I made another stitch line making a rectangular area out of the torso area of the leggings.  That could be stuffed into a tiny pillow.

4) Back to the thrift store.  I bought some cheap throw pillows and used the stuffing to fill the legs.  My daughter liked handing me the white fluffy stuff. 

5) I cut into the ankle of each leg to tie off the ends.  I also stuffed the pillow portion at the waist portion of the leggings.  Sewed the opening closed on the machine.  Again neither precision nor finishing seam edges was all that important.

6) Next was to stuff the main body.  The question was; buy a new pillow or use one of my own?  I could buy a new pillow for the dog.  Or use one my husband’s old pillows and buy HIM the new pillow as a replacement.  As my husband gets up at 5:45 each morning to keep us in food and shelter, and the dog’s main contribution is to bark and sneak out of the yard – the husband won!

7) I stuffed my husband’s old head pillow into the dog bed and


It is a funny shape laid flat.

But it fits into the corner by our bed very well.

Zoe, our jack russell/german shepherd mix, giving the new bed a trial run. She had a good time pulling the stuffing out of the legs before I tied off the ends. The loosely stuffed pillow-edges squish into the corner making it a draft-free and soft on her getting-old doggy bones.

Next Post: Saturday, February 5, 2011:Finishing up the T-Shirt Category and Moving on to the Blouses

Winding Down on the Tee Shirt Category for Spring 2011

Today is my husband’s birthday and preparations have kept me from getting the last two white tees done.  They aren’t even cut out though I did wash and dry the fabric. 

Since I am still enamored of the “collage” option in Photoshop I am going to show my completed shirts as a series of small pics. 

I did buy two RTW shirts from the local thrift that fit, those are the peach and pink tees on the top.  The other pink tee is the one shown in my previous post on cutting down a women’s tee.  The white and grey polo are a bit tight.  Let’s hope I lose some weight this summer.  I was pleased with the navy tees as I used a vintage Stretch and Sew pattern I found at a thrift store.  The best tees were those I made from fabric folds, or when I cut out a pattern using the fabric from an XXL shirt. 

The wardrobe list prescribes only 8 tees, and I have nine, but some of those tees are not so great.  The ones I like best are the two RTW pinks, both navy tees (the dark navy tee I made two replicas of)  and the grey.  That makes for six good shirts. 

I am kind of bored with this category but as I promised myself to finish what I start this year, I am going to work on the two remaining white tees this weekend.   I am going to use Ann Person’s “City Tee” pattern which is one of my favorites. 

Next Post: Saturday, January 29, 2011: Pattern Review:McCall’s 6164 – The 80’s Tees

Refashioning:Cutting Down a Men’s Polo into a Women’s;Attempt #2

Lately I have been attempting to take RTW tees and polos and cut them down for a better fit.  A few weeks ago I had my first attempt with mixed results.

This is my second attempt.  The results are still mixed.

The original polo before alterations.

The polo began as a men’s XL and as you can see the shirt overwhelms me.

I did take in the shoulder line.  I left the side seams loose since attempt #1 taught me that polo shirt cotton can be somewhat see-through if fitted too closely to the body. Added darts.   I also took off quite a few inches at the hem.

A bit blurry but you can see that it does "fit" after alterations, I just don't like it very much.

I got it to wearable.  I can garden in it.  It is comfortable.  But I stopped any further finessing after that.

I could have taken up the sleeve hem for a more cap-like sleeve but I felt that a small sleeve would look strange with the larger men’s collar and placket.

Actually it is that collar and placket that is making me abandon the whole idea of cutting down a men’s polo.  No matter how well I cut down the shirt I feel that the man-size collar does not flatter my feminine shoulders and neckline.  Even after a dramatic cutback on the hem and a shoulder alteration, I still look like a girl wearing boys’ clothes.

Not the effect I am seeking.

The reason I was using mens’ polos was that plus-size womens’ polos in RTW are often just as oversized.  I thought I might be able to buy mens’ shirts cheaply at the thrift since polos are plentiful in the mens’ section, but there are hardly any in the womens’.   I was reluctant to pay full RTW prices as I am prone to wearing such shirts while doing yard work, etc.

Good try.  Didn’t work out.  My next idea is to find a source of inexpensive womens’ plus-size polos and cut them down instead as they will probably have smaller collars and plackets so at least it will still be a recognizably feminine shirt when I am done. I am going to check out the pattern by Clotidle mentioned by Connie in the last post.

But right now I am taking a break from refashioning as I finish up my spring t-shirts.  Only two more tees to go and I am done with one of my wardrobe categories!

Next Post: Thursday, January 27, 2011: Hopefully an update with photos of how well my spring sewing is going.

Refashioning:Cutting Down a Women’s Tee

The fit of the original tee. I forgot to turn the flash off so the image is spotty as the light bounced off the mirro. This is the size tee I would have to buy in RTW and you can see that the fit is dumpy. Going down a size is not an option, as then the t-shirt is too small.

Some home-sewers don’t see why anyone would bother to make a t-shirt.  They are cheap and not worth your time they contend.

Experience has taught me to go against this advice.  After I became plus-size cheap tees were no longer flattering, and the good ones were no longer cheap.

Though I do understand that sewing your own can be a lot of time for a t-shirt, especially when you might garden in it. 

That got me to thinking, what if I could take thrift store tees, and with a few quick alterations, make them bearable?

Here is my first try.  This is a peachy-pink tee off of the 99 cent clearance rack at my local thrift store.  I purposely choose it because it is a bit oversized for me, it was in my chosen color palette for spring, and of course, because it was dirt cheap. 

As you can see this shirt has a matronly look, as do most RTW tees that I find.  Usually plus-size clothes that fit around my waistline, are oversized and dumpy at the neckline.  You can see that the shoulders are a bit big, though being a crew neck for once the neckline fits.

I began by concentrating on the side seams.  Starting right under the arm I took them in, curving in at the waist and back out slightly towards the hemline. 

I am wearing the shirt inside out so you can see how much I took in the side seams.

Next, another bugaboo about plus-size tees – they are usually REALLY long.  As my upper hip measurement is larger than my lower, a hem sitting tightly so far below my widest part just highlights my figure irregularity.  I hemmed. 

Most of the time I don’t mind sewing on my daughter’s Hello Kitty machine, but in hemming knits, it is not at its best.  I turned the fabric under one inch and used a wide zig-zag sewing from the top.  The wide zig-zag looks surprisingly similar to a standard RTW coverstitch if the onlooker doesn’t look to closely.  The bad thing is that the zig-zag has a tendency to pull the fabric.  I used washable solvy on the bottom but that did not totally eliminate waving.  (Though some of the wave might be caused by the unwashed-out solvy itself.)

The hem is wavy which is disappointing but I haven't washed out the solvy yet.

The Results

A serviceable if not very cool t-shirt. The shoulders are still a bit large but that alteration was more than the shirt is worth.

Meh.  I am going to try a few more.  Maybe a certain style of tee works better than others, or I have yet to learn a better technique.  The good thing to refashioning is that no time is spent working on a finished collar.  However, there seems to be a limit to how much can be changed in a garment. 

Well, on to the polos.  I am still working on cutting down men’s polos to fit me. 

Next Post:  Tuesday, January 25, 2011:Cutting down men’s polos into women’s – will it work?

Refashioning: A Man’s Polo into a Woman’s Polo

You know what gets me through winter? 


I can’t wait to sew spring clothes.  Initially my plan was to wait for the New Year before pulling out the spring fabric, but my winter doldrums have gotten so bad that I decided to start on a small spring project to lift my spirits.

The tee-shirt pattern and original polo.

Here is the first of my spring sew-ups; a refashioned men’s polo.  Taking an XL men’s polo bought at a thrift store, my first thought was that I could get a regular t-shirt out of it.   But when I pulled it out I thought it would be a shame to waste that finished neckline. I don’t make polo shirts for myself, and I have such a hard time getting ones to fit well in plus-sizes.  On a whim I decided to cut it down into a women’s polo.

I cut up the side seams and along the armscye. 

Cut right beside the seams.

Laying the sleeves aside, I fold the polo in half matching the shoulder seams.

Matching shoulder seams fold the shirt exactly in half.

Next I took a TNT t-shirt pattern that I have already successfully fit and laid it over the polo.

Lay the pattern on top of the shirt use it as a rough guide to cut in an armscye curve. I did not cut down the sleeves for this shirt as I often find sleeves binding, I thought the extra material in men's shirtsleeves would be a plus.

This gave me a guideline for grading down the shoulder seam.  I didn’t cut exact to my pattern though.  Allowing some extra room in the shoulder I winged it. 

Then I reattached the arms flat.  Tidied up the side seams and sewed them. 

After a try-on I marked and sewed the hem.

The finished polo.

Overall, I am very pleased.  As a plus-size woman sometimes I am advised to buy men’s tee’s and polo’s, but frankly the fit is so unfeminine.  The shoulders hang off of me and the effect is dumpy and depressing.  Cutting down the shoulder was all it took to feminize the shirt.

As the original polo was meant to hang from a man's body, the white fabric is a wee bit see-through when the shirt is more fitted. Will need a tee-shirt bra or weight loss.

However, it did hoochie-mamma on me

Advice to others: If you want to retain the neckline, you will perforce cut down the shoulder.  When you cut the shoulder back, the sleeve moves inward no longer meeting at the old armpit point.  Your armpit point moves towards the center of the shirt thereby decreasing the circumference. 

Two options at that point:

1) Accept the more fitted version.

2) Buy a shirt so large that you will still have ease even after moving the armpit point inwards.


  • If you have a tried and true pattern to use as a guide the whole project could take less than one hour.  As I did not have to construct a neckline, collar or sleeve cuff for this shirt, that cut my time down significantly.
  • Thrift store shirts are cheap.
  • If you make a mistake you haven’t lost much in the way of money.
  • Men’s knit shirts are often of high quality material often unavailable in fabric stores.
  • It’s just fun!



  • It may take more than one attempt to get a successful refashioning.
  • If you are in the upper plus-sizes it may be hard to find sufficiently large men’s shirts.
  • The shirt you refashion will always be smaller than the original.  Buy two or more sizes up.  (This one came out so fitted that it requires a tee-shirt bra!  Didn’t see that coming.)
  • The refashioned garment may bear some of the same fitting issues, such as folds, as the original RTW garment.  That is because you probably won’t have enough material to cut your way out of it. 

Will I Sew it Again?

All that was left at the end. I took the cut off original hem and made two headbands to hold back my bangs when washing my face. It was throw-away material anyway and at least it will get more use before its certain demise.

Yeah, I think so.  I have several more men’s knit shirts and I am trying various patterns with them.  The process is fun and I hope to reach the point where I have a method that is TNT, thereby incrementally increasing my choice in garments if I can reliably alter RTW bought at bottom-dollar from the thrift store.

Next Post: Tuesday, December 21, 2010: Finishing some things from the sewing basket.  Hope to be ready to show them.