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! 🙂


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.

Week Four:Stash Bash Update;Leggings and an Attempted Turtleneck Refashioning

This was the week for practice muslins so nothing is very pretty, though I have learned a lot.

Leggings and an attempt to Refashion a Turtleneck

McCalls 6173:The First Practice Muslin for Leggings

McCall's 6173:The Second Practice Muslin for Leggings. I look like one of Santa's elves.

The bummer is after making these two visual horrors as practice I don’t have any fashion material for real leggings.  And I am on a fabric fast. 

Hmm. . . Well, we’ll see how that goes.

Leggings for my daughter. I drafted this pattern myself from one of her regular pants patterns. I am continuing to refine it, but this version looks like I can get good knit PJ bottoms of it.

My daughter's school requires white or navy shirts. DD can tear up a white top quicker than you can say Kalamazoo. I buy at thrift. This one was there for a reason. The neckline was too tight. I attempted to make a scoop neck out of it.

A bit rumpled but it looks well enough. But it wasn't right. The first neckline had a hole put into it by the twin needles pushing the material down into the feed dog. So I had to cut the back neck deeper which has made the entire neckline too large for my daughter. Oh well, live and learn. It wasn't like any other little kid was going to get any wear out of this thing because that original turtleneck was pretty stiff and tiny.

Next Post: Saturday, October 9, 2010:Leggings Pattern from Kwik-Sew Swim and Action Wear