Monday, February 16, 2015

A Comprehensive Guide to T-Shirt Reconstruction, Part 1: Materials and Tips

Part 1: Materials and Tips (this)

Hello my lovelies!

IT IS TIME. I have put together as comprehensive a crash-course on t-shirt reconstruction as I possibly can given two and a half days to do it...

Today I am going to go over some tips and tricks for working with t-shirts. For the most part, it's extremely easy...but there are a few things to keep in mind if you haven't spent a lot of time with them on your sewing machine.

So, without further "Read More" to get started!

The first thing that you're going to need is, of course...


Lots and lots of them. Or just one or two. Start slow if you want, and save some of these ideas for later.

When you're reconstructing a t-shirt, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

1. What do you like to wear? You want to be sure that you aren't just doing something because it looks cool on Pinterest. If you wouldn't wear something like it, then don't make it, no matter how awesome you think it is. Unless you're planning to give it to someone else, stick with what you know you like.

For example, if you look weird in high-necked shirts, go with a v-neck or a scoop. If you hate wearing tanks, plan on incorporating sleeves into your reconstruction.

Try on your favorite tops and note what they have in common - similar necklines? Fit? Sleeve length? Use that as your basis for deciding where to go with your t-shirt.

2. Where will you be wearing your new creation? For me, I work at home, so I can basically wear anything. But when I do leave the house (to go grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, hitting up the school for teacher conferences, etc.), I like to look casual but cute and pulled together. Nothing too fancy, but unique and nice. If this sounds like you, keep that in mind as well as you plan.

If, however, you're looking for a shirt to paint in, consider things like comfort, fit, and simplicity.

As far as wearing reconstructed t-shirts to work, that can get a little tricky. Depending on the dress code at your job, even a really nicely reconstructed tee may not go over well, especially if you're using a shirt that has a logo or an image on the front. Logos and images basically automatically put a shirt into a more casual category.

3. How much do you care about the shirt you're about to cut up? If you've never reconstructed a tee before, or if you are trying a new technique, I would highly recommend NOT utilizing your prized concert tee from when you saw your favorite band in high school. Save that one for something you are very confident in.

There are four major components when reconstructing a t-shirt:

  • Resizing (I'll be showing you 6 different ways to resize a t-shirt on Tuesday)
  • Necklines (4 neckline possibilities will appear on Wednesday)
  • Sleeves (4 different sleeves will be demonstrated on Thursday)
  • Embellishment (obviously optional, adding embellishments can give it a little special something - I'll offer up 4 different embellishment ideas on Friday)
Using only the techniques I'm showing you this week, I was able to make the following six looks. Note that each of these t-shirts started as a large, shapeless, square, XL t-shirt.

Sewing tips:

  1. Sewing with t-shirt material can be a challenge. Some online tutorials will recommend that you sew each seam with a straight stitch, while stretching the fabric as it feeds through the machine. THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA! It leads to wonky seams and the potential for popping. No good! Unless stated otherwise, all of the seams in the techniques I'm showing you this week should be sewed with a standard zig-zag or a "stretch" stitch (if you have one on your machine).
  2. Do NOT stretch your fabric at all while sewing! T-shirt material, especially the thin gauzy stuff, will stretch if you look at it funny. Sometimes even if you think it's not stretching, it is anyway, just because the weight of the fabric itself can pull against your seam. Stretched fabric = wonky seams. You almost want there to be a little slack in the fabric as it feeds through.
  3. Use strong polyester thread. Cotton thread is great, but because of the stretching that is involved in putting on and removing reconstructed t-shirts, cotton has a greater tendency to break over time. A good, high-quality polyester thread is your best bet.
  4. Use a ball-point needle in your machine. The sharp needles that your machine comes with are great for most purposes, but when stitching knit fabric, you have to be careful that not a single tiny little thread in that knit gets torn or cut, or you'll find little unraveling holes in your garment right on your seamline. A ball-point needle has a slightly rounded tip. Basically, when the needle comes down, it's going to slip in between the knit instead of forcing its way through your fabric threads.
  5. Use pins sparingly. For the reasons highlighted in 3 above, you want to limit the number of times you jab your fabric with sharp pins. Sometimes (like when you're reattaching a sleeve), pinning is the only way to be sure that you've got everything lined up properly, and that's fine. But whenever possible, line your edges up by hand and feed them through the sewing machine on their own. You can stop every couple of inches and readjust if me, this is worth the extra time.
  6. There is usually no need to hem t-shirt fabric. T-shirt material does not fray, and instead tends to roll up at the edges. This can be a really cool look! Hemming is fine, of course, if it's important to you to have very finished edges, but every seam you sew is just another opportunity for wonkiness if the seam isn't done perfectly.

Okay I think that's about all I've got for you today...

Stay tuned! Tomorrow we get started with T-Shirt Resizing!


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