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Friday, March 18, 2016

Tips for Recycling Knit Shirts

For some time now, I've been holding on to a stack of long-sleeved knit turtleneck tees, mockneck tees, and fing guage sweaters that belonged to either me, my mom, or my husband--all with the intentions of someday recycling these shirts into refashioned tops for Ella. Why buy new, expensive knit fabrics when each of these old, gently worn shirts has all the fabric I need to sew my daughter a new top?

Today I'm here to give you some tips for how to recycle a gently used adult knit shirt into a new child's shirt using the Tee x 3 Pattern from Blank Slate Patterns (affiliate link).

The first Tee x 3 I sewed Ella used only the front, back, and sleeve pieces of the pattern. I saved myself time sewing by reusing elements of the existing adult sized turtleneck shirt I recycled. Here's how!

This post contains affiliate links. Although I was provided the pattern at no cost in exchange for my review, all opinions given are my own.

Recycle a gently used adult knit shirt and give these tips a try when you sew a Tee x 3 shirt.

Reuse the existing hem!

For both of Ella's new Tee x 3 shirts, I adjusted the length of the front and back pattern pieces by removing the seam allowance for the hem from the pattern. I then cut out the front and back pieces using the existing hem from the old shirt. Now I have a professionally sewn t-shirt hem without ever having to use a double needle or coverstitch machine!

Reuse the existing sleeve band!

Both adult-sized shirts I recycled were originally sewn with a ribbed knit sleeve band. Again, to avoid having to use a double needle or coverstitch machine to hem the sleeves, I simply cut off the sleeve band as close to the original seam as I could and then sewed it onto the refashioned Tee x 3 sleeve.

For the size 8 shirts I made for Ella, I was able to reuse both sleeve bands without any additional modifications, but if you are making a smaller size Tee x 3, you can easily adjust the diameter of the sleeve band by resewing the band to make the band approximately 1/2" smaller in diameter than the opening at the bottom of the sewn sleeve. Attach the sleeve band to the sleeve by placing the band over the end of the sleeve right sides together and matching raw edges. Serge the seam and flip the sleeve band down.

Reuse the existing neck band!

For the off-white Tee x 3 I made Ella, I recycled the ribbed knit turtleneck band to create a new turtleneck shirt. Of the two shirts I made her, this was definitely the quickest and easiest to sew. Just like with reusing the sleeve bands, I was able to simply reattach the turtleneck band to Ella's top with no modifications to the band; however, you could modify the band in exactly the same way as you might adjust the sleeve bands as described above.

Since the fit of the bodice and arm length of the turtleneck shirt were so perfect and comfortable on Ella, I decided to make her another shirt using the Peter Pan collar option. Again, I repurposed an existing adult sized shirt for the fabric. The original shirt was a men's size XL and provided enough fabric to cut out the collar as well as the binding pieces. Since the entire new shirt would be sewn from all one fabric, I used an embroidery stitch on my sewing machine to add a decorative detail to the collar.

Do these 4 things to add an embroidered detail to your shirt collar:

  1. Fuse a lightweight interfacing to the wrong side of one piece of the collar to add stability and to prevent the knit from stretching when stitching.
  2. Use embroidery thread to make the decorative stitch bolder on the knit fabric (use regular thread in the bobbin still).
  3. Test the decorative stitch on a scrap piece of the shirt fabric and make any stitch adjustments before sewing on the actual collar.
  4. Sew the decorative stitch approximately 1" from the raw edge of the interfaced collar pieces only. Then follow the pattern instructions on how to sew together the collar.
After sewing on the collar, I discovered a tiny hole in the fabric on the front of the shirt! I have no idea if the hole was there to begin with or if I accidentally snipped the fabric while sewing. Immediately, I begin to brainstorm how I could save this shirt and all my work from being thrown in the trash. Luckily, I still had a few scraps of fabric left, so I cut out a small pocket a positioned it over the tiny hole. Again, I reused the old shirt hem to make the pocket hem, and after pressing in the raw edges, I stitched the pocket in place. I love the little pocket and think it made the perfect addition!

Ella was thrilled when she first saw the collared Tee x 3 I made her with the light pink stitched detail on the collar and the tiny pocket on the front.

The button closure detail on the back makes it easy for her to put on and take off this Tee x 3 with a Peter Pan collar.

She couldn't wait to wear it to school the next day with her Blank Slate Patterns Clean Slate Pants.

I know I'll be putting this pattern to good use by making Ella several more shirts with the 3 styles included in the pattern--Regular, Hooded, and Peter Pan Collar--as well as refashioning a few more used adult turtleneck shirts! As I mentioned earlier, if you haven't tried the Tee x 3 Pattern (affiliate link) yet, you need to soon! You'll love it as much as Ella and I do!

Have FUN sewing!

~ Veronica


  1. Those shirts for Ella look great!! I really like the embroidered collar, good job recycling!!

  2. Everytime I go camping my campsite gets ransacked by bears. So I just boughtt a "I Love Bears" t-shirt. I am hoping that this will convince them to leave me alone next time. Can I return the shirt if it doesn't work?


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