18" Doll Sewing Patterns • Free Tutorials • Sewing with Kids

Upcycle: T-shirt to Summer Shirred Top or Tunic Sewing Tutorial

Upcycle: T-shirt to Summer Shirred Top or Tunic Sewing Tutorial

Here’s a quick sewing tutorial for making a shirred top or tunic from an adult t-shirt. In this upcycle tutorial, you can learn to use elastic thread to shirr the bodice–it’s so easy, much easier than you imagine. You can also learn to sew with a twin needle (double needle) on knit fabrics. Also really much easier than you would think.

I had planned to give away these T-shirts, because they’re too big for me. Instead I thought I would repurpose them, because the knit fabric is really nice.  My daughter loves shirred tops and dresses, and loves to wear knits much more than woven fabrics. This color is one of her favorites, so I think this will go over well 🙂

To do this upcycle, you’ll need:

  • Elastic thread (I used 2 1/2 spools of Gutermann) and regular sewing thread
  • Stretch needle and Stretch Twin needle
  • Iron/ironing board
  • Straight edge, cutting mat, and rotary cutter–extremely helpful, but scissors will also do the job
  • T-shirt
  • Fabric marking pen, optional

Step 1

Measure how long you want the top or tunic to be, from top to hem length.

For smaller children, you may not need the entire length of  the Tee. If you don’t, then  measure from hem up to your needed length on both sides, to make sure you cut it straight and it isn’t longer on one side when all is said and done.

If you plan to finish top edge by folding and sewing, then be sure to include a hem allowance in your measurement. For a raw edge or a serged edge, no hem allowance is needed.

For my 10 year old, she wanted a tunic, so I used all of the shirt that I could.

Placed the straight edge  just under the sleeves (or at the cutting line marks you’ve made).  Use a rotary cutter and cut the bottom off the tee.

Step 2

<<Insert a stretch needle>>

Hem or finish the top edge.You can fold over toward the inside and press, then stitch in place.

I did a simple rolled hem on my serger. Make sure you use a stretch needle(s) in your serger or traditional machine when sewing on jersey knits.  You can also leave this edge unfinished, as the fabric won’t fray.

The lower edge is already finished and will be the hem of the top or tunic.


If you are hemming the top edge with a traditional machine, then be sure to use a stretch stitch: zigzag stitch, triple straight stitch, or use a twin needle. See my posts about twin needles: how to thread your machine to sew with a twin needle and tips for sewing  with twin needle.

Step 3

Wind the bobbin with elastic thread.

First put the end of the thread through the hole in the bobbin, then wind elastic thread onto bobbin. Make sure it is not loose, pull on the thread very slightly as you wind. Don’t pull too much, just slightly. Try to pull and wind as evenly as you can for best results when sewing.  Make sure not to wind the bobbin too full, or it won’t unwind smoothly as you sew in the beginning.

After bobbin is wound, trim the end that you put through hole to get started.

Thread the machine with regular thread on top for the needle, and the elastic thread in the bobbin. Make sure you are using a stretch needle (jersey ball point needle).

Step 4

It may help to draw sewing lines with tailor’s chalk or a fabric marker on the right side of your fabric. I sew my lines about 3/8″apart, because that’s the distance from the needle to the edge of the presser foot. I prefer not to mark sewing lines and instead use the side of my presser foot to guide my sewing.

With the right side of the fabric facing up, sew straight stitching  lines. Use a long stitch length. I used a length of 5 on this example.  A 4 stitching length should also work just fine. Start sewing at one of the  sides, an inch before the side seam. Back stitch to secure (I sew back and forth a couple of times–just to be sure). Sew all the way around and sew past where you started about 2″.** Then back stitch to secure.

Trim threads and repeat for as many rows as you want for your top.

**Starting/ending each row of stitching: You can also tie the thread ends together to secure, but you will need to start and end in the same place, so that your threads are close enough to tie together. Below shows both sewing examples.

As you sew your rows, make sure you are pulling/holding the fabric flat as you sew, in front and in back of the presser foot.

The elastic thread will make it bunch up, but you don’t want to sew it while it’s bunched. See photos below for examples. The second picture shows the fabric flattened in front only, because I needed my other hand to take the picture. As I am sewing, I have one hand in front of the presser foot and the other hand in back of the presser foot to hold fabric flat as I sew seems to work best.

Step 5

Ribbons or bias tape could be substituted, but I love the stretchy feel of knit straps.

Cut straps from the top portion of the tee. My tee was a V-neck, so I could only use the back of the shirt.

Cut the top portion of the tee open, by cutting the sleeve open at the seam.

Then cut strips 1 1/2″ -wide with my rotary cutter and straight edge.

Fold the raw edges in toward the middle and iron the straps, as shown. I use spray starch alternative to help the strips stay pressed and reduce the curling effect. Make sure the right side of fabric is on the outside as you create the straps.

Insert a stretch twin needle and thread your machine.  I clearly explain how to properly thread your machine when using twin needles here.

Make sure to replace the bobbin with regular sewing thread. With right side facing up, sew down the center of the straps. It’s important to either use a twin stretch needle or a zigzag stitch with a single needle, so that the strap can stretch without the thread breaking.

Step 6

If possible, have your child try on the top and mark where the straps should go. For my example top, the straps have 6 inches between them (in the middle of the top).

Sew the straps in place. Tie the straps into bows (again, this it’s best to have the child try it on and tie the straps to fit). Tie end of each strap into a knot  and trim any excess (if straps are too long). My daughter ‘s straps ended up being 15″ long each, but could certainly have been shorter.

Steam press your shirring, so it cinches up nicely.  I spray mine with a mist of water, then use the iron to steam the bodice. It will also cinch up after washing and machine drying your finished garment.

Viola! Summer top is complete. I hope this tutorial helps! My daughter loves her new knit tunic and wants more. Since these tops only take a short time, I think I will be making more. It will look so cute with shorts or capris leggings!

If you use this tutorial to sew some fun tops or tunics, I’d love to hear how it went!


Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox:

%d bloggers like this:
Read previous post:
How to Thread a Sewing Machine when Using a Twin Needle

Tutotial: threading the sewing machine for sewing with a twin needle or double needle.  You will need to keep your...

What they don’t tell you…

but should. Why, oh why, do pattern companies assume sewists know to do the little things? As I was re-reading...