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T-Shirt Market Bag Tutorial

One of my lovely nieces is learning to sew with a sewing machine. To help, I thought I would do a series of beginning sewing project tutorials. Today’s tutorial turns an old t-shirt into a market bag. I’m keeping it simple today, but in the future I’ll do a post on how to make it with and enclosed bottom seam and how to box the bottom. It’s a great way to turn t-shirts that you no longer wear into something useful. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you could even sew it by hand.

Materials:

  • T-shirt
    • T-shirts with a high cotton content and no side seams work the best.
  • Thread in your choice of color.
  • Fabric scissors
  • Sewing machine set up with appropriate needle and bobbin threaded in your color choice.
    • Note: Ball point needles are generally the best for sewing with knits. This project does fine with an all-purpose needle, though, so use what you have.

Preparing the shirt:

Lay the shirt out flat and smooth out any wrinkles. Since this one is just to add to my Aldi bag stash, I didn’t worry too much about wrinkles.

T-shirt laid flat
T-shirt. I’m not sure where I got this one. Also, forgive the grainy photos. Lighting in my craft room wasn’t great that day.

Cut off the arms including the armhole seams.

Cut off the neck about 2-3 inches below the neckband. My shirt is pretty big, so I went three inches below the neckband. With smaller shirts you can do less.

Cutting off sleeves and neck.
I like to fold it in half before cutting to keep everything even. If your scissors aren’t sharp enough to go through all the layers, cut one side and then fold it in half to use as a template for the other side.

Cut straight across the bottom of the shirt to remove the hem. The hemline is often uneven on t-shirts, so focus on keeping the shoulder seams lined up, the shirt smooth and cutting a straight line that removes all of the hem.

Cut off the bottom hem.
Bottom hem removed.

At this point, you should basically have turned the t-shirt into a tank top. Now, decide if you want your bag to look like plastic grocery sacks that have the handles at the top sides (so, your tank top with the bottom sewn closed), or if you want the handles at the top middle, like a purse or market tote.

Looks like a tank top.
Looks like a tank top. For a grocery style bag, turn it inside out and lay it back flat in this position.

For the grocery sack-style, turn your shirt inside out and lay it flat, just like a tank top again. For the purse/market tote, turn it inside out and match the shoulder seams and armholes together, then lay it flat. I’m making a market style tote, so you can see it in the photos.

Laying flat for a purse/market tote.
For a purse/market tote turn it inside out and lay it flat with the shoulder seams at the top, as shown here. I find this style easier to carry on my shoulder.

Once everything is lined up, pin along the bottom to hold it in place.

Pinned hem.
Pinned hem.

Sewing the bag:

Many sewing machines have an assortment of stitches to use with knit fabric. They are useful for keeping the thread from breaking when the fabric stretches. On my machine, they are labeled “stretch” and shown in brown. Zig-zag stitches also work well on knits.

Stitch assortment on my Kenmore sewing machine.
Normal stitches are in red. Stretch stitches are in brown.

You could use a stretch or zig-zag stitch for the bottom of the bag. Since it really shouldn’t be stretching much, I usually stick with a regular straight stitch set to a long-ish length of 3.

Regardless of the type of stitch you choose, I recommend sewing across the bottom twice to make it nice and strong.

The seam allowance, or distance between the edge of the fabric and the stitches, doesn’t really matter that much as long as you keep it the same all the way across. For this bag, I used a 5/8 inch allowance, marked on the footplate of my machine. To keep a straight line, focus on keeping the fabric lined up with the guideline for the seam allowance rather than watching the needle.

Edge of fabric lined up on 5/8 mark.
Edge of fabric lined up on 5/8 mark.

At the start , sew about 2-3 stitches then backstitch to secure the stitching before continuing to sew to the end. At the end, backstitch another 2-3 stitches, then sew to the end and cut the threads. Repeat the seam as close to the original line of sewing as possible to make it nice and strong.

Turn the bag right side out. Since knit doesn’t unravel, you could stop there and be done. I like to sew around the arm and neck holes to reinforce the t-shirts original shoulder seams and give it a more finished look.

Finishing around the t-shirt arm and neck hole handles:

I usually use a serger for this, but it’s not necessary. On a sewing machine, I do like to use either a zig-zag or stretch stitch since there is going to be more stretch on the handles so a straight stitch might break.

Zig-zag setting on my Kenmore.
Zig-zag setting.

This time, I’m using a zig-zag stitch, keeping the stitch length set at 3 and using about a 1/2 inch seam allowance. If your sewing machine has a free-arm, it can make it easier to sew around the armholes if you use it. Sew around each arm hole and the neck hole separately.

Messy zig-zag backstitching.
Messy zig-zag backstitching.

To start and finish the zig-zag, I backstitched like normal. It looks a little messy that way. You could leave extra thread at the beginning and end, pull the threads to the back side and tie knots to secure them if you want a cleaner look.

Finished t-shirt bag.
Finished t-shirt bag.

That’s it. You now have a purse or reusable bag from what used to be an old t-shirt. Don’t throw the t-shirt scraps away. I’ll post some creative uses for them soon! To learn how to make this bag a little more polished, read my t-shirt bag upgrades post.

If you read through the tutorial and like the concept but don’t want to diy, I still have a few left in my shop on clearance here.

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Goodwill Finds and Refashion Ideas

Pink tunic after removing the lining.

This weekend, we visited a local Goodwill store. Unlike the other Goodwill’s in our area, this one has everything in big bins and they charge a flat, by-the-pound fee. Thrift stores always have unique items, but this one seems to have some really good finds, if you’re willing to dig.

In addition to a few household odds and ends, I found a couple of dresses and a shirt that need a little bit of refashioning, and a pair of skinny boyfriend cut jeans that are like new and fit perfectly. I also found a pretty floral vintage bed sheet. Vintage linens are somewhat in demand among crafters, and I rarely have luck finding them, so it was a nice surprise. 

 

Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet
Vintage Pink and Purple Floral Bed Sheet

Green Dress

The first dress is a casual, green knit dress with interesting cutwork and stitching at the neckline and hem.

Green knit dress
Green knit dress

Pros: It’s comfortable, easy to wear and chase after kiddos, and I like the color and detailing. Cons: It’s a size or two too big. This makes the underarms gappy and the waistline droopy. It’s too short to be a maxi dress, but not short enough to not be frumpy. I could wear it as is around the house, but I think I can make it into something better.

My plan: Separate it at the waist into the bodice and skirt. Tighten the bodice at the side seams. Reattach the skirt to the bodice after removing a few inches from the top of the skirt to make it somewhere between tunic and knee length. Add new, tighter elastic at the waist.

Long, Floral Shirtdress

The pretty blue and floral pattern is what caught my attention with this dress.

Blue, long floral shirtdress
Blue, long floral shirtdress

Pros: The print is very pretty, and there is a lot of fabric to work with. Cons: The fabric is a stiff, non-breathing 100% polyester. It’s a size too small through the middle.

My plan: I have a few ideas for this one. The top (bodice) fits pretty well. The only fit issue is right through the middle. I could separate the bodice from the skirt, raise the skirt so that a wider section that fits me better is at the waist and reattach. Factoring in the button placket might make it tricky, but not that difficult.

I’m not sure I would wear it enough to go through that trouble, though. Option two is to use the skirt portion to make a slip-style nightgown by shaping a neckline and cutouts for armholes, then adding bias tape trim and snaps. I would probably use it more this way, but I still worry about the feel of the fabric. I usually avoid things without at least some natural fiber content. Texas is hot and I need my clothes to breathe.

My final idea is to salvage the buttons and use the fabric for things like bag linings, makeup pouches or other accessories. I will probably try one of my first two ideas before this one. I can always use option three if one or two don’t work out.

Pink Tunic Shirt

I think the flowiness of the outer layer and the stitching around the neckline is what made me grab this tunic shirt from the bin.

Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt
Flowy Pink Tunic Shirt

Pros: Flowy, comfortable fit. Detailing at the neckline keeps it from being too plain. Nice, bright color. Cons: The top layer seems to have shrunk, exposing the lining layer. The lining is 100% polyester knit, which is stretchy and comfortable, but doesn’t breathe.

My plan: This one was so simple, I actually did it in about five minutes this morning. I thought about shortening the lining by a few inches. The top, gauzy layer didn’t really have to have a lining, though, so I decided to remove the lining altogether by simply cutting it out. This made it super easy, and now the tunic is lighter and more suitable to Texas summers.

Pink tunic after removing the lining.
Pink tunic after removing the lining.

It’s not the most dramatic refashion, but it fixed a problem and made it so much more comfortable to wear. I wore it Sunday over my new-to-me Goodwill blue jeans to The Modern art museum and then to Central Market with the family for a treat and playtime on their playground. Without the lining, the tunic was lightweight, and the drapiness of the fabric kept it from feeling frumpy. I totally see it becoming one of my new favorites.

Speaking of The Modern, if you’re on Instagram, I’ve shared a video to @subearthancottage of Thadd and Beckett having fun with the crazy acoustics inside the Vortex sculpture out front. It was so much fun to watch them play, as well as just about anyone walking by. Few people passed without stepping inside to stomp their feet or shout.

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Early Morning Gauzy Tunic Refashion

In keeping with my desire to be more conscientious with my clothing, I shopped my closet for clothes that aren’t bad, but need a little refashioning to make me feel comfortable in them.  I’ve had this gauzy tunic top hanging in my closet for a while. It felt nice and lightweight, but I just never felt like wearing it.

Originally it was a pale, pastel blue. I thought maybe a color change would help, since I’m not big on pastels. I added it to a black Rit dye batch a few weeks ago, turning it a nice, dark grey. When I put it on yesterday morning, though, it still wasn’t quite right.

Early morning=terrible lighting

The sleeves had weird cuffs sewn on that were an awkward length and oddly tight. I decided they had to go.

See the blue thread? That was the original shirt color.

Rather than ripping out the seam, I simply cut away the cuffs as close to the seam as possible. I could have folded and hemmed the sleeves, but I planned to wear the tunic that day, so I wanted a quicker way of finishing them.

Still too dark.


Instead of hemming, I used my serger to make a rolled overcast edge where I had removed the cuffs. Not only was this quick, it gave the sleeves a light, breezy feel that, in my opinion, fits better with the overall style of the shirt. With the new color and sleeves, I can see myself getting much more wear out of this tunic shirt.