Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tee Shirt Skirt Tutorial

I realize posting two maxi skirt tutorials in a row runs the risk of seeming a bit like a one trick pony.
But I have a good reason!
We needed a Crafting Hope project for September. My friend Jessica mentioned that she had some connections with a mission in Africa where we could send some women's skirts. She also mentioned that she'd like to learn to make a simple tee shirt skirt.

As I searched on-line for good tutorials I found a couple that were great.
However. . . the skirts were all too short to be appropriate for that culture.
So, I decided to play around a little and see what I could come up with on my own.
I owe a huge debt to Sew Like My Mom's Shirt skirt for inspiring this maxi as well as to Ashley at Make it Love it for her very clear instructions for sewing with elastic thread (shirring).


2 XXL or larger mens tee shirts
          They don't need to be new shirts. Raid your husband's closet or head to the Goodwill. 
          Just find something that's in good shape in a color that you like. Pattern on the front or no.
          You could even use a knit polo shirt.
Rotary cutter and ruler (or good old fashioned scissors)
Elastic thread--I found mine in the notions aisle with the elastic and not with the thread
Iron and Ironing board
Straight pins
Fusible Webbing (optional)


1.    Cut your tee shirts in a straight line right under the arms.
You'll want to be sure that the shirts are laying flat with no wrinkles so that you get a clean, straight cut. If you have to, iron the shirt, just be careful you don't melt the image on the front.
Decide which shirt you want to be on the top of the skirt and cut the hem off of that one. Scissors are probably easier to use here than a rotary cutter. It doesn't have to be perfect but you do want it to be fairly straight. Just cut right above the top line of stitching and you will be fine.

Leave the hem on your second shirt. Since this shirt will be on the bottom of the skirt we are going to re-use that tee shirt hem as our skirt hem. Big time saver.
2. Sew the two shirts together.
With right sides together, match the top of the bottom shirt and the bottom of the top shirt (clear as mud?).  It helps if you put one tee shirt tube inside the other. It doesn't matter which one so long as you are matching right sides you'll be fine.
When you are sewing with knit fabric you want to pin. Life will be easier if you do, trust me. Pin all the way around the tube.

These are ball point needles.  They are specifically made for sewing knit fabric.  I don't always use them when I sew knit (because honestly, sometimes I'm too lazy to change my needle) but I should. They go in and out of knit fabric more smoothly than a standard needle. But if you don't have ball point needles and JoAnn's is closed (or is 20 miles away, ahem. . .) don't let that stop you. In my experience, the type of stitch you use is more important than the type of needle.

Speaking of the right type of stitch. . .
You want to set your machine to a stitch that will stretch when the fabric stretches. Otherwise, the thread will break and your garment will tear.

On my machine, the "right" stitch is number 03.  It looks like a slanted zig zag stitch.  If your machine doesn't have a special stretch stitch (check your manual) just use a narrow zig zag stitch. It's the next best thing.
Now that you have the right stitch setting and the right needle, go ahead and sew your two tubes together where you pinned. Take it slow and steady.  You want to make sure the knit doesn't stretch as it's feeding through or things will get all wonky.  I used about a 1/2" seam allowance.

Sometimes when I'm sewing wovens I will sew right over my pins. It's fine. You're supposed to be able to do that. But with knits I try to remove the pin before it feeds under the presser foot. I've found that sometimes my machine gets hung up and kind of "stuck" on pins. So, avoid that and just take them out as you go.
Once you've sewn all the way around your tube of fabric go ahead and iron that seam.  If you have a shirt with a logo printed on it, be careful. You may want to use a pressing cloth in that area or press on the wrong side of the shirt. I'd hate for you to melt that ink onto the plate of your iron.

Now you have a long, wide tube of fabric that is starting to maybe look like it could be a skirt for an elephant. Never fear! The next step will cinch it all in.
3. Shir the top of the skirt.
Shirring is simply sewing straight lines with elastic thread in the bobbin chamber and regular thread on top.  It can be intimidating because different machines take elastic thread differently. But it is well worth getting over the fear and using trial and error to figure out how your own machine works.

As I mentioned, there is a great, photo heavy shirring tutorial over at Make it Love it.  Be sure to check that out, especially if you are having trouble.

I have a Brother sewing machine and they are notoriously stinkers when it comes to shirring. You'd better believe I threw a small party celebrating the moment I figured it out.  If you have a Brother too, here's what you do (if you don't have a Brother the steps are similar, I'll try and put them in parenthesis as we go along)

First you need to hand wind the elastic thread on your bobbin. Don't try to use your machines self winding bobbin feature, it won't work.  As you wind pull the elastic tight.  Not stretched to the point of breaking tight, just good and taught. You can see my bobbin above.  (This is a major difference between Brothers and other machines, if you have another brand of machine, you will wind your bobbin loosely, but securely.  Follow the Make it Love it link above for a great photo of what it should look like)
Next you need to drop your bobbin into the bobbin chamber. The elastic will unwind a little and you will probably panic, you might shed a tear, but don't worry! I promise it's o.k. (If you don't have a drop in bobbin, just go ahead and load your bobbin in the bobbin case or however you would load a "normal" bobbin)
Make sure the elastic thread catches under the little tension spring thingy--this is, of course the technical name--and draw it out through the little thread channel but DO NOT cut it.  Just let the tail end drag out like in the picture above. (If  you have a different machine, you can likely go ahead and pull the bobbin thread up through the bottom like you would a normal bobbin thread)
Set your sewing machine to a normal straight stitch.  All machines are a little different, but I've found setting it to the longest stitch length works the best for me.  No matter what kind of machine you have, take some time right now to play around with it on some scrap fabric. It might take a couple of times to get it just right.
This is what your first line of shirring should look like. When you achieve this on your scrap fabric, do a little happy dance and then go grab your skirt.

Now here is another reason to happy dance. . . since this skirt is knit, it won't fray and therefore there is no need to finish the rough top edge of your skirt in any way. You certainly could. But for this skirt, I like the slightly raw look.

So load your skirt in your machine. You are going to sew a straight line of shirring all the way around the top of your skirt. I like it at about 1/2" from the edge but it's up to you.  When you start your line of stitches make sure you back stitch to lock that line of stitches in.

This first line might not gather it up a whole lot but don't worry. It will gather up more as you add more lines of the shirring and then even more when you steam it.
When you've finished your first line, back stitch, cut your thread and start your second line. Your spacing is up to you. For ease, I like to just line up the inside of my presser foot with the lint of stitching I just took.

As you sew your second line of shirring and all of those after you want to pull the fabric flat before it goes under the presser foot. You don't want to sew gathers in the fabric, you want the elastic to gather the fabric on it's own naturally.  Use a gentle touch, you don't want to fight with your machine, you're just looking to flatten the sewing surface.
You can see how even the second line of stitches starts to gather things up even more. This is where I really, really started to get excited.

Keep on sewing, row after row until you have 10 to 15 rows.  How many rows is really up to you but I like the way 10 to 15 looks.
And this is the way the elastic should look on the back. It should be pretty smooth, no loops.

When you've finished all of your rows of shirring, go back to your iron and just steam the waistband.  You don't need to push the iron down on the stitching, just hold it over top of it and push your steam button. You will see the gathers shrink up even more. It's like magic. I dare you not to ooh and ahh.
4. Applique the logo onto the top part of the skirt. (optional)
When I put my skirt layers together, I bisected the logo on the front of the one shirt. It just looks weird like this in my opinion.

 Sooooo. . . rather than leave it be, I got out my fusible webbing and prepared to do some applique.

If your shirts didn't have logos or if the cutting of them doesn't look weird to you, you can skip these next steps. You are done.

If you do have a logo, cut it out of the discarded shirt right now. Leave a little bit of an edge all the way around.  Lay your logo on your fusible web and cut a piece of webbing to fit.  Follow the instructions on the webbing to attach the logo to the shirt skirt.  Match it all up so it looks purty.  It will be a hair off just because you have lost a little logo in the seam allowance but it won't be enough to make a huge difference in most logos.
Iron your applique to set the fuse in the webbing.  I had to use a pressing cloth because this logo was very melty. Yes, that is the technical word. I made a real mess of my iron in discovering this fact. Thank God for plate cleaner.
Your fusible webbing will work kind of like double stick tape to hold the applique down to the skirt. Once it's ironed it's a pretty firm bond, but you will want to sew around the appliqued piece for extra security.  You can use any stitch you like. Since this is knit, the edges won't fray.
I used a straight stitch to sew this applique on. You can see how that allows the edges to curl just a bit. It's a fun, kind of raw look that I really like.
And here you can see how the waist band looks on. It's super comfortable. This is one of those skirts you can wear on a fat day or a skinny day.  It's going to conform to a large range of sizes--about as "one size fits all" as you can get.
Now, go forth and make more! Lots more! 
If you are so inclined make one or two or a dozen to donate.
Happy shirring!!


Crafting Hope is scheduled to meet at the Nappanee Public Library on Thursday, September 6 at 6:30 pm.
Anyone is welcome!  Follow the link for more information or contact me for details.
Skip To My Lou


  1. Awesome idea using tshirts! Love the outcome of the skirt. Thanks for sharing the how to:)

  2. you can never have too many maxi skirts. I haven't ever tried shirring, but it looks like I need to!