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Get Out The Scissors

July 15, 2007|Amy Scattergood | Times Staff Writer

A T-shirt has always been fashion's ultimate blank canvas. The latest evidence: At Lanvin's cruise collection presentation in Paris, Alber Elbaz showed whimsical T-shirts featuring his sketches. Not long after, Hussein Chalayan announced he'll be selling T-shirts inspired by his theatrical runway collections. And Yves Saint Laurent already has stylish tees in stores, with trompe l'oeil images of the label's signature wide belts and bow ties.

Now there's a book that can teach us all how to be our own T-shirt designers, even if the "canvas" is that Duran Duran concert tee loitering in the back of your closet. "Save This Shirt: Cut It. Stitch It. Wear it Now!" by Hannah Rogge, a New York exhibit designer and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, is full of visual aids and easy instructions for transforming that reliquary stack of old T-shirts into something that looks totally current. That is, clothing you can wear to a club or on a date, not just while you're sleeping or washing your car.

You can quickly rework your old boyfriend's Sammy Sosa shirt or that wistful Gore-Lieberman tee into a cute form-fitting top, a mini T-skirt, a tight little corset or even an iPod case. It's part recycling, part retrofitting. Rogge's directions are straightforward, involving only basic sewing and a satisfying amount of cutting. Some designs also call for you to tie or weave cut strips of a shirt to fashion knotted shoulders or corset-style backs.

Instead of using a pattern, Rogge suggests using your favorite fitted T-shirt as a template. This method ensures that your new shirt fits perfectly without your having to adjust patterns. All you'll need to start is an old T-shirt, preferably one that's thick and 100% cotton because these tend to hold their shape best. Oversize shirts give you more to play with.

Rogge warns against beginning with a one-of-a-kind shirt. Instead, play with one you don't care about to make sure you get the sizing right. She suggests ironing it first and making sure any logos are properly centered before you pin, cut and sew.

If you don't have a sewing machine, you can transform a T-shirt by hand sewing. But hand-sewn seams tend to be loose and flimsy, even when closely stitched. Because most of the book's designs are for tighter-fitting shirts, a machine is best.

Some of the designs in the book are less interesting than others. (Do you really want to turn a vintage shirt into a coaster or placemat?) But many more are inventive and tremendously wearable. Rogge provides suggestions on how to riff on her styles too, from varying necklines to adding patches. After I followed the pattern for a tied shirt, I turned it around so that the ties were in front, snipped the neckline into a V-shape and wound up with a terrific corset-style tee.

I knew my vintage Johnny Cash T-shirt was cool. Well, it just got cooler.





Adapted from "Save This Shirt" by Hannah Rogge

Time: About 15 minutes

Materials: 1 large T-shirt, preferably all-cotton, ironed; a well-fitting T-shirt to use as a pattern; sewing machine; straight pins

1. Turn the large shirt inside out and place it on a flat work surface, front facing up. Turn the well-fitting shirt inside out and lay it on top, front side up and centered, with the necklines as close to each other as possible.

2. Trace around the bottom and sides of the fitted shirt with chalk or a pen, depending on the color of the large shirt. Draw a line parallel to the top of the shirts' sleeves that extends from the bottom of the fitted shirt's armhole to the bottom of the larger sleeve (marking what will be the seam of the new sleeve). Remove the smaller shirt; at the chalk lines of the larger one, pin together the front and back.

3. Cut along the bottom line of the shirt, both sides together. Using the sewing machine, stitch along the lines at the sides to form new side seams and new sleeves. Reverse stitch at each edge about 1/2 inch to reinforce the seams.

4. Cut 1/4 inch away from the new seams to trim excess fabric, then turn the T-shirt right-side out.

5. Optional: Remove the shirt's collar by cutting just outside the stitched seam, or vary the neckline by first drawing in chalk or pen V-neck, square neck or lower oval and cutting along the line.



Pattern: For Hannah Rogge's corset-style tee, go to

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