How to Upcycle Men’s Dress Shirts Into Womens’ Pants
By Mariana Kirova
This upcycling project looks at repurposing men's dress shirts into women's pants. The main steps of the process could be followed for any clothes recycling project done from scratch. It's time for you to check some of those unworn hubby’s shirts ;)
To keep as inspiration get the Pictorial with the main steps in pictures (long picture on the right) - just hit the Pinterest social share button of this article and save it in your Pinterest account.
About The Project
The founder and the leader of the initiative, Jane Milburn, is an inspiring upcycler, activist, sustainability consultant, speaker, and agricultural scientist from Queensland, Australia. Check her website Textile Beat for other amazing initiatives and projects she created.
Furthermore, check the stories from 40 Australian makers gathered during the Slow Clothing Project, a one-of-a-kind campaign that sparked conversation about clothing use and reuse.
It is a great honour for me to get accepted as one of this creative community of makers!
Update: Now you can read the article on Textile Beat in relation to this project (it is different from this article yet about the same project). Check it out here: Creative eco-fashion - Mariana Kirova.
Update, 19 August 2016:
Today this outfit is featured in REVIVE, Brisbane City Council's new pop-up second-hand fashion festival! YAY!
It will be one of 10 upcycled garments on the show. Jane is taken care of all garments in Slow Clothing Project, what a great commitment, don't you think? But remember, we all can do our creative input and reduce textile waste dramatically! One garment at a time.
I am proud Eco Fashion Sewing can be part of the change! Thank you, Jane!
No ‘shopping therapy’ gives such joy and sense of achievement as making your own clothing does. Then the therapy comes from within.
By repurposing men's dress shirts into women's pants you could turn these completely boring men clothing into fantastic, yet practical one-off cutting edge women fashion.
Usually only one shirt doesn’t offer enough material, so finding two that compliment each other and combine sounds like a good option.
Colour & Print
I chose to make colour-block combination of print and plain. The single colour was matching one of the print colours.
Depending on your fashion taste, any mix, light, dark, single colour or a combination would work.
Whichever the case, look for at least one colour ‘to seal’ the combination and give the idea both materials were ‘made for each other’.
Both shirts are cotton, natural fibre, usually used for men’s buttoned up and dress shirts. However, the way the fabric is woven leads to great variety of fabrics with different properties.
The garment from this project doesn’t require flare or drape at all. Pants are constructed from medium to small size pattern pieces with topstitching, which make quite structured and rigid construction. So, medium to heavy weight cotton men dress shirt would be a good choice for making this garment.
Avoid too thin (light weight) and soft with no body in them shirts, because the material needs to resist the pulling of the stitching when the body moves. Especially in pants the pull and the stretch is greater. And that increases if the design is more fitted. The resistance of the material and construction techniques (seams) could make the garment to endure, thus last longer.
In my case the white material was softer with less body and looser weave. Still was rigid enough to hold the shape of the pants while offering lots of comfort from being soft.
The wine-red shirt was thinner (lighter in weight), plain but denser weave material. It was much stiffer than the white one, yet had nice soft feeling when handled. Because it looked a bit lighter, I designed the yoke double (and stitch as a shirt yoke, with seam enclosed). That should give better strength for that back piece over the bottom (usually with lots of pressure when sitting or squatting).
Men shirts are great material for summer clothing. Cotton is comfortable on the body, the fibre ‘breathes’ (check the inside label if unsure). For maximum comfort though avoid too stiff shirts (that look like they'd almost stand-up if you put them upright). Choose material that has some stiffness, yet is soft in touch (softness usually feels ‘warm’ as opposed to 'cool' when you touch it).
If discarded on the landfill, cotton degrades so doesn’t have negative impact on the environment. And it’s already made anyway, why not to it?
Learn more about textile fibres in your clothing and their impact from the following fibre series:
Eventually, I refashioned also a cotton T-shirt with some of the shirts leftovers. Making a whole outfit would save time when looking what to wear pants with later on.
Two main construction methods were used:
- Developing a pattern
- Incorporating some existing pieces into the new design
Repurposing men’s dress shirts into women’s pants is absolutely creative adventure! However, this project involves developing pattern following design drawing, so it is intermediate to advanced level.
Don't worry if you are not at this stage yet. Check this shirt upcycling article or hop on to fabulous Michelle Paganini's website Paganoonoo. It offers downloadable upcycle patterns for women's wear made from men shirts for beginners to intermediate level.
The Making Process
#1: Developing The Design
The main idea was to make pleasing colour block design that I like. But also to foresee the pattern drafting and sewing processes (and possible issues).
At this stage helps a lot to envision in details the seams, seam finishes and construction techniques that would be used. Very useful and saves lots of headaches further down the track.
From practical point of view, I included elastic on the belt sides to accommodate small weight changes (both materials had no give or stretch whatsoever).
#2: Drafting The Pattern
For this I used jeans pattern block/sloper I made for myself some time ago (the brown pattern on the picture).
I can't stress enough how beneficial is to start from already made pattern block! (I'm thinking of showing it to you in near future. It's priceless.)
That eliminates the hurdle of all fitting issues which follow from using a commercial pattern.
On made for you pattern block your correct body measurements are already there and the only surprise you could face might come from the material, but not from the pattern fit itself.
I'll be writing more about fitting and related issues in the upcoming articles next couple months.
#3: Making An ‘Eco’ Toile To Check The Pattern
In the industry a toile is made to check the pattern and design lines and elements. Usually from calico or other similar to the original garment fabric. Unfortunately, the toile can’t be used afterward, it is mostly raw edged and brought roughly together rather finished garment.
The toile is eventually discarded.
Instead of quickly constructed toile that I’ll trow away, I made an 'eco' toile, a completely new garment. I used wool fabric bought months ago from local charity sale.
Although it was making a separate new garment, was worth it. I now enjoy new pair of very comfortable winter trousers, wonderful new addition for this quite cold winter in Perth.
#4: Laying Out The Pattern Pieces And Cutting The Shirts
There is one important thing to remember when cutting from already made garments, men shirts in this case. Place the big pattern pieces vertically along the length of the preexisting garment, ensuring proper cutting following the grain line (along the selvage). Otherwise you risk the final seams to twist around the body and spoil your hard work.
Smaller pattern pieces could be placed both ways: along (vertically) or across (horizontally) on the preexisting garment.
Be mindful for paired pieces, but don't restrict cutting them together as you would do on a double fold laid material.
Rather use every good looking space of the material avoiding marks, tears or similar alike.
The good part with upcycling is that some already made pieces could be used creatively “as is” in the new garment.
In this repurposing of men’s dress shirts into women’s pants for front pocket edges in the pants I used the collar stand. Back pocket flaps I made from the centre front buttonhole placket. And the best was using the sleeves for the legs. That couldn’t be drafted as a pattern, so I drafted knee-length pants and added the shirt sleeves as legs after the top part of the pants was done.
#5: Constructing the pants
The best is to construct the complicated details first and only then to put the whole pants together.
So, first I made the front. I put the zipper, the pockets and the waistband, then made the buttonhole. For the back I put the yoke, the side and centre pieces together. Top stitched. Then added the flaps, patch pockets and the waistband. (No closing of the waistband yet though)
When all those details were finished, I put the front and back together. Tried the pants on and finished the top part with closing the belt (so it looked as a complete garment).
Then I measured how long should be the legs. For that I put the pants on with sleeves pined as legs. Then sat on a chair and crossed legs. This will give the needed length. Just pin above knee (while sitting) on the appropriate length and set the length.
Trying on while sewing
Very important thing is to try on the garment while sewing. No matter if it is the toile or the garment sewing stage. This is extremely helpful and although uncomfortable and slowing you down, it actually leads you to the perfect final fit.
TIP: Try, move, adjust
When you try on your project, remember to not just stand in front of the mirror looking the front and the back. When trying on the garment move your body. Bend hands, sit, squat or whatever your movements would be when wearing the finished garment afterwards.
We always move our body and is important to make our clothing accordingly. Garments should accommodate not only our standing figure, but most of all, our moving body.
Details came from:
- The design elements like pockets, seams and contrast combination.
- The buttons embellishment – all buttons from both shirts were spread throughout and made flow of the design more harmonic.
A Whole Outfit Eventually
When I finished the trousers I realised that making a whole outfit would make wearing much easier. I refashioned a cotton women tee by extending the sleeves and adding a collar-like piece. The last was made actually to cover a spot at the back of the neck.
To make the flow better I constructed also a belt, made from the collar and the placket of one of the shirts. All buttons were used as an embellishment for final touch.
Seams & Seam Finishes
To construct the pants I used straight stitch. Top and edge stitches as design features. To finish the inside seams, as easy, fast and neat finish, I used 3-thread overlocking seam (some topstitched after that).
Around the edges the collar for the T-shirt was finished with rolled hem overlocking seam. Check how to make it to match with only one colour coordinated thread (and rest made of regular white, beige or black colour) in this tutorial. View how to do the seam itself in this video from Sewing Parts Online.
The Final Look
I am not a fan of selfies at all, but I know wearing the garment to visualise how it looks shows a lot. So, here is my Slow Clothing Project outfit final look;)
That cotton material is absolutely comfortable to wear. I love it. Make sure your shirts are cotton (check inside label) and have soft touch.
I hope this post would make you see beyond boredom of men shirts. Let your imagination crave your own 'repurposing men's dress shirts into women's pants' project ;)
You are welcome to share any thoughts or ask questions in the comments.