One of the most frustrating types of shirts is the kind that almost fits, ie. those generic, boxy t-shirts that sure, fit, but aren’t fitted. And they just fit okay enough that busting out the sewing machine to tuck in the sides seems a bit much. Most shirts in this category are those free shirts you get at events that end up being gym shirts, so they don’t need to be fitted anyway. But sometimes you actually like what’s on the shirt, and want to wear it nicely. What to do?
This was the situation when one of my good friends gave me a t-shirt with his label’s logo on it. The music they release is darkish and experimental, but Vendlus means “brotherhood” in Estonian, and the logo makes me happy. Enter the time to experiment with a no-sew Gothic/Punk Lolita-inspired project, with a tied keyhole at the neckline, and a cinched empire waist.
First, cut out the tight neck that’s the bane of all unisex shirts. I do this by using a favorite scoop-neck shirt as a template. Stuff the shirt to be cut inside of the template shirt, and use chalk to outline the neck. (Use a template! Free-handing necklines can end in rather lopsided results, which require more trimming and fretting… Eyeballing ends in more work than taking the time to rustle up a template. I’ve learned the hard way.) Trim the sleeves to cap-sleeves (or a tanktop, if you prefer). Trim off the band at the bottom of the shirt, and make one cut to turn it into a “ribbon.”
Find the center of the neckline. Freehand or use a template to mark an oval 1/4inch from the edge for the keyhole. (Maybe try the shirt on first, to gauge how big/small you want the keyhole to be, and mark an appropriate guideline with chalk.) This 1/4inch gives you the beginnings for the ties. But don’t cut out the hole entirely! Cut down the center, starting at the top of the shirt, and go around… and leave two straps of fabric attached to the top of the shirt. The ties can be as wide or narrow as you please. Tie the straps together for a bowed keyhole. (An upgraded option could be to cut out the hole, and sewing on a lace ribbon at the top of the oval.)
Now put the shirt back on, and mark with chalk where the bottom of your bust is, front and back (for the back it’s easy to mark the bottom of your bra). This is where the empire waist will go. When the shirt is off, make several pairs of 1inch vertical slits (halves of the pairs up to an inch apart) around the shirt. The slit’s top should be at the marked line, and go down an inch. These slits are the belt loops for the empire waist, and the pairs should go approximately where the belt loops of jeans go, if they were on your shirt. I had 4 pairs in the front, a pair each at the sides, and another 4pairs at the back. Now loop the “ribbon” made from the bottom of the shirt through, like a belt, and tie at the front or the side of the shirt. (Again, an upgrade would be to use a length of lace or plaid ribbon.)
The empire waist cinches the shirt in, so it’s more fitted and ladylike, if you will. This project is easily upgradeable with added fixins, like plaid ribbon or lace (for a more punk or gothic feel), or more ambitious sleeve-work. And once you have one keyhole shirt, trust me, you’ll want to start cutting them out in all of your shirts, because they’re so easy to do but really make liven up a shirt.