Restyling your child’s camp t-shirt

Summer camps are here!  After picking up my daughter’s Houston Zoofari t-shirts, I knew that I had to do something.  The smallest t-shirt available fit her like this:

Back Front

I specifically asked the camp counselors if I could modify it, and I was enthusiastically encouraged to do something.  Given that I like to modify my own t-shirts, and that I have “Generation T:  108 Ways to Transform a T-Shirt” in my sewing library, I decided to begin designing an age- appropriate t-shirt alteration.  I decided to embroider her name in the name tag area; I also decided to create casings along the side of the shirt so that we could ruche (pronounced “roosh”) it to help it fit better.

While my daughter was wearing the shirt, I used tailor’s chalk to mark the appropriate lengths of the sleeves and the shirt.  Then, I cut the first sleeve.


Using the cut portion of the sleeve, I measured and cut the other side.


Next, I used a ruler and rotary cutter to cut the length at my mark.  Because knit does not ravel like a woven fabric, I decided not to hem the shirt when finished.  Had I wanted a hem, I would have left myself extra room for the hem.

_MG_0891 _MG_0892

Hang on to the bottom of the shirt, we’ll need it later.

using scraps, cut 2 long strings

Then, I cut the t-shirt up both sides.


This allowed me to open up the t-shirt for monogramming with my embroidery module.


Measure the area for embroidery so that you can size the embroidery motif accordingly.

Measure the size of the embroidery

Remember, you’re sewing with knits, so you will need a stretch, jersey, or ballpoint needle so that you will not make a hole in the shirt.  You also need pins intended for knits.


Next, I auditioned some thread for the embroidery.


My daughter chose white, so I went with it.  Next, I needed to stabilize the area that I was embroidering with permanent, cut-away stabilizer.  I use OESD’s fusible polymesh for knits and have had wonderful results.


I cut two layers, and then fused (ironed) them on the back of the shirt, one layer at a time.  Remember not to move the fabric until it has cooled.

Iron on two layers Stable

Hoop the appropriate-sized hoop with tear-away stabilizer.  I use Stabilstick so that I can place my shirt directly on the stabilizer, instead of having to spray the stabilizer with adhesive.

Hoop tear away stabilizer

The Stabilstick has paper on the adhesive side.  Simply score it with a pin, and tear the paper away.

Score the stabilstick

With a pen, mark the center of your hoop.

mark the center of the hoop

Mark the outline of the embroidery area and the center of where you want the embroidery to go. on the reverse side of the shirt and on the stabilizer.

Mark the center of the back

Align the centers and stick and smooth one side of the shirt to the tear-away stabilizer.  Then, smooth the other side on also.

Match them upSmooth on the sticky

Remember to put a stretch, ball-point, or jersey needle in your machine!  My machine allows me to digitize and resize embroidery directly in the machine.

Digitize the name in the right size

Embroider. and remove from the machine.


Turn the shirt inside out and pin the sides with special ball-point needles.  If you don’t have ball-point needles, be sure to pin within the seam allowance because you may tear the knit fabric.

Pin with ballpoint pins

Set your machine to either a stretch-stitch or, if you do not have a special stitch, then to a zig-zag.  Because the knit stretches, you risk threads breaking with wear – a straight stitch does not stretch, but the zig-zag will.  This is especially important for areas of knits that are going to be stretched, such as the head opening and the bottom.

Stretch stitch

Starting at the sleeve, begin sewing.  You will need at least a .5″ seam allowance for the sides the shirt so we can use the seam allowance to form a casing; however, the seam allowance for the sleeve will depend on how much the sleeve needs to be narrowed.  When you finish sewing, you will need to cut a notch at the intersection of the sleeve and the side in both seam allowances.  Be careful not to cut into your stitching.

cut a notch Open notch

Cut the excess seam allowance from the sleeves (unless you want a kid that will complain about being scratched, etc.)!  Do not cut the seam allowance from the sides, as this will be used to make the ruching in the next step.  If you would like, this is the time to hem your sleeves.  You can use a cover stitch machine, or a double needle if you want it to look like it did before you cut it.  I like the way the knit rolls over the sleeve, and opted not to hem it.

cut excess seam allowance for sleeve

Now we’re going to make our casing for the ruching.  Although you will be sewing the inside of the shirt, turn the shirt right side out so that there will not be any of your t-shirt underneath the sewing area.  Starting at the top of one of the sides (near the sleeve), we are going to sew down the seam allowance to the shirt.  The seam allowance will have already begun curling, so sew slowly, uncurling the seam allowance and smoothing the t-shirt below it as you go.  If the t-shirt is not smooth underneath the seam allowance, you will get puckering and bunching. [if you want to hem the shirt, this is the time to do it, before you sew down the casing.]

Sew the other side careful of rolling

Do this for all four seam allowances, each time, starting from the top.  DO NOT SEW AROUND THE TOP – you will need openings at the top and the bottom for the ribbon or string for ruching.  This is what the shirt will look like from the outside, once you trim away all of the loose threads.  You can see that my sewing was not perfect – there are some puckers.  They won’t show, so don’t sweat it.

finished outside

When finished, go back to the scrap knit you have from cutting off the bottom of the shirt, and cut two strings from it.  You can also use ribbon if you prefer or if you do not have any excess t-shirt from shortening.


Insert a safety pin on the short end of the string.

using a safety pin.

Turn your shirt inside out.  Starting at the top of the casing (at the intersection of the sleeve), thread your string or ribbon through the casing on one side.  When finished, move the safety pin to the other end of the string, and move it through the casing on the other side.

start at top

Tie the two ends in a knot or a bow.


It looks like this when finished!  I also made the reversible bucket hat for her from a pattern in Liesl Gibson of Oliver + S’s new book “Little Things to Sew.”  A free copy of this pattern is available on her website.

Front of transformed camp t-shirtBack of transformed camp t-shirt

Have you made any t-shirt transformations?  If so, please send me a picture of them so I can share it with everyone.


These adorable patriotic t-shirts were designed and made by Lynda and Abbie Hart.  They used their Silhouette Cameo to cut the stars as a stencil and then painted them with Tulip Fabric Spray Paint.  Aren’t they adorable?

patriotic shirts


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