Mending with T-Shirts

In the process of making the garments I showed you on Wednesday, I ended up with rather a lot (meaning: a ton) of bits and pieces of cotton jersey that were too small for garments but too big to throw away, at least in my campaign to use up fabric rather than sending it to the landfill. The more I worked with cotton jersey, the more versatile I found it to be. It’s soft, it’s flexible (unlike, say, denim), it’s stretchy. Plus I had it in a ton of colors. Check out this pile of deconstructed sleeves:

Freeman-Zachery t-shirts 5

The reason it’s so fabulous for mending, besides the stretchiness part, is that you don’t have to turn under the edges to make appliqués, also known here as patches, if you’re mending rather than decorating. The edges will curl up a little, but they won’t fray and unravel like woven fabric that’s not hemmed or turned under. You can cut out shapes, stitch them in place with a simple hand stitch, and you’re good to go.

Freeman-Zachery t-shirts 15I buy almost all my clothes, with the exception of underwear, socks, and shoes, from a resale shop. There are lots of fabulous clothes there, many of them clothes that I would never, ever pay full price for. They’re high end and would totally stifle any inclination I had to experiment. If you pay $300 for a dress, you’re probably not going to dunk it in an experimental dye bath and then start ripping out seams. Well, maybe *you* would. I, however, would not. Of course, I wouldn’t pay $300 for a dress, anyway, not when I can make one out of old t-shirts.


The reason a lot of these garments end up in the shop and are available at a tiny fraction of their original cost is that they have stains. Bleach stains, wine stains, ink stains. One woman who brings in her clothes has her own catering business, and her linen tops often have grease stains or bleach stains on the front. Not so good for most people; perfect for me and my t-shirt appliqués.


Another really cool thing about t-shirts as appliqués for mending (or decoration) is that because they don’t fray, you can get fairly detailed shapes. Batman and Robin, a Route 66 sign, roses, dinosaurs, stars. Think of the shapes and symbols you use most often in your artwork, or maybe a logo for your business. A lucky number. Your name. Your website. The mind boggles.


Here’s how I do it. Because I’m reallyreallyreally not good with pins (meaning: stabbing + blood everywhere), I use Heat’n Bond Lite (yes, the name makes me shudder) to hold the patch/appliqué in place while I stitch it. You’ll need:

~garment to be mended/appliquéd

~scraps of t-shirts

~thin/light (“lite”) fusible webbing (the heavier stuff will make it too stiff and bulky)

~iron and ironing board


~paper and pencil

~embroidery floss and needle


Draw your image or text or whatever you’re going to use. You don’t want tiny thin lines; not only are they hard to see, but they’re hard to stitch, and even cotton jersey will fray just enough to ruin thin lines

Remember that whatever you draw will be reversed when you iron the fusible webbing to the wrong side of your fabric, so take that into account.

You can either draw directly onto the paper backing of the webbing or draw on a piece of paper and then trace.

Iron the webbing to the wrong side of the t-shirt fabric, following specific directions on the product.

Let cool and then cut out your image/text.

Peel off the backing, being careful not to stretch the fabric.

Iron over the stain or tear, following specific directions for that brand of webbing.

Stitch in place. You can use all six strands of floss, or you can divide the floss. I usually use three strands. If you’re stitching to a woven fabric, like regular cotton or linen (my favorite), you can use any embroidery stitch you like. If you’re sewing onto a stretchy knit garment and want the garment to stay stretchable, use a stretch stitch like the Cretan Stitch. You add beads, as well.

Here’s a patch over a bleach stain on a linen top:

Freeman-Zachery t-shirts 16

Freeman-Zachery t-shirts 17

I have to say, though, that this is addicting: you’ll find yourself looking at all your clothes thinking, “Hmmmm. I wonder how easy it would be to make a line of paintbrushes around the hem?”


Go—have fun!

Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.

Bloom tattered mixed bundleFind more fabric and stitching projects in The Essentials Series Fabric Artist’s Bundle featuring Mixed and Stitched, Creative Bloom and Layered, Tattered and Stitched.





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