Efficiency in Upcycling

After reading yesterday’s blog article, a friend asked me how to get the most fabric from a shirt. She knows this is a particular skill of mine: pinching pennies until they turn into dollars. I may not have grown up during the Depression, but I’ve always been attracted to stories about the Westward Expansion period and other tales of resourceful survival. In the book “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,” the mother saved and re-used basting threads. That has stuck with me for 40 years.

NO, I am not a hoarder. YES, I do use it all eventually, or I pass it on to someone who will. NO, I do not save basting threads.

The process of harvesting usable fabric from a shirt is the reverse of sewing it together. You disassemble it so you have the largest possible flat pieces of fabric. You can cut the shirt apart with scissors, but I prefer to use the rotary cutter.


The last step of sewing a shirt is the sewing on of the buttons, so they come off first. I like to use a sharp seam ripper to remove them quickly, sliding the point between the button and the fabric and cutting the threads there.


Don’t forget that some shirts have collar buttons, buttons in the sleeve plackets, and a spare button or two sewn on the inside of the shirt, at the bottom edge of the front placket or side seam. You don’t want to miss any of them, especially if you are using a rotary cutter and might run into them while you are cutting!


I save the buttons, looped together so I have a full set when I need one.

5-21-2014 shirts b

Lay the shirt on the cutting mat and cut off each sleeve along the armhole sleeve. It’s okay if you don’t get it perfectly on the seam all the way around.

5-21-2014 shirts d

Cut up the side seams and open up the shirt as shown. Cut off the collar first, and then cut along each shoulder seam and the back yoke seam.

5-21-2014 shirts c

Lay the sleeves out as shown and cut off the cuffs. Don’t worry about the cuff placket, if there is one. Then cut the sleeves open by slicing off the seam. You don’t need to reach inside to cut it open; just cut the seam off as shown. Cut the front plackets off of the two front pieces.

You now have the pieces you originally used to make the shirt – two fronts, one back, two sleeves, a yoke (actually two layers), front placket(s), one collar (and maybe a band), and two cuffs (and maybe cuff plackets). I toss out the collar and front plackets, but I can cut strips from the cuffs and yoke.

If the shirt has a pocket, you may be able to pick it off neatly with a seam ripper and use the fabric underneath. I was able to do that with this shirt, but it doesn’t always come off without leaving marks.

5-21-2014 shirts f

This shirt – Eddie Bauer size Medium – yielded 14 -8” squares for my Nine-Patch quilt and plenty of 2” and 1.5” strips for my strip stash. The actual waste is minimal. I am sure a creative person with more spare time would come up with a use for it!

Mrs. Pepper would approve!

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