Introduction: The Really Simple Rectangle Shirt

About: Costume and experimental fashion designer and artist. Maker of clothing and accessories for time traveling cyborg superheroes, and lucid dreamers. Interested in fusing couture design and leatherwork with weara…

My favorite way to dress usually involves a big flowy shirt, and a pair of leggings. I have to say, I love that modern fashion can allow you to be stylish and comfortable at the same time. Beauty does not have to equal pain, and making a beautiful shirt does not have to be hard or expensive. This flowing caftan style tunic shirt is really just two rectangles of fabric stitched and tacked together in a few places. It is super simple to make and allows you to showcase a beautiful printed fabric, or tastefully wear a sheer.

Whenever I try to buy clothes at stores these days I am constantly annoyed by the fact that almost everything reasonably priced is made of some cheap synthetic material. I'm a bit of a fabric snob and I really hate wearing polyester, but if you want a silk, or even cotton, garment these days, it won't come cheap. With this design, you can buy two yards of a beautiful silk and create an awesome garment at a reasonable price. I got this giant reptile print silk for only $5/yard in the LA garment district! Not that this design wouldn't also look good in a nice poly chiffon too, I just prefer silk when I have a choice. This would also be a great design to use if you want to dye or print a unique image on your own fabric. You could create something really beautiful by getting a custom print from a service like Spoonflower.

This simple concept can be easily modified to create a lot of interesting styles: shirts, tunics, dresses, beach cover ups etc. In this Instructable I will show you one version I like, and you can take it from there.

Step 1: Supplies


  • 2 yards of a thin flowing fabric at least 40" wide. I used a 55" wide lightweight silk slightly thinner than a crepe de chine with a really exaggerated snakeskin print. Honestly, I think the best fabric for this design is something even more sheer like a chiffon. The combination of the big drapey shape and a sheer fabric creates a nice balance between concealing and revealing.
  • A second contrasting fabric if you want to add a colorful binding around the hem like I did. I used a florescent pink jersey that was about 60" and I only needed about 1/4 yard of it.

Other Supplies

  • 6 small buttons or some other decorative finding to create the closures along the top
  • Thread to match your fabric
  • Scissors
  • Cutting wheel and cutting mat (optional)
  • Pins
  • Hand sewing needles
  • Tailor's chalk
  • Measuring tape
  • Long ruler or yardstick
  • Seam ripper (just in case)
  • Sewing machine
  • Sewing machine needles designed for silk (optional)
  • Iron and ironing board

Step 2: The Design

This is the basic idea of how this style is made. For those of you who know a bit about sewing, you could probably just look at this diagram and learn all you need to know, but if you'd like a more detailed explanation of the process, you can follow all my steps below.

Step 3: Make the Rectangles

First take your silk and turn it into two identical rectangles.

I made my rectangles 30" long and the whole width of the fabric (55") wide. This creates a very big flowing tunic type top, but you can certainly vary the length and width of your fabric to create different looks. All I had to do to create mine was make sure one end of my fabric was square by snipping and tearing it across the grain, then measuring in 30", snipping and tearing again. If your fabric is not the kind that tears perfectly like this, you can simply measure 30" on both sides, draw a line with your ruler and tailor's chalk, and cut.

I repeated this process to create two identical rectangles 55"x30".

Step 4: Create the Trim

Take your accent fabric and turn it into strips that will act as trim for the hem of your tunic.

To do this, I folded my piece of pink jersey in half and then used my ruler and cutting wheel to first create a clean edge, then measure in and cut in 1 1/4" from this edge, creating a strip. I repeated this to create two strips for the front and back hems of my top.

Step 5: Press and Hem

Basically what you are going to do now is hem all four edges of both your silk rectangles. You can really do this in any way you want (or even not at all of you are using jersey or something else that won't fray).I choose to do a double-fold hem on the top and sides of my rectangles, and finished my bottom hem by binding it with my pink trim.

I started by hemming the top edges of my two rectangles with a 1/2" double-fold hem. With my iron set on the silk setting with steam, I first pressed over 1/2" of my silk along this top edge, then I folded this edge once more and pressed it down to create a clean finish.

I took the fabric to my sewing machine which was threaded with black thread, and stitched along the inner edge of my folded hem. I made sure I had tested my stitch first on a scrap of the same silk to get my tension and stitch length right.

Step 6: Add the Trim

To add a contrast trim to the bottom hem of my tunic, I took my strips of pink jersey, folded them in half with right sides out, and pressed them with my iron.

Then I matched the doubled raw edge of this jersey strip to the raw edge of the silk with the wrong side of the silk facing up. Since it was such a straight line, I didn't need to pin my pieces together, but you might need to with a more slippery fabric. I stitched all three layers together about 1/8" from the edge.

Then I went back to the iron and pressed my trim into place on two steps: First laying it flat, then rolling it over onto the front side of the silk to create a visible band of pink.

Then I sewed down the strip of trim, after first threading my sewing machine with pink top thread and a black bobbin to match both sides of my fabric.

Step 7: Hem the Sides

Finally I hemmed the four short sides of the two rectangles. I did this, again, with a simple 1/2" hem, folding the ends of both the other hemmed edges into this hem as neatly as possible at the corners, pressing, then sewing.

Now I had two identical rectangles, finished on all four sides.

Step 8: Sandwitch the Layers

To find the right positioning for the side seams, I first took my two layers and lay them out on my cutting table, wrong sides together. I shifted them around until they were matched up as perfectly as possible, finning them together and sticking pins through the corners into my cutting mat to hold the whole thing square. If all your sides don't match up exactly don't worry, honestly, you won't be able to tell as long as they are close.

Step 9: Mark and Baste the Side Seams

Then I measured in 14" from each corner along the bottom and top hem and marked these points with pins. This is where your side seam goes.

(This 14" will vary depending on how wide your rectangles are. The measurement that matters is the measurement in the center where your body will go. I made mine about 24". This leaves enough room for the bottom hem to fit and drape around your hips. You could reduce this measurement slightly if you wanted a tighter fit, but don't make it less than 1/2 of your hip measurement.)

Once I had my side seam points marked, I ran a long ruler between the top and bottom points, measured 8 1/4" down from the top and marked this point with a pin. This is where your side seam starts, leaving room for your armhole above.

I marked the side seam line with tailor's chalk and then I pinned it with first with vertical, then horizontal pins. I could have just taken it to the sewing machine after removing the vertical pins, but I decided to hand baste it first because that takes about two minutes, and really helps you create an even seam.

To do this, just thread a needle with a thread that will show up against your fabric, then stitch along your side seam line with very big straight stitches. Do not tie off your thread at either end.

Step 10: Sew the Side Seams

Once both my side seam lines were basted I, sewed them on my machine with black thread. I started at the top of the seams just below the armhole opening, and sewed all the way down to the hem, making sure to securely backstitch tack on both ends.

Step 11: Add the Buttons

Then I lay my still sandwiched rectangles out on the table again and marked where I wanted to sew on the buttons that will tack the two pieces together along the top edge. the first buttons hold together the top outside corners on each side. I measured 9" in from here for the second set of buttons, and then another 9" for the third.

(Again, these measurements will vary based on the width of your fabric, but the most important measurement is the central measurement that is the neck hole. It needs to be big enough to get over your head, so at least 1/2 of your head circumference, or about 12 inches).

Then I threaded a hand sewing needle with pink thread and sewed my buttons on so they held the two layers of together, slightly overlapping.


Step 12: Wear It

Now pair your new top with some leggings or tights, throw it over a bathing suit, or style it in your own unique way. However you wear it, you will spend the rest of the day feeling both comfortable stylish.

This is an excellent rectangle, if I do say so myself.