NASA T-shirt to Tank Top Transformation!




About: I am a student, scientist and designer.
While I know there are a bunch of t-shirt transformation instructables here, I thought I'd add one more that is for the slightly more advanced seamstress! Plus it uses an awesome NASA t-shirt! Below is a video I made about creating the tank top, but I wanted to explain some of the steps a little more in depth here, so you can also click through the steps above for creation details.

For this project, you'll need:

1 oversized t-shirt
1 yard or so of active-wear style stretchy fabric (I used a mesh)
jersey ball-point needles
all purpose cotton thread
3/4" elastic
scissors (for fabric and paper)
rulers (vary form curve and french curve recommended)

Step 1: Use the Favorite Tank Top to Create a Pattern

You'll need your newspaper, scissors, rulers and favorite tank top for this step!

First layout your tank top on the newspaper, lining up the edge of the newspaper with the center front or back of the tank top. Trace around the tank (figure 1). Double check that the measurements are at least in the correct ballpark by measuring the unstretched bust, waist, and hem circumferences of the tank top and matching those to the patterns measurements. (This is where I went wrong the first time around, and trust me, not having to take everything apart is awesome, so measure twice and cut once!) Use the curved rulers to smooth out the curved lines of the garment - in this case all seamlines have a slight curve except for the shoulder seams and then cut out the pattern pieces (figure 2). If you plan to add a shelf bra, copy the original front and back patterns to a new piece of newspaper and then cut off the torso to the correct length to go over your bust. Make sure to add an extra 1" to the length for the elastic casing!

Because I knew I wanted to have a contrast material, I drew lines on the front and back pattern where I wanted seamlines, cut them apart and then added seam allowances (generally I add 5/8"). Since we are finishing the neckline and armholes with binding material, do not add seam allowances there. Otherwise, add seam allowances and a hem allowance.

Step 2: Cut Out the T-shirt

First, I recommend cutting off the sleeves, it makes the process a bit easier. Lay out your pattern peices on the fabric - you'll likely have to be creative in getting them all to fit on the fabric, so take your time. In this case, I only cut out the front part of the tank top in the t-shirt fabric (figure 1), plus I used the back side for the interior bra (figure 2). I ended up needing to cut out the NASA logo and applique-ing it later onto the front of the shirt. Fold the t-shirt over appropriately to get a nice center front fold, place the pattern on it, and cut it out.

Cut the remaining pieces out using the secondary fabric, including some lengths of 1.75" binding. For the binding, if you are using a stretch material, you can cut it on the lengthwise or crosswise grain - I recommend the less stretchy grain, but either will work. If, for some reason, you are using a non-stretch material, cut it out on the bias or else you'll have problems later on.

Step 3: Sew the Tank Top!

The next major step covers lots of little steps - sewing the shirt together. I recommend sewing the logo on the front first, as it is easiest to get around the funny shapes before putting the whole shirt together. Sew the contrast straps on, then the sideseams, shoulder seams, and then hem. Following that order makes things go a bit smoother. I chose to topstitch the seams on the front and back twice, as double seams are an athletic-wear marker. You can use a double-needle attachment, but I don't have one of those, so I just topstitched twice. I finished all my seams that were not topstitched with an overlocker. If you don't have an overlocker, I recommend zigzag stitching the seam allowance and then cutting the seam allowance with pinking scissors to finish.

Next create the interior bra, finishing through creating the elastic casing - just double over the hem area, stitch down and then pull the elastic through.

With wrong sides together, and the bra section inside the shirt section, pin the two pieces together. Now comes the binding finish - with right sides together, place the bias binding along the curves of the neck and armholes. stitch down with approx 3/8" seam allowance. Turn the binding towards the seam and press. Next tuck the binding up and under on the wrong side of the garment, leaving enough length so that the fold covers the seamline there. Pin and then topstitch the binding in place. I again doubled the topstitching. For a more visual reference, this woman explains this process here: much better than I could!

And with that, you're done creating the shirt! Only thing left to do is wear it!

Step 4: Wear Your New Tank Top!

My sport is biking, so I wore this out one day biking! Enjoy your new tank top!

(more pictures here, all courtesy of Stephanie Rubesh)

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    13 Discussions


    6 years ago on Step 4

    Is this one of the Target Nasa shirts? They're cheap enough to do this and not worry about it if you mess up. I'm not a tank topper but do like nasa shirts

    3 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Well the tank top shown to make the pattern outline was from Target (though unfortunately they don't sell that particular tank now, it was awesomely long in length!), but the final product was made from scratch, using the oversized t-shirt and extra mesh material!


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Nope! I mention it in the video, but the shirt was a free one that a friend caught after a Town Hall meeting with Charlie Bolden (the NASA Administrator) when we were interning at NASA Ames. Thus the back is covered in horrible comic sans text...


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I really appreciate hearing that - I always strive to make my garments as finished-looking as possible!


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    yes, as you saw, it was in the horrible comic sans. as cool as meeting Charlie Bolden was, I'm not going to lie - that font was a large motivator for the transformation....

    and thanks!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hey now, what about the seamsters? Can't men sew too?


    You did a very nice job on this. I've always avoided doing anything with jersey material. It scares me and my old Pfaff. And I have to mention, these Lake Union photos made me so homesick. That's my stomping ground, and I'm a long way from it! I miss the rain and the trees.. and everything about the NW. So jealous!

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Oh! I actually first wrote sewers, but that looked weird, so I stuck with the traditional seamstress - is seamsters the correct masculine word? or is there a gender-neutral word I could use??

    Jersey is actually fairly easy to work with, if you have the correct equipment, aka ball point needles. A serger also helps, but I've made due without one in the past. Try it! It opens up a world of new sewing possibilities!

    and I love Seattle as well, I love living here!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I think the news here is that she's got a NASA tshirt! But hey, who wouldn't show that off!