Upgrading a Boring Old T-Shirt

Introduction: Upgrading a Boring Old T-Shirt

About: I'm a student at Manchester University and in my spare time I like to make things out of other things and try and engineer solutions to day to day problems. But most of all I like to just mess around and hav...

We all have those t-shirts that we just don't wear anymore. They might be a bit stretched or a bit too big or they just might not be very stylish! So what can we do with these to jazz them up a bit and make them a little more interesting? Add a little flair of course!

With very little expenditure and a little imagination we can add some really lovely touches to nearly any garment. T-shirts are cheap and easy to embellish so will work perfectly!

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Step 1: Materials


  1. Old T-shirt
    • Doesn't have to be an old one but it's probably worth practising on an old one first
  2. Design
    • This is up to you! I like to design my own patterns but it is really up to you. Because we will be using cross-stitching aida fabric as a template any cross-stitching pattern will work.
    • I like to use squared paper to emulate the aida fabric and then draw my designs onto that.
    • I have done many animals in this way, including the wolf, fox and elephant in the pictures.
  3. Embroidery Floss
    • Embroidery floss is what I tend to use but really any sturdy thread will do. Sewing thread is probably a little bit too thin so I would suggest sticking to something with a bit more weight to it.
  4. Aida Fabric
    • Aida Fabric comes in different counts. This is the number of holes per unit area. So a count of 14 will have larger holes and more space between each hole than a fabric with 28 count.
    • I would recommend starting at a low count as this is easier to stitch. However, a higher count will give more detail as the "pixels" of the design will be smaller.
    • If you are doing a design such as mine which is not a cross-stitch then the count of the aida fabric does not matter as much.
  5. Embroidery Needles
    • The needles that you use will depend on preference and the type of material that you are stitching. I used size 24 cross-stitching needles but these are fairly blunt and struggled to pierce through the interfacing and the t-shirt material.
    • Any needle can be used but the smaller the needle the more likely that you will pierce through the aida fabric in areas that are not the holes.
  6. Interfacing
    • Cotton t-shirts are stretchy. And the thread we will use is not. So if you simply stitched the design into the t-shirt it would likely be damaged when the t-shirt stretches. This is where interfacing comes in.
    • Interfacing is a fabric that is placed behind the design that stabilises the t-shirt and provides a non-stretch area for the design to be stitched.
    • It comes in many thicknesses and again it is really up to you what kind to use. In reality you can use any non-stretch fabric as long as it is comfortable against that skin.

Non-essential but useful:

  1. Embroidery Hoop
    • An embroidery hoop stretches the fabric taut in a small hoop so that you can easily access both the front and the back of the fabric. By keeping the t-shirt stretched it makes it easier to pierce with the needles and allows more accuracy.
  2. Lighting
    • Good lighting is important when embroidering and cross-stitching. You will be staring at a small area trying to put a small needle through small holes in the aida fabric. So it's important to do this in a well-lit environment or use strong lighting. This will save you from straining your eyes if you're working for a prolonged period.

Step 2: Marking Out the Aida Fabric

When you have settled on a design we need to start thinking about placement and preparation to stitch. One of the reasons that I like to sketch my designs on squared paper is that it makes it easy to transfer to the aida fabric. The squares on the paper correspond to the holes in the aida fabric.

By counting the squares within the design we can figure out the size of the design by counting the same number of squares onto the aida fabric. This will be the size of the final design when stitched onto the t-shirt.

Cut out the aida fabric to be slightly larger than the design will take up. Make sure you have enough space to put a running stitch around the outside of the design to secure the aida to the t-shirt while stitching the design.

Step 3: Cutting the Interfacing

Cut the interfacing to a similar size to the aida fabric. Again ensure that there is enough fabric on the outside of the design area that can be used to attach the interfacing to the t-shirt to anchor it down when stitching the design.

Step 4: Attaching the Aida and Interfacing

Now the fun begins!

Line up the aida on the front of the t-shirt and the interfacing on the back of the t-shirt. Make sure that they are in the position you want to final design to be and then stitch them to the t-shirt. I use a running stitch around the outside of the design to ensure that they are nice and secure.

Using an embroidery hoop will make this and all subsequent steps easier.

You want to keep this anchoring stitch out of the way of the design to make it nice and easy to remove when you have finished stitching the design.

Step 5: Stitching!

Following the design stitch using the Aida fabric as a guide. A cross-stitching kit or pattern will probably be easier for a beginner as they will give instructions on how to complete the design. However, with a fairly simple design like the one that I've used you don't really need any instructions.

By counting squares and following the design you should quite quickly build the design. This part can be very relaxing and is a nice activity when you want to switch off a little bit. However, don't let your mind wander too far as you can quickly miscount a square and ruin the whole thing!

There are many excellent guides online about how to cross-stitch and how to sew and I am not the best so I won't try and teach you the ins and outs of cross-stitching or embroidery so I advise you have a little search on instructables or online if you are unsure how to start with the stitching.

Step 6: Finishing Up

When you have finished the stitching you need to start thinking about how to tidy up and finish the design.

First of all remove all of the running stitches that you placed around the design at the beginning. You can just cut one of the stitches and pull the rest of the thread through to the other side of the t-shirt.

When you've removed all of the anchoring stitches the tricky bit starts. We now need to remove all of the aida fabric as you don't want that to be stuck there forever!

This step requires a little bit of trial and error and gentle persuasion. The strands of the aida fabric can be removed one by one, by pulling them sideways away from the design.

Then when all of the outside strands have been removed you need to carefully pull the strands through the design by pulling them steadily away from the design. Instead of pulling them out sideways like the previous strands you have to pull them directly out along their axis.

By carefully removing all the strands you will have a finished piece!

Step 7: Expanding Your Horizons

When you've had a go on a couple t-shirts you can start embroidering everything! I have added animals to shirts, t'shirts, jackets, belts and trousers. The only limit is your imagination and with the simple skills learnt here you can use them on any material with some small alterations.

I hope you've found this instructable useful and I would love to see your designs in the comments!

If you've liked this please consider voting for me in the T-Shirt Transformation contest :)

Happy Making!!

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