Up-Cycle with Machine Finishing Techniques

I am a big proponent of sewing with the couture techniques that I learned in sewing classes. I feel they are more sturdy and stand up better to machine washing. I like that the garments are as pretty on the inside as the outside; my husband disagrees because he can never figure out whether they are inside-out or not. I love the look of French seams and they are as easy as using my machine to overcast the edges–since a serger would do the sewing and cutting in one fell swoop maybe I would feel differently if I had one. But as far as I am concerned if I have to make 2 passes with the machine, it looks nicer and it’s faster if I do French seams (my overcast stitch is painfully slow and it’s a waste of thread).

Sometimes machine finishing a seam makes sense. Like when you trim the seam allowance when the seams are right sides together.

I always sew 5/8″ seam allowances for fittings with right sides together, so I can see what the finished garment will look like. However, French seams are sewed wrong sides together at 3/8″, then trim the seam allowance to 1/8″. Then sew another time, with the right sides together at 1/4″ again, for a total seam allowance of 5/8″. After a successful first fitting–which never happens–I went to trim the seams to do the French seams and immediately realized that I just trimmed off the fabric I needed for a proper french seam. It was a little dress for Biddi, and such a small amount of fabric that I would have just recut it, but it was another upcycle and I needed the button placket, so I couldn’t recut it.


For this upcycle, I used the same basic bodice pattern I always reference. I kept the button placket for a center front closure. I also kept the center back yoke and pleat from the original shirt.

Upcycled Men's Shirt with Machine FinishingI attached a basic A-line skirt and I created little cap sleeves using a half circle. I just eyeballed the shape of the skirt and sleeve and it happened to fit perfectly on the first try.

Sewing Finishes

I sewed the side seams together with a straight stitch and then an overcast on both the bodice and skirt. Next, I attached the bodice to the skirt using a straight stitch, then an overcast stitch. Then I used a small topstitch like an understitch to keep the seam allowance down and not irritate B when she is running around playing. The hem was already completed because it is a men’s shirt.

I sewed the sleeve hem by stitching at 1/8″ then turning and stitching right at the edge. That is a great, fast hem that I learned my days working with bridal alterations. The round edge of the half circle I gathered using 2 rows of long basting stitches, at 1/2″ and 1/4″. Leave long threads at both ends of the stitching rows, use one thread from each end and pull to create gathers. When the gathers are the desired length, pin ’em on the armholes and stitch.

I used a 45 degree single fold 1/2″ bias tape from the same fabric to finish the armhole. Normally I would sew the bias tape on by machine and then finish by hand, but since I used machine techniques I continued that motif on the armholes as well. I opted to finish attaching the bias tape with 2 rows of topstitching.

I finished the neckline with double fold 1/4″ bias tape. I used double fold instead of single fold so that it was visible instead of hidden and I used a stitch-in-the-ditch to finish it for the same reason.

Upcycled Men's Shirt --> Toddler Dress

Honestly, at first I was really disappointed with this dress. I was pissed that I trimmed the seam allowances too short and felt backed into a corner to use these machine techniques. I like sewing with a needle and thread while I take in some screen time and I never got to do anything that I consider artful with this look. My husband says this is his favorite dress I have ever made and he loves the machine finishing–he thinks it makes it look more professional. Everyone loves it, including Brigid, and it drives me crazy!

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