Tutorial by Rae: Make a Men’s Shirt into a Boy’s Shirt

I’m going to to kick off the month with a tutorial for taking an old men’s button-down shirt and turning it into a boy’s short-sleeved shirt.  This technique is simple and quick, and best of all, removes all of my least favorite things about making boy’s shirts: making the button placket, sewing all those buttons and buttonholes (well, almost) and hemming!  This drastically cuts down on the time it takes to complete a shirt which, for me, makes all the difference when it comes to getting it done.

Today I’ll show how to make a basic shirt (above), and tomorrow I’ll show you how to add the western flap pockets (below). 


To make this shirt, you will need a retired men’s button-down shirt and some lightweight fusible interfacing as well as the usual sewing equipment.  Let’s get started!

 T U T O R I A L : 
Men’s Shirt -> Boy’s Short-Sleeved Shirt
 Hey! Don’t take text or images from this tutorial without permission!  Thanks.
Step 1: Make/find your pattern pieces
Nearly every pattern for the basic boy’s short-sleeved shirt consists of four main pieces: the sleeve, the back, the front, and the collar.  For this shirt, we’ll just be using the front, back, and sleeve.  You can get these pieces by either tracing a boy’s shirt you already have or using a commercial pattern (a few examples: KwikSew 2973, Simplicity 4760, Butterick 3475).  I used the Kai Shirt pattern from Heather Ross’ Weekend Sewing; here you can see pieces for the sleeve (top), the front (lower left), and the back (lower right), traced onto tracing paper from their condensed versions in the book.


Step 2: Cut out the front
Lay the men’s shirt on a flat surface, button it up, and smooth out the wrinkles.  Find the “center front” on your front pattern piece.  This is usually clearly marked on the pattern piece or has X’s where the buttons will go.  Position the pattern piece so that this line is directly over the buttons on the men’s shirt.  Next move the pattern piece down 1 inch (see line on pattern piece).  Why? Since your shirt is already hemmed you don’t need the hem allowance, which is almost always about an inch, give or take (Note: you may also want to pay attention to where the buttons fall on the pattern pieces; perhaps moving the pattern up or down just a little bit more to optimize button location).  Trace with a marking pen.  Turn the pattern over and repeat for the other front side.  Cut these out, being careful not to cut into the back of the shirt.

Step 3: Cut the back
Fold the big shirt down the center back.  Place the back pattern piece along the fold, shifting it down 1 inch as with the front.  Trace and cut out.  

Step 4: Cut out sleeve
Smooth out the sleeve.  Fold sleeve pattern piece in half and place fold of sleeve directly over fold in sleeve.  Again, you don’t need the hem allowance, so move the pattern down so that the sleeve’s edge ends at the pattern’s hem line (Note: the sleeve hem line is usually marked or easy to find by the presence of an angle; I’m pointing to it with the pencil in the picture below).

Step 5: Sew shoulder seams
Take note of the pattern’s seam allowance.  Button the two front pieces together.  With the right sides facing, sew back to front at shoulders using the specified seam allowance.  

Step 6: Mark and measure collar seam line
Trace a line at the neckline seam allowance using a marking pen.  Unbutton the shirt and make sure it goes all the way to the edges of the button plackets.  Using a tape measure or piece of string, measure this line (it equals the collar length).

Step 7: Cut collar and collar interfacing
Cut out a rectangle on the bias for the collar (note the pattern is diagonal below).   The width of the rectangle should be 2″ plus 2 times the seam allowance.  The length of the rectangle one inch LONGER than the collar length you just measured

Example:  If you measured the collar length to be 14.5″ in Step 6 and the seam allowance was 1/2″:
WIDTH = 2″ + 2(1/2″) = 3″
LENGTH = 1″ + 14.5″ = 15.5″ 
So you would cut a rectangle 15.5″ x 3″.  

Cut a piece of lightweight fusible interfacing 2″ wide by the collar length (so 14.5″ x 2″ in our example).  Center the interfacing over the collar fabric and iron to fuse. Note: the collar interfacing is optional, but it prevents the collar from flopping over while worn.  

Step 8: Prepare collar
Fold collar in half lengthwise with interfacing out.  Mark a curved line beginning 1/2″ from each edge and curving towards center of collar.  

Sew along line, back-stitching at each end.  Clip along seam and turn right-side-out.  

Press, tucking sew allowance under along one side of collar.  

Step 9: Attach collar to shirt

Pin collar to right side of neckline, with the folded side of collar facing away from shirt.  Sew along seam allowance.  

Clip seam.

Turn and press collar towards inside of shirt, tucking raw edges into collar.  

Pin collar in place.  Stitch collar down close to edge.  

Step 10:  Attach sleeves
With right sides facing, attach sleeves to body of shirt.  Press seam towards body of shirt and topstitch (even though it adds time, topstitching really makes it look nice!) 

Step 11:  Sew side seams
With right sides facing, sew side seams and sleeve underarm seams.  Press, turn right-side-out, and admire!

Most men’s shirts have a pretty big gap at the bottom where there is no button.  To adapt this to a boy’s shirt, you may have to add another button and buttonhole at the bottom of the shirt (as I did here).  If you really loathe buttonholes, you could always sew in a small snap, but in my opinion this is more aesthetically pleasing.

That’s all for today!  Tomorrow we’ll add western flap pockets.  And don’t forget to head over to MADE to see what Dana’s up to today!

37 thoughts on “Tutorial by Rae: Make a Men’s Shirt into a Boy’s Shirt

  1. Yea!!!! I've turned hubs' old shirts into dresses for the girl…and now I can make shirts for the boy instead. Thanks!

  2. Very cool! Very clever to use already-there cuffs, hems and buttons! All that time saved! And those mandarin collars are so smart on little boys!

  3. I love the idea of celebrating the boy! There are always so many items out there for girls and it is hard to find super cute little boy stuff! Thanks for inspiring me to get creative and make something for my little man to wear!

  4. oooo Rae, I love this version of a shirt! What a cool collar idea! excited, excited, excited over here. Because I need another thing to sew right now….

  5. Thank you thank you thank you!! I've got a bunch of my husbands shirts saved 'cause I wanted to make shirts for my little guy but didn't know how to go about it. Thank you!

  6. Hi Rae – I love your new celebration, and this looks like a wonderful tutorial! 🙂 As I don't have boys, I'll pass on this one, but I can't wait to see what everyone makes! Happy sewing!

  7. This is wonderful. I just might try one for my girl though….cause I'm crazy like that. 🙂

    have a great day.

  8. I was just trying to figure out how to do exactly this last night!! Without much success I should add, this is fabulous. Thank you!

  9. Hi! I´ve been waiting for you and Dana to start Celebrating the Boy, I´m so exited. I´ve actually made this type of shirt for my 9 year old…you should check it out!(just that he always asks for rockin´versions of everything I make…that´s just his nature)
    under the "little ones" tag. I´ll be logging in often and I´ll share as soon as i get something done…Luck! Clau

  10. YAY!! That is awesome! thanks so much for doing nothing but boy stuff!! I have three boys and it is always hard to find cute things to make 🙂

  11. YAY!! I have three boys and have been waiting for more boy stuff! I put a link to your blog on my blog!

  12. Thanks so much – I am really looking forward to seeing what the two of you put together this month. I have blogged about you celebration on my blog.

  13. Oh PERFECT. I have been trying to fit the pieces on, I never thought of using the same buttonholes. Not only will there be enough fabric, but I don't have to deal with making buttonholes/sewing on buttons.

  14. Kudos1 I have sewn for over 50 years (although I had all girls) and NEVER would I have thought of this! You are so clever. You young girls amaze me!!!

  15. I just finished this shirt, with the collar, and it is so cute!! The only problem… I put the buttons on the "girl" side. Hope no one notices.

  16. Thank you SO much for this tutorial. I just made one for my 5yo son, but cheated with the collar (I reused the original collar, just folded it in at the sides to resize it to fit the boy's shirt).


  17. I just wanted to say I made one of these last week. It was my first ever shirt attempt, so it was a good thing to start with.
    I used a snap for the collar and the bottom. But I also used an extra button to look like there was a button there. I have an old treadle machine that has no button hole option, so I cheat when I can.

    Thank you for such clear instructions.

  18. Thank you so much for your inspiration!

    I made two shirts for my soon-to-be-baby-boy out of an old shirt of my father who died last May. A beautiful keepsake for somewone who will be so close to him and he will never know anyway.

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