Stretchy Water Balloons (A tutorial on altering a t-shirt neckline)

Check out my new, (modified by me), Threadless t-shirt – “Water Balloons”.

I just love Threadless T-Shirts, but have long been frustrated with the shape of the neckline on the ladies tees (tiny and round – close to the neck).  They now produce some of their tees with an altered neckline – but not in my size (for “tall” ladies).

Now I don’t need Trinny and Susannah to tell me that I look terrible in tees that have tiny, round necks.  I know I look much better in scoop or vee necks (as does any lady with fair sized ‘boobage’), but I really wanted this tee, so I took the scissors in hand and cut off that tiny neck.  You can see the original neckline here (it’s the girly tee – not the boat-neck).

I looked at many online tutorials on altering necklines on tees, but mostly came across ones that left the neckline raw, or finished it with binding.  I didn’t have any left-over fabric to make binding, and wanted something that looked a little more professional than a raw edge.  I decided to try to work out how to sew a “self-bound” edge.  As you can see above, it turned out pretty well, (in spite of all my fears).

At this point I have to acknowledge the superior sewing know-how of my mother.  She couldn’t really picture how I was going to finish the neck (from the other end of the phone line) but advised me to get some of that clear stretchy stuff to stabilize it.  I am sure it made the difference between me proudly wearing my shirt, or having it languish in my chest of drawers.

If I knew it was going to work out so well, I would have taken pictures of the steps involved, as I worked on this top – instead I will have to recreate them.

So, here is the tutorial for altering a t-shirt neckline and finishing it with “self-binding”.

Self-binding is a method that actually uses the fabric edge itself, folded and sewn to look like binding – “faux-binding” if you will, as the raw edge is still visible on the inside of the t-shirt.

You will need: The small necked tee (pictured is my finished neckline), another tee with a great neckline, water soluble marking pen, scissors, pins, 1 yard (or 1 metre) of 1/4″ wide clear elastic tape, polyester sewing thread, jersey (ball point) sewing-machine-needles, sewing machine, and an iron.

1) The first step is to put your tiny-necked-tee inside another tee that already has a great neckline (scoop, not vee), and trace the desired neckline onto your tiny-neck-tee.  Your finished neckline will end up about 1/2″ lower than the line you trace, so bear that in mind.

2) Cut a nick in the too small neckline, to make a start, and then cut it away until you have the drawn neckline with a 1/2″ remaining seam allowance.  For the photos I have used a piece of woven patterned cotton, because I didn’t have another tee to cut up, and I thought the pattern would make showing right and wrong sides easier.  Sadly this means that you will have to image a rounded, knit neckline; instead of a straight, woven edge.

3) Fold the 1/2″ seam allowance to the inside of the tee (the drawn line will be on the fold).

4) Concertina fold the seam allowance back, towards the right-side of the tee and pin (the pin is through 3 layers of fabric, with a fold to either side).  You may have to make a small clip, in the seam allowance, at the shoulder seams, to ease the curve of the fabric smoothly.  Use lots of pins to get a smooth finish.

5) Pin one end of your length of clear elastic tape to the middle-back of your new neckline, (don’t pin any more than this) about where the label usually is.  The pins in the picture above represent the stitching line, which is where you will want the clear stretchy stuff.

6) Select a stretch stitch on your sewing machine – mine was somewhere between a straight-stitch, and a zig-zag – sort of z shaped.  Start sewing at the centre-back (where you pinned the elastic), about 1/4″ from the raw edge.  As you sew, hold the clear elastic in one hand, slightly stretched (this is why you don’t pin it any further), while you guide the fabric of your tee with the other.  Go very slowly and stop frequently (with the needle down) to remove pins as you go.  Each time you stop, manipulate the fabric to make sure that the right side of your t-shirt body is not puckered on the part that you are about to sew – did I mention go slowly ;-).  Overlap the stretchy stuff, slightly, to finish, and cut off the remaining clear elastic (you will not need the entire metre or yard).

7) Using steam, carefully press the finished “binding” up, away from the front of the tee – it will look somewhat like this.  Use a pressing cloth to avoid ironing on any screen printing on your tee and avoid ironing on the clear elastic (because I am not sure how much heat it can take).  I had my iron set on medium or “silk”.

8 ) Put your new tee on and admire it!


Now that I know I can do this, I will probably buy more Threadless tees and alter them – next time I will be sure to take step by step photos and redo this tutorial.

Oh, and check out this Threadless tee I got Luke for Christmas – perfect for anyone who works a lot with fonts.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions… claire(at)matchingpegs(dot)com ….I can even explain the font joke if you don’t get it ;-).

10 thoughts on “Stretchy Water Balloons (A tutorial on altering a t-shirt neckline)

  1. This turned out great Claire but I have to admit that I broke out in a sweat when I imagined doing it myself! Not much talent (yet!) as a sewer 🙂 The design on that t-shirt is fantastic …love the water balloons.

  2. I love this post for so many reasons – adorable t-shirt, a plan that came together, and the use of the word “boobage” in relation to sewing.

    ….and it took me a LLLLOONNGGG time to work out that true-ism about needing to wear low or v-cut t-shirts. In fact I didn’t work it out, it took a friend with significant boobage (and a heart of gold, and an honest disposition) to tell me off about it! I’m forever grateful. 🙂


  3. I completely agree about scooped neck vs. tiny neck T-shirts Claire. In fact I think the former are more flattering on everyone, no matter what size ‘boobage’. And I can never find enough scooped necks. One day I will get up the courage to follow your tutorial…maybe starting with an old T in case of calamities.

  4. I would love to try this as I have the exact same problem with threadless shirts. I’m only a beginner sewer though so I do have few questions: can I do this with a normal zigzag stitch (my machine is very simple), and when you sew the tape onto the neckline are you sewing from the right side? Which you then flip the whole neckline part over and iron down so the seam is on the inside? I’ve been trying to picture it and I want to check I’ve got it right!

    • Hi Sarah,
      Yes a zig zag would be fine. You could try to alter the width of the stitch a little if it is too wide.

      When you are sewing the tape on, the concertina fold is to the front, as seen in the 7th and 8th picture.

      Then you iron it back to the wrong side, as you can see in the 9th.

      Next time I alter a tee shirt, I will make sure to take photos of the process on the actual tee shirt to make it clearer. Good Luck!

  5. I love this! I couldn’t seem to find any of that plastic elastic when I went to Walmart, so I just got the regular braided elastic. Worked like a charm. 🙂

  6. I love this tutorial! Thanks for posting it. I have a shirt I am supposed to wear for a week long event, and the neck was horrid…so this should make all the other women envious and my day perfect. 😉

    Love from Texas

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