How to Make a T-Shirt Smaller

May 5, 2013

How to Make a T-Shirt Smaller

About a year and a half ago, I made a decision to get serious about my health. It led me on a path of a revised healthy eating philosophy and a strict fitness regimen.  I am now 35 pounds lighter and the healthiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. The details of how I did all this are tales for another day. But 35 pounds lighter, I was left with a problem. I looked dumpy at the gym. Super dumpy.

When I started heading to the gym on a regular basis, I decided to make-do with the work-out clothes I had.  Which meant I didn’t really have that much, since I never really had exercised before. I had a couple of athletic-ish shorts and a couple more from high school P.E. class (yes, this is embarrassing). I also had a bunch of lightly worn too large t-shirts. Well, they used to be too large. At the beginning of this weight loss journey they fit me. Sad day.

35 pounds lighter and they are once again huge on me! But I continued to wear these to the gym, and boy did I look like a slob. I haven’t yet reached my goal weight. When I do (and that’s going to be one day very soon!) I plan on buying a whole new work-out wardrobe as my reward. But until that day, I needed to have something to wear the gym and not completely lose my dignity.

So how hard could turning too large t-shirts into nicely fitting ones really be? I did some research, went through some trial and error, and created a simple method. Anyone with basic sewing skills can do this.

Grab those big ol’ t-shirts and let’s make some nicely fitting ones! Here’s how:

First things first, get some tunes going.

NSync I Want You Back

(I thumbs up one N’Sync song on my Glee Pandora station, and now I hear them all the time! Not quite sure if this is a good or bad thing.)

Gather your materials: you’ll need your too big t-shirt and a t-shirt that fits you well. You’ll use this second t-shirt as a template. You will also need a fabric pen or pencil.

Too Big T-shirt

Turn your too big t-shirt inside out.

Try to smooth the two layers and make them as even and straight as possible. This is especially important around the armpit. Try to get the seam to lay flat. Otherwise, you’ll sew over some twisted material and you’ll get a wonky armpit when you turn it right side out.

Straighten and Smooth Layers

Place your template t-shirt over your too big t-shirt.

Using Template

You’ll want to line the t-shirts up at the neck hole and shoulders as much as possible.

Match Up ShouldersAnd while you’re at it, Gobias some coffee 🙂

Now just trace around your template t-shirt. It doesn’t have to be exact. Just as long as you have a relatively straight line. But do try to follow the exact curve of the arm pit.

Traced T-shirt

Mark where you want the sleeves to start and how far you want the t-shirt to go down.

Next, pin your t-shirt. While pinning is not necessary, it will insure that your t-shirts remains flat and even while sewing. Again, this is especially important around the armpits.

Pinning T-shirt

Yes, those are some lovely yellow pit stains. This is a work-out shirt, people! I get sweaty!

Now it’s time to sew. Start at the end of a sleeve (we’ll adjust the length of the sleeve after trimming off some of the width of the shirt), and sew a straight stitch along the outline of the shirt.

Start Sewing at Sleeve

And 15 minutes later it’s time for a little “dirty pop.”


This is seriously getting ridiculous.

Turn your shirt inside out and make sure that it’s fitting like you want.

Next it’s time to cut! Turn the shirt inside out again and cut about a ¼ inch out from your sewn line.

Cutting the Sides

Now, you might want to do a zigzag or surge stitch on the cut edges. The wider the stitch, the less the fabric will stretch. This t-shirt knit fabric won’t fray, but I do this to add a little reinforcement to my single stitch.

Surge Stitch

Now it’s time to shorten the sleeves and length of the t-shirt. If you like the way the sleeves are hitting you, just skip this step. You should have marked where you want the sleeve to end. Cut the sleeve at about ½ inch longer than this line.

Cutting Sleeves

Take your excess sleeve, and then match it up with the end of the sleeve on the other side and cut. This insures that your sleeves will be the same length, even if you mark was a little off.

Cutting the other Sleeve

Cuff the sleeves about ½ inch and pin or press into place.

Pinning Sleeve

Sew all the way around the sleeve, keeping it close to the fold. Then sew another line all the way around the sleeve close to the raw edge. You could also us a twin needle to accomplish this a little faster.

Sewing the Sleeve(Here it is in a blue t-shirt with white thread. My white on white example is a little hard to see).

Repeat the same process with the bottom of your t-shirt.

Turn it right side out, and you’re done!

Admire the inches you just cut off.


You now have a brand new, nicely fitted t-shirt! No longer a slob.

Smaller T-shirt

Before and After


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