Sewing a Thermal T to an Up-Cyled Top


This Up-Cycle Top represents a fairly typical design/stitching experience.  The thing I really find exciting is the challenge of pushing through – undoing/redoing to come up with a unique, wearable, one-of-a-kind garment. 

thermal T Top to start

Design and Stitch Along With Me…..

Base Garment: a thermal long-sleeved green knit top.  Now – what do I have hidden away in my green tub that might work well with it?


The sheer print over a stripe really goes well with the thermal top – even though these pictures don’t show that very well.  Sadly, none of the fabric/garment pieces shown in the picture above seemed to be perfect.  Time for another ‘dive’ into my green tub……

SCORE!   This green solid tank top was absolutely perfect!  I have no idea whatsoever where this top came from, as I’ve been shopping thrift stores and sale racks for years. I ‘saw’ this as a great piece of knit fabric, offering a nice, rolled edging at the neck and armholes. Making use of those finished edges was my first idea. 


Drape to Design

I love this part of the process…holding fabrics up on the base garment on a dress form.  Playing with the fabric, I consider which grain, what angles, what lengths, etc.,  create a pleasing and coherent look.  I prefer asymmetry to symmetry in my design – finding it much easier to achieve and definitely more fun to create – at least, for me.

Take a Breath & Cut!

As I’ve taught Up-Cycle and other types of creative sewing, this is the hardest part of which to convince my students: that it is truly IMPOSSIBLE to decide everything about a design ahead of the execution – the actual cutting and stitching. 

Rather,  it is making one decision at a time, committing to that, and then EXECUTING THAT IDEA!  As you can see – it might work, and then again, it might not.  In sewing, as I teach my students – you can fix ANYTHING. 

Above, you can see that I folded the Base Garment in half at the center front and center back by aligning the shoulder seams.  I find that I actually almost always cut off original necklines as I up-cycle.  Folding the garment as shown above and just cutting off the neckline and perhaps some shape at the front (as a shallow V neckline above) will get you started…and past that first CUT!

Explanation – the striped print sheer as you see above has just been draped, pinned on in a manner that I liked during the ‘fitting’ on the dress form. 

New Neck Binding

Once again,  you can see that I’ve folded the donor garment in half at the center front and center back so I can cut symmetrically.

I always cut with larger seam allowances than I think I’ll need.  Believe me – that’s a smart rule to live by. THEN, trim down as you see is necessary as you continue to work.  


Here, then I’m trimming the shell’s nice finished neckline down to a smaller seam allowance for applying to the thermal top.

I often cut the sleeves OUT to facilitate the easy application of the striped fabric over the top, then re-stitch the sleeves back into place so that the fabric gets all ‘attached’ at the armholes. 

Here are a couple of pictures of how I proceeded.  I DO feel a dress form is NECESSARY to design as I share I’m doing.  I’ve just purchased a Fabulous Fit dress form that is pinnable – and I’m SO excited about it!!! I found this dress form to be the best, most affordable and available dress form available.  It even comes with a full padding system to ‘grow’ it to larger sizes (on top of the size you purchase – I purchased a Size 14.)   Next, I laid on the striped fabric as I’d determined I liked it with playing on the dress form.  


Darned if I didn’t manage to get that V point as off-center/asymmetrical as I had intended.  It just isn’t enough ‘off center’ to look like I wanted, but, instead, it looked like I just ‘missed’ the center!   I admit – mistakes like this are NOT rare as I work.  My seam ripper is a VERY good friend!  As I teach my young students, I admit to them that there is truly never a time that I sit down to stitch that I don’t have to UN-Stitch!!! 

The bright green skinny tape you see in the photo above is Design Tape which is quite sticky, but removes easily.  I really like using this stuff.  You can find it at Amazon HERE.

2nd Try Neckline Finish

THIS time, I tried it on my body to be SURE I had the lines and lowermost V point where I wanted it!  This picture is in a mirror – so it looks opposite of what I end up with.  Aren’t mirrors just the weirdest things? 

The edging I had tried to use was not long enough to execute this new neckline.  Sew … I had to totally scratch that idea.  Trying another idea using the body of the green shell can be seen below.  

I didn’t like the idea above, so back to the asymmetric V idea I went.

Above is one idea – but somehow, it just wasn’t what I was looking for – seemed too ‘dressy’ or something.   I have to remember:  “I AM THE DESIGNER! 

I’m enjoying this design process to please ME!  I AM in control” – well, mostly!

I decided that a wide ‘ribbing’ in an overlapped V would look good. My directions for this are in my Terrific T Top pattern, and my DVD:  Stretching Your Knit Sewing Know-How, which is now available printed at Close-out pricing HERE, or via digital delivery.     To get this neckline to hug the neck, it must be substantially LESS long than the garment neckline – especially around the back neck.  I offer really good directions for this neckline as the ‘Lapped V’ in the basic T-Shirt pattern I developed:  Londa’s Terrific T Top.   I also use this pattern as the ‘basic’ for armholes, necklines, etc. as I do my re-cycle, up-cycle sewing.  

Since this green shell was rayon and nylon, I had to take great care when steaming with a hot iron, so I keep my silk organza pressing cloth ‘at the ready’. 

I decided that I wanted the thermal T a bit shorter.  To do that, I cut off the cover-hem lower edge, allowing for a seam allowance.  Then, I stitched it back on, just up higher.   Doing it this way kept the original stitching of the thermal top.

Cuff Addition

Since the neckline turned out to be quite a strong focal point – and of the solid green, I decided that I needed to repeat color at the cuff area.  Doing this places that green color in THREE places – good design principle, that of ‘3’s and RHYTHM:  repetition of an element (here, the solid green fabric), helping the eye to travel around the garment, connecting it all into one coherent piece.   

Here’s the new Top that I created.  

This is How I Accomplished the Flounce Cuffs. 

First, I decided the depth of the ‘flared cuff’.  From that depth I subtracted the seam allowance (I use 1/2”) and cut that much off of the thermal sleeve bottoms. 

Next, I measured the circumference of the bottom of the thermal sleeve., and added 1/2” to the desired depth plus a hem allowance.  Then, I cut a pattern piece.  See the picture below. 

To create the flare,

1.  Add tape along the top seam line to reinforce it.

2. Slash from the hemline up to the seam line and from the top down to the seam line, leaving a ‘hinge’ of paper pattern.  Do this 3 times as shown in the photo

3.  Spread as desired, to increase the lowermost edge.  You can see in the photo at the bottom that I also added some additional lower width at the sides.  As you spread the lower edge, you will see that the upper edges pivot and lap over each other from the hinge.      

Below you can see that the nylon top gave me plenty of ‘fabric’  from which to cut these flounce-type cuffs.                                                

Towards the end of my creative sewing, I often get so ‘on a roll’ that I forget to snap pictures.  Here are final pictures of the garment I created – now for SALE (I already have my original top made with this striped, sheer knit fabric – which is another up-cycle project!).  Click HERE to purchase this garment for $85 which reflects my time and materials at a fair price.

Try my techniques!  I have designed a couple of patterns that you might also find helpful as you work: UP-Cycle Memento Tops Trendy Tunic Tops. 

UP-Cycle Sewing Group at WeMe 

What is WeMe?  A great option to Facebook!  If you are tired of censorship and your information controlled and exploited, join me over at WeMe!  HERE is a link to my new WeMe Up-Cycle Sewing Group. 




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2 Responses

  1. Sue says:

    I love that new neckline! You are very creative. I would like to up-cycle some knit wool sweaters. Will the cut edges ravel? Do you have any special techniques?

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