BHF The Big Stitch – Men’s shirt refashion

Hello again, and sorry for my long silence! The famous PGCE workload has been keeping me from the sewing machine (ironic, as I’ve been training as a Textiles Teacher), but I’ve handed everything in now and have a looooong summer holiday ahead of me (win!) so I’ll be making up for lost time with a tonne of new sewing projects…

This first of this sewing frenzy is this men’s shirt, which I’ve refashioned into a smart top as part of the British Heart Foundation’s The Big Stitch campaign. For anyone who’s unfamiliar, the basic premise is this: The Big Stitch is a nationwide competition. To participate, you have to buy an item from one of the BHF’s charity shops and customise or refashion it, posting before and after photos online.

I’ve wanted to refashion a men’s shirt since they did it for the Alteration Challenge on the GB Sewing Bee (yes, I realise this was literally years ago…). There were rails and rails of shirts in my local BHF shop (most of which were incredibly corporate and boring) but I eventually settled on this large cotton-blend number with a tiny blue and red woven check. You can see the checks if you look really closely at the photos. It’s so boring that I knew I’d have no qualms about cutting into it! Judging by the two price reductions on the label it must have been in the shop a long time too – which is why this competition is so great actually, because it helps BHF get some cash and clear out old stock, whilst also breathing new life into old clothes and reducing waste. Win win!

After that, I totally made it up as I went along. Originally I’d planned to make a ruffle-sleeve top with buttons down the back, but after cutting off the collar and sleeves I had a change of heart. Instead, I added a whopping EIGHT darts (that’s two bust darts, a shoulder dart and a double pointed dart on either side) to make it fit. This was really important, as big boobs have ensured that I haven’t worn a button-down since school because the tighter fit around my bust makes the gaps between buttons gape open.

I also used some lace trim from my stash along the yoke and button-placket seams, plus a little bit on the shoulders for added interest. I wasn’t sure about the lace at first (for some reason the words granny nightie kept echoing in my mind…) but it’s definitely grown on me. I then took it in at the sides and added side-seam splits for fit and ventilation, and finally used one of the sleeves to make my own bias binding for the neckline and arm-holes.  This was a little time-consuming but worth the effort, partly because it reduced the waste but mainly because it looks so damn smart. I mean, look at it! Professional, right?!

Two separate strangers complimented this top the first time I wore it out, which in my book makes it a success. Plus I have loads of reasons to love it, so here they are in no particular order:

  • It’s really cool and breathable. That’s a blessing in this heatwave, which has frankly made the wearing of most of my wardrobe unbearable.
  • It hardly needs any ironing. Not that I iron anything anyway.
  • I didn’t need to trace a pattern or cut anything out, which as David will attest to is definitely my least favourite part of the making process.
  • I was able to use the original buttons and button holes, which saved a whole heap of time.
  • It cost less than £2. Which is crazy, actually.

The winners of The Big Stitch will be announced on 3rd August, but until then it’s really fun to have a look at the other entries. Search for #thebigstitch on Insta – the  variety of makes is unbelievable. It’s so inspiring. There’s a denim jacket made from old jeans that I’m desperate to copy, plus about a million other things to make with men’s shirts. What’s your fave?!

Also, here’s a photo of my new cat at my sewing machine. Cute.


Tutorial: Stash-Busting Book Cover

I know this is meant to be a fashion sewing blog. You don’t need to tell me twice. But oh my word, it’s September already and start of a new academic year is within touching distance.

And as of 8th September I’ll officially be a trainee teacher, of Design and Technology in Secondary Schools, specialising in Textiles.

And with that in mind, I’m going to make sure that my stationary, at least, is too cool for school. I’ve made applique book covers before, mostly as Christmas presents, and love them for their stash-busting credentials! They’re great for making use of all the pretty little bits left over from dress making that you just can’t bare to bin.

So that’s how it’s relevent.

Plus, great stationary is always in fashion, right? Remember Cher from Clueless with that fluffy pink pen?! Killing. It. 

It’s a dead simple make – possibly too simple for most avid sewists? – but it’s also a great introduction to applique. I’d fancied writing a tutorial for a while, and this simple make seemed like a good place to start. 

Also, I got my nails done this week, so you might see a higher-than-strictly-necessary number of photos featuring my hands…


What You’ll Need:

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  1. Small fabric scraps for the applique design.
  2. Small off-cuts of light/medium weight fusible interfacing (the bits left over from making neck facings are ideal)
  3. Whatever hardback book you want to cover (this plain black academic diary is from The Works and cost £1.50)
  4. Lining fabric (3 pieces – I’ll explain this in a second…)*
  5. Coordinating threads
  6. Cover fabric*

*I haven’t included any sizes or measurements here, because that’s entirely dependant on the book you choose. Have a look at Step 1 below…




Step 1: Cut out your cover and lining fabrics.

Your cover fabric needs to be cut into a rectangle 1.5cm bigger on all sides than the cover your chosen book. The easiest way to do this is by laying the fabric on the work surface the placing the book on top, opening it up so that the cover and spine lay flat. You can then measure and cut around it.

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Using this as a template, you can then cut one piece of lining fabric the same size, and two smaller pieces for the sleeves which will hold the cover in place. These must be the same height, and roughly a third of the width.

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Step 2: Create Your Front Cover Design

This is the fun bit! Use the fabric you have available as inspiration for your design. It’s best to go for simple shapes, without a huge amount of detail – initials, anchors, and simple animal shapes work really well. Excuse the cliche, but you’re only limited by your imagination.*

*Oh, ok, and your skill level. If you’re a real beginner, it’s better to stick with a really simple shape and nail it, rather than to be over-ambitious and make a mess. But if you’re feeling confident, go for it! You’re using scraps anyway, so there’s no reason not to challenge yourself…

I knew I wanted to use a sampler of indigo tie-dye I made in a workshop at Walthamstow Garden Party back in July, and teamed it with scraps of orange sari silk (from the most disastrous dress I ever made – the less said about that the better) to come up with a watery koi carp design. I sketched it on paper first, then used tracing paper to make templates for the individual shapes so that I could cut them out but leave my original sketch intact to use as a point of reference. If your design is also made up of multiple shapes, I’d suggest you do the same.

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Next, iron your fusible interfacing onto the reverse of your fabric scraps, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Then use your paper templates to draw the shapes onto the interfacing.

IMPORTANT: If, like me, your design is asymmetrical, you must flip the paper templates over when drawing the shapes onto the interfacing, as if you’re creating a mirror image. That’s because you’re now working on the reverse of the applique – when you turn it right-side up, it’ll look the same as your original design.


Cut out the shapes then reassemble your design, right-side up. If you want to add any flat details (say with fabric markers or these lovely Pentel Fabric Pastel Dye Sticks), do it now. Don’t add any raised embellishments (embroidery/sequins/beading etc) yet!

NB: It’s wise to test the markers/pastels on a scrap the the same fabric first, just to check you’re happy with the colour and finish.


Position the shapes on the cover fabric, towards the right-hand side. If your shapes overlap, make sure you layer them in the correct order to give perspective (so in my example, the tail and back fin are the “bottom layer”, then the body, then the nearer fin is the “top layer”). Pin and hand-baste in place. (Or, if you can’t be bothered with hand-basting, you can use Pritt Stick. I would normally use Pritt Stick but I don’t have any indoors. Plus, this is my first ever tutorial so I’m trying not to look too lazy.)

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Remove the pins (if you’ve used them) because we’re finally sewing! Using matching or coordinating thread in your sewing machine, use a small narrow zigzag stitch to cover all the exposed raw edges of your shapes to neaten and fix them in place.

IMPORTANT! This is the trickiest and most visible part of the make, so it’s important to get it right. It’s a classic tortoise/hare scenario, so take your time on it. Have a little practice with some remnants first, to make sure you’re happy with the stitch length. Then sew very slowly, using the hand wheel as you approach corners for extra precision. And when you finally reach that corner, leaving your needle down, lift the presser foot and pivot your work, to make those corners extra sharp.


NOW is is the time to add any raised details! I’ve embroidered the eyes and, er, whiskers (do you call them whiskers? Feely bits?) of the fish.



Step 3: Make your inside sleeve bits

Yes, inside sleeve bit is the technical term.

These hold the cover in place on your book, but can also be used as pockets for loose papers. When you’re done they’ll look like this:

Take one of your two small rectangles and fold and press one of the long edges to the wrong side, about 7mm, then fold over again another 10mm to enclose the raw edge. Press well and pin in place.


Neaten the edge by using a matching thread in your sewing machine, and sewing a straight stitch close to the fold. Press well and set aside. Repeat for the other rectangle.




Step 4: Construct the cover

Lay your cover fabric right side up on a flat surface, then lay the small rectangles on top, right side down. Line up the corners, ensuring the neatened edges are in the middle.


Then lay your lining rectangle on top, right side down. Pin through all layers. I find it helpful to double-pin twice on the lower edge, as in the photo. This reminds you not to sew between those two points, as you’ll need an opening to turn the whole thing through.

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Using a straight stitch, sew around all four sides of your work, roughly 1cm from the raw edge,  leaving the gap between the double pins.



Your cover should now be taking shape! Check that it fits your book by removing pins and turning the whole thing through. It sounds weird, but the fit can very depending on the weight of fabric you’ve chosen and how thick your book is. Make any adjustments as necessary.

IMPORTANT: You’ll probably need to bend the book right back at the spine to get it into the cover (have a look at the photo below. It’s kinda hard to explain…). Don’t try to force it though, or you might risk damaging your lovely stitching.


Once you’re happy with the fit, turn it inside out again, snip the corners and trim the seam allowances using pinking shears if you have them. Turn through and use something pointy (but not sharp! A knitting needle or blunt pencil is ideal…) to make nice crisp corners. Press well and slip stitch the opening at the bottom closed.


And that’s it! Now you can smugly show off your beautiful new book cover!

So if you fancy, give it a go, and send me your feedback. I’d like to know how user-friendly my instructions and photos are, as well as how you feel about your finished items. If you ave questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll try my best to help. And if you’re quick, there’s just time to squeeze one out before the start of term…