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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Elvis T-Shirt Upcycle Top #1

Updated: Oct 29, 2022

It was fun to upcycle one side of an 'Elvis' T-Shirt I picked up at a restaurant near Graceland in Memphis this summer. Here's my creation...And: This garment is now available for Sale HERE.


The T-Shirt had both front and backsides identical, which I found to be quite unusual. It was easy to realize that with this one T-Shirt, I will have the strong potential of creating 2 different garments.

As always, I take what I call a 'dive' into my stash which I've organized by color. Here's one 'collection' that fell together. Would I combine ALL of these?? For sure - NO NO NO! To start, I pull out anything and everything that might work - EVERYTHING. The main thing I'm looking for at this point is both hue (color, and undertone of color) and intensity - brightness or dullness. The T-shirt has a soft grey overall look, so the black/white knit stripe at the right was quickly rejected. At the lower left is a pair of socks I purchased at Graceland as well, but they seemed to be a much 'cooler, almost navy-ish black - so they were rejected as well (at least for this project - but I 'see' them as lower sleeves on another garment). The 'ball' in the middle is a glorious hunk of jersey knit cut into strips which turned out to be used as the unifying 'trim' on my top. More on that later...

The WINNER was this lusciously soft heather knit dress with a gored skirt, turtle neckline and rib-knit sleeves. The soft heathered look of this dress was perfect with the T-shirt, so I pretty quickly determined to somehow 'work' the front of the T-Shirt over top of this dress as the base. Where did I find this dress? I can ASSURE you that I didn't purchase from a store. Likely, it come from an estate sale. I'm scoring some real 'finds' at estate sales, taking time to really dig into the wardrobes of the lady of the house. I recently found a mink stole for $35 that I gave to my little granddaughters for their dress-up! Usually,the garments are priced around $5 - at least around here in western TN. Some of the other 'finds' in the collection above were then delegated to a basket to use with the backside of the T-Shirt on another upcycle project.


The decision to use the dress as the base being made, it was time to start cutting! It's hard to actually cut in, but eventually, I find I just HAVE To CUT - so I just take a deep breath and start cutting!

I knew I wanted to make use of the great gored bottom of this dress, so I decided to cut it at about 5/8" above the top of the godets.

At this time, I also realized that the godet skirt part of this dress was plenty long - especially for the top I envisioned - with a normal hip length top, NOT the 'tunic' length which now seems delegated to 'past fashion' - so I knew I would be shortening it eventually in the construction process.


After 'trying' on the T over top of the dress on my dress form, I finally decided to cut the front of the T apart as shown below, and to use the lowermost portion for the backside of my garment.


With the bottom of the dress cut off, I started pinning the front of the T-shirt to the bodice of the dress. Obviously, my goal was to preserve both the photo and the names: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (a huge personality here in Jackson, TN - and songwriter of 'Blue Suede Shoes' made so popular by Memphis). I just worked to tuck and pin the T on top of the knit dress bodice. Once I got it looking good, I cut the T right along the neckline at the top, and along the armholes.

Below is a similar design process using the lower portion of the T-Shirt over top of the back bodice of the dress. At the neckline, I had to 'piece' in some of the 'background' fabric of the T-Shirt sleeves. I knew at this point, that I'd have to come up with some creative solution for the very top neckline. I also was not sure if I'd maintain the turtleneck of the original dress - or not. A later decision. One decision at a time is my mantra.

There really wasn't that much 'sewing' to this up-cycle project. The hardest sewing task was 'anchoring' the T-shirt to the dress 'base'. To accomplish this, I used clear thread in the needle at my machine. If you have a 'stacked' wound spool like Transfil, you MUST use a vertical spool pin. Wonder Thread from YLI can 'ride' either on a vertical spool pin or a horizontal spool pin. Play with it, but I often find I have to lower the upper thread tension a bit so that the bobbin thread does NOT pull to the top. Anyway - I LOVE the benefits of 'invisible' thread for this type of 'sewing'. The upper layer (T-shirt) MUST be adequately 'attached' to the base (dress). To allow for some 'stretch', I stitch with a zig-zag width of .5 or 1 and stitch length of 3.0. To get the T-shirt to 'fit', I pinned and stitched in darts or tucks on the T - right on top of, into the base. Perhaps if you click on the two photos below and enlarge them (zoom in) you can see some of this stitching. I also did some free-motion stitching around the heads of the guys.

Here's a look at the inside of the bodice - you can see how many rows of stitching it took to 'connect' these two layers.

In the close-up below, you can also see my solution for the neckline. I found this wide open-work acrylic 'lace' type trim in my stash that I gathered about 3/4" in from one edge. Over that gathering, I stitched down the center of the jersey 'yarn' trim.

The godet skirt section was folded in half at the center back and center front to cut it off shorter at the lowermost edge. I cut it to a depth of 12.5" at the center front, softly angling to 14" depth at the center back.


An important design principle I learned in college design class was that of RHYTHM. Honestly, I think that is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT things I learned in all of my college classes! Basically, it is the repetition of some element within a design that makes the eye 'follow' or connect around the garment, serving to 'unify' it altogether. On this creation, the jersey yarn 'trim' serves that purpose AS it also 'finishes' the raw edges of the T-shirt.

One other principle of design that was emphasized in my classes was the unequal or odd number of 'places' where elements are repeated within a composition. In this garment, that led to my 'repeating' this lacy grey trim at the sleeve lower edges... making it 'appear' THREE places on the garment.

This side view of my garment shows the soft and 'graceful' effect of the back 'skirt' being cut slightly longer than the front. I often do this to achieve a graceful hemline that is flattering to the body. Note also, that the 'skirt' on the top is NOT the same length of the sleeves. I always make sure to NOT have the hemline of a top at the same level as the sleeve finish, as that would create a hip-widening horizontal line - ughhh.

HEM with Twin Needle

As shown here, I used Steam a Seam Lite to fuse up the lower hemline. And, no - I didn't even 'serge' to finish. Knits do not ravel. Yes, I DO have a cover hem machine, but it hides in my studio as I just don't like using it. Instead, I default to my favorite TWIN NEEDLE - a STRETCH Twin Needle. That link is to the 4.0 mm apart needles, my favorite. I also carry the 2.5mm apart needle.

Below at the right is a clip from my Stretching Your Knit Sewing Know-How DVD - (or download version). This is a THREE Disc DVD and I have a limited number still available HERE. There will NOT be a reprint, since I have also managed to get this valuable collection of my knit-sewing techniques all 'digitized' so that you can quickly purchase and download it HERE. Besides that, I'm OLD now and certainly not wanting to reprint 1000's of products at this 'stage' of my life!


This up-cycle creation is definitely a more 'intense' black, silver, and white combination waiting for it's transformation. I do believe I'm 'on a roll' to create a 'collection' of ELVIS up-cycled garments that I'll be offering at auction on Ebay closer to the holiday season. I find it AMAZING that the stuck-on nailhead-looking 'things' create this image of Elvis that is unmistakeably him. I'm constantly amazed at what creative skills God has given to His people - to take those dots and with space and shading, re-create a person's face!!!

I'm 'itching' to get started on this project and am pretty sure it will become a jacket. Stay tuned - and JOIN me and over 2K others at my MeWe Up-Cycle Sewing Group.

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