Have you ever experienced the discomfort of sitting through a work meeting without bending over because you’re worried the buttons on your blouse will gap open? Or maybe you can’t quite squeeze into the tee you bought at an amazing concert years ago. Either way, you probably find yourself wondering how to make your shirt bigger!
In most cases, you can make a shirt bigger using stretching techniques or sewn alterations. Stretching some fabrics will easily enlarge a shirt in the collar, sleeves, or side seams. You can also make alterations using scissors and a sewing machine.
In this article, you will find out how to use a variety of techniques to stretch a shirt, how to alter t-shirts and button-downs with a sewing machine, and how to refashion your clothes using only a pair of scissors!
Can You Make a Shirt Bigger?
Whether or not you can make a shirt bigger depends on its style and the kind of material it is made from.
Generally speaking, shirts of any style can stretch at least a little bit if you use the proper methods. However, if you want to alter your shirt with a sewing technique, the style really matters. T-shirts usually allow for fairly easy alterations, while blouses and button-downs require a higher level of skill.
The type of material also makes a big difference. Shirts made from cotton will stretch easily, while shirts made from polyester and other synthetic fabrics will not stretch as well. If you decide to sew alterations, you should note that some fabrics, such as linen, will hold onto old needle holes, leaving unsightly marks to show your alterations.
If you have the right combination of style and type of material, though, you can make most shirts bigger by either stretching or sewing them.
How to Make a Shirt Bigger Without Sewing
The easiest way to make a shirt just a bit bigger is to stretch it. Many shirts, especially those made out of cotton or cotton blends, will easily stretch at least half a size bigger.
If you have a slightly too-small shirt and you want to fit into it again, you should definitely at least try a couple of quick stretching techniques! These methods take little effort or skill and let you easily make a shirt bigger without sewing.
You can accomplish this by washing the shirt and stretching it while it is wet, soaking it in a solution of water and hair conditioner and then stretching it, or using a specialized stretching tool to enlarge a specific portion of a shirt, such as a collar.
How to Stretch a Shirt
If you are new to the world of altering clothing, why not start with an easy method that lets you make a garment bigger without cutting it?
First, save yourself some hassle by taking a couple of preliminary steps. Try on the shirt and determine exactly where it doesn’t fit you. Is your button-down too tight in the collar but perfectly fitted everywhere else? Is your favorite t-shirt growing uncomfortably close in the bust, though it hangs just right otherwise?
You should also check the inside label to find out if your garment is washable before trying any stretching methods. Some fabrics, such as silk and wool, require dry cleaning. You shouldn’t try these stretching techniques on an item made out of a nonwashable fabric.
The manufacturer’s label inside the shirt should also tell you what fabric it is made out of and the thread count of the material. The type of material makes a big difference in how easily a garment will stretch.
Cotton shirts will stretch much more easily than a shirt made out of any synthetic fabric such as polyester. This happens because cotton fibers relax and expand when wet, while polyester fibers do not absorb moisture. However, you can successfully stretch polyester if you use the right methods!
Thread count can also make a difference in how well something stretches. A fitted button-down with a high thread count will have the strength and resiliency to stretch without tearing. A shirt with a low thread count might be damaged by stretching. Knit fabrics such as the jersey knit most t-shirts are made out of don’t have this issue, though!
The Wash Method
Throw your washable shirt into the washing machine on a cold setting and let it run through its normal cycles. Remove the wet shirt and lay it on a dry towel. (Don’t wring it out, as this might damage the fabric!)
Spread out the shirt till it has no obvious wrinkles or bulges. Then gently stretch the areas you want to enlarge. For example, if the sleeves are too short, hold the shoulder and the cuff and pull gently but firmly. If the bust area of your t-shirt is too small, try taking hold of each side seam just below the sleeves and pulling.
Some fabrics will expand quite a bit while wet, so take care not to stretch too much!
When the shirt has expanded to your satisfaction, leave it to dry. Then try it on and see if it held its new size!
The Conditioner Method
This method works very much like the washing method. Fill a basin or sink with cold water and add a couple of tablespoons of hair conditioner. Soak the shirt in this solution for fifteen to twenty minutes.
Rinse the conditioner out by draining away the cold water and refilling the sink. Swish the shirt around a few times. Repeat this step as necessary until it no longer feels slimy from the conditioner.
Allow most of the water to drain off the shirt by holding it over the basin. Then lay it between two dry towels and press down on it to soak up more of the water.
Finally, smooth the shirt out flat and commence gently stretching in the necessary areas!
If you need to stretch out a rugby shirt, a soccer jersey, or any sports uniform, you should try this conditioner method!
How to Stretch a Polyester Shirt
Polyester does not stretch as easily as some other fabrics and requires a bit of extra work. Because it is a synthetic fabric essentially made from plastic, polyester fibers do not stretch at all.
However, polyester knits do have some give in them because of the loose way this fabric is made. Woven polyester fabrics will not stretch much, though you can sometimes gain about half a size using these methods.
First, try washing or soaking your shirt, so it gets nice and wet. Then put it on while wet. Yes, this will feel cold and clammy, but it will be worth it if it works! Allowing the wet shirt to dry while you wear it may cause it to stretch just enough to hold its new shape.
You can also try the conditioner technique explained earlier, except this time, you will need to put on the shirt while it is still damp and let it dry on you.
As a word of advice, though, save yourself the time and effort and buy a new polyester shirt that fits correctly. Stretching or sewing polyester usually isn’t worth the effort because polyester clothes are so affordable!
If none of these easy and cheap methods worked for you, you might want to consider purchasing a specialized tool to help stretch out your shirt.Believe it or not, you can buy a collar or hatband stretcher that works like a vice to stretch the collar of a button-down.
If you don’t feel like investing in such a specialized tool, you can also purchase collar extenders. These don’t actually stretch the collar. They look like a button attached to a coiled-spring loop. The loop goes around the existing button on the collar, and the new button replaces it, giving you a little breathing room!
Finally, if you don’t have time to sit around stretching your shirts by hand, you can always buy a set of heavy paperweights and use the weights to stretch out your shirt while it dries.
How to Add Fabric to Make a Shirt Bigger
If you tried stretching your shirt to no avail, here are several ideas you can try with the help of a sewing machine and a pair of sharp scissors!
How to Make a T-Shirt Bigger with Sewing
You can alter t-shirts and knit tank tops far more easily than most other types of shirts.
First, keep in mind these tips for sewing on knit fabrics. If you can, swap out the needle in your sewing machine for a ballpoint needle. This needle has a rounded tip that will not catch and pull on the knit fabric.
Make sure the fabric does not stretch out under its own weight while you sew. Bundle it up and hold it level with the sewing machine as you feed the fabric through. You should also make sure you don’t tug or pull as the feeders slide the fabric beneath the needle.
If you feel comfortable doing so, you can adjust the tension and feeder settings on your sewing machine and test out these settings on a scrap of knit fabric. As a pro tip, you can find many Youtube videos that will show you how to adjust these settings!
Add Side Panels
Now that you’re ready to sew let’s start with a basic method for enlarging a t-shirt. This method will enlarge the bust, waist, sleeves, and hip area but will not make the collar bigger.
You will need matching cotton thread and another plain t-shirt that matches the color and weight of your t-shirt very closely. (Alternatively, you could select a color that contrasts nicely with the color of the t-shirt, though this will draw more attention to your alteration.)
First, grab a pair of sharp sewing scissors and slice the t-shirt open from the bottom of each side seam up to the sleeve, and then snip through the under-arm seam as well. You will now have two matching halves of the shirt, front and back.
Next, lay flat the “filler” t-shirt in its matching or contrasting color. Depending on how much you want to enlarge the original garment, cut an inch or two inches inside the side seam, but this time cut through both layers of the t-shirt. Slice up and over the underarm seam so that you have a cut-off piece of fabric in an upside-down L shape.
Now pin the L-shaped fabric into your original t-shirt, matching the hems of the sleeve, the underarm seam, and the hems. Stitch up each side of the fabric insert, and then repeat on the other side seam. Essentially you are cutting off the side seam from the filler t-shirt to add it into your original garment!
If your t-shirt needs a little extra room in the collar, chest, and waist areas, you might want to try adding a fun lace insert or gusset to the back of it! This method does leave a portion of your back exposed through the lace, so keep that in mind before proceeding.
First, measure the back of your t-shirt to find the exact center, and cut straight up from the hem through the collar.
Second, cut out a strip of lace anywhere from two to five inches wide (depending on how much bigger you want to make it) and exactly one inch longer than the length of the shirt from collar to hem.
Fold over and hem the top and bottom of the lace insert. The insert should now exactly match the length of the t-shirt.
Turn the t-shirt inside out and pin the open edge and the lace with right sides together. Stitch up each side of the lace inset and then use a zigzag stitch to finish the raw edges.
If you are up for a challenge, you can also make an even more elegant lace addition by using a lace gusset, or triangle-shaped insert, in place of the flat lace panel!
A slightly too-short t-shirt could pose a problem in many situations, especially if you need to bend over while gardening, stocking shelves at work, or picking up a baby! Fortunately, adding extra length is one of the easiest ways to alter a shirt.
All you need is a strip of fabric about five inches wide and as long as the circumference of the t-shirt’s hem, plus half an inch for seam allowance. You could use the bottom cut off of another t-shirt, and you won’t even have to hem the add-on! Or you can cut out a strip of any matching or contrasting knit or lace and hem its bottom edge.
For a fancy touch, you could also use a ruffle instead of a flat hem expander!
You will need to sew the two short ends of the add-on together with a ¼ inch seam allowance, creating a loop the same size as the bottom of the hem. Next, pin the right side of the top of the interest to the wrong side of the hem. Then sew across the top of the hem.
You will have added several extra inches to the bottom of your t-shirt!
How to Make a Button-down Shirt Bigger
The easiest way to make a button-down bigger is to employ the stretching techniques listed earlier. You can also try one of the sewing alterations described here. In all honesty, though, altering a fitted dress shirt presents a challenge even to an experienced seamstress.
If your shirt has shrunk (or you have grown) enough that stretching won’t fix the issue, you may want to consider buying a new one rather than trying to make your button-down bigger by sewing.
If you want to learn how to alter shirts, you should practice on many cheap thrift store shirts before you cut up one of your favorite blouses.
Adding Side Panels
Remember how you cut right up the side seam of a t-shirt and added in a couple of inches from another t-shirt? You can do that with a button-down, too! You can use the same technique of cutting out the side seam of another shirt, all the way through the sleeve, and then inserting this panel into your blouse.
You will have to remove the cuffs and then reattach them to complete this process, however.
It will probably be quite tricky to find another shirt that exactly matches your button-down fabric and pattern, so you may want to insert a contrasting color for the side panels. Some DIYers even use something stretchy, like a henley, for the insert. This provides extra give and comfort in the refashioned dress shirt.
If you feel ready for an advanced challenge, you could unpick the sleeves and use the material from the sleeves to make your side insert. Of course, you would then have a sleeveless button-down.
Will the end result look great? Let’s say that if you plan to wear your remodeled button-down to work, you should probably plan to wear a blazer over it. On the other hand, your button-down will fit again!
Add a Gusset to the Back
Be warned, this technique is not for the faint of heart! However, if you have the patience and the sewing skills, you can try adding a gusset to the back of your button-down. This provides more room in the bust of your blouse or fitted shirt.
Seamstresses sometimes use this technique when altering wedding dresses. However, for DIY sewers, any project that involves messing with collars or sleeves may well be more trouble than it is worth.
In case you want to try, though, here it is in very simple terms.
First, you will remove the collar and cut about halfway down the center seam at the shirt’s back.
Then insert a triangular piece of either matching or contrasting fabric and sew it to each side of the open seam.
The trickiest part will be altering the back of the collar to fit the broader back of the shirt.
How to Refashion a T-Shirt
If you want a quick fix, a fun way to rescue your too-small t-shirt, or a fashion statement, you may want to consider customizing your t-shirt with scissors. This technique allows you to refashion a too-small tee (or even a sweatshirt) in a fun, flirty, and decorative way!
Your imagination is the only limit to this process. You could use hundreds of different designs. Here are a few ideas to get you started!
- You can cut off the sleeves to create a sleeveless tank. If the collar is too tight, cut that out, too, to give yourself a rough-and-tumble tank!
- You can slice a tiered stack of thin slits just in front of the side seam on each side, giving the tee just a bit more stretch in the waist area.
- You can cut a side slit in a t-shirt or sweatshirt by slicing a six-inch slit straight up the side seam, creating an easy flap that gives you more hip room.
- Do you know the peek-a-boo shirts with the holes over the top of your shoulders that are in style? You can easily create a peek-a-boo tee by cutting an oval out of the top of each shoulder.
- If you’re feeling artistic, you can place a board or piece of thick cardboard inside your t-shirt and use a craft knife to slice a tiered pattern from the middle of the collar about halfway down to the hem. If you like the look (and the extra wiggle room it will give you while you wear the tee!), you can repeat the pattern on the back of the shirt.
- Some gifted people cut angel wings or butterfly designs into their t-shirts using this technique, too!
Can a Tailor Make a Shirt Bigger?
Tailors probably cannot make a dress shirt bigger. Tailors can usually enlarge pants by one or even two sizes since some pants are made with extra material sewn into their seams. However, coats and shirts usually do not have any extra material in their seams.
A tailor can make sleeves shorter and make a size smaller, but usually cannot enlarge the garment. You have already seen how tricky it is to cut off sleeves and a collar and then reattach them to alter a button-down. Even after all that work, you may not find the result looking super professional.
This is because any time you have to add fabric in, the shirt loses its original lines and design. Tailors usually don’t want to commit to a process that results in a less-than-professional-looking product.
If you can’t buy a shirt that fits you just right, tailors recommend purchasing one half a size or a size too large. It’s much, much easier to make a shirt smaller than it is to make it bigger!
That said, the average cost for a simple shirt alteration, such as shortening sleeves, is between fifteen and thirty dollars.
What Else Can You Make Bigger?
If you feel like going crazy on your wardrobe and making all your clothes fit you comfortably again, here are a few other projects to try!
To make a tank top looser, simply cut a straight line down the side seams or down the front of the tank, and insert a pretty strip of crocheted lace. If that seems too frou-frou, you can use the decorative slicing techniques described for t-shirts on a tank top, too!
To upsize a sweatshirt, try the stretching techniques described earlier. Many sweatshirts are made out of cotton fleece, which responds well to soaking and stretching.If your sweatshirt is made out of really thin cotton fleece, you can cut a slit three or four inches down at the center of the neckline, giving you a bigger neck hole. Or you can cut side slits in the elastic at the bottom of the hoodie to keep it from riding up whenever you lift your arms.
You can also try soaking the pants and then putting them on while wet. They should stretch to fit you as they dry.
Are you ready to whip out your scissors and slice up your old t-shirts? Maybe you find the prospect of sewing alterations daunting but would like to try stretching your button-down to make it fit just a bit better. Either way, hopefully, you feel confident about the many different ways to make your shirts bigger!
Have you tried a stretching or sewing alteration before? Did it work? Leave a comment below to let us know!