T-shirt Hack 101: Halter and Racerback Tank Edition

With a few slashes, some safety pins and help from my friends, I turn a boxy concert tee into a slinky halter and racerback tank.
Publish date:
July 13, 2011
t-shirts, hack, safety pins

Each time I take special requests for DIY projects, everyone want to figure out what the hell they can do with all their piles of T-shirts. We all have way too many of them -- from shows, from exes, from fifth grade -- and few of them fit the way they should. Concert tees never quite fit girls to begin with and I, at least, am one of those people who hangs on to my favorite T-shirts after the armpits have worn out, or will pick up a Powerpuff Girls T two sizes too small and figure out what to do with it later.

My friend, Vanessa Rea, is a dancer, and also happens to know exactly how to cut, pin and discipline a T-shirt until it looks exactly the way it should. Last weekend, she agreed to set up a mini T-shirt workshop on my dining room table, in exchange for Brooklyn Pilsner and the delicious Shitake Bao buns and vegetable chow mein from the eco-Chinese place down the street.

This week, we decided to try three styles from her library: the Halter (which can be made with or without ruching); the Butch Tank (high collar, low-cut sides) and the Racerback (with safety pins or fabric tie). (We didn't make it to the Overall Back this week).

Choose Your T-shirt

Vanessa is partial to old sports tees, which, she says, are often softer, because they've been well-loved. Also, when T-shirts are slightly damaged, they force you to get creative with your cut lines. She also likes to work with kids' T-shirts which often have awkward necklines and other details which can be greatly improved upon with scissors.

For our first tank, both of us choose a standard concert tee: Big, boxy and not so well-shaped for girls.

Concert tees almost always have high crewnecks that you will want to soften and sides you will want to shape. Because they are usually 100 percent cotton, they are often stiffer than other tees, which can lead to jagged edges when you cut. You can can roll the edges after each cut, or, if you feel confident, cut a slit, then gently hand tear the shirt. Vanessa sketches out our plan of action:

We will cut off the collar, sleeves and hem and reshape the shirt using safety pins. To start off, try on the shirt and decide where you want it to hit on your body. Then cut the hem to that length.

Save the hem! It can be used to tie back other parts of the shirt (shoulder, back, waist), as a headband, a wristband, or, as you will see, a tool to annoy your pets.

Shape the Sleeves

Decide how wide you want the strap of your tank. Place your fingers along the the outside of the collar and mark -- we used white eyeliner -- where you want the strap to stop on your shoulder (we did three fingers length). Next, measure how low you want the tank to dip -- usually one to three inches -- and mark that point underneath the armpit. Then cut out between the two points curving in a very slight half moon shape.

Tank No. 1: the Butch Tank

If you go no further, here you have the Butch tank top: low-cut sides for summer, high neck, minimal side-shaping. But we, of course, are going to keep going.

Shaping the V-neck

For the Racerback tank, we decided to cut the neckline into a gently curving V-shape, as Vanessa is modelling here:

(Also, check out those vintage stud earrings. I didn't even tell her about Laia's plot.)

Before you start cutting, mark the lowest point you want to go in the middle of the shirt. Then gently roll the seam, placing your fingers on the front of the shirt, with your thumb holding the seam to the back of the shirt. Now start cutting. You can cut evenly through both the front and back of the shirt, as I did:

Or, you can cut deeper in the front and leave a shorter, more shallow V in the back, as Vanessa did:

Shaping the Racerback

Flip the shirt over to shape the racerback. First measure about two inches over from the outside edge, then fold the shirt in about one inch toward the center. Then do the other side. The two straps should overlap just slightly in the center and flare out toward the waist in a slight V shape. It may sound confusing, but just check it out below:

Then start pinning the shirt where the two straps meet in the center. You can just pin straight down, as I did:

(Also pictured: the credit card we used to order Chinese food). Or get fancy and mix it up as Vanessa did:

Try the shirt on and keep shaping: You can put in as many or as few pins as you like, or carry the pins further down the shirt. For the tied-off variation, you can also use the extra fabric you cut off from the hem to tie the straps together, rather than pinning.

Tank No. 3: The Halter

To make the halter, follow the same basic directions: Cut off the hem, shape the sleeves. Then stop before you start the neckline shaping and flip the shirt over to the back:

Now cut the shirt straight across from armpit to armpit. Then insert your scissors inside the circle of the neckline and cut out the crewneck, following the edge exactly. When you are done, it will look like this:

Starting at each edge of the neckline, cut to the outer edge of what once was the back. When you are done, you will have two straps that can be tied in a bow. Leave the neckline round as is, or gently shape if you like.

Try on the shirt and gently shape the back, using more safety pins, as needed.

Bonus: Punk Rock Pet Edition

We told you to save those scraps! With the leftover sleeves and some safety pins, we managed fashion a very fetching tank for the dog. No that she much appreciated our hard work.

But the matching tanks were cute, anyway.

That's it for today. We have, however, only just barely dipped in to Vanessa's notebooks. For a preview of coming attractions, see below: