T-Shirt Underwear

I know you've got them, lurking in drawers, the back of the closet, in the "giveaway" pile: those T-shirts that are, for various reasons, both unwearable and indispensable. They are too small, too big, too short, have a stain, a hole, or some other flaw, and yet you cannot bear to part with them.

I took my old t-shirts and gave them new life. They were reincarnated as underwear.

The Concept

My first pair came about because of an ill-shapen tee with a great air-brushed-style kitty face on the front. The shape of the shirt was all wrong, boxy, cropped, and yet – oh! that kitty! I couldn't part with her. I knew she'd be good for something, just hadn't figured out what exactly.

Late one night I was folding laundry. As I held up my favorite pair of undies, marveling at their keen shape, low waist, and full butt, I realized the true destiny of my kitty shirt. I grabbed my best scissors and went to work making a pattern, and within a few hours I had brand new undies. The kitty face found its place on the butt and there was plenty of material left for the front.

It's true that, as an undergarment, not many people will ever see this creation. But those that do will appreciate it all the more. I like to make these for friends because they are all unique, and you can't buy them. But good luck getting your friend's hip size without her/him noticing.


Check out the pattern PDF. Take your hip measurement (measure around at the widest point), divide by 2 and add one inch. That's how wide the pattern should be across, halfway down the sides from the waist. (if your material stretches more, make adjustments as you see fit) You can print out the pattern and enlarge it to the right size, or you can just eyeball it and copy the shape onto your own paper. I recommend making a pattern because then you can make more easily and you have a record of what you did.

select a shirt

Find a clean (if you care) shirt that strikes your fancy. I have used shirts with printed pictures or words, anything I thought would look good on my butt. You might not want to use your prized material possession if it's your first time. Figure out if you have enough material for underwear (see item 1 above), and cut out the two main pattern pieces. You can cut the crotch piece out of the same material, or you can use a new fresh T-shirt or whatever. (I keep a few Hanes white undershirts on hand.)

sew the major seams

First take your crotch piece, and hem the wider end, folding the edge over either once or twice. Then line up the front and back sections, rights sides together, and lay butt-side-up on a flat surface. Place the crotch piece wrong-side up on the butt, mirroring the front piece on the other side. Pin the three layers together at the crotch, and pin the sides. Double stitch the sides. For the crotch, sew all three layers together along the lower edge, leaving about 1/3 inch seam allowance.

Fold crotch piece around to the front, so that it lines up nicely with the front section, and pin it in place. The point of all this is so the bottom inside seam is covered over. Nice, eh? so now you have something resembling underwear, with a crotch piece folded around and matched up with the front. Lovely, right?

try it on

Now would be a good time to try on the underwear, if it's for you. It should be quite loose around the leg holes and waist, but the hips should be snug. If they are not, now is the time to sew the side seams again to make the hips smaller.

prep the edges

Sew with a zigzag stitch around the leg holes and the waist, without folding any edges over. Sew along the crotch piece as if it is just part of the front piece. Don't worry about the opening at the top of the crotch piece, as it will be sewn down on the sides.

finish the edges

Then fold the edges over about 1/3 inch, right-side-out, and zigzag sew around all three holes again.

Then do it AGAIN, making sure to fold over enough material to leave a sleeve for your elastic to run through. Also, leave about 3/4 inch of the leg holes unsewn at the hips and leave a bit unsewn at the back of the waist. So now you have a slim sleeve of fabric around each hole and an opening in each sleeve through which to feed the elastic.

insert the elastic

Cut your elastic cord into three pieces, one piece to go around each leg hole and the waist. Leave extra length on each. Feed each cord through a corresponding sleeve, leaving the ends sticking out of the the openings. It may help to use a safety pin at the front end of the feeding cord. Try on the undies on, cinch up the elastic, and safety pin the elastic where it should be sewn. Then just sew the elastic ends together, cut off remaining elastic, and sew up those remaining seams.

the tao of sewing

With any luck, you've got yourself some fancy new one-of-a-kind underwear. If it's not what you expected, don't be discouraged! Try it again! My second attempts usually go much more according to plan.

Since T-shirt material varies greatly, sometimes you'll get a stretchier product. Sometimes my undies turn out tight and slim, sometimes they are more like bloomers, but I like them either way. I just try to go with the flow of the fabric and make small adjustments based on what it seems like it wants to do.

Logan Billingham likes to make apparel out of all sorts of materials. She is studying to be an architect.



–a T-shirt
–thin elastic cord (48" or enough to go around both legs and your waist)
–6"x4" of clean fabric, a thin cotton knit (optional)
sewing machine, thread, scissors, etc.
–big piece of paper (2' x 4' -ish) or enlarged pattern printout.


Patterns are PDF file format:
T-shirt Underwear Pattern, P. 1
T-shirt Underwear Pattern, p. 2
T-shirt Underwear Pattern (Boxer)


If you want to make some boxer-style underthings, you just need a different pattern. While they are somewhat easier because you only have to worry about elastic in the waist, the fly is tricky.

Also, I have used this method to make bathing suit bottoms (since I could never find ones that fit right). Any material that won't stretch (or shrink!) when it gets wet will work. So, not a T-shirt, unless it's one of those spandex biker shirts.

If you want to make ruffles around the leg holes (very cute, but doesn't make for a subtle panty-line), you can sew the elastic directly to the inside of the undies, about 1/2" away from the edge. First fit the elastic around your leg to see how much you'll need and then try to distribute it evenly around the leg hole. Can be tricky, but using lots of pins helps.

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