Having the most up-to-date wardrobe is no longer a priority for many, largely due to the new freedom to only wear pyjamas throughout lockdown, but also, and most importantly, because of fast fashion’s disastrous impact on the environment. I’ve completely lost the desire to buy new clothes–which is great for the environment and my savings—but, as someone who used to take great pleasure in finding the perfect outfits, my new-found lack of inspiration for clothes has felt somewhat disappointing. Lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity to rekindle my love for fashion, but in the form of thrift flipping.

To make it clear, I have never sewn more than a hole in a sock prior to lockdown, so I started from the complete basics. Having successfully hand sewn a couple of masks, I felt more motivated than ever to get going with this new hobby. I began diving into piles of old clothes, picking out those I haven’t worn in years, and started devising my plans to transform them. After months of hand-sewing bags, scrunchies, and small cloth items, I decided it was time to invest in a sewing machine; the prospect of devoting my time to larger projects urged me to upscale.

After I had revised almost my entire wardrobe, I had to find a new source for material. I had always loved charity shopping, but perpetually felt defeated by my inability to find the perfect item in my exact size. Having now learnt how to sew, this is no longer an issue; I can peruse charity shops looking for items with potential, rather than settling for a final end there and then.

As well as being able to produce the desired addition to your wardrobe, the process of thrift flipping is so exciting. I love being part of the story behind my new clothes, knowing that what I am wearing has been so many different things, loved by so many people.

I am going to share an easy thrift flipping tutorial: this cross over top was one of the first items I transformed, and I just keep on making more. It’s such a versatile essential and really fun to make! One of my goals when thrift flipping is to use as much of the original material as possible, so if you have any material left from this tutorial (this will depend on your size and the size of the T-shirt) I will show you how to make a scrunchie from it! I can’t have enough scrunchies, and they also make great gifts for friends. I’ve also included videos for a visual guide to the process.

What you need:

  • Large men’s T-shirt (the size will depend on your size, but the bigger the better, as you don’t want to make it too small – I’ve been there.)
  • Thread to match the colour of the shirt
  • Sewing machine (you could do this by hand, but it will take forever – I’ve been there and don’t recommend.)
  • Pins
  • Sewing chalk (or any other washable marker)
  • Scissors
  • Safety pin
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Elastic (for the scrunchie)
This is the top that I started with. It was £2.29 from the British Heart Foundation shop.

Stage 1

  1. Try on your t-shirt and pin it where you would like the bottom of the top to be. I pinned just above my belly button.

2.  Also place pins where you would like the shirt to be brought in on the sides to make the top more fitted.

3.  Underneath the pin that measures the bottom of the top, measure a 4-inch strip and draw a straight line with your chalk. Continue measuring 4-inch strips until you reach the bottom of the shirt.

4.  Cut along each of the lines you have drawn until you have 3-4 loops.

Stage 2

  1. Your T-shirt will have a pre-sewn collar. Cut this all out until you have a raw edge.

Stage 3

  1. Go back to where you pinned at the side of your top to designate your perfect fit. You now need to use your chalk to draw a rounded triangle on each side, finishing just before the sleeves of the shirt.
  2. Now cut along where you have drawn. You should cut out 1 shark fin shaped triangle from each side of the top. Put these triangles aside to use later.

3.  You now need to turn the shirt inside out and start pinning along the open section on each side of the shirt to make sure the front and back of each side are firmly and neatly held together.

4.  Sew along the edge of each side of the shirt, follow where you have pinned. Make sure to leave at least 1 cm to hem later.

5.  Turn your shirt back to the right side and try it on to make sure it fits okay. It should now look something like this.

Stage 3

  1. Place your top down on a flat surface and use your chalk to draw a diagonal line down from the neckline to the corner of the opposite side’s bottom. If you have a V-neck you can just follow the angle of the collar (as I did) but with a round neck just draw a straight line down from a point on the neckline at your desired angle to meet the opposite bottom corner and, following this, draw a line from the other side of the neckline to meet the longer line.
  2. Now cut along the lines you have drawn until you have a clear diagonal division between the two sides of the shirt.

Stage 4

  1. You will notice that the smaller side of the shirt is tapered off early than the other – we need to add extra material to this to ensure it covers you and reaches the bottom of the shirt in a cross over fashion. To make this extra section, you need to take one of the material loops that we cut at the beginning of the project and cut it, so it is one long strip.
  2. Then place it at the edge of the shorter side and visually measure a section that corresponds to the width of the edge and cut accordingly.
  3. Carry on doing this with the remaining length of the strip until it meets the bottom of the shirt and makes a triangle, much like the complete side. If you do not have enough of the strip remaining, you can add one of the triangles you cut off from the side of the shirt earlier, which makes a nice triangular finish to the section.
  4. You now need to sew all of these strips together. Firstly, put the widest strip right sides together with the piece that will go next to it and pin together at the side that the two will attach at. Now sew a straight stitch down this edge, leaving approximately 1cm to hem. Once sewn, undo the pins and unfold the pieces: they have now made one.
  5. Repeat this process by putting the next strip right sides together with this newly joint piece. Now pin and sew as you have done previously. Continue this process with all of the necessary strips and the triangle, if you are using it (you can see that I have), until they are all sewn together to make one large triangle.
  6. Now attach this large piece of material to the edge of the shorter side of the shirt in the same way that we joined together the previous strips. Place the piece right sides together on the edge of the shirt and pin accordingly. Now sew straight stitch down the adjoining side.
  7. Unpin and unfold and the shirt should now appear to resemble a cross-over top.

Stage 5

  1. At this point it is a good idea to neaten up the raw edges of your shirt. You do this by folding approximately a cm of material inwards along the neckline and the edges of each side of the shirt and pinning down. Leave the bottom edge of the shirt raw.
  2. Now sew along the pinned edges until no raw edges (save the bottom of the shirt) are showing.

Stage 6

  1. Now that we are neatening things up, now is a good time to hem together all of your loose seams. This is important to prevent fraying and to ensure that your seams are strong. I have done this by sewing a zigzag stitch along each of the loose seams, but you can use an overlocker if you have one, or even pinking shears (the scissors with a zigzag blade).

Stage 7

  1. Now we are going to create the belt that will provide a nice finish to the bottom of your top. To do this, retrieve the two remaining loops of material that we cut from the bottom of the shirt at the beginning and cut each of them so that they are now long strips.
  2. Next, you need to attach these two strips together to make a really long strip. As done before, place these two strips right sides together and pin at the joining edge.
  3. Sew a straight stitch along the edge, unpin, unfold and now you have one long strip.
  4. We are now going to make a long tube, so you need to fold the strip in half width-ways so that the right sides are together and the wrong side (inside of the material) is exposed. Pin along the raw edge to hold this fold in place.
  5. Now sew along the raw edge of the whole strip. Unpin and you will see that we now have a long tube.
  6. To turn this back the right way, grab a safety pin and pin it to one end of the tube. You can hold on to the pin as you push it inside the tube and drag it all the way along to the other end of the tube. Continue guiding the safety pin along until the tube has been turned inside out.
  7. It is now best to iron along the tube to ensure that it is nice and flat. Be careful to check that the top seam is held in the same place along the whole tube.

Stage 8

  1. Try on your top and place a pin where you would like the front side to cross over on to the bottom of the opposite side. This will be sewn together, so make sure this is as tight as you will want the top to be.

2.  Now that you have the desired width of the bottom of the shirt secured, wrap the belt round the bottom of the top, so both of its ends will meet at the cross section that is already pinned. If you have an excess of belt, you can trim it now, but make sure that you leave about 2 inches of belt extra to the width of the top.

3.  Now attach each side of the tube together to form a loop by sewing a ladder stitch. (If you don’t know how to do this here is a useful tutorial!)

4.  You should now have a circular loop of belt. Wrap the belt round the bottom of the shirt, so that the bottom of the belt matches the bottom of all of the shirt layers. You will be sewing all of the layers and the belt together at this point, so make sure everything is aligned properly.

5.   Pin the front layers together (this should include the bottom and top sides of the crossover and the belt, but not the back of the shirt), and the pin the back layer of the shirt to the belt. Sew these layers together with a straight stitch, leaving 1cm at the edge to hem.

6.   Unpin the layers and unfold to reveal the appearance of the front of the top. It should look something like this:

(Please note that the extent to which the seam on the bottom layer of the cross over is visible depends on the size of your bust and also the initial size of the shirt. I have made versions of this top before where it isn’t visible at all, but personally I don’t mind it at all as I don’t find it super obvious.)

Stage 9

  1. After trying your top on and checking it fits, the last step is to hem the seam between the belt and the shirt, in one of the methods I mentioned above.
  2. And now your top is finished!

Stage 10 (optional scrunchie creation!)

  1. If you have any of your tube left that you made in preparation for your belt, you can use it to make some scrunchies (yay!) Make as many as you can as not only are these super useful for you, but they make lovely gifts!
  2. Cut approximately 10-12 inches of the tube for each scrunchie.
  3. Now cut approximately the measure of half of the length of your tube in elastic.
  4. Attach a safety pin to the top of your elastic and pull it through the length of your tube, being sure to hold onto both ends of the elastic during this process so that you don’t lose one end in the tube.
  5. Now tie the two ends of the elastic together at the length you find suitable after trying out the tightness of the scrunchie.
  6. Move the elastic knot underneath the material of the scrunchie.
  7. Ensure that the seam is at the same place across the whole of the scrunchie and then sew together using ladder stitch (please refer to the above tutorial if you don’t know how this works!)
  8. You should now have a lovely scrunchie! Repeat with as much of the tube that remains.