How To Make an Early 1900’s Shirt (the night before it is due at school!)

True story… Last Thursday my middle son came to me and thanked me for the butcher’s apron I made for his school play.  He is set to play Lazar the Butcher in ‘Fiddler on the Roof ‘and I am very proud of him and excited to help with his costume.  Then he says “So, did you make the shirt?”  Now, I can’t blame him for this lack of attention to detail.  I also read the teacher’s costume request and did not see anything about shirt requirements.  I then, foolishly, ask him when this is due.  “Friday” he says.  Of course.

So, what to do?  Actually, I knew exactly what to do, and it didn’t involve denying maternity to my child ….. First you take a white long-sleeve cotton dress shirt and remove the collar and cuffs (use a seam ripper for this).  They come off very easily, so don’t worry about this step. You then want to dye the fabric in order for it to have that old-timey look.  This is done very simply.  Boil some water and dunk in about 10 tea bags.  Once the tea is a dark brown, soak the shirt in it until the water is cool enough to handle.  Rinse in cold water, dry in dryer and iron.

From the neckline, measure down about 6 inches and remove any buttons along the way.  Fold back this fabric on a diagonal, so the top is more open than the bottom.  Iron this triangular shape in place.  This next part is where you need some special material (which I had from a previous project).  Take about 18 inches of suede cord (shoelaces would actually work well here).  Pierce the fabric at aproximate one inch intervals down each side (see fig. 1).  Thread the cord through these holes, from the bottom, like you would lace up a shoe.

And there you have it!  It took me about an hour and a half, which is not long when you consider the soaking and drying time.  My husband was very impressed with the end result, and that it only took me a short time.  He said in his youth he had done the same thing to his poor mother, but she had refused to make the costume the night before the play.  I asked him what the costume was and he said “A kilt”.  Gotta love ’em!


I have always loved the process of transforming pieces of fabric into quilts. For years I collected scraps, just to be sure I'd have the right piece for the project at hand. Eventually, as my skills progressed, my hobby grew into art. I moved from simple quits, to 'landscape quilting' and then eventually onto portrait work. I am new to the art field and am self-taught, learning from my mistakes as well as from my successes. I create my images using only fabric and thread. I remain true to this limitation for two reasons; first, I love the challenge of finding new ways to depict ever more challenging subjects. Second, fabric work remains my true love. I enjoy the hunt for fabrics; where other artists might blend oil paints, I love finding that perfect shade or pattern for a specific need. I refer to my style as "gestalt impressionism" for one needs to take a step back from my pieces to get the whole picture. My view point changes by what is influencing me at the time. Recently I've begun to focus on the journey of the individual. I enjoy working on portraits of people whom I feel have lead interesting lives.

Posted in Sewing
One comment on “How To Make an Early 1900’s Shirt (the night before it is due at school!)
  1. Julie says:

    Great post and love the humour! 😉

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