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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DIY Western Shirt

As we talked about his approaching birthday, Big Brother made a very specific request for only one thing: a cowboy shirt with a cowboy riding his horse on it. No pressure. I looked for western shirts at mass retailers and found lots of options (western wear is kind of "in" for little boys, apparently), but no cowboys. Then I looked online for patterns and fabric and again, found lots of options--but the idea of making a button-down shirt from scratch kind of freaked me out, especially with a deadline. Just the idea of matching up the two sides and making all those button holes gave me premonitions of long nights and free-flowing cuss words, and those (I think) are the easy parts. So instead I got a bit creative, and this DIY Western Shirt was born.

In essence, it's a hack of an Old Navy white button-down, which I scored on sale + coupon for $5. The sewing itself was pretty minimal, and quite simple--each flap was made in the same way that you might make a fabric coaster or a simple decorative pillow, then appliqued to the shirt with a straight stitch. To finish the look, I removed the buttons and replaced them with no-sew, pearlized snaps (found on eBay and attached with a hammer--kind of a power trip). The whole project took one nap time.

The best part, of course, is that Big Brother adores the shirt. Thanks to this cute retro fabric (I think I purchased the last yard of it in the world from Etsy, but it appears to be more widely available in a slightly different colorway), the finished product is not only a proper western shirt, but it features lots of cowboys riding horses. And it coordinates perfectly with the Frontier Vest. Now my only question is whether I should cut the arms short for the party to save him from heat stroke. What do you think? Would that overdo it?

I hope that your little cowboy will be as excited by this shirt as mine was--and that you'll be proud of yourself for making something that seems so hard so easy-peasily. See below for the full tutorial.

Basic button down shirt, well-ironed
Western fabric (see here, here, and here for more ideas)
Contrasting thread (I used red)
Tracing paper
No-sew decorative snaps (here's a pretty awesome source, if you're willing to wait for shipping)
Seam ripper
Basic sewing supplies

1. Use a seam ripper to remove all the buttons from the shirt. You'll replace the buttons down the front and (if you choose) at the wrist with snaps, and the collar will go button free (Western style shirts don't have buttons there).

2. Lay tracing paper over the top of the shirt and trace the two areas bounded by the placket, the collar, the shoulder seams, and the arm seams (if those terms confuse you, google "anatomy of a shirt"). At the bottom of these areas, draw in a V shape (or whatever you desire).  The result will be a sort-of unbalanced hexagon. See images below.

Now, add a step that I foolishly omitted: use a ruler to measure increments of half an inch all the way around your pattern and connect the dots to create a outer cut line that will provide for a half inch seam allowance. If you forget, you can approximate this when you cut. Next, cut out your patterns and pin them to the shirt to make sure that they fit and match one another. Note that my left side pattern needed an extra 1/4 inch on the right edge. I accounted for that when I cut the fabric.

Repeat this process on the back of the shirt, tracing the yoke and adding a V at the bottom.

3. Use your patterns to cut two of each shape.  If you're using illustrated fabric like mine, pay close attention to the figures you are getting on each piece. I tried to feature each of four different cowboys on Big Brother's shirt.

Note that this picture demonstrates my slacker way of adding the seam allowance. If you followed my instructions above, you would cut the fabric right along the pattern.

4. Pin the identical pattern pieces together with right sides facing.

Using a half inch seam allowance, sew a straight stitch around the shape, leaving one open side. Clip the corners.

5. Turn the shapes inside-out, folding the open edges inward to mimic a closed seam. Press.

Using a quarter inch seam allowance, topstitch all the way around the shape.

6. Now the fun part: pin the shapes to your shirt and sew them on, following the topstitching as closely as possible.

They don't line up perfectly (because I didn't trace my patterns perfectly), but they still look super cute. Fortunately, Big Brother doesn't notice imperfections--he notices that he looks like a cowboy. Here's the back:

7. Now add the snaps. No-sew decorative snaps are attached with a hammer and a spool, which is kind of fun at the end of a good DIY project. I felt very tough wielding my hammer--like a real cowgirl:).

As far as attaching the snaps goes, you'll want to read the manufacturer's instructions first. Basically, you're going to put the front two sections of the snap on top of the existing button hole and the back two sections right on top of the little space left by your button.

Push the top (decorative) piece through the fabric around the button hole like this (excuse my dirty finger nail),

place the socket piece over the prongs,

cover the whole thing with a spool,

and whack it with your hammer. Repeat this process with the other two pieces on the button side of the placket.

It's actually remarkably easy. Especially when you weigh the effort against sewing on every single snap. Repeat on the wrists if you want, and Western shirt is done!

One cute cowboy coming right up.

Now, a word of wisdom in hindsight: this creation would look even more authentic if I had just made a single piece that covered the yoke and wrapped over the shoulders to form the front flaps. Honestly, it just didn't occur to me until I was too far down the road. The only trick to that method would be making sure that you trace the original shirt very precisely, because with just one piece, you have far less room for error (and tracing over the shoulders could be daunting). If you try it, please let me know!

Happy Wednesday!


  1. I'm proud of you! Looks like the fabric used for the cowboy pillowcase!!

  2. This is so so so cute! You should enter it in I Am Momma Hear Me Roar's boy top contest. I think you still can until midnight tonight maybe? Either way, genius.

  3. Thanks, Jessica! Done! I didn't realize I Am Momma Hear Me Roar had a contest going on--what fun. Thanks for stopping in.

  4. the snaps are the perfect finishing detail~

  5. I just saw this on One Pretty Thing and had to come over and tell you how much I love it.I don't have boys (two girls) but they love western gear. I never thought of refashioning a shirt this way. Amazing!

  6. This is such a great idea! I cannot wait to try it! I may give it a go w/ just the one piece. Thank you! It in ingenious!

  7. BTW, My name is Keri and I found your blog by googling for a western shirt pattern. We're getting ready for a cowgirl birthday party, but brothers want to be decked out as well!

  8. Thanks, Keri! Please let me know how your shirt works with the one-piece applique--I'd love to see it in the Flickr pool!

  9. Do u have a pattern for the vest too?

  10. The vest comes from MADE and is called the Frontier Vest. Here's the link!

  11. Thanks so much for that. That site is amazing as are you with all your ideas.

  12. Thank you! I'm so glad that you're enjoying it!

  13. I found you via Tonya Staab's pin on Pinterest. We're copying your saw-horses, but wish I'd seen this sooner. So cute! I plan parties for adults, but this is so much fun!

  14. I found you via Tonya Staab's pin on Pinterest. We're copying your saw-horses, but wish I'd seen this sooner. So cute! I plan parties for adults, but this is so much fun!

  15. My husband is in a country band, and we're always buying button-down shirts at thrift stores and removing sleeves, then hemming them (so his tattoos show, lol); I've been telling him there has to be a way to add plackets like this to make it more retro western.... I'm soooo glad I found this! I'm going to try it "big-boy" style!