How to Upcycle a Thrifted Shirt with Embroidery

how to upcycle

Upcycle a thrift shop find for under $10

Have you noticed embroidery is having a moment? And are you dying over all of the gorgeous embroidery clothing that costs a fortune? 

I hate spending gobs of cash on clothes, but I also hate spending time cruising online sales for clothes that don't fit half of the time. What's a girl to do? 

This brings me to today's post. I found this green shirt at a local thrift shop for $2, and decided to add a flower to each sleeve. Kind of a boho meets basic style. 

To stabilize or not to stabilize, that is the question. 

The fabric on this shirt is really thin, which means I had to use a stabilizer. Wait! Don't ignore this. If I can avoid using stabilizer (a backing that help to keep your work tight and in place without bunching), I will always skip it. Stabilizer is a must for stretchy and thin clothing, and some would say all, but I take it on a case by case basis. I didn't use it last time, and my embroidery has started to pucker around the edges. 

Here's a trick though. Just secure the stabilizer in the hoop with your fabric, since you will cut off the excess at the end anyways. 

What you'll need

-embroidery hoop

-embroidery floss


-whatever you are embroidering



-pencil to sketch your design

Outline it

First, sketch your design right onto the shirt or whatever you are embroidering. 

Clamp it.

Next, secure your stabilizer and fabric in the hoop so that it is tight, but without stretching the fabric. I decided to incorporate some of the color of the shirt into my design, so I left some space between each French Knot. 

Hot tip

Now seems like a good time to present my 2nd tip. Check your backside every few stitches to make sure you haven't sewn another part of the shirt to the backside of your embroidery. Don't scoff, I did it twice while making this, and I did check every few stitches. If it's not too far embedded, you can pull out your stitches, and unhook the unintended fabric. 

Staggering embroidery stitches (also known as "thread painting")

For each of the petals, I used a staggered satin stitch. For the life of me, I can't remember the correct name of this stitch, but staggered satin stitch describes it perfectly. I divided each petal up into 3 rows of stitching. Work on the 1st row, then 2nd row, and finally the 3rd row closest to the center. 

Keep adding stitches until you like it

I thought it looked a little flat, so I added a few simple straight stitches in the darker color of thread, for added texture, and then some of the lighter thread for a little more texture on top of that. 

Now, remove the hoop, and cut away excess stabilizer. Cut as close as you can without nicking any of your stitches. 

I just love the way these flowers turned out. And now my $2 shirt is the MVP of my closet. All you need is a little embroidery know-how, and some thread, and you have a one-of-a-kind shirt. 

Do you love this idea, but need a little more guidance? Embroidery mending transfers are available in my shop here:


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  • teresa on

    I found your blog yesterday. I am elated!!! I have a small rip in a linen top. I was thinking about embroidering on top of the rip and now I know that is exactly what I want to do!!! Thanks for being an inspiration!!! I am going to freestyle my stitches!!!

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