up-cycled, buttoned-down Mathilde | sewn

As much as I love the idea of a good classic blouse, I am admittedly not really a blouse-wearer. I often have grand illusions of “stepping it up a notch” with my wardrobe…but shorts and a tank-top are just so much more comfortable in the tropical heat. Cut-off shorts and knit tanks are definite staples for me. This past “winter” has allowed for some jeans-wearing, however, as well as tops of the short and ¾-length-sleeve variety! Super exciting because this top has long been present on my “capsule wardrobe planning” Pinterest board…but not in my wardrobe. 

Equally exciting is when up-cycling meets "taking the easy way out"! I love the simple detail of the button-down back, but I am still a bit fearful of button holes. My new sewing machine claims to make tackling button holes a snap, although I’ve not yet actually tried. Up-cycling an old shirt of my husband’s that had accidentally come in contact with some bleach was the perfect way to (1) be a good friend to the earth by re-using an old shirt that would no longer be worn while (2) continuing with my button-hole-making-procrastination and laziness and (3) fulfilling my desire to get this shirt into my wardrobe!

up-cycle | Mathilde | old shirt

I chose the Mathilde Blouse pattern by Tilly and the Buttons for my up-cycle projects. I wanted a relatively straight and semi-loose fitting body, and I liked the added detail of the front pin-tucks and yoke. Also, the old shirt I use on my first go had stains that needed to be cut out or covered somehow. This meant that a pattern with more than just the basic front and back pieces would be helpful.

Patterns that I think would work well with an old-shirt-up-cycle are:

Mathilde Blouse by Tilly and the Buttons
Beatrix Top by Made by Rae
Stockholm Blouse by Atelier Scammit (French)
Lou Box Top by Sew DIY

    The last two patterns do not feature button-down backs in the pattern. However, they are styles that would work really well with this nice detail!

    Would you like to add one of these lovely blouses to your wardrobe as an up-cycle project? Here are some tips:


    You’ll need an old button-down shirt that is at least a couple of sizes larger than your size. Before cutting, take a careful look at the pattern pieces and plan them out on your shirt. Identify parts of the shirt that need to be cut out or hidden (think: stains, frays or smells), as well as parts of the shirt that you would like to re-use, such as a yoke, hem or cuff.

    Depending on the bits you’d like to keep and re-use, you may spend quite some time un-picking seams with your seam ripper. Unless your shirt is far larger than what you will need for the pattern, I recommend unpicking the side seams, yoke (if available) and armscye seams rather than cutting these. You will always need to unpick any darts in the original shirt. And you will want to press the shirt pieces before cutting in to anything.

    For my first Mathilde, I only really re-used the buttons. But on my second Mathilde, I also re-used the back yoke, the sleeves and wrist cuffs. In the end, the time spent planning, unpicking and pressing is worth it!


    It may be necessary to modify some of the pattern pieces by cutting them apart or taping them together. Whenever you do this, be sure to account for seam allowance!

    up-cycle | Mathilde | yoke

    Yoke: If you are planning on re-using the yoke in your up-cycle project, it is likely to be a self-facing yoke. I would highly recommend taking advantage of this by using the burrito method to attach the yoke to the back at the shoulders. This will leave you with nice, neat seams on the inside as well as the outside! A couple of tutorials on the burrito method are:

    from Grainline Studio
    from Sew Over It London

    up-cycle | Mathilde | burrito method

      Also, the yoke on my second shirt was not as high as is required by the pattern. I therefore needed to lengthen the back pattern piece at the shoulders to meet the yoke further down. To do this:

      1. Mark the seam allowance at the shoulder on the back and yoke pattern pieces.​​
      2. Fold the seam allowance back on the yoke piece and lay that on top of the back pattern piece, so that the shoulders meet at the seam allowance lines. Tape these together.​​
      3. Trace the available yoke on to the yoke pattern piece to see where it arrives at the shoulder.​​
      4. Add seam allowance to the new shoulder line.
      up-cycle | Mathilde | adjust shoulder & yoke

          Tucks: Another example are the pin-tucks. According to the pattern, each pin-tuck requires 3 cm. This leads to a total of 18 cm (9 cm on the right, 9 cm on the left) in width that will be hidden away by tucks. But my old shirts only allowed for about 6 cm extra in width. This means that my pin-tucks had to be 1 cm each. To find out how much width you have to work with for pin-tucks:

          1. Fold your fabric in half along the grain-/fold-line as if you were going to cut the front pattern piece out.
          2. Lay the pattern piece on top of your fabric, making sure the fabric’s fold line is parallel to the fold line indicated on the pattern piece, but that the side seam and dart are fully on the fabric (as if you were about to cut it out).
          3. Measure the difference between the fold-line indicated on the pattern piece and the actual fold-line of the fabric. For my shirt, the difference was 6 cm.
          4. Subtract the difference from the 9 cm allotted on the pattern piece for pin-tucks: 9cm – 6cm = 3cm available for tucks; 3 tucks per side / 3cm available = 1cm per tuck
          5. Once you’ve figured out the amount you have available for tucks, you can lay your pattern piece on your fabric as indicated above in (2). Cut out your fabric.
          6. Using your formula in (4), mark your pin-tucks with tailor's chalk. 
          up-cycle | Mathilde | tucks

            Back & Buttons: When cutting out your back pieces, you'll need to be sure your buttons align perfectly with the button holes. Do this by buttoning the shirt before cutting. As your shirt already has a button band and buttons, you will not need this part of the back pattern piece.

            up-cycle | Mathilde | button fold

            Fold the pattern piece along the button hole lines. Then line up the button hole markings on the pattern piece with the line of buttons on your shirt. 

            up-cycle | Mathilde | button line up

            1 comment

            • Love this tutorial! I’ve been upcycling men’s shirts for a while but using someone else’s pattern has always left me stumped. This is great – thank you!


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