Thrifting Chronicles: $3 DIY Polka Dot Bow Blouse

*Nordstrom’s Half-Yearly sale starts today! I haven’t looked yet, so please let me know any good finds : )*diydot5

I showed this blouse a while back and received several requests for a tutorial. Unfortunately, I didn’t document the process very well as I was just experimenting around. I’m not a professional sewer, so these steps are just to show what I did and are not intended as instructions!

Earlier this year, I couldn’t get enough of feminine tie-neck blouses. I wasn’t in love with the options out on the market due to either fit, quality, or price points, thus ventured out to Savers thrift store. I zoomed through the racks looking for items that were:

– either in nice fabrics (silk, wool, etc) or interesting prints
– had a collar
– affordable enough to experiment with

I like shopping thrift stores for “fabric” versus going to regular fabric stores, because you can find nice, unique materials for cheap, plus, you can take advantage of existing features like button plackets or collars. It’s all about seeing the potential. The collar feature was key for me, as it makes a piece so much more versatile (see last photo in post). After a dizzying spin through the store, I ended up with this monster of a dowdy shirt for $2.99:
Using a loosely-cut sleeveless blouse from H&M; as a template, I dissected the shirt into five pieces: 1 torso, 2 pieces from sleeves to join together as the necktie, and 2 pieces from sleeves to finish raw edges on the armholes…

After snipping off the sleeves and slimming the sides of the torso, I noticed a fit issue. There was an unsightly gap, almost like an air bubble, near the armpit. Professional sewers would’ve known better to insert bust darts ahead of time, but I learned my lesson afterwards. The purpose of bust darts are simple – the front of your body is not flat as a sheet, so darts are necessary for allowing the fabric to contour against the curved portion of your chest and arms. 

Again, I used my H&M; shell as a guide for dart size and placement:

Next, you may have noticed that the edges of the armholes were raw and unsightly after the sleeves got snipped off. I’m sure there are a few ways to take care of this, but I ended up using some material from the sleeves to wrap around the raw edges.

Finished armholes:

Finally, I joined together the long sleeve strips to make the neck tie. The two strips were not long enough to tie a blow, so I had to salvage more scraps here and there to add a third joint. Definitely making use of every last bit of the $2.99!
diydot3I’ve also worn this blouse with a solid black sash as the tie and it worked nicely. If you have existing collared blouses – try looping a long, thin sash (or fabric belts from other garments) around the neck to add some bow-tie flavor. Just make sure the material is lightweight or else it will droop heavily and not retain a perky bow shape.

Finished product once again, and another outfit showing the versatility of a pretty collar:

diydot6 On a last note, many of you have asked for sewing machine recommendations. I’ve used the same old Brother machine for over 10 years. The model is no longer made, but it has just the basic few stitches and has served me well as a beginner’s machine. It looks very similar to this lightweight 10-stitch Brother machine which is more affordable than most options.

Readers – Do you like to re-purpose items from the thrift store?

I won’t be able to answer any comments, questions or emails until June. Thank you for your patience!

130 thoughts on “Thrifting Chronicles: $3 DIY Polka Dot Bow Blouse

  • rolala May 22, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    What a chic transformation! I'm finally going to be taking sewing lessons soon so I look forward to being able to repurpose thrift store finds.

  • Kristina May 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    The finished blouse looks great! Very nice job.

  • Natasha Fatah May 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I don't have the skills to do this, but I love what you've done!

    ~Natasha Fatah~
    ~Natasha Fatah~

  • Tinacious Me May 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    wow you are such a talented tailor!
    Tina @

  • Beautygirl24 May 22, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    You did such an amazing job! My mom would be proud, she's also a great petite seamstress. I unfortunately can't sew ;( I know I should take the time to learn. Any tips on where to start?

  • lisacng May 22, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    You never cease to amaze me!

  • Cari May 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    Amazing job Jean what a great tutorial everything looks kind of easy for those who can sew can't wait to try it out.


  • Fabulous Petite May 22, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Wow Jean, you did a good job. I wish I have the talent.
    keep posting more tutorials.

  • Pip May 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    This is so fabulous! Thanks for having such a great blog for petites!

  • Tea May 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I love the yellow skirt, could you tell me where it's from?!

  • mai May 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    oh wow, that is amazing!

  • Chandi May 22, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Exactly what I've been looking for! Thanks for this tutorial! I am going to try it on my boyfriend's shirt. LOVE your blog!

  • 1smileygirl May 22, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    I admire how you are so able to do. My grandmother would love you! I should mention that my grandmother was a seamstress her entire life and I can't sew! πŸ™‚

  • elleandish May 22, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    For not being a 'professional sewer' you sure had me fooled πŸ™‚


  • Elaine A (TOBeautyReviews) May 22, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Amazing Jean! Man, I need to take more sewing lessons. Perhaps a summer goal? πŸ˜‰

  • Kimberly May 22, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    This is truly amazing and it really makes me want to learn how to sew! You did a great job – love the polka dots! πŸ™‚

  • Krecipe May 22, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    You are amazing!!! I wouldn't buy that original blouse cause I don't have any re-purpose ideas!

  • katattack2000 May 22, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I love this DIY blouse! I didn't think to thrift something and make a bow tie from the sleeves! Great job!

  • Abby May 22, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    I have not touched my sewing machine in years, but your inspiring post just gave me courage! Today I found a darling linen skirt at Goodwill for 6 bucks – the fabric is great, the cut is not. I'm going to see what I can whip up. πŸ™‚

  • Unknown May 22, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    I absolutely love what you did with your shirt! I, too, am going to dust off my old sewing machine. Thank you for sharing!

  • R.L. May 23, 2012 at 12:03 am

    You never cease to amaze!

  • Anonymous May 23, 2012 at 12:07 am

    WOW! I admire your skills and good eye/taste

  • Anonymous May 23, 2012 at 12:12 am

    After reading your post I want to learn how to sew. I love the transformation of your blouse. Just looking after the before image the blouse itself looks "ehh" and the after image looks amazing!! The blouse itself looks like a $30- $40 blouse. Love it! you inspire me all the time Jean =)

  • what.jess.wore May 23, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Very nice job! You have a good eye for seeing the potential in the BEFORE version of the shirt. hehe

    Huge armholes are a problem for me too. I usually pay attention to the fit on the model form if they have a picture from the size view of an item I want to purchase it. Another problem is really long straps (ahem, Theory, even in sz P or 0) so I find that I have to get the straps taken up for things I love but don't want to pass up.

    I love polka dot blouses and just bought one on Piperlime (Trinity Polka Dot tank) with no collar.

    I wish I knew how to sew or had a friend that sewed (and my mom is out of state). I usually take my alternations to Best Fit on Newbury St (and I've tried Michael's Alterations for the easier stuff since he's cheaper) but maybe I'll try yours (Hemmingway Tailors) from your previous reviews one of these days. πŸ™‚

  • With Each Passing Day May 23, 2012 at 12:38 am

    Wow. I love that you took a meh blouse and make it into an amazing blouse.

  • newpetite May 23, 2012 at 12:41 am

    That is amazing! Love how it looks when paired with the mustard shirt.

  • Karen May 23, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Wow! That looks really well done! Super creative too. =]

  • Genie May 23, 2012 at 12:47 am

    So cool! Great job, I seriously thought that you spent a fortune on the top, I'm going to try and do the same with some of the blouses that I haven't worn in a while, thanks!


  • Alterations Needed May 23, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Holy moly! Gorgeous transformation, Jean! You're getting REALLY good at this stuff. When is your petite clothing line coming out? πŸ˜‰

    I don't think I have the patience for a project like that. I bought a skirt on super sale that had loose threads in the embroidery, and after a few sad attempts to fix them myself, I just handed it to my tailor to fix. I think I'm more of a "throw money at the problem" kind of person than a DIY'er. =(

  • Michelle May 23, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Wow! You did an amazing job altering that top!! I agree with Kelly…you're getting good!!

    You are making me want to bring my sewing machine to my house(stored at parents…like a lot of things!)

  • Lydia May 23, 2012 at 2:08 am

    This is so cool! You're such an inspiration πŸ™‚
    Love the polkadots too…

  • Bettina May 23, 2012 at 2:25 am

    Wow, really nice transformation. You're a talented seamstress!

  • Janey Moore May 23, 2012 at 2:28 am

    What an awesome change! You are such an inspiration for altering clothes you already have!

  • Cua Wendy Moua May 23, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Inspiring! This post encouraged me to pull out my sewing machine I bought years ago. I'm sure the skills acquired in my one semester of beginning sewing will come back to me once I keep at it. =)

  • Ayumi Lafser May 23, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Wow, love this transformation! Only if my sewing machine isn't broken… haha


  • Kat May 23, 2012 at 2:36 am

    Always making everything look so good… and so easy! If it were me, I'd probably have sewn my finger… that's actually happened to me once :X Love your DIY posts as usual!

  • Dina Pitaloka May 23, 2012 at 2:39 am!
    I wanna make something like this from my old blouse ^.^

  • Mary Ann May 23, 2012 at 3:07 am

    I love this post Jean – I think you did a fabulous job on this shirt…professional sewer or not! I've never thought to repurpose a dowdy blouse like this, but now you have my cogwheels spinning. I love to get treasures at the thrift store and fix them up. I just finished drafting a blog post for tomorrow with a red skirt I found at Goodwill for $5. All I had to do was hem it. πŸ˜‰

  • SewPetiteGal May 23, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Very nice, Jean! I'm glad you decided to make this DIY into a full post because it turned out so beautifully and looks like you sewed it from scratch rather than a refashioned garment.

    If you're interested in other sleeve finishing options, here are 2 that I've used in the past: 1. Sew bias tape (purchased for under $2 or self-made) to the edge, fold in, and secure fold with a line of stitching. This allows you to have a narrower look like the H&M; top. 2. If you have additional fabric, create a facing for each armhole. This allows you a finished look without a visible sewn edge. For example, would look like the armholes of a lined sleeveless top without having to line the entire top. Eek, this makes more sense in my head than typed out. Let me know if you have questions πŸ™‚

  • SewPetiteGal May 23, 2012 at 4:09 am

    Oh and sewing machines – I recommend this Singer from Amazon:;=1337760466&sr;=8-2

    It's well-priced ($127 + free ship, can sew heavier duty fabrics and stitches so much more consistently than my cheapie Brother from Wal-Mart (Mom used to have an older Brother that worked marvelously but it seems like the newer, economy line has suffered in quality).

  • silvia in venice May 23, 2012 at 5:06 am
  • Anonymous May 23, 2012 at 5:15 am

    That looks like a professional job to me! Very inspiring, Jean! Thank you so much for sharing this, and all your other posts, I find them so so helpful!

  • DaintyandDecadent May 23, 2012 at 6:54 am

    That's pretty amazing! It looks absolutely wonderful! You are so talented πŸ™‚


  • MsBeautyGEEK May 23, 2012 at 7:53 am

    i wish i knew how to sew.. great work doll =]

  • faye lu May 23, 2012 at 8:08 am

    magical!~!~ i wish i had an "eye" for seeing a thrift pieces and their potential. may have to look twice before i throw something away next time. great post x

  • LAURA May 23, 2012 at 8:47 am

    that is such an amazing transformation!! sooooo pretty Jean! love how you paired the polka dot top with the nude/pink dress!

    Laura x

  • littleblacksweats May 23, 2012 at 9:24 am


  • Kathleen Lisson May 23, 2012 at 9:58 am

    1000% improvement!

  • Arts May 23, 2012 at 10:02 am

    You did a really good job Jean, and thanks for the tutorial.I love sewing, but haven't done any since I moved to the US. Planning to buy a machine soon and get back to it πŸ™‚

  • dietingfashions May 23, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Wow! Thrift shopping score! Great $3 blouse and amazing tutorial! I don't know if I have what it takes to completely turn around a shirt.

    My DIY is limited to pillow covers or seat covers.


  • Always Maylee May 23, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Oh wow, this is amazing. The finished blouse looks like you bought it at the store, you did such a great job! I need to learn how to sew!

    xo, Yi-chia

  • phiphis blog May 23, 2012 at 10:33 am

    you are so creative! i wouldn't have thought to do that but now it's a lesson to always think of the possibilities!! you did a great job on this! xox P

  • Yer May 23, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Super cute! Where did you get the peach dress?

  • Carla Krae May 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Well done renovating the blouse.

    Haven't bought anything from a thrift store, so I can't say.

  • myhanh May 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

    This is awesome! Beautiful shirt! Hope studying is going well, Jean!

  • Carol May 23, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Wow. I enjoy your future daughters πŸ˜‰

  • Jackie May 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Wow! You did a great job on this!

    I love thrifting πŸ™‚

  • Egejta May 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    wooow such a easy change n huge difference! i love it visit me when u have a min

  • DSK Steph May 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    You are amazing Jean!! πŸ™‚

  • Asianmommy May 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Amazing job! Love the look.

  • ERIKA May 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    This is amazing Jean!! You're so creative, and I LOVE how cheap it was!!!!

  • jdk May 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    this is INCREDIBLE! I just thrifted a very similiar maternity top that is black with white polka dots…and am going to try to follow your steps! (for a big belly, though)
    Adorable transformation – love the photos.

  • grace May 23, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    * Bows down to the amazing Jean * I wish I had those kinds of skills! I'm sure I'd end up with some sort of patched mess if I were to do it myself. Love the finished look πŸ™‚

  • Anonymous May 23, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    The armhole part looks the most complicated, thanks for the tip on the bias tape. I still don't think I could get even stitching all the way around the hole since its such a narrow place to work with.

  • AUBS May 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    finishing the armholes look sooooo tough! gosh, you musta had a lotta patience. add this to the list of another great DIY project!

  • Samantha Dorabiato May 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Adorei… Visite o meu blog

  • Sydney May 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    I have always known how to sew as my mom taught me (she made her own wedding dress!) and have made a lot of quilts and done basic hemming. But after reading more and more about fit and especially on petites, I've realized I need to get comfortable with sewing. This is a great idea for finding cheap items and practicing! I will def be doing this over the long weekend. πŸ™‚

  • Vicky May 23, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Seeing the potential is a skill that is innate. Even though I have none in me, I am slowly learning from bloggers like you and SPG. Great post. And love the end product.

  • Lena's Blend May 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    The top is absolutely adorable and looks much better then the original.

  • alee May 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    hi jean,
    i'm by no means petite, but i just wanted to comment on how awesome this post is. also, this blog is so widely applicable to so many people, not just petites. thank you!

  • jessica May 23, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    Love! Have been enjoying the refashion/alterations posts that you've been putting up — I've been doing it on and off for awhile now, but I always learn neat tricks when you post about it. I agree, collared shirts are really versatile, especially when the collar peeks out a bit, creates a whole new look. Thanks for sharing!

  • My Style May 24, 2012 at 2:45 am

    wow! the finished blouse is amazing! love in what you transformed it and specially the tie/bow detail on the neck line…


  • Natalie, Sook Ling May 24, 2012 at 3:08 am

    That's a fantastic product; awesome that you intentionally hunted for something that suited what you had in mind – i'm too lazy to do that. BUt I really love how thrifty you are – it really equips one with an eye to see the potential in everything and honestly, your blog is so much more helpful than fantastic ones with amazing bloggers modelling top-to-toe designer because 90% of us can't afford that anyway. Yay, great job!

  • {jin} @ herimajination May 24, 2012 at 3:14 am

    you make it look so easy!! i wish i had sewing skills like you! love the transformation!

  • Fashion News May 24, 2012 at 3:43 am

    Amazing transformation! Could never expect such a chic result from a simple, much unflattering shirt!

  • fashiongamble May 24, 2012 at 8:44 am

    wow your good in DIY!! resepct

  • RichLittlePoorGirl May 24, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Hi!! I'm a new fashion blogger and i stumbled upon yours for inspiration! i'm in love! you execute everything perfectly πŸ™‚ I will be back :):)

  • momo May 24, 2012 at 8:47 am

    So pretty!!
    xoxo From JPN

  • May 24, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Wow! what an amazing transformation. How long did it take you to achieve the end product

  • Anonymous May 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    I love this post! You should do more DIY updates. It's easy for people like Really Petite to run out and buy all the outfits that you've put together but you can't buy talents and good eyes for fashion. πŸ™‚

  • E May 24, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Just fyi – the skirt is from modcloth but has been out of the size small for so long…sadly..

  • E May 24, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Jean, your skills are impeccable. What a wonderful result!

  • belleplusmel May 25, 2012 at 2:21 am

    great transformation. you're so talented πŸ˜€

  • Honey May 25, 2012 at 2:29 am

    you are very inspiring. you make DIY alterations seem so easy! πŸ˜‰

  • Karen (littlepiecefnb) May 25, 2012 at 3:01 am

    You are truly amazing Jean! The huge blouse turned into such a lovely and versatile top! Bravo!

  • ❀❀Habanero❀❀ May 25, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Very nice blog.
    The posts are interesting. I found many ideas.
    Well done!
    If you'd like to see changes in my blog or my facebook fanpage.
    Kisses from Italy! :-*

    Habanero Handmade



  • Irusja May 25, 2012 at 11:34 am
  • loveherb May 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm
  • Vivian May 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    Wow! I wish I was this talented then I'd have better fitting clothes. How do you add a bust dart?

  • Anonymous May 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Hi Jean!

    I went to Goodwill today and found the exact same blouse, new with tag for $3.99! I have never used a sewing machine before (LOL) but I'm hoping to turn it into a beauty like yours with my mother inlaw's help.

    Thanks for the DIY and keep up the great work!!

  • PetiteAsianGirl May 25, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Omigoodness – what are the chances? Please email or tweet/FB me a photo of it as I'd love to share the long lost sister of my thrifted shirt : )

  • children trousers May 26, 2012 at 6:47 am

    Polkadot skirt is perfect in today's generation. You did a good job in recovering your skirt. At last, it is look like a high class clothes.

  • REESHELL May 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    what?! so smart!!!! thanks for sharing!!!!

  • Annabelle May 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Wow, that's a terrific alteration! Beautifully done.

  • live love laugh May 27, 2012 at 2:17 pm


  • cb12a902-1e0c-11e1-8ecc-000bcdcb2996 May 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Love this idea! I have been looking for a long sleeveless shirt to layer over tanks and dresses this summer but haven't been able to find what I am looking for. Will be hitting the thrift stores soon to try this.

  • Jing11 May 29, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Fantastic job! By the way, do you have additional information around how you finished armhole edge? I removed couple of my long sleeved shirts, but not sure how to finished the armhole edges.

  • KT May 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • KT May 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Jeannie-pooh I'm always impressed by your unique ways of making something ill-fitting and turning it into something cute, chic and stylish! The bow tie from the sleeves is a PLUS! I also love your tutorials because they are so easy to follow and what's best is even though you have a hundred+ messages per blog post, you're still very responsive to your readers! πŸ™‚ Keep up the excellent job on your blog!

    P.S. In regards to your comment on my vacation diaries, I think when it comes to cruising the best way to explore the islands is get off the ship no later then 9/10AM and plan in advance. I really enjoy cruising, but definitely would love to visit one of these islands for 3-4 days next time… Hope you two have fun wherever you go and I'd love to see your vacation diaries too! πŸ™‚

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