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

  • Reply cookie May 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    This inspires me to do more thrifting!

  • Reply Suziee May 31, 2012 at 1:13 am

    This is truly an amazing transformation! You should be proud of your sewing skills! =]

  • Reply Anonymous May 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I would buy that in a store! Such a cute transformation!

  • Reply Gillie May 31, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Wow, I love it! The top definitely looks very expensive and chic after the transformation. I'm not sure I have the sewing prowess to pull this project off but I'm really impressed by what you did with it!

    xo Gillie

  • Reply iab June 4, 2012 at 12:49 am

    LOVE IT!!!!! So chic !!

  • Reply Riani Irawan June 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    I wish I had the talent to sew things…

  • Reply Elaine June 6, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Great transformation! I wish I could sew!

  • Reply Pixie June 18, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Wow! That's an amazing makeover. I wish I had sewing talent and ability. You make it look easy and I know that's not the case.

  • Reply Jessica June 27, 2012 at 11:00 am

    I am halfway through this DIY and am having trouble with the bust darts. Do you put them in before sewing the side seam? If so, won't the front piece be shorter than the back? I can't seem to get it right and would appreciate help from anyone who has tried this tutorial.

    Thanks in advance!

  • Reply PetiteAsianGirl June 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Hi Jessica – they have to be added before sewing the side seam. Experienced sewers probably plan ahead with the pattern and adjust so that the front piece is longer, and therefore can have a bust dart allowance and still be the same length as the back…unfortunately for me, I was learning as I go and it was an afterthought.

  • Reply Lady Mockingbird June 28, 2012 at 2:45 am

    so cute! I love bow-tie tops!!


  • Reply Hannah June 30, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Thanks for this tutorial – it looks fab!

  • Reply Anonymous July 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    I love these refashion tutorials! I'm too cheap to buy clothes full price,;) so I usually buy from thrift stores. The clothes don't always fit right, so I end up making adjustments, so any tutorials are always helpful!

  • Reply Anonymous July 7, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    I purchased several badly out-of-style Good Will dresses last year, and easily and quickly made them into wonderful skirts — but your tutorial suggests that I should alter the upper dress areas and keep them as dresses. Thanks so much for this eye-opener!

  • Reply Ashley July 18, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Such a wonderful post!
    Come check out my website please please!

  • Reply Sherri July 25, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Thought you might like to know that someone has taken all of your pictures and spliced them together to make a pinterest tutorial which doesn't link back to you in any way.
    Not that I'm aware of any way to combat this ignorant behaviour, I know of other bloggers who have their projects similarly treated.

  • Reply Sherri July 25, 2012 at 11:53 pm

    Wait, there's a report pin button which has an option for "this is my intellectual property". It's got to be worth a try

  • Reply Jaclyn N Lil M July 31, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Wow this is amazing!! I love seeing amazing transformations 🙂

  • Reply Madilyn Miller August 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I havn't before, but know that I've seen this, I going to try to start to! This is amazing! I would love if you looked at my cooking blog,

  • Reply Rose August 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Oh I love it! I have to go run to a thrift shop now 😛
    Thank you for the tutorial!

  • Reply Maya Topadze Griggs (Soccer Mom Style) August 9, 2012 at 9:11 am

    You are so skilled! Excellent execution. Saw this on Carly's Chic Steals and had to come over to check it out. Love the added bow. So cute!

  • Reply em tiny August 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Such a pretty job! I love what you did with that shirt. I need to sew better!

  • Reply Bromeliad August 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Yes indeed. Thrifting is so much cheaper and more interesting than buying fabric. (Although I tend to be a bit of a hacker.)

  • Reply theheadtiltblog August 17, 2012 at 12:15 am

    A simple process of sewing and stitching has transformed the shirt into a chic element!
    Quite impressive styling too.

    check us out?

  • Reply Tina August 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    I recently discovered your blog and I absolutely love it! Your DIY posts are great and have inspired me to start my own sewing adventures and blog. I bought a beginner's Brother machine and am having a blast with it. Inspired by this post particularly, I just completed my first DIY alteration!

  • Reply kdub January 2, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Hi Jean- what type of thread and setting did you use on this project? Thanks!

  • Reply Uniform Rental January 12, 2013 at 6:20 am

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  • Reply Anonymous January 18, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Beautiful but I'd like to know how you did the finishing of the armholes. I don't quite understand how to do that.

  • Reply Anonymous June 16, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Hi, I was wondering if you knew how to make a sleeve narrower? I bought a huge blazer from a thrift store (size 6, I'm a 00 like you) and the sleeves are far too wide (not to mention everything else). Any pointers?

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