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 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.

  • Reply Kristina May 22, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    The finished blouse looks great! Very nice job.

  • Reply 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~

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

    wow you are such a talented tailor!
    Tina @

  • Reply 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?

  • Reply lisacng May 22, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    You never cease to amaze me!

  • Reply 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.


  • Reply 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.

  • Reply Pip May 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm

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

  • Reply Tea May 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm

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

  • Reply mai May 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    oh wow, that is amazing!

  • Reply 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!

  • Reply 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply elleandish May 22, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    For not being a 'professional sewer' you sure had me fooled ๐Ÿ™‚


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

    Amazing Jean! Man, I need to take more sewing lessons. Perhaps a summer goal? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Reply 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply 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!

  • Reply 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!

  • Reply 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply 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!

  • Reply R.L. May 23, 2012 at 12:03 am

    You never cease to amaze!

  • Reply Anonymous May 23, 2012 at 12:07 am

    WOW! I admire your skills and good eye/taste

  • Reply 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 =)

  • Reply 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply 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.

  • Reply newpetite May 23, 2012 at 12:41 am

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

  • Reply Karen May 23, 2012 at 12:43 am

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

  • Reply 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!


  • Reply 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? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    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. =(

  • Reply 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!)

  • Reply Lydia May 23, 2012 at 2:08 am

    This is so cool! You're such an inspiration ๐Ÿ™‚
    Love the polkadots too…

  • Reply Bettina May 23, 2012 at 2:25 am

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

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

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

  • Reply 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. =)

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

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


  • Reply 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!

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

  • Reply 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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Reply 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply 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).

  • Reply silvia in venice May 23, 2012 at 5:06 am
  • Reply 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!

  • Reply DaintyandDecadent May 23, 2012 at 6:54 am

    That's pretty amazing! It looks absolutely wonderful! You are so talented ๐Ÿ™‚


  • Reply MsBeautyGEEK May 23, 2012 at 7:53 am

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

  • Reply 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

  • Reply 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

  • Reply littleblacksweats May 23, 2012 at 9:24 am


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

    1000% improvement!

  • Reply 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply 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.


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