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 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

  • Reply 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

  • Reply Yer May 23, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Super cute! Where did you get the peach dress?

  • Reply 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.

  • Reply myhanh May 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

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

  • Reply Carol May 23, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Wow. I enjoy your future daughters 😉

  • Reply Jackie May 23, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Wow! You did a great job on this!

    I love thrifting 🙂

  • Reply 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

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

    You are amazing Jean!! 🙂

  • Reply Asianmommy May 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Amazing job! Love the look.

  • Reply ERIKA May 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm

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

  • Reply 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.

  • Reply 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 🙂

  • Reply 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.

  • Reply 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!

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

    Adorei… Visite o meu blog

  • Reply 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. 🙂

  • Reply 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.

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

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

  • Reply 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!

  • Reply 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!

  • Reply 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…


  • Reply 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!

  • Reply {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!

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

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

  • Reply fashiongamble May 24, 2012 at 8:44 am

    wow your good in DIY!! resepct

  • Reply 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 🙂 I will be back :):)

  • Reply momo May 24, 2012 at 8:47 am

    So pretty!!
    xoxo From JPN

  • Reply May 24, 2012 at 11:10 am

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

  • Reply 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. 🙂

  • Reply 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..

  • Reply E May 24, 2012 at 9:12 pm

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

  • Reply belleplusmel May 25, 2012 at 2:21 am

    great transformation. you're so talented 😀

  • Reply Honey May 25, 2012 at 2:29 am

    you are very inspiring. you make DIY alterations seem so easy! 😉

  • Reply 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!

  • Reply ❤❤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



  • Reply Irusja May 25, 2012 at 11:34 am
  • Reply loveherb May 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm
  • Reply 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?

  • Reply 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!!

  • Reply 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 : )

  • Reply 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.

  • Reply REESHELL May 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm

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

  • Reply Annabelle May 27, 2012 at 12:33 pm

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

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


  • Reply 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.

  • Reply 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.

  • Reply KT May 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Reply 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! 🙂 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! 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous May 30, 2012 at 2:22 am

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