T-Shirt Transfer Transplant……

ready to wear again
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Not soon after the machine applique class with the WI, another similar machine applique technique presented itself right at my front door.

My next door neighbour definitely had a fashion emergency that needed urgent help! She had a favourite black T-shirt with a floral motif that was just one of those shirts that you could make about 4 different outfits from casual to super smart. But, it was beginning to get a bit faded and worn. The big problem was that a midwinter cruise was coming up fast and that shirt with that motif would have 3 outfits taken care of with minimal packing!


Was there a way of shifting the motif onto another T-shirt? She must have been confident that my answer was yes since she already had a brand new black t-shirt in her hand.

Well- you shall have it ready for that cruise.

Let me show you how you can rescue a favourite motif from any T-shirt that has seen better days (and keep the memory alive it you bought it at a rock concert).
Materials required:

  • Bond-a-web sheet large enough to cover the entire motif. You need the type with the paper backing. Check your local craft store, sewing shop or online for availability.
  • Sewing machine and darning foot (it looks like a little donut at the end).
  • Machine embroidery threads to match the colours of your motif. The amount of colours will be dependent on the areas you want to cover with embroidery.
  • Iron & ironing board.
  • Baking paper or press cloth.
  • Sharp dressmakers scissors- or your usual fabric scissors.
  • Nice cup of coffee or tea – for a relaxing sewing experience.

Starting with the original T-shirt:

original too short t shirt

Remove any beads, sequins or sewn on embellishments. Set aside to be reapplied later.

Turn the shirt inside out and iron the bond-a-web (rough side down) onto the back of the motif. Start with a medium iron to apply the bond-a web, particularly if the transfer is the old rubbery type (like the ones that eventually crack up in the wash). I also put a piece of baking paper on the ironing board to protect the motif and the board.

bond a web back

Leaving the paper backing on, cut out the motif from the T-shirt. Then cut around the motif leaving a scant 1/8 inch (2mm) border.

cut out from original shirt

Remove the paper backing and position motif onto the front of the new shirt. Place a press cloth or baking paper over the motif to protect it from the direct heat of the iron. Gently press down and ensure the bond-a-web has adhered to the fabric.

iron on to new t shirt front


Going back to the reverse of the shirt, cut out a piece of light weight iron on interfacing a bit larger than the motif and place a press cloth over the area and iron on with a medium iron. This step stabilizes the fabric for the stitching you will do on it later.


It’s time for the really fun part.


Machine embroidery will not only enhance your motif, it will help conserve the original transfer, which in this case, did start to show signs of cracking and splitting.

For some aspects of machine embroidery, using a hoop to further stabilise the stitching area is advisable and works best. However, for this project, the combination of the lightweight interfacing on the back,the bond-a-web layer and the stiffness of the original transfer, a hoop isn’t necessary. The stitching area is firm enough to prevent puckering on the shirt in this case.

Now let’s start.

Set your machine for free motion embroidery stitching. To do this, replace your regular straight stitching foot with the darning foot. Drop the feed dogs. Those are the toothsome grippy bars right under your needle. They feed the material through the machine for straight stitching. By dropping them, you will now control the speed and direction of the stitching. Some machines have a switch that drops them, others will have a plate that fits over them. Check your machine manual for the method your machine uses.

The needle size in the machine for should be a number 80 (for medium weight fabrics). Since it is a T-shirt knit, I inserted an 80 ball point for stitching knits but found it really didn’t make that much of a difference since I was only stitching within the stabilised area of the fabric. Your choice as to what you want to use.

Thread up your machine with your chosen colour to start. Think of free machine embroidery as painting with thread. Position the motif or area that you will be stitching on under the needle- get yourself comfy in your chair and relax. Start stitching (don’t have to run the machine fast to start) and just fill in the areas you want with upward and downward “strokes” of stitching.

free motion machine embroideryfree motion machine embroidery

Top Tip: like the “practice peppers” in a previous blog, you may want to set up practice motif shapes in scrap fabrics prepared in the same way as outlined here to give yourself a few trial runs and get the feel of your machine. I’ve been doing this technique for quite a while and still have a test scraps available to “get into the flow” before I start my main piece.


Fill in all the areas you want to cover with stitching.  Keep to one colour to create just an outline shape or change colours to add depth and dimension as needed. I only used two colours here (a medium pink and one just a shade lighter) and left the white areas open so as not to change the original feel and design of the T-shirt. However, you can add as much or as little stitching as you like.

Next, I reapplied all the original sequins, and it’s complete…

Finished motif close upready to wear again

My neighbour is absolutely delight now that she has her favourite T-shirt ready to wear again for holiday.
So now you can breathe new life into that memorable T-shirt transfer with this simple technique.  I ,too, have a pile of t-shirts that I just can’t bear to part with waiting on the sewing pile, so will share more upscaling and creative ideas with you as I finish them.


Any question or comments to share?

Contact me through the website.

Happy Sewing and until next time……

Button card