Reviving an old shirt with a quilted “stomacher”


Stomachers are traditionally just decorative cloth, sometimes with trim, sewn into a bodice (or shirt) or top of a dress going over chest and stomach. They were very in vogue in the 16th century, but not so much known now. But I have several shirts that have gaping holes in them, and being fond of them (and not being overburdened with wealth at this time to be able to buy a lot of new shirts) I decided to come up with a way to decoratively “patch” these shirts, and then, in a flash, it came to me–a stomacher, of course!

Now, let me clarify, while I have done a quilt (just the “piecing” part, not much actual “quilting” which is traditionally done by hand), and made costumes, followed patterns and made up dresses and costumes without patterns (more when I was younger, and not so concerned about craft), I am not a “seamstress” per se, but merely a craft enthusiast. So this step by step was partly me figuring out a process of how to go about doing this. Someone else might have a better way and can suggest it 😉

To start, I took one of my ragged, black shirts, that had multiple holes in it, and spread it out on a folding table with my quilting tools and some scraps of fabric. I put a white piece of cardboard inside of it here so that you could clearly see the holes. If you look closely, you can also see my teeny “rough draft” that I drew on a sticky note and placed to the right of the shirt.

Then I took two strips of bright fabric that I’d already decided would be my “edge pieces” and laid them on the shirt to determine the rough shape of the stomacher. I was trying to have it flare out a little at my breasts, and then angle in a bit, and then flare again slightly at the bottom, for a slimming and shaping effect 😉 I also wanted to determine, from this, how wide/long scraps would need to be at the widest point in order to have a rough measure to cut them out by.

For my purposes, I figured 10 – 11 inches was a good length measurement to cut scraps, and accordingly got several scraps of fabric leftover from various projects and cut them out at angles, and some in strips (the strips were more cut from non-scrap accent cloth, that I got at a sale for quilting). I did follow a straight edge and used a cutting wheel, so that my seams would be even.

Once I had an assortment of scraps off to the side, I started blocking them out on my rough shape I’d established earlier, overlapping each one slightly to account for a seam, while realizing at the end I would probably have to add to it to make up the difference.

Then I started sewing, one strip at a time, right sides together, the top strip to the next strip, and so on.

Each time I sewed a piece to the next, I was sure to press it flat with the iron, too. Which way the seams got pressed depended a lot on the fabric–for instance, the upholstery fabric was stronger and thicker than the others and pressed on top of the adjoining pieces.

Once I’d gotten the initial pieces I’d chosen sewn together, I laid them back on my shape outline to see if I needed to add any pieces (because seams use up fabric). Sure enough, I needed to add a piece at the top and the bottom, and I had to trim the bottom so that it was even with the shirt.

I drew some lines on my fabric piece to help determine where to cut it out and wasn’t too worried if some of the lines showed on the cut piece, because I knew I’d cover them up with the edge pieces later. I cut this with scissors rather than trying to do it with the wheel. (But not with the shirt underneath! I cut it laying on the green board.)

I took my two red edge pieces and pinned them (there was no “right side” but if there had been, it would have been right side facing the quilted piece) to the side of my shape, set in a bit from the edge so that I would be sure to cover any stray pen marks. I made sure to have extra hanging off on both sides knowing I’d be trimming them later.

After sewing those seams where the pins were, I took care to press the seams outward, from the top/right side.

Then I turned it over and pressed a narrow seam on the outside edge so that it would be easier to sew.

Not trusting it to keep its fold when sewing it to the front of the shirt, I then basted/seamed the outside edge I’d just prepped, using a special foot on my Bernina that has a built-in guide and with the needle all the way to the left, for doing narrow seams.

I also seamed the bottom of the piece, trimming off the edge pieces to be even. Next step–getting close! I pinned the edged form to the shirt itself.

One thing I really liked about this shirt was its V neckline, which I wanted to preserve, so, while it was pinned, I turned the shirt over to trim where that neckline would fall. I put a piece of paper underneath, so it would be easier to see where I trimmed it.

I then pinned the collar in, and the whole thing was ready to attach. Sewing the sides, I was careful to sew on top of the seam I’d already put in, so it would look like one seam rather than two.

And…Voila! From ragged to artsy–someone used the word “Upcycled” on Facebook today, and I think that certainly fits.

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One thought on “Reviving an old shirt with a quilted “stomacher”

  1. Thanks for sharing. You may see your idea walking down the street as I plan to use this myself! I’m so glad I ran into you in Eathfare! You are truly a creative genius! SN

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