DIY · How to Update Vintage · Sewing · Style · Tennessee · Thrifts

How to Update Vintage: Put a Tab on It


So, this is the project that first broke my sewing machine. (I say first because, I got it working again and was able to finish this project, but when I started another one, the machine completely messed it up. So I’ll be taking  it to a repair shop ASAP – hoping it’s an easy fix and that I’ll be sewing again this week!)


It all started with a vintage blouse. I have a weakness for vintage blouses. This one has dark pink square-shaped polka dots and a cute little rounded collar. I’ve worn it a couple of times. I wanted to be able to roll the sleeves up, but they wouldn’t stay, so I decided to turn it into a tab sleeved shirt. I checked out other tab sleeved shirts in my closet to figure out how to do it. (That’s one of the cool things about sewing – when you like something you already have, you can study it and figure out how to recreate it. Yes, I totally geek out over sewing.)


I pulled out this light blue gingham to use to make the tabs. I liked that it was square like the polka-dots.


I cut it into a long strip about an inch and a half wide.


I cut the long strip into two strips 12″ long. I folded the strips in half and lined up the edges.


I ran 2 straight stitches down the long sides, 1″ apart, leaving one of the short edges open. I pressed open the seam and used yarn and a safety pin to turn this little tube of fabric inside out.


I pushed the safety pin into the tube, fastened it to the bottom of the tube, and pulled the yarn to turn the fabric inside out.


This leaves two little fabric tubes with the seams inside.


I pressed these flat and then folded the edges of the open end inside and stitched it closed.


I took one of the short edges and folded it down into a triangle.


I took that point and fold it down again and ran a straight stitch across the triangle to keep it down.

Now here’s where the sewing machine started to get janky. I tried to use the buttonhole foot that came with my machine, and I just couldn’t get it to work. I vaguely remember it not working the last time I tried it, but I guess I was feeling hopeful. So I googled “How to sew a buttonhole without a buttonhole foot” and found this great little tutorial.


I noticed the machine wasn’t acting quite right, but I pressed on and attempted to attach the tab strip to the inside of the shirt sleeve. That’s when the machine went NUTS! The needle went wonky, the feed wouldn’t work, and lots and lots of thread got jammed up. It was a mess. I proclaimed the machine broken and went on to post My Week in Numbers – I was super frustrated.

Then on Saturday, I decided to try again. But first I had to remove the messed up stitches from before. Using my seam ripper and squinting furiously to see, I carefully pulled out the threads from the shirt. (For the first time in my life, I started wondering if I might need reading glasses. I mean, I’m still a spring chicken (ahem), but it was almost impossible for me to see those tiny threads. I think I’ll head to the drugstore this week to see if I can find a hot pink pair to help with my sewing. That last sentence makes me sound very old.) I played around with my sewing machine settings, and it seemed to be working okay. I decided to NEVER use the buttonhole setting again.


You can see the shirt was a little worse for the wear of all the seam ripping, but I know the tab will cover it when it’s buttoned. I attached the tab on the inside of the sleeve by sewing a square at the top. Then I sewed a button in the middle of the square on the outside of the sleeve. I have hundreds of buttons exactly like this. I bought a jar FULL of them when I was in college from a place called Lilly’s Bargain Barn. Man, I loved that place – a barn filled with antiques and junk (and I mean that in the best possible way – piles of stuff that you dig through to find treasures) out in the middle of nowhere. My friend, Audrey, introduced me to it when we were in college. Everything was priced to sell, and I found my beloved Hoosier cabinet there. That cabinet is on my list of projects to tackle before the end of summer, so I’ll tell you more about it soon.


I thought I  might need a reminder to never use the buttonhole setting since clearly I had forgotten about the last time I decided to never use the buttonhole setting. I got out my dot stickers and brainstormed a good drawing to express my true feelings. I thought this was effective. BB thought it was awesome. I think I’m going to make a list of all the things that I should never do anymore. Just this week, I re-learned that Peet’s coffee gives me heartburn. (Oh my GOSH, I’m an old lady.)


Ta-da! An old vintage shirt with a new tab sleeve!


Proof that both sides are functional.


So, feeling pretty good about myself after I finished this project, I immediately started a new one, which is when I realized my sewing machine truly is broken – gobs of thread, not feeding properly, and now, disturbing “Ka-CHUNK, ka-CHUNK” sounds. Hoping the repairs are not only speedy but CHEAP! Wish me luck!


4 thoughts on “How to Update Vintage: Put a Tab on It

  1. The tabs look really cute and I love the gingham against the dots! I hate the way a sewing machine can be temperamental about buttonholes! Quite often I use a scrap of material to try things out before starting on the actual garment. The test piece always goes smoothly, until you start on the real thing – then it goes pear shaped! I seem to get a little anxious about it now, but I am gaining confidence slowly!

    1. That’s great! I think something about my machine is defunct on the buttonhole setting. Am thinking about looking into an old-fashioned button-holer. Don’t really know what it is, but sounds helpful. :) Thanks for your kind words!

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