Tee Reconstruction Project - No-Sew Ladder Back T-Shirt Tutorial

Updated on July 12, 2016

My love of reconstructing t-shirts began out of necessity. As a small person, many t-shirts from concerts, conferences, events, etc. simply do not fit me. Giving up on finding shirts that fit, I dedicated myself to transforming shirts into ones that fit. I have shared how to make a racer back tank top and a cut side tank in other tutorials, so here I share how to modify a shirt that already mostly fits to make it more 'cool.' This style is inspired by popular Zumba dance wear fashions and is perfect for the beach, dance practice, or some fun on the town with friends. The results are impressive, but the laddering technique is easy to master and modify to meet your personal tastes.

Picking a T-Shirt for Reconstruction

Most tee reconstruction projects use shirts that are too large. In contrast, this project works best with a shirt that isn't overly big. It also works well when you use a shirt with a bit of an elastic content, but a straight cotton t-shirt will work, too. If this is your first shirt remake, you might want to start on a thrift store shirt or something plain and inexpensive to get a feel for the techniques.

Weaving a Ladder Back T-Shirt

Before you begin marking and cutting, you have to make a couple decisions.

  • Do you want to ladder the entire back, or just part of it?
  • Do you want all the ladder's rungs to be the same width, or do you want the design to decrease in width as it moves down your back?

In the example, I started the laddering right below the arms and kept it the same width all the way down, but you can ladder as much (or little) or the shirt as you'd like, and you can vary the width, too.

Materials Needed for No-Sew Tee Reconstruction

This project is so simple! The only mandatory supplies are:

  • A t-shirt
  • Sharp scissors

You may also want to use:

  • A cutting board, piece of cardboard, or piece of rigid plastic
  • A ruler or yardstick
  • A marker or pen

I used a cutting board, but I honestly don't think the ruler and marker are necessary. If it is your first time cutting up a shirt, you may find them helpful. The only really important thing is using a good pair of sharp scissors. If they've ever been used to cut paper, chances are good cutting through a t-shirt will be torturous.

Laddering a t-shirt produces impresive results, but I think it's actually far easier than other reconstruction techniques!

1. Place your shirt face down on your work surface.


2. If using, slide your cutting board, cardboard, etc. into the shirt. This is not mandatory, but it helps ensure you only cut the shirt back and do not accidentally cut the front, too.

Using a rectangular board makes cutting easier, and it helps you keep them an even width (if desired).
Using a rectangular board makes cutting easier, and it helps you keep them an even width (if desired). | Source

3. Either mark your intended line positions with the ruler and marker or just get cutting! I started my cuts just below the arms. You can make these cuts as long or short as you'd like. In the example, I opted for cuts that went most of the way across the back and maintained their length all the way down. You can make the cuts as wide or narrow as you'd like, but I prefer to make cuts that are about 1" thick.


4. Keep making strips, tapering them if you'd like, until you reach the bottom. Then, cut the bottom hem off and discard it.

Almost there!
Almost there! | Source

5. Once you've made all your cuts, begin stretching each string out by grasping it with both your hands and pulling them apart. You can also use one hand to hold the shirt down while stretching the string between your other hand's fingers. Continue stretching until all the strings are stretched!

Stretching the strings with one hand.
Stretching the strings with one hand. | Source
Stretched strings.
Stretched strings. | Source

6. It's time to get laddering!

  • Move all but the top two strings as far out of the way as possible.
  • Pull the top string down and behind the second, as shown.
  • Reach under this loop to grab the second string and pull it down and behind the first.


7. Repeat this process down the shirt. Pull the third string through the loop you just created and so on until you reach the bottom. Look at the picture below for some explanatory arrows!

Continuing the ladder.
Continuing the ladder. | Source

8. Once you reach the bottom, cut the last loop in half, as shown below.

9. Secure the end by folding them towards the shirt's sides and tying them to themselves, as shown.


10. Make sure the knots are secure and trim away excess string, if desired.

11. Wear and enjoy!


Do you Zumba?

See results

I have to confess - this shirt was inspired by one I saw on the Zumba website. In case you don't know, Zumba is a type of fusion dance fitness that combines elements of salsa, tango, meringue, reggaeton, hip hop, and more. I've even had instructors throw in a shag step and the hand jive! It is super fun and you don't need to know how to dance to get started. There are popular DVDs, Wii games, and in-person classes held all around the world.

Regular exercise gear is totally acceptable, but people enjoy wearing cargo pants with tassels, cut up shirts, and other hip hop-style gear to Zumba sessions. If you want to spruce up your dance wardrobe without shelling out for name-brand gear, this ladder back t-shirt is a great place to start!

I know I'm planning to wear mine to Zumba class - what will you do with yours?

If you have trouble with any of the instructions, please just leave a comment and I'll try to help!

Questions & Answers


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      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thanks so much! I love tee reconstruction projects and live in pretty perpetual summer.

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

        What a lovely job you did. It's so creative and useful -- especially during hot summer days.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        I'm glad you enjoyed it and thank you!

      • MSGolden51 profile image

        MSGolden51 4 years ago

        Hello, Natashalh, looks super easy. I love to sew as well and have changed existing clothes into something new and different, enjoyed this, Thanks.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Ahaha - that's the first comment of its kind for me! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you! I hope you enjoy it and please let me know if you have any questions.

      • ahorseback profile image

        ahorseback 4 years ago

        One has to admit that this is a very simple and sexy look ! It looks perfect on you !....Okay ,okay , I'm a guy ! Awesome ! ......Ed

      • sjkhan profile image

        Sara 4 years ago from Pakistan

        This is a great hub! Can't wait to try this shirt! Thanks for the awesome tutorial.Voted up!

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        If only the model had been paid! That would have been awesome. Sadly, neither model nor photographer (my arms are in funny places trying to hide the remote!) have been paid yet.

        Yep, I paid a whopping $3 for this shirt on clearance! I just noticed a whole stack of shirts my guy never wears (he hadn't really even unpacked them from when he moved to Hawaii last May!), so when he gets home I'm going to seek permission to cut them up, too. Thanks for stopping in!

      • hawaiianodysseus profile image

        Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

        I agree with Rose...the visuals were sensational! The model was absolutely stunning! Hope you didn't have to pay her too much! LOL!

        This is one I'd love to share with my daughter. I think it's awesome that your generation has a way to take relatively inexpensive T-shirts and "destroy" them creatively! My generation utilized tie dye shirts with similar intent. Great Hub, Natasha, reinforcing my belief that you're an absolutely talented and refreshing young writer! Aloha, and keep Kaua'i as a future goal!


      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you so much! I am actually pretty excited - I realized my guy has a whole lot of t-shirts I've never, ever seen him wear. When he gets back from deployment I'm going to ask if I can have at them!

      • Suzie HQ profile image

        Suzanne Ridgeway 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

        Hi Natasha,

        Love your reconstructed ides! This is funky and great for the summer to dress up a pair of jeans even for socializing. Love it and your tutorial is brill to follow as always! Great job, voted up, ++++ shared and pinned!

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you so much! I put a lot of time into my images and I'm really glad to know they're appreciated. =)

        I love how complicated this looks and how easy it really is.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thank you! It is so much fun and wearing this new shirt actually really helps me stay (a little bit) cool!

      • Ceres Schwarz profile image

        Ceres Schwarz 4 years ago

        This is a very creative hub. The image of the finished ladder back shirt looks great. The rest of your images were all very helpful in showing readers exactly how to make this ladder back shirt. Just looking at the ladder back shirt makes it seem like the process of making it is very complicated but your tutorial makes it seem easier.

      • bac2basics profile image

        Anne 4 years ago from Spain

        Wow Natasha, what a great idea and the tee looks fantastic. Happy Zumba´ ing :)

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        I hand my thought of it that way, but you are absolutely correct! It is a very similar process. I'm so glad you found the pictures helpful! I put some time into them and it's nice I know they're appreciated.

      • frogyfish profile image

        frogyfish 4 years ago from Central United States of America

        This is a really cute summer T idea also! Your picture instructions were helpful, particularly the last one where you have to cut and tie. The whole laddering process is actually similar to 'finger crochet'. Thanks for sharing your delightful creation.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thanks for stopping in! When I first saw a photo of this I figured it had to be super difficult, but it really isn't. I'm glad the photos are sufficiently detailed!

      • randomcreative profile image

        Rose Clearfield 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        It's awesome that this tutorial is no-sew! Thanks for the details photos and instructions.

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Rose the planner - I'm sorry! I thought I approved your comment yesterday and responded to it. There must have been an Internet hiccough. I'm glad you liked the visuals! It was difficult to think of how to explain the process in words alone.

        Kidscrafts - Yes, I wore it around a bit yesterday before Zumba and it was fantastic!

        MaeMG - Don't worry - summer doesn't start according to the geographers and whatnot until June 21. You still have plenty of time for warm weather!

      • MaeMG profile image

        MaeMG 4 years ago

        Awesome idea! Now that it's summer (while I look outside and watch the rain falling and question the validity of that statement), but we've had some really hot, scorching days in the past couple weeks so THIS would've been amazing.

      • kidscrafts profile image

        kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

        Great pictures with step by step instructions, Natasha! It looks great.... and for sure fantastic for those hot summer days to have some breeze!

        Thanks for sharing!

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Isn't it cool how complicated it looks but now easy it is in reality? Thanks for stopping in!

      • phdast7 profile image

        Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

        How creative and interesting, but as you demonstrated, how simple and easy. And what a great result! I am impressed. :)

      • rose-the planner profile image

        rose-the planner 4 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

        This is very creative and doesn't seem complicated. The great thing about this project is that you get to redesign t-shirts and give them a fresh, new look. By the way, I totally love the visuals. Great job! Thanks for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

      • Natashalh profile image

        Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

        Thanks! Nope, I figured it was a little too soon for the blog to have another shirt tutorial, but I'm positive there will be another there at some point! Cutting up things is one of my favorite past times, and I don't have my sewing machine this summer. o_O

      • Kathryn Stratford profile image

        Kathryn 4 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

        At first, I thought this was on your blog! I came over from Google +. This is another super cute shirt! Thanks for sharing this detailed tutorial with us. I'm going to share it (voted up!)