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


By Natasha Hoover


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).

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!

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.

Stretched strings.

Stretched strings.

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.


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!


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!

More of my T-Shirt Projects


Natasha (author) from Hawaii on December 22, 2013:

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

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on December 22, 2013:

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

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on September 24, 2013:

I'm glad you enjoyed it and thank you!

MSGolden51 on September 23, 2013:

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

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on July 22, 2013:

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

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on July 22, 2013:

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

ahorseback on July 22, 2013:

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

Sara from Pakistan on July 22, 2013:

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

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 09, 2013:

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!

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on June 09, 2013:

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!


Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 08, 2013:

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!

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on June 08, 2013:

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!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 08, 2013:

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.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 08, 2013:

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

Ceres Schwarz on June 08, 2013:

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.

Anne from Spain on June 08, 2013:

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

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 07, 2013:

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 from Central United States of America on June 07, 2013:

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.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 07, 2013:

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!

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 07, 2013:

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

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 07, 2013:

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 on June 07, 2013:

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 from Ottawa, Canada on June 07, 2013:

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!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 06, 2013:

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

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on June 06, 2013:

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

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on June 06, 2013:

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

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on June 06, 2013:

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 from Windsor, Connecticut on June 06, 2013:

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!)

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