Make This:

Ribbon Panel Shirt

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Turn an ordinary top into a breezy summer blouse by replacing the back of it with strands of silk ribbon. You can modify a pre-made shirt or make one just for the project.


The hand dyed silk ribbons I used for this came from The incredibly sweet owner, Victoria, agreed to send me some ribbon for a project several months ago. I had a plan for the ribbon, but when it arrived I realized that my plan was basically just too lame for the awesome ribbon, so the ribbon literally hung around for a while. (At this point in the story some additional delay occurred because I took a job offer. I often take on contract design work in addition to blogging. Unfortunately, I had never worked for someone awful so I didn’t see the signs until it was too late, and I ended up wasting a whole lot of time doing miserable work followed by dealing with some legal stuff, all of which pulled me away from what I wanted to be doing. Lessons learned, I’m back to making pretty things, hooray!) So, while I feel awful about how long it took me to get this done, I absolutely love the result.


I realized early on that something this soft and delicate should be somewhere wher it would be touched. I was going through my fabric stash and found a piece of dark grey fine cotton knit that I had been saving for a special project. As soon as I saw it I knew what I was going to make….

Supplies and Equipment:

– a knit top (pre-made or from your own pattern)
– silk ribbon – I used the Smokey Mountain Blues 4mm ribbon from RibbonSmyth – click here!
– sewing basics
– cork pieces – I don’t know how we got along without these in the studio – they’re so great for everything!
– lots of pins, preferably silk, fine or satin pins
– thread that matches your shirt
– fray check – handy for finishing ribbon ends and in case you snag any silk
– clean, non-sharp flat head screwdriver or similar implement
– needle-nose pliers – in case you need to pull the needle between pins


I used about half of the 25 yard package to make this.


When choosing a shirt to modify or fabric go with a knit – the ribbon is delicate, and knit is a lot more forgiving of being pulled than woven is. The idea is that if there is stress on the fabric the knit will accomodate it instead of putting pressure on the ribbon. If you’re using a pre-made garment you will end up with a slightly lower neckline in the front than it has now, make sure that’s okay with you.


Measure the garment from shoulder to shoulder. WRITE THIS NUMBER DOWN.


Using a mirror (and help if it’s available) decide how wide and how tall you want the cut out to be.

You’ll want a 1/2 hem allowance all the way around the cut out. Mark your cutout on the back, and continue it to the front. The idea here is that you’ll have a top with a deep back scoop and one long neckline hem. Cut on the dotted lines in the diagram above.

Or try out a different design.

Put the cork panels in the inside out shirt, and pin it down, making sure the shoulder width is the same as what you wrote down earlier. This will ensure that the shirt fits the same way when it’s finished as it did before.

Roll a hem on the back – 1/4 inch and 1/4 inch, all the way around the back (you don’t need to worry about the front now. Pin it down.

Start at the top of the space to anchor the width of the panel. Tuck a fold of ribbon all the way into the hem. The better tucked it is, the more secure your ribbon will be. I found a clean, non-sharp flat head screwdriver to be the ideal tool for this. Pin the ribbon in place.

Do the same on the other side, making sure your ribbon is just exactly the length of the gap you pinned in place earlier.

Your shirt should now look like this.

Continue zig-zagging your ribbon back and forth, tucking it into the hem allowance and pinning in place.


***You could definitely choose to not tuck the ribbon in, and just sew it onto the surface. I tend to make everything like the finishing is going to be judged by a jury of highly respected designers. Use your best judgement for your situation!

Add other colors as appropriate.

If you weave ribbon over and under existing strands you’ll have a more secure and more interesting finish.

Keep going until your design sense tells you to stop.

In my case, more was more. I wanted enough that I could wear a bra under it, and I loved the look of all the strands.

Carefully run a row of basting stitches through the middle of the hem all the way around the area you’ve ribboned, catching all of the ribbons. You’re about to start unpinning and this is insurance that you won’t lose all of your work if some pins go rogue.

Now start backstitching. You want the small stitches to be through to the outside of the garment, and the long stitches to be through the hem, catching every single ribbon.


I’m right handed, so I found it easiest to start at the right side of the panel. I stitched “up” (what will be up when the garment is worn) through to the front, then “down” through the hem. This allowed me to hold the shirt/cork piece with my left hand, and kept all of the thread pulling clear to the left of all those pins, reducing tangling. Obviously switch this if you’re a lefty!


As you’re working you’ll want to remove the pins. Pull pins when you’ve secured the ribbon they’re holding with stitches.

Stitching “up” through the outside of the shirt. Be sure to secure those ribbon tails, too!

Continue your row of backstitching around the front of the neckline, too, making it one long hem.


When the hem is done remove the basting line. You may want to add one more row of stitches on the back of the hem holding down the ribbon, but other than that you’re done!


(This is the front of my shirt, in case you were wondering what it looked like!)