Free Upcycling Shirt Cape pattern for Canary Craftivists

04 Jun Free Upcycling Shirt Cape pattern for Canary Craftivists

How to make a “Canary Cape” from an old shirt and cotton offcuts by Barley Massey, founder of Fabrications as part of our Canary Craftivists.

For my first cape I used a white school shirt (age 10+) to get a shorter cape. I also knew I was going to decorate with some yellow fabrics to give a feathery canary feel. By using a man’s cotton shirt, you will get a much longer cape. Look out for yellow shirts in your local charity shop! This is a zero-waste pattern, the shirt is used in its entirety. The cape can be kept plain or decorated how you choose. By decorating by hand with text or fabric feathers, this gives an opportunity for some quiet reflection space off the sewing machine for your Crafter-Thoughts.

Step 1:

Open the 2 side seams and under the arms (you will need to cut through the cuffs) and flatten out to reveal a 2d shirt with front, back, 2 arms with the collar in the centre.

Step 2:

Bring the sleeve back down to the side seam, so that you can measure the distance from the bottom of the shirt to where the original underarm would have been. This gives you the radius measurement for your quarter circle inserts. 

Step 3:

For my quarter circle inserts I re used some napkins. You can also layer up 4 pieces of cotton fabric (similar weight to your shirt) or if you have a large enough piece of fabric fold into quarters. You need to create a 90-degree angle on your outer edges.

Step 4:

Place the tip of the tape measure in the corner and starting at one of the outer edges, start marking your measurement + hem allowance (I added 2cm) using a tape measure and some tailors chalk or other marker to mark a quarter circle on the top layer of your cloth. 

Step 5:

Put in a few pins through the layers and around the centre to prevent movement and cut through to give you 4 quarter inserts. 

Step 6:

Before stitching in the inserts, I found it easier to hem my fabric inserts first. Sewing a curved hem can be tricky so you might want to leave a raw edge, use some lightweight bias binding or a hand stitched hem.

Step 7:

Decide on how you would like to stitch in your inserts – using a sewing machine or stitching by hand using a ‘back stitch’. Also depending on how your insert and shirt is finished you may need to zig zag the raw edges before or after you have straight stitched together, to prevent fraying and make a longer lasting item.

Step 8:

Once the inserts are attached your shirt has now been transformed into a cape! If you are keeping your cape plain, add some ties to the collar area if you think your cape needs them.

Now for some space for your Crafter-Thoughts

At Craftivist Collective, craftivism is more than just the making and the final creation; it’s about the thought behind the action. The mindful activism that connects our hands and hearts with our heads gives us the courage to grapple with big issues through deep contemplation. We’ve got an affectionate term for the thoughts that influence our craftivism at every stage. These ‘crafter-thoughts’ are vital little things. They’re seeds from which our learning and understanding of the world grows. Each one we jot down empowers us to be more effective in all that we do. Why not help make the world a better place one stitch at a time by using craft as a way to engage people in global issues to think, act and be the change they wish to see in the world.

Use the slow stitch-by-stitch nature of craft to help you consider the complexities of injustices. The crafter-thoughts linked to our #CanaryCraftivists campaign are listed below. More about them in our campaign page here 

1. What do you enjoy about your favourite green space in your area? 

2. Where do you think you might be able to reduce your own carbon emissions to protect our world?

3. Imagine you are a politician: how would you feel about receiving a beautiful, handmade yellow canary from a constituent? 

Step 9:

There are many ways you could decorate your cape with words or fabric feathers. I chose to partially decorate as I wanted to retain the original shirting details. I also chose to use scraps, giving a feathery effect. Scraps included offcuts from other projects re using shirts with bits of labels, buttons etc showing so that there is an obvious upcycled aesthetic and will be a potential conversation starter when I wear it. 

Step 10:

I measured down approx. 20cm from the collar for my first ‘round’ of feathery scraps but use your own judgement here to decide your own starting point. Once the scraps were placed, I hand stitched them into position (re checking with my tape measure the distance from the collar) Keep adding further rounds of strips, staggering them as you go to give a feathery feel. Finishing by adding a ribbon tie. 


Barley also made a cape out of a mustard shirt and yellow donated fabric below.

Join Barley and fellow gentle craftivists this summer at our Canary Craftivists climate project here.

  • Lester Ackley
    Posted at 08:59h, 24 June Reply


    • Craftivist Collective
      Posted at 17:24h, 25 June Reply

      🙂 x

  • Dress-Shirt
    Posted at 12:24h, 20 September Reply

    It was a really beautiful shirt. Love this beautiful shirt. You did great work. Thanks for sharing.

    • Craftivist Collective
      Posted at 13:59h, 21 September Reply

      I’m so glad you liked it Amanda – I’ll let Barley the designer know your great review 🙂 Sarah x

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