Cool 80’s Nostalgia Women’s Muscle Shirt DIY

Lydia Naomi
by Lydia Naomi
7 Materials
90 Minutes

While scrolling through Pinterest, I came across these cool 80’s-inspired power shoulder t-shirts with a modern twist and I couldn’t resist trying to make one of my own. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to make a women’s muscle shirt using a simple t-shirt and shoulder pads.

Tools and materials:

  • Cotton batting
  • Men’s white cotton t-shirt
  • Cotton muslin fabric
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Needle and thread
  • Sewing machine
Shoulder pad template

Create patterns for the shoulder pads

I used a set of shoulder pads I already own to create this template for the shoulder pads. 

Shoulder pad templates in three sizes

I also made two smaller templates. 

Cut the muslin

Cut the cotton muslin

Using the largest template, I took some plain weave cotton muslin and cut two pieces with the cut line on the bias.

Cut a thin layer of batting

Prepare the batting for the shoulder pads

I then took my quilt batting and peeled apart a thin layer, and cut the largest piece out of it. 

Cut a thicker piece of batting

Then I took a thicker layer and cut out the medium pieces.

Cut a small, thick circle of batting

I made the small pieces a tiny bit thicker. This is to create that gradual thickness to blend in with the shoulder.

Pin the shoulder pad pieces together

Pin all the pieces of the shoulder pads together

I sandwiched these between the muslin, layering the batting like a tiered cake with the largest piece on the bottom and the smallest piece on top, and pinned in place. 

Pad-stitch them together

Stitch the shoulder pads together

Then I pad-stitched them together. To do this, I started the needle an eighth of an inch away from the cut line and came out a quarter inch from where I went in. 

Hand-stitch the pieces

I did this again about a half-inch up from the first stitch and continued that pattern all the way up. 

Start the next row

Once I got to the top, I did a half-inch stitch to start the next row. 

Continue stitching in the opposite direction

Then I went back the way I came by inserting my needle an eighth of an inch away from the stitch below it, coming out a quarter-inch away, and continuing on in that same pattern. As you go, it’s helpful to curve the fabric to shape it. I wasn’t so successful with this, but if you keep practicing, you’ll probably get it.

Cut the circle in half

Cut the circle to create two shoulder pads 

Once you’ve pad-stitched both sides, cut the circle down the middle, and you’ll have a pair of shoulder pads. 

Mark where to cut

Mark the t-shirt

I took my men’s white t-shirt and marked where I wanted to shorten it and where I wanted to place the shoulder pads. 

White muscle shirt

Cut fabric for casing

Make a casing for the shoulder pads

With the hem excess, I traced out my shoulder pad to create a casing. I sewed these right sides together and encased the shoulder pads. 

Padded muscle shirt

I sewed closely around it and trimmed it off later. 

How to make a muscle shirt

Cut the shape for the sleeves

At first, I cut out the shape of the shoulder pad and half an inch along the underarm. But I straightened the rounded edge after trying it on because it kind of messed with the drape. 

Sew the raw edges

Sew down the raw edges of the underarm

I folded the raw edges of the underarm inward and sewed them down. 

Muscle shirt tutorial

Straighten out the sleeve area

Then I went back in and cut the sleeve area straight.

Pin the shoulder pads in place

Pin and sew the shoulder pads in place

Next, with the t-shirt inside out, I pinned the shoulder pads along the shoulder line and hand-stitched it in place.

Stitch the sleeve to the shoulder pad

Stitch a segment of the sleeve to the shoulder pad

Then I folded back the sleeve and stitched a two-inch-wide center segment to the shoulder pad.


Muscle fit t-shirt

Hem the bottom edge

Hem the bottom edge of the shirt

To finish, I re-hemmed it.

DIY muscle shirt

And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my guidelines for how to make a power shoulder t-shirt. Let me know what you think of my 80’s nostalgia muscle shirt tutorial. 

Suggested materials:
  • Cotton batting
  • White cotton t-shirt
  • Cotton muslin fabric
See all materials

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Join the conversation
2 of 3 comments
  • Susan Susan on Apr 05, 2021

    I love the style here with giant shoulder pads! Very cool. The way the pleats come down from turning the material under in front is very classy looking. I also really really enjoyed the video, too funny. Very entertaining.

  • Leslie Leslie on Apr 06, 2021

    You did a good job on transforming your T-Shirt with shoulder pads. The T-shirt and the size you made your pads looks great. The one and most important thing to remember about the pads is to make sure that how large and how much you stuff them can make a person look like a linebacker, and you don't want that. I remember the 80's fashion fondly and when I made my clothes I was VERY aware that the look of padded shoulders could either make or break the look. Well done :)