Do you get tired of seeing articles that ask what you’re buying and what you’re throwing away at the start of each fashion season? Most of us can’t afford to buy a completely new set of outfits several times a year, and throwing clothes away is wasteful. What’s more, following fashion in this way leads to everybody looking the same. Up-cycling your older clothes can give you a whole new look that’s unique, with very little waste and a lot less expenditure.
Thirty years ago, almost everybody knew how to repair damaged clothes. The art of sewing has gradually been lost, and is only re-emerging now as a consequence of recession and excitement about programmes like The Great British Sewing Bee. If you’re a newcomer to it, it can seem like there’s an awful lot to learn, but take it step by step and you’ll find it’s not especially difficult. Most basic alterations and fixes only take ten minutes to learn and a few hours of practice to perfect.
Over the past 30 years, new technologies have emerged that make sewing even easier than it used to be. Most sewing machines can now produce a huge range of stitch types and some can sew things like buttonholes automatically (though you’ll have to set the size). Wonder-Web makes it easy to stick fabric where you might previously have needed stitches, and it can also be used to reinforce stitching.
Fitting for your changing figure
The most common reason people need to alter their clothes is to take account of their changing proportions over time. There are a number of little tricks that are effective for resizing garments.
- Getting bigger – Adjust waistbands by stitching a suitable length of stiff ribbon with a buttonhole in it in place of an existing buttonhole. Adjust dresses with zips in the back by replacing those zips with eyelets on both sides, so the dress can be laced up. Insert panels of contrasting fabric in place of strained seams on shirts, skirts and trousers. If shirts are tight across the back, take out any darts and simply wear them open over vests, t-shirts or dresses.
- Getting thinner – Simple darts are great for taking in shoulders and waistlines, but they can be a bit tricky to get right, so practice first on scraps. If you have an old skirt that’s much too big, consider running elastic through the waistband so you can make it tighter but adjustable – always use the broadest piece of elastic that will fit, as a narrow band will dig into you uncomfortably. If you need to shorten trousers, roll the bottoms inwards to create a new hem – remember to measure first so you do them evenly. Where possible, tack clothes into their new shape and then try them on before making permanent changes.
Although there are a few things you can do with just a needle and thread, if you’re serious about this you’re really going to need a decent sewing machine, a number of spools of thread, a tape measure, tailor’s chalk (for marking before you cut), good scissors, a variety of needles, pins, a quick unpicker, and lots of bits and pieces like buttons and zips. Buying all this at once can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to look on http://www.for-sale.co.uk and ask around your friends and relatives to source things second-hand.
One garment to another
If you love the fabric in a particular garment but are bored of it in its current form, you may be able to rework it into something else. This can begin with simple things like cutting the arms off t-shirts or hacking down jeans to make them into shorts. It’s easy to create a waistcoat from an old shirt and use lacing or an adjustable band to tighten it up at the back if necessary. There’s often enough material in a skirt to make a simple top, while patterned tights with the feet cut off and the crotch cut out make striking mesh tops for wearing under things (they’re also great insulation if worn under jumpers in winter). When you switch garment types like this, the most important things to think about are the texture of the fabric and how it will hang.
Uses for leftovers
When you’re up-cycling clothes, nothing needs to be wasted. Even the smallest scraps can be saved for stuffing cushions. Other odd bits of fabric can be used as patches to brace garments from the inside where you’ve mended a rip or a split seam, or can be used to make patchwork skirts or quilt covers. Always save oddments of lace or ribbon, and hoard your old buttons, as you may find uses for them elsewhere. It’s easy to make a plain garment look more exciting through the judicious application of bits and pieces like this.
Social sewing and swaps
Reinventing your wardrobe is much more fun if you have people to show it off to, and it’s also fun to share the creative process, so why not organise sewing meets with your friends? They’re a great chance to exchange hints and tips and talk about your new ideas and discoveries. If you find the designing bug bites you, they’ll also give you a wider range of body types for which to design.
Alongside sewing meets, consider getting together with your friends for clothing swaps. You may find garments you love just as they are and you’ll certainly find things that spark your imagination.
Where to learn more
Although you may no longer be able to learn the skills from your parents that they might have learned from theirs, in terms of the availability of tutorials there has never been a better time to learn to sew. Websites like Sew Can She and So Sew Easy provide fantastic beginner-level advice on all sorts of useful techniques – all you have to do is watch, read and practice!
In 2012, over 14 million tons of textiles were sent to landfill. That’s something we can put an end to. Up-cycling your clothes is fun, easy, good for you and good for the planet.
Sewing items photo from Shutterstock