Playing with clothes

Somewhere in my teens I figured out that I could take a scissors and needle to the clothes available to me and make them more to my liking. At seventeen I bought a new – entirely new to me – dress for the first time in my life and it was a memorable moment. I’ve never wanted to be fashionable. I’ve spent most of my life not trying to dress in a way anyone would find sexy. But I do like clothes and I like dressing up.

The fashion industry is wasteful, polluting and planet damaging. I’ve also never really understood why anyone would want mass produced clothes that you leave you looking bland and identical. For me, one of the great joys in upcycling and making from scratch is that most of what I have is unique.

I do buy new things – sometimes because I need clothes that do a specific job and I can’t afford to wait for them to show up second hand. As I walk for transport, I need robust and weather-appropriate attire. When items of clothing die, I do my best to re-invent them, or take what bits are still in good condition and turn them into something else. I have a lot of fun doing this, and it is the principle source of unique clothing in my possession.

In the last week or so, I’ve taken usable fabric from four shirts that where worn out, stained or damaged and could not be worn as they were. I have five items of clothing from these – radically different to what went before. To achieve this, I bought two meters of broidery anglais and half a meter of stiffening fabric – it has a name and I can’t remember it! The principle damage to two shirts was below the armpit, leading to two sleeveless tops, the sleeves from one top being used to replace sleeves on another top, where the cuffs were worn out. The other set of removed sleeves went into making a hat. Salvageable bits of sleeve from the dead-sleeve shirt went into widening the bust on the last shirt (not originally mine). I was, I admit, rather pleased with myself.

I needed some additional wardrobe items for one of the jobs I’m doing. I’ve saved myself a lot of money by working over items that were free. I look a touch eccentric, and I like that, and I’ve put far less in the bin than I would otherwise have done. The clothes I have created aren’t exactly smart, but they will do.

One of the great things about taking a scissors to an unusable item of clothing, is that the pressure is off. As it stands, the item is only fit for the bin or recycling. If you get it wrong, you can still do that. If you get it right, and can get a few extra wears even, you’ve won. It’s safe enough to play and experiment. I do sometimes buy extras to lift an upcycled item, but I only do that when I’m sure it’s going to work. It’s not necessary, often, so aside from the cost of the thread and needles, there’s very little outlay. You can get a lot of upcycling out of a reel of thread. You can get a lot of fun out of the remaking – so it can double as a low cost hobby and way to amuse yourself.

If you can’t sew – it’s not that hard and youtube has tons of tutorials. Your otherwise ruined and unwearable clothes are great to practice on as you build skills.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Playing with clothes

  • juliebond

    The stiffening fabric could be vilene. Useful stuff!

  • Donnalee

    I love the idea of refashioning clothes and follow a ton of blogs that started with that theme. I seldom get around to doing it myself yet, due to health, but I have buckets of old clothes, my own personal clothing from my younger years, and that’s enough to dress me for the rest of my life, however long it might last. Having a tarot office in Woodstock NY keeps me downtown a lot, and people do indeed still wear all kinds of hippie clothes, new and old, tourists included.

  • Ryan Cronin

    I’m still working on getting over my general fear-of-what-others-think that led to me wearing clothes I hate in order to hide. But I’m working on it, and starting to buy better quality and natural fabrics that will last longer and can be fixed if they wear out, rather than “cheap” stuff that falls apart in a year.

  • dapplegrey

    I want to see the hat. I really really want to see all these garments, but the hat-of-sleeves is most intriguing. Great post.

    • Nimue Brown

      It looks pretty tame – its a cap with a small brim now, no evidence of previous sleeve-hood remaining!

      • dapplegrey

        Ah. It lives large in my imagination, perhaps because I remember you writing about poke bonnets and I think I wondered if the sleeves had transmigrified into something gloriously steam-punk – of which I know you to be more than capable. How lovely though, a cap with a small brim. I love repurposing!

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