Tag Archives: upcycling

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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Frankenstein Clothing

I hate throwing anything away – not if there’s any possible use it can be put to. Where I can, clothing that no longer works for me gets sent to charity shops. However, worn out, damaged, stained items have no re-sale value. So, finding re-uses for dead clothing is an ongoing issue, answered by rag rugs, rag baskets, and the like – these are traditional solutions to squeezing the last bit of mileage out of fabric.

I got in to Frankenstein clothing in my teens. I can sort-of sew – I don’t like sewing machines. But, my ability to think in 3D is lousy. Clothes making from scratch requires things I don’t have – flat space where you can cut cloth without being compromised by a cat would be useful, and I’ve not had that in a very long time. Working on the floor in the living room isn’t viable – I’ve tried. There aren’t patterns for the kinds of clothes I really, really want, and new bought fabric can be pricey.

What I’ve done for much of my life is to either pick up cheap second hand clothes, or up-cycle my own dead clothes to create something new, and weird, of my own imagining. Frankenstein clothes are often made of the dead remnants of other items – hence my name for it. It’s cheaper than making from scratch, I feel safer about mistakes if what I was using was on the way out anyway. I’ve got the shape of the existing garment to help me.

Over the weekend I did over a pair of trousers. I’ve lost a fair amount of weight, so they didn’t fit very well, and the cat had pulled threads on one thigh. I took off the old waistband and made a new one, shortening the waist. I turned the garment inside out – hiding the cat damage, and cut the seams and re-sewed them to enable the reversal. Then, with assistance, I took the legs off just below the knees. I’ve elasticated the new hem, and added broiderie angalise (black).

What this gives me is something evocative of the Victorian knickerbockers. An echo of the kind of garment women swimming and cycling in an era where it wasn’t acceptable to uncover, tended to wear. This is a look I can use for steampunk escapades, but it’s also a garment I will wear for other activities. I don’t have the space to keep a steampunk wardrobe, it all has to be wearable in the rest of my life. I’ve always liked trousers that stop below the knee, and I’ve no qualms about going out in attire other people will find weird, ridiculous or bemusing.

Every piece of clothing I can Frankenstein into a second life reduces my need to buy and consume. I keep usable things out of landfill, I get to play, and I get to wear outrageous things of my own imagining despite not having the technical skills to make my own clothes from scratch.