Here’s a less-than-glamorous truth: I’ve been in a bit of a pinch, money-wise. Quitting one’s job and buying a house are two things that do not combine well at all. Luckily, it turns out necessity is the mother of invention. I can’t very well stop sewing, so I’ve just had to be creative about cutting costs. Enter the upcycling rage: turning something old into something new is cheap, fun, and eco-friendly to boot. What’s not to like?!
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about successful upcycling, summed up in a neat little list for your convenience.
- Buy old, not vintage. You wouldn’t want to cut into a good vintage piece anyway, but there’s also price to consider. The biggest thrill of upcycling, for me, is to find an unflattering, dirt cheap piece of clothing that I can give a second life as something I will actually wear. Big challenge, low cost is how I like it.
- Contrary to everything I believe and adhere to when shopping for fabric, when it comes to upcycling: don’t think. Follow your gut. You don’t have to see exactly what you can make out of your find when you pick it up. Take it home and let it inspire you.
- Look for quality of fabric rather than quality of construction. As a seamstress, I get turned off very quickly by badly constructed clothing and won’t take a second look at it on the rack. Try to see the fabric of your vintage item as it would look on the bolt.
- Beware of synthetics. A lot of vintage clothing, especially from the 60s and 80s, is made of polyester or acrylic fabrics. If you like that sort of thing, go for it, but be aware that fabrics of mysterious composition can behave unexpectedly as you’re cutting, sewing and pressing.
- Be bold. Where’s the fun in simply taking a skirt in at the side seams when you can turn it into a top, a pair of shorts, or a funny hat if you’re so inclined? The sky is the limit – or rather, the amount of fabric in the item you’re about to refashion. Look for things like oversized dresses or pleated skirts: that way you’ll have plenty of fabric to work with.
- You’ll probably be working with a lot less yardage than you’re used to, so don’t be afraid of cutting some corners. For the top shown above, I used the side seams for my center front and back and never even touched the hem, saving time and fabric. Less unpicking = win!
These are just a few of the things I learned as I went along. What’s great about this method is that you’re spending so little that you don’t have to worry about ruining your fabric. Worst case, after a failed upcycling project you still end up with some scraps for pocketing and maybe a zipper for your stash. So what about you? Would you try upcycling old clothes? Or do you perhaps have some upcycling wisdom of your own to share?