Have you ever stared into the depths of your closet and thought, “I have absolutely nothing to wear?”
If your normal inclination is to sift through what you already have downcast, it turns out that there is a better way – and it’s not about buying something new. Enter the world of upcycling.
Here you can find out how you can upcycle clothes and give yourself a whole new (ish) wardrobe.
What is upcycling?
The term “upcycling” comes from the idea of recycling an old item, but with a twist. Upcycling isn’t just about reusing something, it’s about optimizing it to make it better than before.
An upcycled garment often bears little resemblance to its previous state. Take Colorado-based designer Maggie Henricks of Create Good Company. She makes boyfriend skirts from men’s shirts. With patterns from plaid and polka dots to bright Hawaiian floral patterns, Henrick’s designs create an interesting mix of masculine and feminine fashion standards.
Halima Garrett, who runs Thread of Habit out of New Jersey, got into upcycling because of her love for vintage clothing. Garrett had piled up so much clothing over the years that she just didn’t know what to do with them. Eventually, she decided that the best option was to revise some parts.
Despite describing her sewing skills as “basic,” Garrett was able to create wrap pants from a vintage skirt and estate sale fabric. In fact, their website features an entire lingerie collection – each remastered piece includes at least one vintage lingerie item.
The best thing about upcycling: your clothes will be unique. And if you want to give a friend an inexpensive gift that they will appreciate, upcycling an item is a great idea for them. You don’t even need a sewing machine, and all of these DIY projects can be done from home. There is an exclusivity that might be enough to get even the person with the slightest touch to upgrade clothes.
For those of us who don’t want to sell our upcycled clothing but rather wear it, Garrett and Henricks have a few tips and tricks to take your grandmother’s nightgown – or whatever you’d like to repeat – from grumpy to chic.
1. Know what to save and what to cut up.
If you’re working with vintage clothes or just old clothes in your closet, Garrett recommends evaluating what you’re cutting up before you bring the scissors to your favorite pair of jeans.
If an item has stains on the armpit or a hole too big to fix, be sure to cut it.
However, if you’ve salvaged an item from before the 1970’s from Goodwill’s bins and want to keep its original quality, it may be better to choose a different item for upcycling. The same applies to an item of sentimental value. Ask your mom – and yourself – before cutting up her old wedding dress.
2. Start Simple.
Garrett has proven that it is possible to upgrade old clothing without the skills of an advanced seamstress. The easiest way to dip your toes in upcycled clothing is to start small. Cut a pair of pants into shorts or a long-sleeved shirt into a short-sleeved T-shirt.
3. Use your wardrobe for inspiration.
Is there something in your closet that you absolutely love? Would you like to replicate it? This is a great place to start upcycling. Use the garment you love as a model for how another item should fit. Or if you like the color combination of an outfit, consider using that combination in an upcycling item. After all, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
Another way to reimagine what you already have is to check out what something could be if it were a different type of garment. Do you love the fabric of a dress but hate the fit? Make it a two piece set with a tank top and skirt. Tired of your old jeans but they still fit nicely? Try sewing a piece of fabric down to your knee.
4. Think of your old clothes as part of a whole, not as a single item of clothing.
Henricks always regards every object as a different piece of cloth than a shirt, skirt or dress. This helps her to be inspired.
Measuring the size of your garment can help find a way to creatively rework it. And if you don’t have enough to make something new out of one piece, consider combining several into one.
“It’s important to think away from what it is now,” says Henricks, “and focus more on the fabric and the patterns that you have in the material.”
5. Youtube tutorials are your friend.
Youtube videos are usually the best starting point for technical skills. Garrett recommends looking for tutorials on “No-Sew Upcycle” or “Minimal Sew Upcycle”.
The fact that videos exist under this name shows that upcycling is impossible without sewing. Three of Garrett’s favorites are Angelina from BlueprintDIY, Mimi G Style, and Shania O. Mason.
6. Be as specific as possible when looking for instructions.
As you look at the piece you want to recreate, think about what specifically you want to change. Would you like to make the top or pants tighter? Would you like to put slits in a dress?
Once you have a preliminary picture in mind, it’s easier to search for instructions online. You can then find a specific tutorial that exactly matches the changes you want to make.
7. When you find your niche, stick with it.
Do you have success revising an article? You don’t necessarily have to branch out. Stay there and see what else you can do in this framework.
Henricks focuses on the men’s shirt arena. And she has found inventive ways to improve various aspects: She not only makes boyfriend skirts out of shirts, but also dog collars out of shirt collars and crop tops. She is a great example of how finding and sticking to your fashion path can produce some of the most inventive and creative ideas.