Upcycling – the new way to a new wardrobe?

Sewing equipment laid out on a green and white fabric

It’s the predicament many of us have in our 40s: where can I find stylish clothes that helps me stand out from the crowd?

Sewing equipment laid out on a great and white fabricThe surge in demand for all things vintage, including clothing, means that finding unique pieces is a lot easier these days.

But have you considered upcycling to refresh your wardrobe?

Upcycling or repurposing clothes and accessories is very fashionable at the moment and it adds to your green credentials, too.

Before you say “But I can’t even sew a button!” there are plenty of easy ideas for repurposing an old t-shirt without needing to lay eyes on a needle and thread.

However, if you are handy with a sewing machine, and let’s face it, many of us have been bitten by The Great British Sewing Bee bug (nothing at all to do with the lovely Patrick Grant), you can satisfy your desire to be sartorially individual by enjoying your hobby and saving a few pennies at the same time.

What is upcycling?

Let’s start with clearing up the jargon. The dictionary definition of upcycling is ‘to convert discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original’.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 07.45OK, sometimes my efforts don’t always result in improving the quality of an item of clothing but I usually make it more ‘fit for purpose’.

Another way to describe turning a man’s dress shirt into a lovely, fitted short-sleeved blouse would be to ‘refashion’ it. These key words are all useful when you’re searching for ideas.

Finally, you may come across the word ‘repurpose’ – to change the function of something. Turning a t-shirt into a handy bag for shopping (without, I hasten to add, much effort) can be termed ‘repurposing’.

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So what else could you achieve by all this creativity?

‘No sew’ possibilities for those with or without sewing skills or access to a sewing machine include headbands and braided belts made out of old t-shirts, or necklaces made out of scraps of material.

Bolero made from a t-shirt

The Renegade Seamstress

I’ve even come across a tutorial for creating a no-sew bolero out of a t-shirt. All I’d say here is make sure you have a pair of dress-making scissors and can cut in a straight line (easier said than done when it comes to some fabrics).

If you’re a little shy when it comes to cutting anything, take some dye or bleach to an item or glam up a boring top by gluing a few sequins on. Have you ever tried covering a button? So satisfying.

If you have basic sewing skills you can convert a jumper into a short winter skirt or create an infinite number of infinity scarves.

Ever thought of turning a pair of tartan pyjama trousers into something you’d happily wear around your neck? Someone’s had the idea and it looks great!

For those of you more adept with a needle and thread there’s a multitude of levels you could go to. Something as simple as taking in the sides of a baggy top to make it more fitted might make it wearable again.

Then again you could take a man’s shirt, lop off the collar and sleeves, insert pintucks and darts to create a good fit and a bit of style, and maybe add a bit of pretty bias binding…

If you don’t fancy hacking away at your own wardrobe, as well as trawling charity shops for men’s shirts or big skirts and dresses made from great fabric, you can ask family members if they have anything lurking in the depths of their wardrobes.

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When I announced to my parents that I had really got into upcycling clothes, my dad excitedly proclaimed that he still hadn’t ditched all of his work shirts that he hasn’t worn since he retired!

All great for practising on even if I don’t end up wearing my experiment.

So where to look for inspiration?

My favourite place to research ideas is Pinterest. This online community of ‘pinners’ means great, visual ideas all in one place – photos of people wearing their creations, free tutorials and tips and links to the blogs of those for whom this is part of their daily routine (I wish).

The online shop Etsy has people selling their upcycled creations (change of career anyone?). Or simply putting keywords such as ‘upcycling clothes’, ‘refashion’ or ‘no sew’ into your favourite search engine will throw up some ideas.

I love the idea of creating a brand new wardrobe item for something that’s been neglected or discarded. I feel more individual and it’s so creatively satisfying. Did I mention it’s green too?

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About Helen Leach

A busy, hypothyroid mum of two living in Nottingham, I love fabric, sewing and upcycling clothes. I also work as a freelance information professional in the careers sector - professional name Helen Janota.