Have you ever stared into the depths of your closet and thought: “I have absolutely nothing to wear?”
If your normal inclination is to dejectedly sift through what you already have, it turns out that there is a better way — and it doesn’t involve buying anything new. Enter the world of upcycling.
Here’s how to upcycle clothing and give yourself a whole new(ish) wardrobe.
First, What is Upcycling?
The term ‘upcycling’ comes from the idea of recycling an old item, but with a twist. Upcycling is not just reusing something, but tweaking that item to make it better than before.
An upcycled garment often bears little resemblance to its former state. Take Colorado-based designer Maggie Henricks of Create Good Company. She crafts boyfriend skirts out of men’s dress shirts. With patterns ranging from plaid and polka dots to bright Hawaiian florals, Henricks’ designs make for an interesting cross between masculine and feminine fashion norms.
Halima Garrett, who runs Threads of Habit out of New Jersey, got into upcycling by way of her love of vintage clothing. Garrett had amassed so much clothing over the years that she simply didn’t know what to do with it all. Finally, she decided the best option was to rework some pieces.
Even though she calls her sewing skills “basic,” Garrett was able to make wrap pants out of a vintage skirt and estate sale fabric. In fact, her website boasts an entire lingerie collection — each reworked piece contains at least one vintage lingerie item.
Here’s the best part about upcycling: your clothing will be one of a kind. And if you want to give a friend an inexpensive gift that they’ll cherish, upcycling an item for them is a great idea. You don’t even need to have a sewing machine, and all of these DIY projects can be done from your own home. There’s an exclusivity to it that might be enough to make even the least sewing-inclined person want to upcycle clothing.
For those of us who don’t want to sell our upcycled clothes but do want to wear them, Garrett and Henricks have some tips and tricks to take your grandmother’s nightgown — or whatever you want to redo — from frumpy to fancy.
1. Know What to Salvage and What to Cut Up.
If you’re working with vintage clothing or just old clothes in your closet, Garrett advises assessing what you’re cutting up before you take the scissors to your favorite jeans.
If an item has stains on the armpit or a hole that’s too big to mend, by all means, cut.
But if you’ve rescued a pre-1970s item from Goodwill’s bins and you want to preserve its original quality, it may be better to choose a different item to upcycle. The same goes for an item with sentimental value. Ask your mom — and yourself — before you cut up her old wedding dress.
2. Start Simple.
Garrett has proven that it’s possible to upcycle old clothes without the skills of an advanced seamstress. The easiest way to dip your toes into upcycled clothing is by starting small. Try cutting a pair of pants into shorts or cutting a long-sleeve shirt into a short-sleeve T-shirt.
3. Use Your Wardrobe as Inspiration.
Is there something in your closet that you absolutely love? Would you love to replicate it? That’s a great place to start when upcycling. Use the garment you love as a model for how you want another item to fit. Or if you like the color combination of an outfit, consider using that combination in an upcycled piece. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Another way to reimagine what you already have is looking at 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 into a two-piece set with a tank top and skirt. Are you sick of your old jeans but they still fit well? Try sewing on a patch of fabric to the knee.
4. Look at Your Old Clothes as Parts of a Whole, not as a Single Garment.
Henricks always thinks of any item as different pieces of fabric rather than a shirt, a skirt or a dress. That helps her to get inspiration.
Measuring the size of your garment can help to think of a way to creatively rework it. And if you don’t have enough to make something new out of one piece, think about combining multiple into one.
“It’s important to think away from what it is now,” says Henricks, “and focus more on the fabric and patterns that you have available in the material.”
5. Youtube Tutorials are Your Friend.
Youtube videos are usually the best place to start for any technical skill. Garrett recommends searching for tutorials on “no-sew upcycle” or “minimal sewing upcycle.”
The fact that videos under that designation exist shows that no-sewing upcycling is possible. Three of Garrett’s favorites are Angelina of BlueprintDIY, Mimi G Style and Shania O. Mason.
6. When Looking for Guidance, Be as Specific as Possible.
When looking at the piece you want to remake, think about what it is specifically that you want to change. Do you want to make the top or pants tighter? Do you want to put slits in a dress?
Once you have a tentative visual in mind, that makes it easier to search online for guidance. You can then find a specific tutorial in line with the exact alterations you want to make.
7. When You Find Your Niche, Stick With it.
Have success reworking one item? You don’t necessarily have to branch out. Stay there and see what else you can do within that framework.
Henricks is focused on the men’s dress shirts arena. And she has found inventive ways to upcycle different aspects: not only does she make boyfriend skirts from the shirts, but she also makes dog collars from the shirt collars and crop tops. She is a great example that finding your fashion lane and sticking to it can yield some of the most inventive and creative ideas.