Today is the first day of Fashion Revolution Week 2018, so I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about ways to refashion and recycle old textiles- since textile waste is a huge problem in the fashion industry today. If you’re reading this and saying to yourself, “what on earth is Fashion Revolution?”, you can just click over here and read my post from last week which will get you up to speed, and then come back to this one once you know what’s what!
So, as I mentioned, textile waste is a huge problem facing us today as a result of the fast fashion industry. It is estimated that 10.5 million tons of clothing are sent to the landfill, in North America alone, and only 20% of textiles are recycled- with the other 80% being lost to the landfill or incineration. Of the textiles being thrown away, 70% of it is damaged, such as with stains, fading or shrinking- but even then, rather than being recycled, it is being thrown away. It is estimated that the fashion industry is the second largest polluter after only the oil industry. This is a rather abysmal track record, don’t you think?
A while ago I received a comment on my post about my Astra fur coat, where I was talking about how the vintage fabric is slowly wearing out. The lovely Mrs. Rat (of Mr. and Mrs. Rat Blog) said, “My favorite winter coat is going the same way—no matter how often I sew up the tears in the lining, they reappear somewhere else or next to the old ones. The exterior is also starting to look a little droopy and shabby up close. I don’t feel like I have any good way of knowing when a garment is ‘worn out,’ especially when it is one I am fond of. I also don’t feel like I really know what to do with a really worn piece of clothing except harvest the buttons for future sewing projects and feel guilty about throwing away the rest of it. Maybe that could be a good subject for a post for fashion revolution month? I always like to read what you write about ethical fashion and its practical dilemmas.“
Thank-you Mrs. Rat for leaving such a great comment! That was a wonderful idea for a post, and it really got me thinking! And so, for today, I am sharing a post dedicated to 12 ideas for “what on earth do you do with previously used textiles?!?” I’ve got links to some of my past refashioning projects, features on some small projects I’ve made in the past few years that wouldn’t be big enough to dedicate an entire post to, ways to mend old garments and several tips for what you can do with old clothing that isn’t in good enough condition to be donated as is, but also isn’t usable for much else either. Even though none of these projects are huge- every little bit, does truly help. If each person in North America chose to recycle or refashion just one garment each year, that would be 360 million garments diverted from the landfill! Here are 12 ways to do just that:
- If you have a garment that needs some mending; maybe a hole needs patching, or a button needs recovering, take a look at the hem or facings and see if you can steal some fabric to do your repair work. Last year, I found a 1960’s dress at the thrift store which desparately needed a washing, so I carefully soaked and washed it in the tub, and laid it flat to dry. Once it was dry, I realized that the buttons had reacted badly to being washed, and all of the buttons now had a yellowish/green tinge to them around the edges. You can see the colour difference in the above picture, left. I tried to dye them back to a nice shade of blue- but apparently this fabric is not actually wool, since the dye didn’t absorb! Fortunately the dress had a nice wide 4″ hem- common in vintage garments- and so I was able to cut a 2″ strip all the way around, re-hem the dress and then use the scrap of fabric to cover all of the buttons in new fabric.
2. If only part of a garment has worn out, see if it can be replaced with new fabric or hardware. For example, perhaps a collar or cuffs have worn through or gotten stained, and could be replaced with contrasting fabric. Jackets with leather patches on the elbows were trendy a few years ago- which is just what professors used to do with the worn out sleeves on their jackets. I bought this bag from SmartSet years ago, because I loved the combination of cognac leather and stripes. It proved to be an invaluable bag-especially for commuting to work, or as an overnight bag. About a year or two after getting it, the faux leather handles and pulls all started cracking and flaking to pieces. The bag was cheap quality to begin with- but I didn’t want to just get rid of it, so I instead decided to replace the original handles with leather ones. I searched the thrift stores, until I found a cognac coloured leather coat. I made sure to get one that was either damaged or wouldn’t be useful for any other purposes, so I wasn’t cutting up a perfectly good coat. The one I found had a company logo on it- so obviously no one was going to be wearing it second-hand! I removed all of the faux leather pieces from the bag- traced them onto the wrong side of the new leather, and then sewed all the new leather pieces onto the bag. The new leather has lasted about 5 years, and I still have several large pieces of leather left to use on other projects.
3. Lots of old garments can make great pillows- especially since they don’t require much fabric and are easy to sew. Two of these pillows were originally garments; the navy one was a short sleeved blouse that didn’t fit very well. It was such stiff fabric- and I loved the embroidery across it, so I couldn’t bear to get rid of it. Thus, it became a little pillow. The cream patterned pillow was a dress that no longer fit (and had also shrunk out of shape), which I then turned into a skirt- but it also didn’t fit well. I liked the fabric though- so I pieced it together into a square pillow. To make it more interesting, I did a chain stitch embroidery outline of the pattern for an added detail. The blue striped pillow was made out of a fabric remnant. With some strategic cutting and piecing, there was exactly enough to make this pillow, with no fabric waste left over!
4. Small projects such as tote bags or zippered pouches, can be made with small pieces of fabric. Here is an example where I am doing the opposite of tip #3- and am turning some pillows into a tote bag! I was hoping to finish it last week- but ran out of time, and so (on the right) you get a picture of the fabric pieces instead 😉 The khaki green fabric was originally a slipcover that got bleached by the sun, was turned into a pillow, and last week I decided I didn’t like it as a pillow anymore and so have turned it into the bottom of my bag. The gold and cream fabric is from some pillows I purchased a few years ago, but they no longer match my sofa and so I decided the fabric would be better as tote bag. I have not yet decided whether to make fabric handles, which will be good for laundering, or whether to make the bag a little bit more structural and add leather handles (made from the aforementioned coat). Another example of a bag that that is a bit more patchwork, is this 70’s inspired one, on the left, that I made quite a few years ago. I’m no good at quilting (as evidenced by the crooked patchwork pieces in this bag!), but even with rudimentary quilting skills, you can easily make a pieced bag.
5. Now to address Mrs. Rat’s dilemma with her coat: worn out garments often have pieces of fabric that are still useable for small projects- such as making hats! I tried out Tanith Rowan’s Grevillea Beret pattern earlier this year, and used some scraps I had leftover from making a cape. When I say scraps, I mean scraps: the fabric I used was only about 6″ wide, and I was still able to squeeze a hat out of it. In the Grevillea pattern, Tanith herself even recommends using an old coat, because even if some of the fabric is threadbare along the seams etc, there should be enough useable fabric to make a hat.
If a beret isn’t your style, how about getting a pattern like Vogue 7464? You could make any of these hats out of scraps of wool or other fabrics. There are lots of other vintage hat patterns out there, if none of these are your style, or check out Tanith Rowan’s blog as she often shares hatmaking tips.
If hats aren’t really your thing, you could also try making some “wardrobe spice” accessories such as gloves or a jabot out of the fabric (as long as it isn’t too scratchy!)
6. A past refashioning project, is this top made out of old jeans. Any pattern that has princess seams, or lots of piecing is great for making out of old textiles- as you can fit the pattern into narrow pieces of fabric. This top was actually the bodice of a dress pattern- Butterick 5882– which makes a great playsuit top, and was perfect for making out of old jeans- as the pieces are narrow.
7. Old garments are also wonderful for cutting down into new garments for children. Here are some tips from the 1970’s Creative hands books:
- Be sure that the fabric isn’t too worn to withstand the tougher wear a child will give it.
- Take the garment apart at the seams, and launder it, if it looks dirty. Sometimes when a garment has been taken apart, and the lining removed, the wrong side of the fabric looks brighter and fresher than the right side. Don’t hesitate to use the wrong side of a fabric if it appeals to you- it may even have a more interesting weave.
- Adult coats: Garments made of tweed, woven wool, jersey, man-made knits and weaves, velours, doeskin cloth and corduroy will make children’s coats, jackets, teenage girls’ skirts and vests, girls’ and boys’ trousers and snowsuits.
- Adult dresses: Garments made of woolens, jerseys, woven fabrics, man-made fibre fabrics, velvet needlecord, cottons, linens, etc. will make little girls’ dresses, skirts, boleros and sleeveless blouses, pants suits, shorts, and vests for both boys and girls. Knitwear will make pullovers, jumpers and romper suits for babies.
- A more satisfactory remake job will result if a pattern is chosen with the same number of pieces as the adult garment and in a fairly similar style. By following this simple rule, you will find that there is enough fabric of the right shape in the adult garment for a child’s garment.
8. A lot of those tips for cutting children’s clothing could be utilized to cut down larger sized adult garments, into smaller sized ones; for example a large men’s coat could be remade into a women’s coat, (like women did in the 1940’s during rationing) and even a women’s coat could be made into a new vest. This gingham pinafore I made a few years ago, was made out of an old dress which was several sizes too big for me. I completely recut the fabric and made a new garment out of it. If you have a garment with quite a lot of fabric- a long dress or skirt, for example, it is often perfect for cutting out an entirely new garment.
9. Old sheets make great fabric for projects! I made this skirt out of a vintage sheet- even though the project required some strategic cutting, since the sheet had been used as a dropcloth sometime in it’s past and had several paint stains on it. Vintage sheets are a great source of fabric for sewing projects, especially as most vintage sheets (at least fitted ones) don’t usually fit modern mattresses. This sheet wasn’t good for anything else- but I managed to get a new garment out of it. Vintage sheets are great for making test garments of new patterns, as they are relatively inexpensive and have a lot of fabric.
10. What do you do when you can’t refashion a garment/textiles? If a garment is ruined, such as with stains that won’t come out, or is threadbare along the seams, and it is 100% woven cotton, you could use it to make a quilt, or, if you don’t quilt, see if someone else would like it for quilting squares. Quilts originally were made with scraps, and as long as the fabric is not too worn out, it’s nice to get some free fabric. In the past, I made a lot of my dresses out of quilting cotton, and when I cut out my patterns, I saved all of the scraps, of a decent size, in order to use for future projects. I’ve got a suitcase full of fabric scraps, to make a quilt someday, and even though I’ll probably never actually make that quilt- it’s nice to have a stash of scraps to use for projects, such as the tote bags I mentioned earlier.
11. If a garment is completely worn out and it is 100% cotton, then remove the buttons and hardware and cut it up for rags. Instead of using paper towels or buying cloths, cut up old t-shirts and soft cottons to clean with. Soft t-shirt cottons work quite well for cleaning glass and mirrors as well as for dusting. As long as the majority of the fabric content is cotton or natural fibres, they work quite well. Synthetic fibres or blends don’t absorb liquids very well, although you can still use them for dusting, so avoid using them for cleaning rags.
12. After you have gone through all of these ideas, and still have a garment left- for example, old hoisery or a polyester blouse with snags on it- then the last thing you can do is remove the buttons or any other hardware, and send it to textile recycling. Although I don’t shop at H&M, they do have a textile recycling program, which our family has used several times. In many of their stores, they have a drop off bin for end of life textiles- you can find out more about that here. Our family recently dropped off 5 bags of textiles at one of their stores. (The man who was standing in line was so confused to see us walk into the store, throw 5 bags into the textile recycling bin, and then turn around and leave the store without stopping to buy anything!) All of the textiles we sent were end-of-life textiles, which meant the fabric was ruined, unable to be recycled into a future project, or was of some kind of synthetic fibre and couldn’t be used for rags. Their program accepts all unwanted textiles where it is sorted into three categories:
- Reworn- if it is in good condition
- Reused- for cleaning cloths
- Recycled- to be turned into textile fibres and used for insulation.
Edited on Jan-16-2024: In light of some recent discoveries, I would no longer recommend taking advantage of the H&M textile program. A Swedish newspaper discovered that many of the garments that are donated (they attached tracking devices) ended up in textile garbage dumps in the third world. You can read about that here. It’s unfortunate, since there isn’t another alternative I know of. What I would recommend doing now, is saving textiles to make new items yourself, like I did here. Other than that, end of life textiles might need to go to landfill, but I would prefer they are disposed of locally rather than travelling across the globe to be dumped there.
Well, those are the 12 ways I have used up old textiles. It is nice to be able to repurpose and refashion as much as you can, isn’t it? It always makes me think of the Depression era women, when I recycle old garments and textiles into new projects! I hope these ideas have helped you to figure out how you can reuse your garments, rather than simply sending them to the thrift shops or textile recycling programs.
What creative ways do you refashion and reuse old textiles? Have you tried any of these ideas before? Are you taking part in Fashion Revolution Week this year?