zero waste

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12 Ways to Recycle & Refashion Used Clothing & Textiles

12 Ways to Recycle & Refashion Used Clothing & Textiles, the artyologist

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:

12 Ways to Recycle & Refashion Used Clothing & Textiles, the artyologist, covering buttons

  1.  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.

12 Ways to Recycle & Refashion Used Clothing & Textiles, the artyologist, purse alteration

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.

12 Ways to Recycle & Refashion Used Clothing & Textiles, the artyologist, pillows out of scraps

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!

12 Ways to Recycle & Refashion Used Clothing & Textiles, the artyologist, bags out of scraps

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.

grevillea beret, side, the artyologist

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.

wardrobe-spice, canadian home journal, the artyologist

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!)

The Big Reveal: The Refashioners 2016 and Gertie's Butterick, another portrait, the artyologist

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.

12 Ways to Recycle & Refashion Used Clothing & Textiles, the artyologist, creative hands

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.

Refashioning a 1980's dress into a 1940's pinafore the artyologist

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.

the entirely repurposed and almost vintage skirt the artyologist

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. 

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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?

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka: Recent Thrift Finds)

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist

This year, Fashion Revolution has suggested several ways to get involved, one of which is sharing a fashion “Haulternative” . The purpose behind the fashion haulternative is to encourage people to find ways to refresh their closet, other than buying new clothes. Today I am sharing a combination of their ideas: Broken but beautiful, 2hand, Vintage, Fashion fix (mended), Swapped and Slow fashion. 

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I always love a good thrift haul, don’t you? I am always surprised by what people get rid of- and am so happy that they do! One person’s trash really is another persons treasure. So, in honour of Fashion Revolution week, here are some of my recent thrifting finds, or should I say, haulternative, and ways in which I plan to refresh my wardrobe without buying new. 🙂

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, fur coat

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, fur-detail

First up might be my favourite find of all time: this gorgeous cropped grey persian lamb fur coat. My sister spotted it for me, and I was seriously having a “start the car” moment! I got it in February, but I have still had a few chances to wear it before putting it away for Spring. (Well Spring is an illusion lately- so maybe I will get lots of chances to wear it before Summer arrives!) I don’t have too many grey tones in my wardrobe, but I do have plenty of navy, which this pairs well with, and the grey has a bit of warm tone to it, so I think it might pair OK with browns too. I am working on creating a more cohesive wardrobe, and I think this coat will fit in well.

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, bedjacket

Next is this adorable little bed jacket. Now when I lounge in bed reading magazines and eating breakfast on a fancy tray, I will be all set. Now if I can just get someone to bring me breakfast in bed. . . . 😉

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, velvet skirt

This velvet skirt is an interesting one. I promise you that is a velvet skirt hanging on the wall- not a skirt shaped black abyss (do you know how hard it is to photograph black velvet!!??!!) This box pleated skirt was missing a button, but I thought- no problem to fix that, so I got it. I replaced the button, and then went to wear it on a Sunday morning. As we were headed out the door, I noticed a thread hanging from the hem, so I went to trim it- only to notice that a piece was chopped out of the hem! I have no idea why the previous owner did this- and it is even funnier that I didn’t notice it before. Well, because it is velvet, you can’t tell from the front, but obviously I will mend it. The skirt has room to be hemmed up an inch or so, so it won’t cause any problems. But, it is still so odd; who thinks, “I need a small scrap of velvet. . .  oh I know! I’ll cut it out of my hem!” ??? The joys of thrifting 🙂 I think that this skirt will work well with plenty of items in my current closet, so it was a rather good and versatile purchase.

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, belt

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, belt-detail

Next up is this cute little metal belt with an interesting clasp. I haven’t worn this one yet- but I’m sure I will find a use for it. Accessories are such a great way of changing up your wardrobe without getting all new outfits. You can completely change the look of an ensemble, just by switching out the accessories. I love adding belts to an outfit to add both an interesting detail, as well as helping to create that 1950’s silhouette.

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, skirts-to-upcycle

Now this is a project. I know I said I hate buying thrifting projects, but it is an addiction or something. I do have a plan for these though, so it’s OK right? Both of these skirts are rayon, and they work well together- in a clashing/quirky kind of way. I want to turn them into some kind of sundress or playsuit combination, using the dark fabric for a top, and the light fabric for a skirt. I don’t have a defined plan of action yet, but if it ever stops snowing, it would be nice to have some more summer outfits, so I’d better get cracking on it! Even though I don’t particularly love refashioning, I do love diverting textiles from the landfill, so I am excited about this project. I will try to remember to take photos this time, of my process for making it- and then create a blog post for sometime in the future.

These next few items were from a clothing swap. I do love a good clothing swap, as it’s basically a free way to get some fun new items for your wardrobe.

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, white top

This white eyelet top kind of reminds me of a Victorian/Edwardian style corset cover, when it’s tucked in. I think it will be nice for the hot summer days too.

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, leopard sweater

I love leopard print, but surprisingly I don’t own very much of it. I think that this cotton sweater will be a nice neutral for Fall and Winter. I like the colour combination of this one, and the way it looks tucked into a simple black skirt. I hope to be able to style it with a 40’s/50’s secretary sort of vibe.

Fashion Revolution Haulternative (aka Thrift Finds) the artyologist, scarves

Lastly here are some scarves- I love scarves! Especially since I started tying them as turbans. The one with the beaded piece makes an interesting sort of 20’s style turban (picture of that here). I haven’t tried the coral or green scarves yet. You might be able to see that the bottom of the coral scarf is faded. I think it was factory folded, and never used and unfolded, as it was perfectly faded in a square and around the edges! I got this scarf for free, so it doesn’t bother me, and as I will always be tying it, it will be hardly noticeable.

Well. There are my recent thrifting finds. Some of these are a bit out of season, so they probably won’t be making it into outfit posts until next season, but I wanted to share them now anyways.

Have you had any good thrift finds lately? What ways do you like to refresh your wardrobe, without resorting to buying new clothes all the time? Are you planning on taking part in the Fashion Revolution Haulternative?

Hints to Help You Make Do and Mend

Hints To Help You Make Do and Mend, the artyologist

October is Slow Fashion and Fair Trade month, and although I haven’t taken part until now, I didn’t want to let the month pass without contributing my voice to the discussion going on around the internet. When I originally planned to write this post, I thought that this week’s prompt was “long worn”. Apparently I got my weeks mixed up though, as this week’s prompt is actually “handmade”. Oops. Well, I guess this post will not only be long worn, but long overdue as well. 😉 The term “long worn” refers to the clothes that are already in existence, here on our planet, and how we can make the most of them. I thought that this would be a great time to share some of the garment care tips that I have picked up over the years, that will help to increase the longevity of your clothing, as well as including a few tips from the reprinted copy of Make Do and Mend that I purchased last year while in England. (I’d been wanting to get my hands on one for ages!)

Taking care of the clothes that you already own is a great first step to creating a conscious wardrobe, and there are so many simple things you can do to increase the life of your clothing. It is really only in the last 10-20 years that our society has drifted into a more “throwaway” attitude towards what we wear. Mending, altering, maintaining and preserving your clothing is actually a rather “vintage” way of looking at your closet, which is evidenced by the ingenuity of people during the Great Depression, and the rationing years of the Second World War (which is when the pamphlet Make Do and Mend was published). So, without further ado, here are some helpful hints for caring for your clothes, and some excerpts from the book Make Do and Mend. (excerpts are indicated by “italics“)

Wearing:

  • Wearing scarves when you wear a coat keeps the collar off of your neck, to keep it clean longer. Instead of having to continually wash your coat, you can simply wash the scarf instead.
  • Wearing slips, undershirts and underarm shields can help to keep your clothes cleaner for longer. We tend to wash our clothes more than is actually necessary, and constant washing shortens the life of your clothing. By extending the period of time between washes, you can significantly increase the life of your garment. By keeping your skin away from direct contact with garments, especially delicate ones, they don’t soil so quickly. Just make sure to remove the shields before putting away your garments
  • It is best to wear clothes in turn, as a rest does them good. Shoes too are better for not being worn day after day.” This gives them a rest, and a chance to completely dry out. It is also better for your feet, as it prevents them from rubbing too much in one spot etc.
  • “Always change into old things, if you can, in the house, and give the clothes you have just taken off an airing before putting them away.” 

Hints to Help You Make Do and Mend, the artyologist, essential tools

Storing:

  • If you are going to be storing a garment for any length of time, such as off season coats, it is nice to cover them with a garment bag, so they don’t collect dust and dirt while in storage. That way, when it comes time to wear them again, you won’t need to clean them first.
  • Hang delicate garments on padded hangers to protect the shoulders from stretching out of shape. “A hanger that is too narrow will ruin the shape of the shoulder and may even make a hole.” It is also a good practice to store clothing off of hangers, as hanging garments long-term can distort them.
  • “Do up all fastenings before hanging clothes. This helps them to keep their shape. And see that the shoulders are even on the hangers and not falling off one side.”
  • “Put away clothes in the condition in which you will want to wear them when you take them out again. Make quite sure they are absolutely clean; dirt attracts clothes’ moths.” (And who wants to wash clothes first thing when you take them out again?)

Cleaning:

  • Deal with stains and spills right away. Taking a few moments to wash out a stain as soon after it happens as possible, is much better than waiting until you do laundry only to find that the stain won’t wash out.
  • If a garment is not dirty enough to need a washing, you can deodorize by using vodka. This is a practice that is still used today in theatre costumes (according to my friend who is an actress). For a garment such as a blazer or a delicate item, which is not easily washed, simply turn the garment inside out, spritz the inside (especially the underarms) with vodka, and then leave until dry. This neutralizes any odours, and keeps your garments smelling fresh without having to constantly wash them. (I suppose you could use rum instead of vodka, but then you might smell like a pirate! 🙂 Don’t worry, the vodka leaves no scent, so you won’t smell like alcohol.)
  • Washing your clothes in a delicate, cold wash, is easier on them than hot water. Also, air drying your clothes, rather than putting them through the dryer, extends their life. This is especially true for knits (such as t-shirts, sweaters, or jeans with Lycra in them.) Dryers are extremely hard on stretch fabrics.
  • It is better to hand wash your sweaters, so they don’t stretch out of shape. Use a gentle soap, rinse, and then lay them flat to dry. By hand washing your knits, you will help to avoid the dreaded pilled sweater! Putting your sweaters through the washing machine, even on a delicate cycle, leads to pilling. Although you can fix (some) pilling, it is easier to just avoid it in the first place.

Hints to Help You Make Do and Mend, the artyologist, tools for mending

Mending:

  • Fix places where seams or hems have come undone, or buttons are loose. It is so much easier to fix right away, than waiting until it turns into a much bigger problem. “Watch for thin places, especially in the elbows of dresses, seams of trousers, heels of socks and stockings. Reinforce a thin spot with a light patch on the inside. Choose material that is strong but rather lighter in weight than the original material. Scraps of net darned lightly inside thin heels of stockings make an excellent repair. If you have to patch or darn and have no matching material or thread, sacrifice a collar, belt or pocket if it is merely ornamental, or unravel a thread from the seam. You could unravel the pocket of a knitted garment to provide thread for a darn, and a patch made from a matching belt may save a frock from the bits and pieces bag. You can replace the belt with one of contrasting colour.”
  • “Always carry a needle and cotton and mending silk with you- this will save many a ladder in stockings or prevent the loss of buttons; your friends will thank you too. How many times have you heard someone say, “Has anyone got a needle and cotton?”
  • Take care of the pills on your knits with a sweater shaver. Nothing looks nastier, and cheaper, than a pilled sweater! It is amazing what a shaver can do for making things look fresh. One of the winter coats I got from a coworker came to me in terrible condition (it looked as though she had thrown it through the wash) and I wasn’t sure if it could be saved, but I used a sweater comb, and now the wool looks brand new!
  • Keeping your leather shoes and purses polished, and hydrated with a conditioner of some sort, will keep them from cracking and drying out. Also, they just look nicer. And, of course, if your shoes are past the point where you can do anything with them, take them to the cobbler. Those people work magic! I have had many a pair that I thought were gonners, and they have brought them back to life.

So, there are my tips and tricks for keeping your wardrobe spic-and-span! Would you like to hear more tips from the Make Do and Mend pamphlet? And do you have any garment care tips of your own? Do share!

Let’s Talk About Refashioning

let's talk about refashioning, the artyologist

Refashioning. Recycling. Upcyling . . .

What exciting words full of promise and possibility! Here is the chance to turn something old, ugly and unusable into something new, special, creative, and, well . . . useable.

I wholeheartedly agree with all of these sentiments, as refashioning is such a great idea. It’s eco friendly by using something that would otherwise be thrown out, and instead of letting it become end-of-life, rescuing it and transforming it into something better. Refashioning saves existing textiles by recycling them, so that the garments are kept out of the landfill. Someday it is my goal to be zero-waste, so it totally makes sense that I would be completely into refashioning. And yet. . .  I have a confession to make. . . I don’t really love refashioning garments. I hate altering things, and I love cutting into brand new fabric. To be completely honest, I just don’t enjoy the process of upcycling, as much as I love the idea of it.

On the surface it sounds so great- take something that is old and useless and transform it into something good again. Our thrift shops today are overrun with used, ugly, or cheap clothes. They are full of garments from the 80’s and 90’s, that were never cool and definitely won’t ever be again. There are clothes that are ruined because they are either stained or ripped, and are only good for rags, but if something can’t even be used for a rag, what happens to it then? All that is left is for it to be thrown away as an end-of-life textile.

I don’t know why people don’t talk about it more often, (maybe it hits just a little too close to home) but the fashion industry is the second largest contributor of pollution on earth. That’s right: the second largest in the world, behind only the oil industry. I don’t know about you, but when I think of things that are damaging to the environment, I think of, yes the oil industry, but also things like, clear cut logging, or chemicals in farming practices. I don’t think about the innocent t-shirt hanging in my closet.

While we hear a lot about the impact the oil industry has, we hear hardly anything about what the fashion industry is doing to destroy our planet. The fashion industry is full of synthetic dyes and chemicals, abundant water usage and waste, and airborne pollution to name just a few. Not only are the chemicals, water usage and pollution bad enough, but many of the cheap garments being manufactured today are made from fabrics like polyester blends, that cannot be recycled, do not biodegrade, and are so poor in quality that they wear out and are almost immediately thrown out, contributing to landfill waste.

I get depressed just thinking about it all.

This is where I start thinking- what can I do to put a dent in this endless cycle of waste? There are a few ways we can help to turn the fashion industry around, and one of those things is refashioning existing textiles. Because refashioning uses textiles that have already been produced and cast aside, they are no longer a harmful part of the fashion industry cycle. By refashioning them you are giving them new life.

These are the inspiring things that I hear and tell myself, and so I decide that I am going to refashion! Instead of buying new fabric all the time, and continuously adding to my stash, I start buying fabrics and garments from the thrift stores that I can restyle and upcycle instead. I decide to join in challenges like the recent Refashioners challenge. I see a dress at the thrift store, and say to myself “This has potential. I’ll take this old thing and make something new out of it. If I just alter this, it will be perfect. If I just remove the sleeves, recut the hem, etc. then I can make this unusable thing useable again.” And I forget to take into account that a preloved garment, comes with predetermined issues.

Often the fabric is skewed or stretched over time. Sometimes I find snags or stains I didn’t notice before, or the fabric is unevenly faded and I have to make some strategic, emergency adjustments along the way. Often there isn’t enough fabric to make what I originally wanted to, so there is a lot of pattern hacking involved and changing plans midway. There are seams in odd places, and sometimes the seams have weakened the fabric, or left holes in it. Hours of frustration ensue in which I question everything, “Who made this ugly thing in the first place? Who sewed that seam crookedly, so now I can’t measure or cut where I want to? Why did they do this or that or the other? Why did I ever get the idea in my head to embark on this project????”

In short- what sometimes seems like such an easy and quick fix, is not. There are a whole host of problems with refashioning. But, nothing in life is easy, and sometimes the best things in life are a challenge to overcome, right? There are sometimes a whole host of problems that come along with sewing something brand new too.

So, after the hours, days, (weeks? months?) of my refashioning project, I put the final touches on the garment. It’s done, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I persevered through it all, sometimes with mixed results. But then I look at what it was before, and what it is now, and I feel that sense of accomplishment! I promise myself I’ll never do it again… but boy did that turn out great!

And then much to the consternation everyone around me, who is forced to listed to my agonizing over the project, I’ll invariably end up starting another refashioning project. Is it possible to hate something so much, and yet love it too? It really is so satisfying to be able to look at something that was once wasteful and is now a productive member of society again 🙂 Some of my favourite garments are ones that were refashioned. I love them, just like I love my vintage pieces, because they have history. They have a story behind them. And I put a lot of work into them even if, like my latest refashioning project, it wasn’t a beast to sew, I still invested the time and effort into it. But isn’t it true that we tend to love those things that we had to work for?

So, I hope that, even if you aren’t into refashioning, you will take some tiny steps too. Maybe it’s fixing that blouse where the seam came undone, or the button fell off, instead of tossing it out. (Or getting someone to mend it for you, if you can’t do it.) Maybe it’s seeking out garments that are made of recycled materials instead of new materials. Maybe it’s choosing to buy your clothes at the thrift store, even if you aren’t refashioning them. (There are, obviously, a lot of nice clothes in the thrift stores that require no refashioning- and I think my fellow vintage lovers will have this one down-pat. Wearing vintage is like the ultimate planet saving practice!) Maybe it is buying quality, timeless garments in the first place, so they don’t end up in the thrift stores, stretched out of shape, pilled and out of style within a year, destined for the landfill. Or, maybe it is a more ambitious project of refashioning an existing garment into something completely new. (And if that is the case, good luck, and you can look at this year’s Refashioners challenge for tons of inspiration!)

The bottom line is, if we each take some tiny steps, even if they seem rather insignificant on their own, then together we can make bigger difference. Sometimes it really can start with something as simple as refashioning an old pair of jeans into a retro top, rather than buying a new one. You’ve got to start somewhere, so it may as well be there, right?

What do you think of refashioning? Have you ever refashioned anything before? Do you have any other ideas for ways to help decrease the impact of the fashion industry on our world?