Take one pair of trousers and a little creativity, and what can you make? A cute little piped skirt and tunic that are so stinkin’ cute you’ll wish you’d done it earlier. Upcycling clothes is such a fun way to make good use out of all the things you no longer wear but still have great life left in them.
I used to worry about cutting into clothes. I mean, they’re a perfectly good pair of pants right? Well yes, except that they no longer fit and I have nowhere to wear them. So why not turn something I loved to wear (but no longer do) into something my girls can enjoy? So now when I’m ready to upcycle an item I like to do a couple of things to make the most of my item and make sure I get a great item out of something old. So here are the 9 tips for upcycling clothes that I’ve learned along the way!
Tips for Upcycling Clothing
- What do you like about it? Take this pair of pants for instance. I liked the fabric itself, but what I loved about them was the piping around the pockets, waistband, and down the legs. So I know when I upcycle this item that I want to maximize this feature and use it to my advantage. Does that mean a little extra work? Possibly. I did end up unpicking seams so I could use the piping in other places, but it was so worth the effort.
- What don’t you like about it? Sometimes figuring that out is just as helpful. Are the “long” sleeves a little too short? Shorten them and use the excess fabric elsewhere. Does it need to be longer? Slimmer? Often the things that are “wrong” with a piece of clothing are really an opportunity to make them into something you love.
- Are there enough usable pieces? These trousers had a nice wide leg and even though they weren’t a big size (I think they were a 6) they had lots of usable fabric that gave me flexibility. Had they been skinny pants, I wouldn’t have been able to do as much with them (meaning I could have made the skirt, but probably not the tunic as well).
- Can you salvage anything else from the item? Although I didn’t want to use the zipper from these pants in the skirt, I unpicked it anyway and set it aside. Then, when I was creating the tunic, I was able to add it to the back neckline.
- Don’t be afraid to improvise. Sometimes you have to get creative. Take this tunic, for example. The back is a solid a-line piece while the front has a yoke and gathered skirt. Why? One, because I like it. But two, because it required less fabric than a full gathered skirt. Mix and match pattern pieces to get what works for you.
- Find a pattern or design that works with your favorite elements of the piece. There’s no sense in fighting to make something work with a great pattern when it’s just better suited for another. Take this skirt for instance–the piped pockets reminded me of the Potato Chip Skirt I wrote about here, so it was a natural pattern pick for this upcycle. And I didn’t even have to cut out all the different pieces–just piece it from the existing pants!
- Reuse the best parts of the piece. Premade pockets? I’m in! Already hemmed cuff? Yes! Make upcycling clothes easier by reusing some of the features already inherent in the clothing. It saves you time and makes for some fun end results like using the waistband as a casing for the elastic waist and fun back welt pockets.
- Realize you’ll have to do things a little different. Upcycling clothes means less work but more creativity in the actual construction of the pieces. You’ll have to do things in different ways and in a different order, but it’s okay!
- Just have fun! At the beginning I mentioned I used to worry about upcycling clothes because “what if I ruin them?” The thing I’ve learned about sewing in general and upcycling specifically is you just have to jump in and try it. Think your project through before you cut, but don’t let fear stop you from creating!
So there are my 9 Tips for Upcycling Clothes. What other pieces of advice would you add?
Update: Check out this Pinstripe Dress post for the patterns and approximate cutting to remake the tunic above (which is a mash of a couple of patterns with my own twist).
How creative! You know I love a good repurposing project. I just wish I had your sewing skills! And your models are so precious.
Thank you, Susan. Repurposing is like a game to me–I enjoy seeing how I can reinvent something.
Love the outcome of your upcycling, especially the tunic! Did you use a particular pattern?
Thank you Nat! I did a mash-up of patterns actually. I’m updating the post with another project that shows where I cut which piece from two different patterns to help you recreate this tunic. (or you can see it here: http://www.mabeyshemadeit.com/pinstripe-dress/)
Such a great post!! the girls look so cute in their new clothes 🙂
Aww, thanks for sharing Rach!
Great advice!! I’ve got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for this evening that links to your post:
Thanks, Anne! you’re the best!
Seriously cute! Both the clothing and the models. Well done!
Thanks, Mama! Love you.
Thanks for letting me know you had another up cycle! They are such fun projects. And these are adorable as well. Amazing what you did with a pair of trousers.
You’re so welcome, Cami!
I love this, and thank for the tips. I write a lot of reuse & upcycle posts, but nothing that looks as good as yours.
Have a wonderful weekend!
Thank you Teresa! I love the challenge of upcycling and refashioning.
You’re right, those outfits are stinkin’ cute! Definitely worth the time to unpick the piping, because it makes the dress. The only downside to this kind of thing is you’ll end up keeping heaps of old stuff because you know there’s something good in there, when you just get time to make it!
Thank you, Zoe. I’m a piping fan, so that element had to stay. 🙂
And you’re totally right about the “keeping heaps of old stuff” part too. 😉
How just absolutely adorable. I have been telling my granddaughters for years to do the recycling bit on their clothing. Now that the oldest one is going to college; she finally understands it all!! WOoohooo..I also forwarded this to her to let her know many things can be recycled into other clothing. Thank you very much for posting this !!!
It’s sure a fun way to make something old “new” again. And thank you for referring your granddaughter!
No worries ..I have referred many and hope they have signed up .. I have been a person who suggests recycling what one can and this just shows them that one can do it!!
Just enjoy your blog alot .. Thanks for putting it out there in cyberspace!
You’re the best, Diana!
You’re so clever! Great tips… and like you said, if it’s not something you like or can wear any more, why not give it a new life?
Thanks, Amy! I really enjoy upcycling once I got past that little fear.
Super cute, as always Lisa. It’s hard to believe those cute outfits were once a pair of pants!
Thank you Jillene. Pants no more!
I did this many many years ago out of necessity. My kids loved their new clothes made from mine.
I also made small socks out of my holey socks. The kids wore them around the house as slippers.
It is amazing how creative you can get when you need to cloth your kid and you have no money for new.
Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Anne. You’re so right!
I was so excited when I saw a link to your post in my facebook feed this morning. A couple days ago I grabbed a pair of trousers from my friend’sgive-away pile (she owns a clothing resale business, but is closing her shop and will be only selling a fairs for a while so she was paring down some inventory). I just knew I could make something with the fabric, but hadn’t had any inspiration yet…
Yea! Anna, you just made my day. I’m so glad this hit your feed at just the right time. 🙂
I LOVE this!! So glad we’ve connected and can’t wait to see what other fun projects you come up with!
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I know this is from a while back, but I absolutely love what you made (and the bit about reusing the best parts of a piece)! And, it reminded me a little bit of a blog post I recently found about tips for what you can do with old clothes. I hope you find it useful for your future upcycling endeavors 🙂 https://lafloreparis.com/blogs/laflore-blog/six-actionable-ideas-for-what-to-do-with-old-clothes