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).