Recycle Perfection: recycling clothes into new fashion items

Welcome fellow Sewcialists to my first blog post for the Sewcialists. As part of the   #sewcialistsloveMMM theme I’m writing something about my recycling clothes fascination. I started sewing four years ago, when I wasn’t ably to buy my favourite jeans anymore, and got tired of sewing buttons on RTW clothes after wearing them a day or two, and of poor made clothes. My first make was a kind of Chanel jacket made of a coupon (a pre-cut length of fabric), and my second make was — guess what? — a refashion. One year later, in May 2015, I decided to blog about my makes on Sewing à la Carte. I also make dress shirts, boxer shorts, and T-shirts for my husband, as well pencil skirts for our youngest daughter.

Why recycle clothes into new fashion items

The endless need for new clothes results in a lot of sometimes hardly worn clothes. I have two daughters, in their mid 20s, who buy a lot of clothes and sometimes hardly wear them. They always give me their discarded clothes. Some, I will pass on to charity when no buttons are missing, the zipper is still running perfect and there are no stains. The other clothes  are for recycling. I’m a lucky person because I’m a a smaller size then my two daughters.  

refashion inspired on the Nanoo Lillian dress to make a Top

So I use lots of their discarded clothes to make new clothes for myself. Discarded jeans, bags and dress shirts can also have good materials like zippers and buttons that can be re-used. 

What is the beauty of recycling clothes into new fashion items?

I look at discarded clothes like I look at fabrics: they give me opportunities to make new fashionable clothes and usable objects. Sometimes discarded clothes can be used to make one new fashionable piece of clothing, but they can also be used in combination with new fabric.  

Refashion jogging trousers into back buttoned Top

Recycling is the same as sewing with bought fabric: choosing a project, finding a pattern, planning, looking, finding and combining the materials.
Now, before I want to show you some of my makes, I’m going to share my recycling method.

Preparation is the key for Recycle Perfection

I’m not saying this is the perfect way to start a recycle project but this is how I start. I always wash the clothes first to remove stains, and the washing also helps the clothes to give them more or less their original form back. 

Schermafbeelding 2018-04-08 om 19.45.08

First I remove zippers, buttons, ribbons, snaps, etc., and then unpick the seams. It’s something I do in the evening when my husband is watching television and we are drinking tea after our day at work. Next I wash all the separate pieces again, and when they are dry, I iron them. 

Recycling clothes into new fashion items

Sorbetto Top

My first refashion was a blouse made of the Colette Sorbetto pattern and two dress shirts. When I recycle clothes into new fashion items I try to create classic looking clothes with a twist. The first photo you can see in this post is a top inspired by the Nanoo Lillian dress and is lovely to wear to the office on a hot summer day but also perfect for the holidays.

clothes refashions into new refashions

Breton tops are always fashionable, and a striped maxi tank dress was the perfect material to make one. The 60s-styled lace top is still one of my favourites. I also love this one. It’s made of the wrong side of the fabric, which gives the top texture and the opportunity to try a give a boat neck a different type of finishing.

My newest recycled project for Me-Made May

This JLH Breton style Gable Top is made from a striped dress. I wanted to do some stripes playing with an asymmetrical look for this Sewcialist post. While I was unpicking the dress I was already thinking about the shape of my new top.   

refashion using JLH Gable Top

I wanted a navy look with a boat neck construction. I also wanted to use an indie pattern that anyone can order. This Gable top pattern is one I have used before. The fit is perfect, it has a classic look and a boat neck, and it is easy to make. The big question is always: do I have enough material in the original garment to do my refashion?  

preparing JLH Gable Top pattern for refashion

I copied the front and back piece mirrored, to make my asymmetrical look that you can see in the photo. The breast pocket is made in vertical stripes on the horizontal striped part of the gable top. I made the boat neck lower than you can see in most Gable top versions made by others.  

label in JLH Gable Top

A label in the back is the finishing touch.

Using old dress shirts

By time you read this post, my latest make will be almost ready. I’m now about to finish a new dress shirt for my husband. I used a discarded dress shirt that was worn by the boyfriend of our youngest daughter as contrast fabric. My main fabric has some small dark blue squares.  

LMV Bernie hemd with contrast fabrics

The discarded dark blue dress shirt was a perfect match with this small squares. It’s used to make the back of the shoulder yoke, collar stand, collar and the welt breast pocket. I also used the buttons of the original dress shirt. This photo is a preview. The new dress shirt can be seen on Monday, April 23rd on my blog, and you can also see what pattern I used. 

What else can you make of discarded clothes besides new fashion items?

Now you’ve seen some of my recycled clothes made into new fashion, I want to share some other discarded clothes makes like accessories, soft toys, and useful objects. Discarded jeans are perfect to make useful objects like a relaxing neck pillow, a sewing bag, a head phone case, or a laptop case.

neck pillow, sewing bag made of a discarded jeans

head phone, laptop case made of a discarded jeans    

The soft parts of the discarded jeans are great for soft toys like this pig:  

pig made of a discarded jeans

Sometimes you can use the ‘faded patterns on the fabric’ to create details in your makes like I did in this ‘jeanius’ airplane and jeans whale.   

airplane toy, blue whale made of old jeans

My version of the Elle Puls Chobe bag is a result of a combination of new fabrics and a discarded bag.  

Elke Puls Chobe bag

Old woollen sweaters can be felted and are great to use for soft toys.

soft toys made of old felted sweaters

Do you use discarded clothes to make new fashionable items? Do you use them to make items for yourself or children? Have you ever re-used your homemade clothes to update them to become fashionable again? 


34 thoughts on “Recycle Perfection: recycling clothes into new fashion items

  1. I have reworked clothes but you have taken this into another dimension. I particularly like how you’ve used the stripes in the Breton top made from a dress.

    1. Thank you so much for you kind words. Both our daughters hardly wear their just bought RTW-clothes. I even have RTW-clothes given by them that still have the price tickets on them. I can’t resist to turn them into new clothes or useful objects again.

  2. I would like to refashion more clothing, but have not had much success. I’m not very good at clothing yet probably because I’m not good at sewing machines and tend to hand stitch everything which I love to do. I am hoping to refashion some lightweight blouses into tunics. But I rarely buy new fabric for all my crafts and fiber art, preferring to use old linen shirts, wool sweaters, and wool coats and skirts which I buy at thrift stores. I use them for toys, ornaments, backing fabric for my embroidery. I design sewing and embroidery patterns and nearly all of my pattern samples are made from thrifted fabrics/clothing. And I sell at craft fairs and it’s all made from reused materials.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. What you’ve been describing sounds very interesting. I’ve just been taking a look at your blog. Your work looks amazing. You’ve beautiful and interesting techniques.

      1. I’m always in awe of folks who can work with clothing. Your stuff looks wonderful! I love the collection of denim projects you’ve shown above. Especially the reference to softer more worn denim for cuddly toys!

        1. Thank so much for your kind words. Our youngest daughter can sometimes hardly part from her well beloved jeans. Making them into useful objects for her is a way she still can enjoy those jeans. The softer parts of worn jeans give indeed great suitable pieces of fabric for soft toys.

  3. I love the concept and the work you do is certainly something to aim for! I would say however that I’ve had zero success rate on this – I think as you’ve pointed out in this post – that to be of small stature really helps! For a woman who always has to do an fba refashioning is pretty tricky indeed 🙂 I also think you have to be an experienced/talented/patient sewists to pull it off really well 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment. You’re right my small stature really helps. I also wanted to show that you can make useful objects out of discarded clothes. One of the bigest hits in our house is the relaxing neck pillow out of old jeans.

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment. The tough part is indeed to see if there’s enough material to work with. Taking the discarded garment down to individual pieces really works because it gives you ‘a blank canvas’.

  4. How creative! I would love to learn to up-cycle clothing. Sewing feels like a bad math equation to me. I get it done but not without frustration and reworking it over and over again. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment. I see sewing a little bit as constructions and sewing pieces together gives me that feeling. I’m never in hurry, taking my time, do a lot research first and make a trial model or test model first.

    1. I agree. Sometimes although the garments are looking great they still don’t have your own ‘WOW’ factor. I’ve redesigned for example the GBSB drapey knit dress and already unpicked my dress shirt dress.

  5. I follow a few refashioning blogs which are very interesting, but your method of taking garments down to their component parts gives a much better end result than most. Thanks for taking time to detail the process, very inspiring.

  6. I recycle a lot of my teen (15, 16, 17) daughters clothes. They bring me clothes they are tired of and I refashion them.
    I also recently started recycling my 10 year old daughters pretty dresses. I used to donate them. But she is hard to fit, so buying new is out of the question. And the fabric from the too small dresses was just to cute to part with! I now keep a box of adorable cut up dress pieces for making her next dress when she needs one. No need to shop!
    I do a few of mine too, but never have enough time! ;o) The girls are always “needing” something.

  7. A very enjoyable read. I love the concept of upcycling/recycling and cannot stand waste. So it was interesting to read your method and all the extras you do with the fabric. In the past I haven’t taken apart the garments, as I look for interesting elements I can use. But I can see how much easier it would be to ‘generally’ take apart garments and then consider it as fabric. I will give this a go with a few shirts at least and see what comes of it.

    I am not slim, but have lost a great deal of weight in the last two years, so most of my garment stash will have excess fabric. As you commented in an earlier reply, that can make decision making a little easier.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  8. Your post is timely for me. I’ve started looking at my wardrobe for MMMay. I have a lot of clothes that I don’t wear for various reasons. It’s time for a closet clean!! I’m doing a lot of “shopping” in my fabric stash, but need to start shopping for fabric in my closet also. Your post has given me an incentive as well as ideas for recycling. Thanks!!

  9. Lovely post with so much inspiration! The top with the stripes is stunning…I’ve refashioned a few times but not recently, must organize my closet and get back to it!!

  10. I’ve just joined WordPress and started my own blog/thread as a fellow Sewcialist what you do to recycle clothing is what I LOVE to see! You do an amazing job, keep spreading your creativity, mass produced clothing is so poor quality it’s low standards are meaning it’s more than likely going to become landfill and not make it to charity shops.

      1. That’s such a great thought and I wish I was even a tad bit creative like you..I love my old clothes and I hope to create something new from your post inspiration😊

        1. Thank you. Trying to re-cycle discarded clothes is something you must like to do and I’m still on a learning curve. Re-cycling is just like any other sewing: you always learn something.

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