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Have you ever thought about turning your old clothes and textiles into new stuff? 

I’m pretty sure that there’s plenty of business consultants who would tell me I shouldn't give away all my secrets, but the more people there are out there trying to reuse existing materials, the better right? 

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

When I started learning to sew, I did buy some fabric off the roll, of course, because that's what all the sewing blogs and tutorials tell you to do. But it wasn’t long before I realised the financial cost, but more importantly  the environmental cost of not only fast fashion, but textile production as a whole. It’s the second most damaging industry after the oil industry. 

These days there’s a lot more awareness of what happens to clothing when they get thrown away, which is really good news, but what about the cost of making and shipping those clothes around the world to reach you? Some people wear their clothes once, or not at all before getting rid of them. But a t shirt takes 2,700 litres of water to produce - enough for one person’s drinking water for 2.5 years. The water is then so contaminated by chemicals that it cant be used for anything else. How many billions of t shirts are made each year? That’s before we get onto the subject of all the other textiles produced every year!

I make a point of never cutting up or upcycling anything that I think can be reused as it is. However lots of the things that come to me are damaged in some way, or worn out. Or sometimes so very unfashionable that it never has a realistic chance of being worn again. So I do think it’s better to reuse the materials however I can. 

So, how do you remake an old fabric item into a bag, or a cushion, or something else useful?

My favourite finds are beautiful curtains. Not only do you get the whole front side of the curtain, but often they are lined with polycotton which can be used for all sorts of things. Curtains tend to end up with sun damage from being hung at windows - i.e the bits of the curtains that face the sun will end up a lot more faded than the bits that tend to be folded when the curtains are pulled back. Therefore they tend to get thrown out or end up at jumble sales or charity shops. But I think that those differences in colour can be a charming feature. Or, I can just cut around the damaged parts. The same theory goes for things like stained tablecloths, or bed spreads. Lots of these items have sentimental value but its hard to know what to do with them.

This white bag with blue flowers was made from a tablecloth with great sentimental value for it's owner so I was pleased to be able to remake it into this tote bag for her. The strap was a beautiful belt with a damaged buckle. 

Upcycling Curtains


The first thing to do is wash them. If your curtains are missing their care instructions, Google is your friend. I just wash everything at 30 degrees and then hang it on the line but that might not always be the best way forward! Use a stain remover if you need to. Then, because curtains are a nice wide flat piece of fabric they are quite easy to take apart. Curtains tend to be hemmed, so you can either take a seam ripper or a very small pair of scissors (embroidery scissors are ideal) and snip/cut the stitches. Unfold the hem and iron it flat.If your curtain has curtain tape on that you would like to reuse, then unpick that too. If you’re in a hurry, or have no particular need for the curtain tape, you can simply cut the hem/curtain tape off with a nice sharp pair of scissors. I then add them to my scrap bag, you never know when they might come in handy. If your curtain has a separate lining, unpick or cut that off too. Now you should have four really useful pieces of fabric - two curtain outers, and two curtain linings. You can now just treat them how you’d treat any other piece of fabric and get sewing. 

Upcycling clothes

Its a fact of life that clothes tend to wear out. But its also a fact of life that clothes can be really sentimental - none more so than a special occasion outfit, or that jacket you used to wear all the time with a tear in it. Of course any good seamstress could probably repair it for you, but otherwise what could you do with it? 

Have a good look at your garment, and decide whether it’s got any interesting features that you’d like to keep for your new creation. For example, when i upcycled a leather jacket into a tote bag, I decided to keep the jacket pocket intact to use on the back of the bag so it's still a functional pocket. I filled in the button holes with rivets. 

Once you have decided how you want to use the garment, it’s time to take it apart! Either use your trusty unpicker or a sharp pair of scissors to cut along the seam lines of the garment whereever you want to take it apart. 

I also use bits of old handbags, such as straps, zips and hardware. Belts can make great bag handles as well. 

Get creative! Old maxi dresses or skirts will yield a lot of fabric. Look for interesting buttons, or beautiful prints and think about how you can use what you’ve got in different ways. 

It would be easier to buy fabric off the roll, but where’s the fun in that?!

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