What’s Old is New – Thoughts on Refashioning

image source – a totally mind-blowing refashion

I’ve been working on a project for sometime now (OK, so I’ve actually been working it out in my head, but I’ve thought about it TONS) and though I can’t unveil it just yet, its been crazy hard for me. It has to do with refashioning a thrifted garment into something else. I tell ya straight, I’m no good at this sort of thing. I’ve tried it several times before now and every time, I feel like the finished result is well….taking a garment and refashioning it into something that it wasn’t really meant to be.

This is not to say that I don’t wear thrifted items, cause I do. I’m also not above taking in a side seam here and there, shortening a hem or sleeve, but that’s not really refashioning is it. That’s altering. When you refashion something, you actually cut up the fabric – or seam rip it apart (btw, I would rather jump off a cliff than do that!) – and make those pieces into something new and utterly amazing. It’s that amazing part at the end that I never quite get. Ha. I’ve also found several times, that there’s just not enough fabric, that hasn’t been claimed for something else, to work with. Well, except maybe if you were working with some gigantic dirndl skirt.

Friends, I need some of your thoughts here. Do you refashion thrifted garments into wearable garments for yourself? Are you happy with the finished result? Me, I’d just rather start right at the beginning and take a length of cloth and make whatever it was I was thinking about making out of the cloth rather than a thrifted garment.

Refashioning Yay or Nay?

  • Becky - I enjoy both sewing from scratch and refashioning– I do the from-scratch more often, but refashioning can be good for more of an instant gratification-type project since half the sewing is often done for me. I also like using refashioning to test out an idea or pattern sometimes, because if it doesn’t work out, I didn’t make as much of a financial investment in the fabric and it’s not so bad of a loss. (I actually have an example of this in a recent blog post, from Day 1 of MMM–I liked the fabric in the horrendously-styled thrifted skirt, and used it to play around with a shirt idea I’d had.) And honestly, a significant percentage of the refashioning that I personally do is to salvage my own from-scratch projects that either never worked at all or just aren’t working for me anymore.

    That being said, I’ve been in enough refashioning blog communities to have seen that a lot of the time, refashioned clothes can turn out looking rather homemade in the not-good way, or the sort of style that would look great on a teenager or college student, but wouldn’t work on someone like me who is in my early 30s and likes to pass for at least artsy-professional when I’m working. So I try to be careful to still take the time to fit and finish things properly when I do make things from recycled clothes.ReplyCancel

  • Meli - I think refashioning is a great way to challenge yourself. As long as the garment you’re starting with is made of a decent fabric, you can really make something cool. I’ve learned the hard way though that an ugly piece of clothing with an ugly fabric will still be ugly even if you change the shape of it.ReplyCancel

  • Corinne - Your are singing my song on this one. Most re-fashioned items I have seen look like a girl scout project gone horribly wrong. Unless yards and yards of fabric from an item are available without distortion of the fabric from prior seaming, pressing etc, it just rarely works. A new sweatshirt can be dissected and remade (welcome back to the 90’s) a boxy T shirt can be refashioned by changing the neckline and curving in the seams to create a waistline (if you still have one) or a mans suit or overcoat can be chopped up to make purses or tote bags, but otherwise it does not work for me. My sewing time is limited and I choose to make new, that fit, and I will wear!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - Yay. And I agree with Meli above, it’s a great challenge. You only have a limited amount of fabric to work with so it’s like a puzzle trying to figure out where everything should be sut from or re-attached to. I often need to step away from these projects to re-focus (and sew a pattern in the mean time).ReplyCancel

  • VintageAttempt - I made a pair of sweatshorts from an old sweatshirt (not thrifted, but a thrifted one in a little bigger size would have been better) using this tutorial. They turned out pretty good. Sweat shorts are not that fashionable, but they are great for cleaning in, at least for people like me who make a huge mess of thier clothes when really cleaning. I just don’t understand when I see people wearing housewife dresses with only a little apron on top to protect thier clothing. Me I ruin everything I clean in.ReplyCancel

  • Casey - I rather like refashioning in it’s own way! It’s far more of a challenge in many aspects than sewing a garment from scratch, because you have to reverse engineer it (and hope and pray that you have enough fabric!). I usually end up mulling over something for weeks after I’ve thrifted it, pinning it on my dressform and sketching ideas. I am not typically a slapdash refashioner who just does it when the mood strikes–too often those turn into disasters for me! :/ I think my favorites are taking dresses and remaking them into something more flattering; although the one suit I redid last summer was pretty neat to figure out how to refashion as well! (In fact, I have another thrift store suit I want to remake in the fall…)ReplyCancel

  • Jessie Heninger - I think it’s awesome! So cool, and noble. I am not good at it! I can’t look at something and imagine it as something else. Perhaps it’s something that has to be honed?ReplyCancel

  • kelerabeus - I actually am quite a fan of refashioning! I believe that it could turn out as amazing as sewing from scratch, as long as you look at an old garment as a piece of fabric. For me it usually goes wrong when you constrain yourself by trying to keep the item in question and just tweaked it a little to make it more to your taste. That usually doesn’t end well. But if you let yourself go and not allow to be constrained by the shape of the garment you’re working with, you can end up with something amazing.ReplyCancel

  • AnaJan - I’ve came to conclusion over the years that refashioning is just not my cup of tea. However, I did refashion some garments that turned out rather nice. It took time and cost me a lot of patience, so I decided I preferred sewing a completely new garment rather that recycling and refashioning. For some reason, it takes all the fun from sewing.ReplyCancel

  • mokosha - i absolutely love sewing from scratch, but lately i find myself rather turning to refashioning.. i also happen to find refashioning way easier that making something from scratch, cause you already have bunch of finished seams you may use (such as hemlines, and i’m not really into making these).. i always make a mistake of not taking a pics of my garments before i refashion them, so people can see how much they’ve changed.. you can check out my favorite past refashions here, here and hereReplyCancel

  • Peter - Life is challenging enough: I will not refashion!ReplyCancel

  • Wanett - I LOVE to refashion things!! You can see some of what I’ve done on my blog posts tagged with refashion: http://sownbrooklyn.com/category/refashioned/
    I have a ton of thrifted items waiting for their date with the sewing machine. I think the best way to get inspired about what you can do is by visiting blogs, flickr and pin boards dedicated to refashioning.ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - I love refashioning but I really think it works best when the refashioning part is fairly minimal – like, keeping the original bodice/neckline of a dress, but shortening the hem, removing the sleeves, and maybe doing something interesting with the remaining fabric. Keeping the original “bones” of a garment & then improving on that tends to look the best, imo. Of course, when you luck out with something that is so huge you can basically cut it up & use it like straight yardage, that’s nice too!

    I mostly enjoy it for the challenge… and of course, the neat prints/fibers that never seem to be readily available as yardage (ew why do the clothing manufacturers get the best fabrics, anyway?). And if you score the original garment at a thrift store, it can be very cheap – my favorite ๐Ÿ™‚ReplyCancel

    • ira lee - i totally agree with you!!! taking an old outdated piece and vamping it into the 21st century! i love doing that and its usually pretty easy and straight forward.ReplyCancel

  • K-Line - Refashioning, though I like it in principle, rarely seems to work. Why invest all the time in making something new out of something old when you can start from scratch and get just what you want? If the original item is fine, I don’t want to mess with it (what if I wreck it!?). If it’s not so great, why do I want to use it to make something else? I think you need to be an extra-experienced sewist to alter pre-existing stuff because you need the spatial ability to know how to cut something new out of something that is already made. Mind you, if it’s done well, it can be spectacular.ReplyCancel

  • Tanit-Isis - I’m not categorically opposed the idea of refashioning, but the idea of acquiring a pile of unwearable clothes intended for re-purposing horrifies me in a way that building my fabric stash (which is pretty sizable at this point :P) doesn’t. Maybe because I already have more stashes of seldom-to-never worn clothes than I care to face. I have seen some really awesome refashions (and some really terrible ones, but the same is true of new-stitched garments), but sometimes I feel like they take a perfectly good garment—just not right for that particular person—and destroy it to make something mediocre. Not always, of course. Maybe not even often. I do think it’s it’s own separate artform, requiring a completely different frame of thinking than “regular” sewing…ReplyCancel

  • Tasha - I love looking at fabulous refashions that other people cook up. For myself however, I just can’t wrap my brain around it. I think if I were more daring at sewing I’d be more willing to jump in and try something more than taking in a seam or two. But the idea of pulling something completely apart, not knowing if I can really turn it into something else after all, keeps me watching on the sidelines.ReplyCancel

  • Sherry - I like the idea of refashioning, but tend to do minimal alterations myself – like making it fit better or shortening the length. I like things fairly minimal, so adding-on extras to transform an item doesn’t usually appeal to me either. I would definitely buy a large item just for the fabric, some of the older fabrics are great quality that you rarely see today. I’ve also bought some large jerseys to unravel just for the wool!
    The refashion above looks fabulous – I’m thinking I need a mustard sweatshirt jacket now, it goes very nice with denim!ReplyCancel

  • ira lee - yay! i love to refashion and i do wear my re fashions. its good sewing practice, its cheap, it gives new life to old things, your design will be 100% original! and if you totally screw it up (like i do often) your out less than $5- total score!!!ReplyCancel

  • Photosarah Crafts - I just finished my first real clothing refashions over the weekend. I took a thrifted denim button-down shirt, flipped the buttons to the back, cut it up and remade it into a tank top. I had to figure out how and where to add darts and make them line up and that part nearly made me give up, as well as readjusting the armholes. I also took the collar and sleeves off a polo and made it into a tank top.

    I definitely see some refashions out there that I wonder why people spent the time and made it when it turned out looking like it did. Hopefully mine don’t look like that! Making something from scratch is easier and you can be more precise about what you want, but I have purchased several more large button down shirts I’m going to try to refashion and see how that goes before I made my mind up. I’ve also taken a couple shirts and sweaters and made them into bags. It’s easier for me to look at something as fabric if I’m not making clothes out of it.ReplyCancel

  • Emily - I think refashioning is awesome if it’s done right or if you learn something from it. I like to refashion clothes that don’t fit me (or my husband) for my daughter. When I was first starting to sew it helped to take apart a few items that were stained or otherwise unpresentable to learn about proper garment construction. I had a maxi skirt that was tapered at the bottom that I cut to knee length and gathered the rest as a ruffle. I also made a darling jacket for my daughter from a $1 women’s sweatshirt. PS this is the best refashion I’ve seen this week: http://kristinaclemens.blogspot.com/2012/05/anthropologizing-walmart-reed.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+kristinaclemens+%28KRISTINA+J.%29ReplyCancel

  • Far - Yay for refashion! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I started sewing clothes with refashioning. After practicing with refashioning things, now I am brave enough to cut into fabrics and make clothes from scratch too. Nowadays I think I refashion something every 2 from scratch projects or so. I posted some of my refashion projects back on blog if you are interested to see ๐Ÿ™‚ReplyCancel

  • Amanda S. - I’ve only ever done it once and it was with a full length lambswool skirt. The fabric was TDF and the skirt was only $2.99 plus tax. I used it for part of a dress. I would consider another project like that one only if the fabric is of really great quality and if the original garment was big enough to make something out of.ReplyCancel

  • maddie - It’s simply a different working style, but I actually like doing this – ripping something apart and making it into something completely different. My final while I was in college was exactly this. We had a budget of 5 dollars to buy a garment from the thrift store and make it into something completely new. I bought a man’s jacket and made it into a woman’s jumpsuit. It was so cool! Just goes to show that people have completely different ways of working.ReplyCancel

  • Eileen - I have definitely refashioned clothes that I find at the thrift store. One of my favorite blouses started life as a horrible ’80s deadstock dress. However, I fell in love with it’s pretty silk polka dotted goodness and knew it was meant to be.

    I didn’t really enjoy unpicking all those seams though . . . nothing a glass of wine and a good film can’t help!ReplyCancel

  • liza jane - It depends on the fabric in the thrifted garment. I like to refashion if it’s totally worth it. Like the fabric is so unusual or something you would never find in a fabric store. I just made a top from an old handmade dress made from Liberty. So that was totally worth the cutting up and working out how to make all the pattern pieces fit.ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - I find I have to be very careful about refashions – must absolutely love the original fabric (color, print, quality), and it must be something that I am sure I would wear as much as anything I make in general – i.e. no more refashioning for the sake of refashioning, if it creates a garment I’m not that crazy about. Then refashioning just becomes a displacement for what I’d really like to make and that’s no fun.

    But to all those naysayers, some of my favorite garments have been refashions. It’s like Lauren says, why do manufacturers get the best fabrics? Also, I do like the time-saving element of already-constructed hems (and whatever else I wind up keeping), as refashions generally seem to take me less time than scratch sewing.

    Mostly, I find refashioning takes some guts and imagination because most of my refashions need an extra step/tweak beyond what I’d initially imagined to take them from ‘meh’ to ‘awesome!’ReplyCancel

  • Gail - Mostly nay but sometimes yes. But I have refashioned quite a number of items for my daughter. I have an old Kashmiri wool scarf that by the end of the Aussie winter will be a shirt and a polo neck sweater that chokes me that will soon be a cardigan. I tend to find quite wearable jackets and jeans in my op shop without the need to transform them.ReplyCancel

  • Alicia C. - I’ve tested the refashioning waters by using the Alabama Chanin books to turn t-shirts into tank tops. Inspired by Casey of Elegant Musings’ refashioning of her husband’s old uniform shirt and a top one of my friends wore in some vacation pics, I then cannibalized two past season cotton button-ups from H&M to make tank tops as well. And the weekend before last I found a French cuff pinstripe button-up deep in my closet whose cuffs and lapels had succumbed to mold from my previous apartment. I seam ripped those sleeves off, cut a new neckline, and sewed it all neatly back together as another simple tank top. It’s a great way to stretch your creative thinking muscles a bit without buying new fabric, and while using some of those orphans in your closet! Yay from me!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - I generally like to make garments from scratch not refashion them but I do occasionally like to make a men’s shirt into a spaghetti strap tank. I’ve have a few waiting right now to be refashioned.

    So what are you refashioning?ReplyCancel

  • tigergirl - I do refashion but I generally refashion the clothes I own – “what was I thinking” purchases (eg. wrap dresses with 10cm overlaps and bodices that just don’t sit right), clothes that are out of style, don’t fit properly or at all, no longer suit me or my lifestyle (maxi dresses – make my legs hot when it’s warm and don’t cover me where I need them to if it’s chilly) etc. Some pieces have been given to me for one reason or another – I remember refashioning some of Mum’s clothes when I was younger.
    I think I’ve only ever bought one piece of clothing with the intention of refashioning it (I don’t count huge clothes that I use as yardage) – I’ve got enough of all that sitting down in the sewing room just waiting for me to be inspired about.ReplyCancel

  • Dee - Refashioning can be very challenging, especially if you want a polished look in the end. I love refashioning for ecological and economic reasons. My current scheme is one refashion to every two “made from scratch” projects. This works very well for me, and keeps my interest level high for both types of projects. Please feel free to visit my blog to check out some of my projects at http://seamssustainable.blogspot.com.ReplyCancel

  • Amy - this was a fun discussion! I’m kinda like you, Sunni. It sounds so fun in theory and I love reading about others’ amazing refashions but for some reason, I have a very hard time cutting things apart. Even if they’re falling apart. I’m also a precision geek and I think that it’s a different style of creativity than mine, so I don’t get the pleasure that others get. Re-fashioning seems to have a wonderful experiential type of creativity.ReplyCancel

  • Miranda - What a great comment thread! Like some of the other commenters, I began refashioning because what I lacked in money for new material, I made up for in a closet of somewhat unworn clothes. I took it item by item and tried to use what I already had (and didn’t wear) to create something that I would wear. Looking back, most of my first refashions were pretty stale, and have since been donated to Goodwill. But I gained so much understanding of garment construction, problem solving, and insight into what components of a garment are most important to me. I invested nothing but time into those refashion experiments, and came out a much improved seamstress.

    These days, I am much more picky about my refashions, and I can gauge my growth by the fact that they have become a regular and natural part of my wardrobe, rather than sticking out as the craft project of the week.

    I think refashions are a great starting point for people who don’t know how to sew clothing. If they mess up, toss it into the garbage bin (where it was just pulled from!) and try again! They’re also a fun challenge for someone with a ton of experience, like you!

    ps I hope it hasn’t stressed you out too much! I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with!ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - Oh man, I do not refashion. I think it’s great that people do and I see the appeal, but it’s not for me. I even bought a dress last fall (while thrifting with Lavender and Suriah at the Sewing Summit!) and I’m taking it to the DI today. It’s the coolest fabric, but there’s no way I’m ever going to do anything with it. Weird, huh?

    I do shop at Pibb’s and Name Dropper’s, but I only buy the stuff that actually fits.

    Love your site redesign, BTW! It looks great.ReplyCancel

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