I’ve had this skirt since 2013, bought whilst away on holiday in Istanbul. I wore it loads, on and off over the years but for the last little while it’s been firmly sat in my wardrobe without being worn. Something about the proportions/shirred waistband just didn’t work for me anymore but I just couldn’t get myself to part with it. Not even when I semi-Marie Kondo’d my wardrobe post-partum. And trust me, I was brutal.
But something about this skirt made me hold on to it. Maybe because of the memories it contained…we had whizzed off to Istanbul the night of our graduation from medical school and it was the last holiday before we started working as fully fledged doctors (a simpler time perhaps?) But I also loved the fabric- a lovely rich red colour with a diamond lace pattern. But until I could bring myself to either wear it or cut it up it was just sitting there, gathering dust.
So after years I’ve finally got the courage to repurpose it and I’d thought I’d share my 5 top tips on repurposing clothes:
1.Have a plan
You might already know exactly what you want to make from something- super, move on to my next tip! But you might not, in which case have a think about the fabric and it’s properties. Is it drapey? Has it got body? Is it woven or stretch? Try and match the fabric to a pattern you’ve already made, that way you have a better idea of how it will translate, and most importantly where you might need to cut corners if you’re limited by yardage!
I knew the easiest thing for me to make with limited fabric was a cardigan coverup plus (in theory) it shouldn’t take me long because I’ve made a million. I absolutely adore this look from Electric Bazaar and thought I might be able to create something similar, although not quite as fantastic!
2.Hold it there with the scissors
It’s tempting to just start cutting into something when you’ve made that first step but take a step back. Think about construction and where you can make the most of the garment in front of you. Could you reuse the sleeves? Or a button placket?
I knew making a fine rolled hem on this stretchy lacey knit would be a paaaain unless I used the roll hem on my overlocker (which works like a dream), but I didn’t have maroon thread. So instead I kept the existing rolled hem by using the bottom of my skirt to create the ruffle. Saved me loads of time as I didn’t have to spend an age hemming metres of fabric!
3.Ok, you can have the scissors now
Once you’ve decided on which bits you want to save you can cut the garment… but take it slowly! Start with removing the bits you want to save and then cut carefully along seamlines- make sure you cut along the ones that will help you get as much yardage as possible (by yardage I mean as much flat fabric as possible). If you’re really having to scrimp on fabric you might want to use a seam ripper to take apart the seams properly, but I decided to sacrifice that 5/8th of an inch for my sanity.
It does feel strange to take a pair of scissors to a garment but the way I see it is: it’s not doing much good sitting in my wardrobe not being worn, at least this way I’m giving it a chance to be made into something I would wear. And if it all goes wrong, I’ll recycle the scraps and not feel too bad because it wasn’t like I was wearing it anyway!
I managed to get 2.6m of length from this gathered skirt once I took the waistband off. The only problem for me was that it was quite narrow…
Its hard to really know how much fabric you have to work with until you’ve actually opened up the garment. Now is the time to re-evaluate your plans. This is where I think it’s helpful to know what your priorities are for your repurposed garment- is it overall length, sleeve length, maybe you’re in love with the idea of a collar, or ruffle? What would be on your ‘must have’ list and ‘would be great if I could but no biggie if i cant’ list? And this is where you might need to have a bit of flexibility- you might even decide to cut out your ‘must’ pattern pieces then see what you have leftover?
Don’t forget to think about what parts you might be able to use other fabric for (pocket linings, facings etc). And don’t cut pattern pieces on the fold like traditional pattern layouts- the don’t tend to be economical. Cut each pattern piece out at a time, think of it as a game of fabric Tetris!
I managed to get 2.6m out of my skirt once I cut off the waistband. My issue was that it was quite narrow so I had to be careful with how I cut my pattern pieces. Priorities for me were the ruffle hem and the overall length. I knew if it wasn’t a decent length realistically I probably wasn’t going to wear it that much. Ideally I would’ve wanted to have a belt and to finish the front edges and neck with a band but those were the elements I chose to sacrifice for the ruffle hem and length.
5. Throw the rulebook out of the window
More than likely this isn’t gonna be you’re standard sew. This is the kind of sewing project where all the normal rules go out of the window, and in a good way! It’s a great opportunity to ‘free’ up your cutting and sewing, just wing it! If you overthink this then you’ll probably freeze at no.3 and never get cutting into the fabric. Take a deep breath and jump in. If you can’t fit a pattern piece on in one go, why not split it and create a new seam-line, make it a feature and create angles/shapes where there weren’t any before? Or mix it up with another fabric. Be creative. It’s scary because we don’t like to fail at something, so we’re worried to mess it up. But remember: the garment wasn’t doing anything sitting in your wardrobe, at least you’re trying to do something with it!
I had to create a yoke and a few extra seams to get the overall length I wanted. I actually really like the end result as the seams (mock flat fell) show through the lace fabric and make it a design feature.
Another happy accident was the neckline. This was actually draped on my dress form. I had an overhang of fabric on the front yoke pieces compared to the main CF body pieces (basically cut them about 2cm wider) and instead of cutting it off and truing out the front edge I folded it back on itself to create a self facing. I created an angled shape purely by folding it while it was on my dressform and seeing what looked the nicest aesthetically. To actually create the back neckline I took a pair of scissors to it using my dressform neck to guide the shape and where to cut (remembering to leave a seam allowance). I then created a back neck facing in the more traditional flat pattern cutting before attaching.
The neckline is actually my favourite bit- it looks waaay more complicated than it was and really adds a bit of interest to the front, especially with the layers of lace building up. I’m almost tempted to trace it out so I can recreate it as a flat pattern piece.
It also fits like a glove. This has to be down to me draping it rather than flat cutting, it literally skims over my neck across my clavicles with no gaping. Snug as a bug. It’s because of that hands on technique of feeling the fabric and positioning it in what looks right rather than what it should be theoretically. I definitely wouldn’t have felt brave enough to drape a neckline before my draping class with CL, but since then (and padding out my dressform using the skills I learnt) I felt more confident with giving it a go.
So that’s it! Those are my 5 tips for repurposing an old, but loved garment. I’ve got two more planned in my head already! Its been a really fun project turning something around into something completely new. Even Taufiq was impressed! And I’m so chuffed to have got pretty close to my inspiration drawing! I’ve already worn it out and know I’ll be wearing it a lot more this summer.
The other great thing is the amount of fabric waste, we’re becoming so much more aware of textile waste and the sheer volume of clothes that get thrown away. This seems like a great way to wave your green-eco warrior flag. I can’t believe how little fabric I had leftover- apart from the waistband and trimmings from seams this was it! What a win. I’ve also got the (cheap) stretch lining which I plan to use to toile my next make.
I hope you’ve been inspired to take another look at that unloved corner of your wardrobe and maybe even consider it as ‘free’ fabric to play with. Oh uh, I might have just doubled your fabric stash now…