Friday, 15 April 2011

Refashioning - where do you start?

Law commented on my Portobello dress post that she never knows how to imagine what she could make out of existing things, and this echoes a number of comments from some of my friends, who were regarding refashioning as magic or creative genius (which it clearly isn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do it!)
Now I am no expert at refashioning. I haven’t done that much and I don’t tend to do anything very extreme. Neither am I particularly skilled (or at all frankly!) or knowledgeable about any aspect of sewing. So, health warning over, I can actually get round to my discussion point. How do you know how to refashion/restyle things? 

Now I’m sure everyone does this differently, and that’s part of the fun, but I guess this is my attempt to vaguely explain how I tend to do it. When buying something to refashion, you have to be drawn to some aspect of the item. In my case it’s usually the fabric colour or pattern. As my mum said the other day, she keeps walking round shops this season and seeing lovely fabrics and colours, and then picking them up and realising they have made something revolting out of it. That is pretty much the essence of my approach to refashioning - if I feel that the fabric deserved better, I will try and make that happen.  Alternatively there are things that are representative of clothes I’ve been meaning to get/make and which can be changed to fit that brief (for example I wanted a silky shirt, so I went out and bought one I could adapt)

The best way to start thinking about refashioning is to repeatedly try to imagine what you could do with random items, until you get into the right mindset (I think I learnt to do this making Halloween costumes out of random things!). Walk around a charity shop, pick up an item in a largish size from the rack because you like something about it, its colour, fabric, pattern, texture, buttons, whatever. Now try and imagine what you could do with it. Have a go with a few items, and see what sort of things you come up with. You don’t have to buy anything, I frequently look in 10 shops and don’t get anything, or I can walk into one and buy half the shop. It just depends.

Things to think about 

Do you like the sort of garment it is? Would it be better as a different category-eg if is a dress you can make it a skirt, or a top, or shorts, or a shawl, trousers can be made into shorts or a skirt, shirts can be made into skirts or have bits added on the bottom to make them dresses. Skirts can be hitched up to make dresses..

The lovely and talented Verity turns a dressing gown into a dress

Would it be nice if it fit you? Can you make it fit you-what parts of the proportions are wrong- does it need darts, a lower waist, a less poufy skirt? Is it too long (cut off the bottom) or short (add on a contrast panel, drop the waist..), or needs several inches off the side seams? Is it too tight across the shoulders but would be fine if you gave it a V neck?

I tweak my dress to fit and be more flattering

Would it be nice if it had different details or style? different sleeves, a different neckline, waist detail, straps, 3 foot cut off the bottom so it looks more fashionable?(always a staple of refashioning!) Could you dye it? or add different fabrics/notions in to create interest or new bits of garment?

Portia transforms this shapeless two piece into a lovely dress 

Does it have any existing work already done? Gathering, smocking, buttonholes, piping, hemming? Can you imagine the item as something else which has these details?

The refashioning queen transforms this hideous creation into a fabulous little dress at New dress a day

Is there enough fabric to ignore what it currently is entirely and use it as straightforward fabric?

Jennifer cut this amazing mini jacket out of a thrifted sheet (see her blog for the tutorial-I am totally going to make one myself )

Main questions before you buy
Is there enough material? It’s much harder to make things bigger than smaller.
Are there any stains/holes/tears than need to be avoided?
Is it actually good value?-frequently things aren’t cheap just because they are second hand; you usually aren’t getting a lot of material for your money.
Are you cutting up something nice to make something meh? I tend to avoid things that are really nice as they are, as someone else will appreciate them. If I want a piece of silk and voile, it may be cheaper to buy an evening dress in the charity shop but I’d rather someone got to wear and love the evening dress.

It really helps to look at what other people have done.
Have a look at  the refashion co-op, which used to be housed at wardrobe refashioned, or the fantastic 
new dress a day (she refashioned really odd things into nice clothes every day for a year on only $365). There are hundreds of other keen refashioners out there, with lots of different approaches.


  1. Great round up post! Thankyou for the mention too!!

  2. Thanks for the pointers. I really like your attitude of it's a nice garment already leave it for someome to enjoy. Good to know that making things smaller is easier than trying to make things bigger, i'll have to remember that. I will have to venture out soon and hunt around in my local charity shops.

  3. Hey. Very nice post. I've read many of the blog mentioned, but I don't think I've visited Verity before. Do you know what post that dress is in? I couldn't find it with a quick search of her blog. Thank you.

  4. Sorry about that Paula, it's the Purple Picnic dress I have added the link in above.

  5. This is a great post. Thank you for mentioning me! I feel so honored. Love your blog, btw. I'll definitely be finding inspiration here. Thanks again!