Sew 298 – Change clothes to wear

Elle wears upcycled dressAm I imagining there is too much clothing in the world? We (in the west) have bulging wardrobes already and the shops are full of new season temptations, with slightly different prints, shapes and styles from the last.

People in the business of selling more do not want to hear talk of reduced consumption. They are selling newer, better, brighter, shinier, prettier. The recent opening of a Forever 21 fast-fashion store in Brisbane even made the Nine News nightly bulletin and Brisbane Times newspaper. As the story goes, it is all about ‘something new, something fresh every day’.

I am adopting an alternative approach to something fresh everyday. The Sew it Again project is posting something fresh every day by upcycling clothing that already exists, rather than buying new. It is a social-change project, based on the premise that the ‘greenest’ clothing is that which already exists in the world. By upcycling garments from our own and others wardrobes, we can have something ‘new’ created from reject or unworn garments.

The project aims to shift thinking about the way we consume clothing and textiles. It engages old-fashioned sewing skills, encourages a culture of thrift, and reflects concern for where mindless consumption of fast fashion is leading.

The graph below demonstrates that average annual consumption of new clothing has increased from 7kg per person in 1992 to 11kg per person in 2010 – and it is no doubt higher now in 2014. We don’t read much about this 80 percent increase in individual consumption of clothing and textiles in the popular press. Advertisers no doubt discourage stories on the topic because they are in the business of encouraging consumption and selling more to people who don’t need it. Jane Milburn wrote about this endless spending on the Textile Beat website. The other trend that is evident from the graph below, is that two-thirds of clothing is now synthetic, made from non-renewable petroleum, coal and gas.

world apparel fibre use

Of course we need new clothes – but we do not need them new every day. Moderation is the key to conserving the finite resources on the planet for future generations.

I had another opportunity to day to work with a group of teenagers today – including Elle who is featuring as Sew 298 in a refashion of a long-sleeved dress that wasn’t being worn.

We cut off the sleeves, took the dress in the shoulder-seams and side-seams under the arms to fit her better before neatening the sleeve edges using bias-binding. We reshaped the hem at the front and then used the sleeve off-cuts to create a phone pouch. Fabulous Job Elle, great to have you doing refash in the Textile Beat studio!

Resewing changes everything


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Sew 297 – Silk worn across generations

Georgie Somerset wears upcycled silkWe have clothing, and then we have fashion clothing. Clothing withstands the passage of time, whereas fashion comes and goes.

Professor Kate Fletcher Sustainable Fashion and Textiles says fashion links us to time and space – and caters to emotional and social needs. Where the fashion sector and the clothing industry come together – in fashion clothes – our emotional needs are made manifest as garments. She says this overlaying of emotional needs on physical goods fuels resource consumption, generates waste and promotes short-term thinking. It also leaves us feeling dissatisfied and disempowered, because external physical possessions are unable to satisfy internal psychological and emotional needs, no matter how much new stuff we consume.  Continue reading

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Sew 296 – Silk for Sydney Town Hall

Jane Milburn wears upcycled silkIt was such a privilege to be at Sydney Town Hall last night for the 100 Women of Influence awards dinner, at the invitation of my friend Georgie Somerset who is a regional influencer named in the 2014 list.

Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly announced Elizabeth Broderick as the overall 2014 Woman of Influence for her strategic and far-reaching work as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

There were some fabulous speeches, with Kelly saying women of influence know how to share their stories, have purpose and generosity, and co-sponsor Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood saying gender diversity is still an issue – because men inevitably revert to male-group-think, society needs women in positions of influence. The other point Mr Hywood made was women journalists from Fairfax currently hold the nation’s top journalism awards, led by Joanne McCarthy with a Gold Walkley.  Continue reading

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Sew 295 – Final Fairholme refashion

Annie wears upcycledIt has been fantastic to have so many Fairholme fashion students involved with the Sew it Again project, and this is the last one from the batch they created from our upcycling session as part of the Westpac Fairholme Fashion Week.

Because my preference is for natural fibre clothing, I have to declare that this pretty paisley print dress is made with polyester – which enables the permanently pleated skirt.

This was a bit of a granny dress which the girls cut in half to make a top and a skirt. They cut out a portion of the skirt to reduce the width (see workshop action photos below) and considered making the skirt shorter, but time was against them. The gorgeous Annie models the longer version.  Continue reading

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Sew 294 – Pulling the threads together

Dr Wendy Relf and Adrienne Richards

Dr Wendy Relf and Adrienne Richards at Hawkesbury Regional Gallery

It is always helpful to gain fresh perspective on the Sew it Again project as I did today with my sister-in-law Wendy Relf and Hawkesbury Regional Gallery education and public program officer Adrienne Richards.

The project is a creative journey that connects head and heart. It bridges memories of childhood, agricultural science study, communications work and a love of nature – as well as purposefully engaging me in issues of ecological health and wellbeing.

As I chatted to Adrienne about my journey from early days on the farm through agricultural science to rural reporting and then issues-based communications work – her summation was that Sew it Again is ‘pulling all the threads together’. Thanks Adrienne, I’ll take those words and put them to good use!

It was great to see the Cultural Jewels exhibition of Lola Greeno‘s beautiful shell jewellery currently showing at the Hawkesbury gallery and read about her work as one of a handful of Tasmanian Aboriginal women who harvest, process and thread shells into intricately patterned necklaces. Beautiful found treasure from nature.

Cultural Jewels by Lola Greeno

Kate wears refashion In terms of today’s upcycle, here’s another creation from the fabulous Fairholme College Year 11 fashion students.

The girls started with a pair of black cotton trousers embroidered with daisies, and a black and white polyester top. The girls chopped off the trouser legs and turned them into shorts, turning over the neatening the hem.

With the top, they cut if off below the sleeves and added an elastic band to create a sleeveless bodice. It could double as a skirt, but in this case, the gorgeous Kate wears it as a top with the cropped shorts.

Fairholme girls upcycle uworn clothing for second life


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Sew 293 – Reshaping for a fresh look

Shannon wears upcycledI flew to Sydney today and was surprised to see an advertisement for Pfaff sewing machines right up front in the Virgin Australia’s in-flight magazine Voyeur. Sewing is a happening thing.

Just as there’s resurgent interest in home-cooking, baking, and crafts such as knitting and crochet, home-sewing is coming into the frame because people enjoy being resourceful and making things for themselves if they have time available.

Sew it Again is a 365-day project demonstrating how to use simple sewing techniques to refashion clothing that already exists but is not being worn as is.

Every day this year, I am posting an upcycled outfit here on – with all the upcycles easily viewed via pinterest with postings also at and

Last week I spent a day upcycling with fashion and textile students at Fairholme College in Toowoomba, and Sew 293 is a Year 11 product. This look was created from an unworn cotton knit jumper and a cotton shirt from my accumulated op-shop pile and the students then used their creativity to turn it into something to suit their style. They reshaped the hem of the jumper, cutting along the zigzag open-stitch pattern then sewing across the cut hemline to stop it from fraying. The jumper offcut became a headband. For the skirt, they reshaped the bottom portion of the shirt, taking it in at the sides and turning into a short-sculptured look that utilised the existing hem. A fabulous result, modelled by Shannon.

Fairholme College Year 11s upcycle

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Sew 292 – Restyle with a bow

Maree wears upcycled dressThe choices we make when we dress each day influence the kind of world we live in. The greenest clothes are those that already exist in the world, mountains of which are readily accessible from your own wardrobes, through op-shops, friends cast-offs or clothing swaps and can then be refashioned.

Having a few sewing skills is empowering. It gives you choice, because you are not restricted to what is newly available for purchase at any particular time. You can choose fabrics you like in colours and styles that flatter your style. And you can be uniquely original – and never run into someone wearing your style. And best of all, by reusing natural fibre clothing you can help save it from prematurely ending up in landfill.  Continue reading

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Sew 291 – Re-learning care for clothes

Sophie wears upcycledThe study of home economics has disappeared from some Australian schools entirely and is considered a lightweight in others – yet it teaches important life-skills about food and nutrition, sewing and textiles, and consumer citizenship.

Lack of knowledge about food and food preparation is no doubt contributing to obesity while absence of simple sewing and laundering skills leads to many clothing being discarded prematurely.

Recent United States research discussed in this Ecouterre article found that young people there have little idea of how to care for clothes.  Textiles and Apparel Professor Pamela Norum from the University of Missouri-Columbia surveyed hundreds of American baby boomers and millennials about clothing consumption and found the ability to sew, hem, repair, and launder diminished across generations.  Continue reading

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Sew 290 – Sewing in the 21st century

Hayley wears upcycled white linenEveryone has a unique journey through life. Good things and bad things happen to each of us – and all we can do is make the most of the opportunities that come our way.

My opportunity this year is to spend time every day refashioning and upcycling existing clothing – demonstrating a creative way of dressing that doesn’t involve always buying new stuff. I’m working through my stash of op-shop found natural-fibre clothing, playing with ideas to reshape and resew them.

I’m not trying to become a clothing designer and I don’t pretend to have fashion qualifications – I’m coming at this from the perspective of conserving natural resources in our finite world. I believe refashioning existing clothing also enables sewing – a dying art in most communities – to be a useful life-skill for the 21st century now that it is uneconomic for women in developed nations to sew clothing from scratch.  Continue reading

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Sew 289 – Refashioning at Fairholme

Tamie in refashioned ramie shiftSo exciting today to be part of the first-ever Westpac Fairholme Fashion Week in Toowoomba.

Coordinator Mrs Clare Greenhill says senior fashion and textile students focus on sustainable fashion and issues that underpin rampant consumerism in contemporary society.

As Head of Home Economics Department Mrs Greenhill invited me to present an Upcycling talk yesterday and then work with three classes – Year 10, 11 and 12 classes at Fairholme College today.

The Year 10 class this morning had a half-hour challenge to form teams and refashion four different natural fibre garments I’d gathered from various op shops over time.  Continue reading

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