Sew 203 – Where clothes come from

Jane Milburn wears upcycled jumper-skirtDuring the past decade there has been growing interest and awareness in where food comes from, how it is grown and what are its nutritional and sustainable values. We’re alive to fact that we are what we eat.

In a similar way, there now is growing interest in where clothes come from, who made them, what they are made of and whether they are ethical and sustainable – because we are what we wear.

Skin is our body’s largest organ, so the clothing we wrap it in influences feel, comfort and interactions by osmosis. Natural-fibre clothing free from contaminants and toxins must be best. The benefits of natural fibres are eloquently summarised by Wildfibres UK.

The beauty of reloved, upcycled, refashioned natural-fibre clothing is its sustainable, ethical and comfort values, and the reduced potential for any toxic impact because it has already been through the wringer (so to speak).

Interesting then that two-thirds of the global apparel trade is now synthetic fibres, artificially spun from petroleum products. Only one-third of fibres are made from natural resources such as cotton, linen, animal fibres (wool, cashmere and silk) or cellulose-based reconstituted fibres such as viscose, rayon, lyocell and bamboo. The diagram on page two of this FAO report shows trends between 1992 to 2010.

I always look at clothing labels to see what they are made from, and choose natural fibres unless there is a compelling reason to not do so (eg lycra, wind-breaker, wet-suit). Sometimes it is hard to know, as is the case with this hand-crocheted jumper from an op shop. I’ve done the flame test on theads – the fibres didn’t instantly combust and gave off a burning wool smell, so I am confident the garment is natural fibre (or mostly so).

Someone had put a lot of effort into crocheting this pastel-coloured jumper before discarding it, so I was happy to give it a second-life as Sew 203 by converting it into a skirt. It’s a great addition for my collection to take to Warwick this Friday for the Jumpers and Jazz Jumper to Skirt workshop at Abbey of the Roses. Love you to join us if you live in the area.

The jumper was shaped like an A-line skirt, so I unpicked the sleeves and the shoulder seams, before using the overlocker to trim and neaten the side-seams. I crocheted two rows to finish the new hem. Because of its existing shape, it does not need waist elastic for me (but discretely threaded hat elastic could easily gather the waistline if required). I created a phone bag from one of the sleeves by stitching the bottom, turning right-side out, then threading and knotting a piece of cotton rope as a strap.

upcycle old jumper as skirt



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Sew 202 – Crazy pants for Splendour

Max wears crazy upcycled pantsAlthough ‘buy once, buy well’ is an excellent strategy when making any purchase, it is not always easy to implement. Somehow we gather a lot of ‘also ran’ clothing which clutter up the place – eventually becoming upcycling fodder.

When my son Max moved out last year, he left various boxes of ‘treasure’ to be collected at a later date along with a bag of sweaters he didn’t want anymore. For months now, Max has been asking for upcycled gear and these crazy pants for the upcoming Splendour in the Grass festival at North Byron are a delivery on my promise.

I’d already used this Kwik Sew 3701 pattern to made house pants for Max, so I knew it fitted. The creative upcycling element with the crazy pants comes from cobbling together off-cuts of three cotton sweaters (including his old school sweatshirt) into trousers.  Continue reading

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Sew 201 – Men’s dash of splash

Casey wears upcycled shirtA few men – including my sons – have been asking whether I’m upcycling men’s clothing. I’ve mended men’s clothing, but here’s the first creative effort.

This upcycle is a resew of two men’s shirts that were the same brand and size, so the button fronts match exactly. I’d fabric-painted the white shirt (which had a stain) many years ago when the children were little and we did t-shirt painting workshops with friends. I don’t think it was ever worn, partly because it just looked like a painted shirt. I’d kept it as a memory and the cotton is still crisp.  Continue reading

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Sew 200 – Leather skirt becomes bag

upcycled leather bagWith a background as an agricultural scientist and growing up on farms, I appreciate and value natural resources as authentic, non-toxic. and lasting a long time.

The greenest resources of all are ones that already exist in the world. Instead of seeking new materials, my practice is to harvest reject natural resources at op shops and markets either to use as they are or repurpose.

My leather handbag of the moment was once a mid-calf length straight skirt. After finding the skirt in tip-top condition at an op shop, I wore it once as a skirt before deciding to repurpose it as a carry-all bag. Continue reading

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Sew 199 – Coffee dyed crochet

Dyeing with coffee groundsWe humans are autonomous, we make our own decisions, or so we think. Watch this documentary The Men Who Made Us Spend to learn how our ‘free choice’ is easily manipulated so a few makes lots of money while our environment is junked with unnecessary resource use and waste.

Investigative journalist Jacques Peretti explains how planned obsolescence, the organised creation of dissatisfaction and computer-aided design have cultivated competitive consumerism throughout capitalist society.

The documentary includes an economist saying change during the past two decades has seen the average American’s clothing consumption double from 34 pieces of apparel per year to 67 – equating to a brand new item of clothing coming into their wardrobe every 5.4 days. Once the garments are no longer ‘socially valuable’ they either go into the waste stream or the global apparel trade.  Continue reading

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Sew 198 – Refashion to suit yourself

Jane Milburn wears upcycledThe benefits of upcycling are you can wear clothes that suit your body shape, are comfortable, in colours/fabrics of choice … and reduce your environmental footprint as you dress with conscience.

Apart from underwear, it is many years since I bought a ‘new’ garment. I’m upcycling and refashioning every day this year as a way of auditing the many wardrobes of pre-loved clothing I’ve rescued from opshops, family and friends. I do this because there is pleasure, reward and satisfaction in rescuing natural-fibre garments that are under-valued and worthy of refashion – and to demonstrate an alternative to fast-fashion churn and buying new.

Sew 198 was a mishmash of op-shop garments that I’ve massaged to suit myself. The long navy knitted wool-blend skirt had two white stripes at the bottom. Continue reading

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Sew 197 – Wool jumpers become coat

Jane Milburn wears upcycled woolSew it Again is a social-change project to shift thinking about the way we consume clothing and textiles. The project demonstrates creative ways to upcycle existing clothing and empowers others to tap into their ‘greenest’ clothing of all. It engages old-fashioned sewing skills, encourages a culture of thrift, and shows heart-felt concern for where mindless consumption of fast fashion is leading.

Creative entrepreneur Dr Cathryn Lloyd from Maverick Minds says today’s business is no longer about doing business as usual.  ”Complexity and uncertainty reflect the world as it is today.  All businesses require creative entrepreneurial thinking and behaviour. The 21st century belongs to those who can bring their creative potential and leadership skills to their personal and professional lives.” Continue reading

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Sew 196 – History skirt with sentiment

Lena Tisdall in upcycled history skirtThis skirt is unique in all the world and comes with a story. That’s the biggest reward of the creative process says its maker Lena Tisdall, who refashioned the skirt from old clothing that had belonged to her mother.

The original garments were in good condition but not particularly special in their own right. Had Lena not chosen to refashion them, they most likely would be put in a charity bin.

Donated clothes are an important source of revenue for charities – but the landscape is changing. The sheer volume of surplus clothing generated by fast-fashion consumption habits means for-profit clothing recyclers see an opportunity to on-sell this to developing nations.  Continue reading

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Sew 195 – The flip skirt

Lena wears upcycledThose of a certain age will recall when shirts with stretch waistbands were fashionable. Black and white animal print seems perennial, so a small amount of time flipping shirt for second life as skirt seems a worthwhile investment.

This upcycle is another of the garments my artist friend Lena is revitalising from her late mother’s wardrobe, after she passed away last year. This is a sentimental, sustainable and resourceful strategy on Lena’s part. It is so easy and cheap to purchase new clothing these days, therefore upcycling is not about money. It is much more meaningful, purposeful and sustainable to modify what you already have to suit yourself than simply go shopping for new. Lena is deliberately choosing to reuse the special features, fabric and function of existing garments for a second life rather than shunting them off for a likely future as landfill. Continue reading

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Sew 194 – Treasuring what you have

Lena wears upcycledOne of the things I most enjoy about the Sew it Again project is working with others to enable a shift in thinking about what we can do with clothing that already exists in the world. This is the ‘greenest’ clothing we have and extending its usefulness is an easy, environmentally conscious and sometimes sentimental action.

My friend Lena came for a workshop yesterday with a trolley full of clothing that had belonged to her mother, who passed away more than a year ago. It was lovely sitting in the winter sunshine with Lena, looking at the garments – their colours, fabrics, design – and history.

This shirt (now Sew 194) was handmade by Lena’s mum, who worked as a tailor in Finland before moving to Brisbane. I discovered this by asking about the neat handmade buttonholes which are testimony of handcraft skills of old. After we removed the shoulder pads, the potential of the heavy-cotton spotted shirt was evident. It makes a great jacket which Lena can wear with pride. It works well with a black pleated skirt which we refashioned, from elastic-band into a wrap-around secured by two buttons. To finish off this outfit, we experimented with belt options. I found a white buckle in my stash, which looks great with the fabric offcut (from elastic waistband) threaded through it. Lena is clearly proud of this upcycle – and Sew 195 which I’ll put up tomorrow – and went home with ‘homework’ to make a blue history skirt that will become Sew 196. Apart from the satisfaction of engaging others in upcycling, that’s another 3 of my 365-day challenge taken care of!

upcycled style

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