Life Cycle of a T-shirt- Building a Refashion Stash

Recently I set myself the task of clearing out all my worn and semi-worn clothes to decide what to keep and what to cull.  It’s one of those tasks I avoid, preferring to stuff the undesirables into any space they’ll fit and ignoring them.  It’s hard to face an old project that doesn’t work for any of several reasons- wrong color, weird fit, a design experiment gone wrong or an unfortunate fabric choice.  And even worse- the clothes that are just fine but never get worn.  How to let go?  As I worked my way through the pile of unwearables, I couldn’t help but think about Sarai’s post about “Killing Your Darlings.”

I certainly felt like I killed a whole laundry load of darlings when my whites came out of a wash dyed an implacable shade of pepto-bismal pink.  (Yep, I’m still gutted about that and don’t care if it’s silly.)  I stuffed them into a bottom drawer, and every now and then I’d peek at them regretfully.  I tried everything known to man to change them white again, and I can also say without reservation that several months in a drawer will not restore whites to their proper color.

Spurred by the challenge I set myself for Frosting Fortnight to find and cull my “Unworns,” I dyed my ugly whites purple.  Why not?  At least purple is a color, right?

As soon as I pulled the whites-gone-pinks-gone-purples out of the washing machine, I knew there was no way I’d wear them.  Ever.  I’m not saying purple lace insertion is a bad look, it’s just not me.  I gamely squared off the shirts for rags, but before I relegated them to the cupboard under the kitchen sink, Lila expressed her delight in their color.  The monkey liked a bit of lace lying around, too.

What can I make for a little girl from large squares of purple jersey in less than half an hour?  Pillows!  I finished squaring off my ruined favorite tops, put a little pink lining fabric culled from another Unworn behind it, and together Lila and I stitched them into little pillows.  So far they’ve been used for sleeping, as extra walls for her dollhouse, as lilypads, and as weapons in a giggly pillow fight.  I count that as a win.

Once I got honest with myself about what I wear and what I don’t, I had a nice big pile of garments.  The guilt!  Oh, the guilt… I hesitated over this skirt for quite some time.  It’s a plain and simple 6-gore from a 50’s suit pattern, nicely made from a medium weight hemp fabric that shows almost no signs of wear though I wore it constantly for years.  I like the way it looks on my body, the way it feels and the many small and unnecessary details stitched into her.   I like everything about this skirt but my lifestyle does not realistically permit me to wear such things anymore.  I haven’t worn her for over a year.

Once I started ripping out the zipper and findings, I realized something about the magic of sewing.  I’ve always loved the process of taking a length of fabric, some thread and various notions and rendering them into a garment that was more than the sum of its parts.  Yet as I stripped down a favorite skirt, I saw myself doing the same thing in reverse.  Fabric becomes a garment, and a garment becomes fabric.  It’s really easy to look at a skirt and only see the object.  But if I reduce that skirt to a flat piece of fabric and some notions, then I can stitch a new garment from old-but still lively- cloth.

That purple hemp…. Dear me… I’ll find a use for it, the fabric is good. And I’m way, way impressed that my Shisha mirror embroidery stood up to a summer of constant wear, washing, and dyeing. Well done, embroidery.

When I “ripped” this skirt, I only ripped one seam and removed the waistband and notions.  I did this for several skirts I don’t wear- reduced them to a single flat piece of fabric.  Now I have several pieces of linen, hemp, and cotton canvas I can remake into anything I want.  For free.  Completely free- reclaimed fabric is a “pass” in my book.  I have the idea these fabrics will become summer shorts, maybe an industrial seamed skirt or tote bags- we’ll see.  The next project will carry the seams from the previous garment, but I like that.  It’s a history, a reincarnation.

There were so many buttons… And I liked all of them! Imagine that…

Reclaiming my mis-placed sewing materials is definitely not very interesting or sexy, but it didn’t take much time once I started.  When I finished, I had “new” lace and buttons and zippers and hooks and bars to add to my stash.  I can always use more of those things.  And I have more closet space, less clutter, and several pieces of free pass fabric.

I’ve had a few questions from some of you about how to refashion.  I don’t know.  I honestly, really don’t know how to answer that question.  I think the main thing is to remember that a skirt isn’t just a skirt (it’s also a piece of fabric).  Also remember to allow a little serendipity into the process- like making a set of purple lace throw pillows for a little girl.  I doubt I’d come up with that as a project even if I sat and thought for years, but in the moment it seemed like a great idea.  She loves her new pillows and we had a great time sewing and stuffing them.

It’s really satisfying to re-use old projects and I’m challenging myself to continue to re-make, re-fashion or discard Unworns.  In fact, I want to feature little refashioning projects regularly.  Next week’s re-make:

click for “source.” If you know the real source, please let me know so I can update the links.

How great is this little tote made from a felted sweater?  Yeah, I have one of those… Handknit, alpaca… And now I know what to do with it!  I wonder if little bows would be as charming as the roses?

Besides rags, charity donations, and fabric reclamation, what other ways do you deal with Unworns?  Trash?  Do you have a clever or satisfying “life-cycle” story to tell?

Next time: deep, dark wardrobe secrets.  Maybe with zombies or vampires, something nice and festive, anyway…

Anatomy of a Jacket: Plain and Sturdy Fijian Tailoring

Some time ago, I got my hands on Advance 2997- a WW2 era pattern.  I love patterns from this time because they tend to use fabric in a very scroogy way, and the severely utilitarian lines delight my inner Puritan.  This pattern features in a “Make Do and Mend” type leaflet I found online called “You’ve Got the Goods on Him,” which I have assembled for you into an easy to print pdf file.  It’s pretty good.

The cool thing about re-working an existing jacket is I can re-use most of the original tailoring- front edges and lapels, the pockets, etc.  I have to be careful with my cutting, but it’s almost like an “instant jacket.”  At least it is in my head.  I’m thinking about the social conditions such a leaflet sprang from- women holding down the homefront, men gone.

The reasoning goes something like this: “It’s ok to cut up his suit jacket- you need one anyway for your new job and by the time he gets back he won’t mind.  Here’s a handy leaflet to tell you how- and since you’re such a busy woman it’s a bonus you don’t have to do much of your own tailoring.   Just reuse the existing pockets, lapels and collar!”  I can almost hear it.

Here I am modeling the $5 Fijian Suit.  It’s- uhm- not my size, though curiously, the pants seem to fit quite decently.  It’s a very tough cotton-poly twill, navy with a white pinstripe.  It’s quality enough that I’d wear it once I’m finished (if the experiment turns out well!) but on the other hand it cost $5 and it’s not like it’s made of yak fur and angel’s eyelashes so if it’s a bust I won’t beat myself up about it.

The weather changed here to “cool” and while I have a neato cotton-cord 1940’s Army style jacket that will easily stand up to another “winter” in Brisbane, I have long wanted a “blazer” type jacket, preferably pinstriped.  Viola!

Here’s a few snaps I took during the autopsy- nothing outre, just a plainly well-tailored jacket.

I found a $5 Fijian Suit- Make Do and Mend Project

I bought Advance 2997 some time ago. It features in “You Have the Goods on Him,” a 1940’s Make Do and Mend-type leaflet on making women’s suits from men’s.  I’m fond of 1940’s “utility chic”- it’s generally pretty thrifty, wearable and often features severe lines and interesting details.

Since buying the pattern, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for a suitable men’s suit to chop up.  I don’t know how this project will pan out.  It’s an experiment.  I don’t want to try this experiment on a suit I like without first trying it on a crappy suit.  By the same token, I want to start with a decent enough suit that I can wear the finished garment if I like it.

Behold- a navy and gray single-breasted pinstripe suit found today in an op-shop and purchased for the princely sum of $5.  It’s 45% polyester and 55% wool.  The fabric feels hard to the touch, as I would expect from a decent men’s suit.  It is in perfect condition.  Notice the front opening- it’s slanted.

I think it was made fit to a rather short, broad shouldered man with a belly. The trousers are an almost perfect length for me in kitten heels- I didn’t discover that until I got home.  The slanting front opening on the jacket helps camouflage a belly, fooling the eye into seeing a straight line over a curved stomach, and allowing for easier mobility.  It’s the sign of a clever fitter.

The welt pockets with flaps are ok, I’ll probably re-use them.

I’m thrilled it has a single-welt breast pocket, just like the suit on the Advance pattern.

Speaking of pockets, this jacket has more pockets than any other I’ve ever worked with or made.  (The photo is discolored, but the garment is not.) I keep finding pockets inside of pockets on this jacket- I do that in my own jackets.  For now, the count stands at 8 pockets in the jacket and 5 in the trousers.

The maker included a double layered gusset to re-inforce the underarm area.  When I unpick the jacket I plan to reverse engineer this gusset and use it in future jackets. The underarm lining seam in a jacket is often the first seam to wear out, long before the rest of the suit is dead.

The vent, the CF opening and all hems are well interfaced, with just the right amount of body.  The trousers feature slanting side pockets and a neat little coin pocket.  I will decide later whether to cut up the pants (which fit frighteningly well) or keep them.

Another small oddity- only one back welt pocket buttons.  Why?

What is that?  It’s a tiny hanging loop at the CF of the trousers, but I don’t know what it is for…?

Not bad for $5.  This will be a long-range project I work on steadily, but in small chunks.   I’d like to post an update on progress each week but I don’t want this project to take over my life either.  First I should prepare the suit the way the leaflet suggests.  Then I’ll muslin the pattern for fit and proportion.  Once I marry the suit to the pattern and figure out which design details to keep and which to jettison, the sewing should go smoothly.  Should.  We’ll see.  I’ll be documenting what I do along the way.

If you haven’t already, do check out the Merino Fabric and Kimono Wrap Top Pattern Giveaway.  It closes after dinner at my house on Saturday.

Thanks for all your kind words about the “I Choo Choo Choose You” t-shirt.  He wears it constantly!

Edit: I took the jpg scans from “What I Found” and assembled them into an easy to print pdf.  Click here to download.

Piracy and Pirate Skirt Re-Fashion

I’m sure you know by now that Wikipedia (and other websites) have gone on a 24-hour blackout to protest the SOPA and PIPA legislation being debated in Congress right now.  In fact, the only page Wikipedia is showing is a description of the legislation, why they don’t like it, and links to related news stories.

I don’t know how to address movie and music piracy, but these laws don’t look like the best way.  Devoted pirates are unlikely to be checked by the contents of the legislation.  Instead, SOPA and PIPA lay the groundwork for wider, legal internet censorship.  In this time we live in of systemic corruption, revolution, social change and Occupiers, I don’t really trust a government to regulate the free speech and free information we all enjoy right here on the internets.  What do you think? (I always welcome opinions; let’s please be respectful.)

Rather than join the blackout (I’m too lazy to figure out how), I thought I’d share some information of my own and show you how I resurrected a half-dead pencil skirt.

This skirt comes from Plasticland.  Once again you, my style-enablers, encouraged me to chase a whim and make something fun.  (Note the anchor embroidery.)

This skirt is made of organic cotton from one of those useful little 1960’s “instant skirt” patterns.  I love it, but this fabric softens with age.  Once it started softening, it didn’t look quite “smart” anymore, but was too restrictive for me to cycle into my casual-wear.  So I stuck it in a drawer.

Today, I pulled it out from hiding and drew a few chalk lines until I found a pleasing curve, then cut it.  I overlocked/serged the raw edge and removed the faux-pocket flaps:

I acquired this very pretty, flowy poly chiffon from a friend’s de-stash.  I cut it along the bias, using the pattern in the fabric as a guide.  I cut it roughly 5″ wide, and joined the strips to measure roughly 5X the hem of my skirt.  Then I made a rolled hem on my machine.  As happens, it skipped in a few places so I went back over the skipped spots with a neat hand buttonhole stitch.

I turned up the differential feed on my serger to help gather the ruffle.  This works best on light fabrics and four threads and usually gives something of a mini-pleated effect.  Mine was sissy-gathering because I used just 3 threads.  I divided the hem of the skirt and the edge of the ruffle into quarters and pinned them together.  Then I drew up the needle thread to gather it further.  I stitched, serged the seam allowance together and pressed toward the skirt.

At that point, I decided the skirt was too long.  I wanted a longer skirt than Plasticland’s, but not as long as this skirt came out.  No way would I unpick and re-sew the ruffle, so I stitched a pleat in the body of the skirt as I’ve seen on late 40’s dresses.

Unfortunately, the cool pleat doesn’t show up in my quickie “in-progress” photos.   I’ll take some lovely pictures once I embroider the skirt and finish the sailor top.  What do we think of these whales from Oh, Fransson!?


In other news, remember the 50’s housewife micro-houndstooth shirt I started last September?  I finished it for Sew Weekly’s “Buttoned Up” challenge.  Have a look.

Edited to add:  WordPress users, you can opt to “protest SOPA PIPA” under your “settings,” which is interesting.  That’s the ribbon in the corner of the screen, which takes you to a form to write to your member of congress and to more information about the legislation.

Sneaky Sewing Savings: Laundry Soap

Last week when I wrote about what is arguably the crappiest sewing machine on earth, I offered to share some of the things I do around the house to “save” money. I use my savings to buy sewing stuff or things I can’t possibly construe as “for the house/family.”  Like the Astoria shoes I want and don’t technically need.

Some people work and trade their time/skills for actual money- wage earners.  Other people work very hard indeed without drawing a paycheck- home-makers.  (And many people do a little of both.) Household tasks have tremendous value, even if it is in “savings” for the home and family rather than an actual wage.

Often, I give myself a little extra housework “in exchange” for guilt-free pocket money.  In our house we live on a pretty tight budget and always have, so over time I developed a system of dozens of little odd jobs I assign myself in exchange for discretionary funds.  I mean jobs that go above and beyond regular housework, and that I can quantify.

One of these regular jobs is making laundry soap.  When Miss Smith at Home posted about this over a year ago, I was skeptical.  It didn’t seem right to me- what, make my own laundry soap for a dollar or two?  Is that a thing, do people do that?  Will it work?  Is it gross?

A year later, I can say it does work quite well, it’s not gross and it’s cheap.  Following Miss Smith’s example, I figured out my costs:

1 bar sunlight soap- $ 0.52

250g washing soda- $0.90

7L of detergent / 1/2c per load= ~56 loads = $1.42 or $0.03/load

Before I started making my own, I used a front-loading liquid detergent:

$14.99/42 loads


$0.36 x 56(loads) = $ 20.16 for the same number of washes I get from my home-made soap.

$20.16-$1.42= $18.74 savings

Of course, prices are astronomical in Australia, and I choose liquid as it seems to be gentler on my clothes.  It’s usually more expensive than powdered.  Your own price spread will vary.  It takes me half an hour to make a batch that will last for 6 or so weeks.  We’re a small family, I imagine the savings would be greater for larger families.

Laundry Soap Recipe: (It’s not rocket science, think of it as making a bucket of soapy water)

1 Bar plain soap (I use sunlight or whatever I have to hand)

1 c Washing Soda/ sodium carbonate (laundry isle or in the pool supply section)

1c Baking soda (sometimes, add it with the washing soda)

Grate the soap.

Dissolve the soap flakes in 2L of boiling water (a kettle full) in a bucket.  Stir it around for a while.

Add 1c washing powder.  Stir while adding another 5L of water to nearly fill the bucket.  Stir until it is all dissolved.

Pour it into containers- I used old vinegar jugs, clean milk jugs would work well too.

I leave a little “headroom” to shake it before use; sometimes the soap sets firmly.  I use about 1/2c at a time, though that may be more than strictly necessary.

That’s it!  $18.74 isn’t a huge deal but it’s not bad for half an hours’ of work.   It comes out to around $162.41 over the course of a year- not an astronomical sum, but a useful bit of pocket money.  (Maybe if I made a year’s worth of laundry soap all at one time, I could justify the Astorias…)

Besides, I’m sure making my own laundry soap is somehow vaguely “green,” which is always a plus.

Do you quantify the work you do around the home?  How?  Do you ever trade a little extra effort for a bit of pocket money?

This might be an odd question but I’m curious- do you use paper towels / kitchen paper in your home?  How many rolls per week?

Tomorrow: Skirt re-fashion!  Or bag stencils!  Something awesome, anyway!

Shopping for 30’s Suit Patterns with a “Make Do and Mend” Surprise

I bought a jacket pattern.  Three, actually.  As much as I adore Robin’s jacket, I know my drafting skills aren’t quite up to scratch.  I just want to sew, not fink around with drafting gorgeously complicated lines and angles.

When I shop, I set out with a clear idea of what I want.  (Have you read Zoe’s timely post on shopping and consumption?)

I wanted a 1930’s suit jacket, smart and pert with clean lines.  The 30’s can be challenging to a modern eye, even if I like it.  Example:

I know I’m not the woman to pull that off, though it appeals to me.

Eventually, I discovered this treasure at LanetzLiving (20% sale on too, which cinched it):

Oh!  Oh!  OH!  I will make every one of these pieces, I have the perfect fabrics for each!  That blouse!  So 30’s, but I could so easily make it in a plain smooth batiste in one of “my colors” and it would work very well.  Note the jacket is neither double nor single breasted- what do you call that?  Finally, while the skirt looks relatively nondescript, I’d be willing to bet it’s one of those perfectly useful 30’s skirt patterns.

This was an impulse buy, albeit a long-considered one.  The past two winters, I wanted a tailored cape-jacket.  I’m one step closer.  This is my favorite cape-jacket in two years of looking.

(Stitches and Loops, great customer service)

After my pleasant experience with a 1940’s Advance suit pattern, I’m thrilled to add this to the queue.  Look at those long, slim lapels- and the same closure as the late 30’s pattern.  But wait, there’s more to this pattern:

I found (and printed) a leaflet from the war years called “You Have the Goods on Him,” all about making a woman’s suit from a man’s with conceptual advice and cutting layouts.  Like Zoe, I shop as a “hunter gatherer,” so now I’m on the hunt for a great big wool gabardine man’s jacket!  When I find a good one, I’ll be sure to share the “make do and mend” experience.  I wonder what color it will be?

Do you like the 30’s, or have any experience sewing from the era?  Do you know what those front closures are called?  Who are your favorite online pattern sources?

While I was finding patterns, I discovered this amazing page on the social history behind 30’s fashion.

Tightwad Tailoring Tools- Pincushions and Portable Design Boards

I ask a lot from my tools and equipment.  Naturally, they should be in decent condition and perform the desired task.  I also like them to be simple, multi-talented, durable and inexpensive.  My tools don’t often meet all those criteria; if I want durability and general usefulness, I have to pay for it.

Not this time.  I found some cheap cork boards at the Swedish box store, intended for use under hot dishes.  Some time ago, I went to a friend’s house to help her put a quilt together.  She had one of these pads covered in pins!  I loved the idea.

I use three distinct spaces for sewing: the cutting table (my kitchen counter),

my sewing machine,

and the ironing board (where I pin seams).   I like to keep one pincushion in each area, so I don’t have to interrupt my workflow to track down pins.

I discovered several other uses for these cork disks.  The one next to the machine also holds any notions I need for a project.  This is especially helpful when I can’t finish in one sitting- I won’t lose the zipper or the buttons or the particular foot I want or the useful scrap of bias tape.  I’d also call it a portable design board, since I can carry it over to the cutting table (kitchen counter) as I ponder how to put a garment together.

It’s also great for using sharp tools.  Now I don’t have to get up and locate my self heal mat to use my:


Buttonhole Chisel

Seam ripper razor blade.

All that for the same price as two cans of Coke!  Do you ever “re-purpose” an ordinary household item to use in your sewing, only to discover it works really well?  What is it?  How do you use it?  What do you “go” for in tools?  Looks?  Durability?  Design?  Cost?

(I really enjoy the comments lately… I feel like I’m having a dozen slow-paced conversations.  :)  Also bought at the Swedish store- a clearance duvet cover destined to become the dress I show you how to build a simple bra into…!  Soon! Tomorrow is my basic FBA tutorial, so I can build from there…)

Finished Object: Ambivalent Guachos

The Chef-inspired gauchos are finished!  I’ve worn them a few times since completion, they may be growing on me.

I’m experimenting with “casual” clothes lately- most of my other sewing involves “work” clothes.  I need more running errands/barbeque/going to the library/meeting up with friends type clothes, but want to stay true to my personal style.

I’m not the biggest fan of these for a few reasons.  For one, they’re already starting to pill on the inner thigh.  I’ve only worn them twice… For another, I cut the original pants too short, so added a bias border to make up the length.

The border seems to affect the way the pants drape. I’m not used to handling polyester, it didn’t behave quite the way I expected.

At least the back fits ok.

I finished the inside waistband and the bottom of the zip with contrast red binding.

The two buttons stitched at the lower edge of the pocket “finishes” it well.  In my next version of these pants, I’ll add buttonholes.

I consider this a useful (for now) garment, and it showed me a few ways to improve the original design.  I probably won’t sew this again for some time (too many other projects), but I do feel I’ve worked out the kinks in the design.

Up next- the sparkly skirt… I decided not to use the mirror trim, but I will use the shisha mirrors.  I’m also work on a pleated waistband.

Finished Object: Jasmine (Revolutionary Road) Dress

It’s springtime in Queensland, which means jasmine everywhere.  I miss the scent of honeysuckle summers.   I enjoy the jasmine season, it feel deliciously exotic to walk outside on a warm jasmine-scented evening.

I stalled for a few days on the dress construction while I tried to find a belt.  Ivory belts are indecently hard to find in Brisbane at the moment.  I eventually settled for a skinny belt, only to look at it in sunlight and realize it is too gray to go with the dress.

Today, I decided to finish the dress and try it without a belt.

In my next iteration of this dress, I won’t “slope” the neckline so much.  I’ll just drop the jewel neckline straight down 4.5″ for an extremely elongated oval.  I believe my sloper/block needs a little tweaking in the bust area.  Other than that, I’m happy with the draft.

This dress hits my criteria for casual summer dresses:

  • Simple, with a little design interest
  • Machine Washable
  • “Ease-y”- not closely fitted (especially under the arms), to allow optimal air circulation
  • Breathable fabric- the breeze passes straight through this cotton/rayon slub-crepe
  • Comfortable
  • Lined skirt for opacity

I couldn’t pinpoint the texture of this fabric when I first started working with it, but now I know- lightweight terry or toweling, almost like a spa wrap.  It’s not obnoxious (especially for free fabric), but firmly casual.  In keeping with the casual vibe, I’ll wear it with pretty, bright colored flats.  I don’t think a belt is necessary.

What’s that stuck to my hem?

My iron died.  Its last act was to belch rusty water all over the kickpleat during my final press.  BLAST.  Then the iron overheated and ruined my teflon shoe. (Or so I thought.  I took it outside to rid the house of electrical fire stink and once it cooled, the shoe looked fine.  Weird.)  Way to take the wind out of my sails, Iron.

I’m not sure what to do about this.  A cursory google search leads me to believe I probably won’t get the rust out.  I hate to give up on this dress, it’s insanely comfortable and I know I’ll reach for it constantly this summer if I can fix it.  Ideas??

At least I used some pretty guipure lace on the lining.  I think the heavy lace helps shape the skirt.

Now I can focus on knocking out a few of the simpler pieces from the Summer 2012 Wardrobe, (I could use some simple woven shells) or perhaps work through a stack of Husband t-shirts.  I can’t work on my Robin Suit or red linen pants or playing with summer tailoring ideas until they deliver my roll of silk organza…

Finished Object: Hungry Caterpillar Quilt

Quilted, Finished, Ready for the Baby

I completed this play-quilt for a friend’s new baby last week using Amy Butler’s free Window to the Soul quilt pattern.  I opted to use fewer border fabrics, because the finished quilt as written is nearly bed size.

The quilting was far from perfect, but it feels strong and tough.  I backed it with some co-ordinating yellow fabric- not my first choice, but it was to hand already and will work well for a floor quilt.  I chalked a grid guide to quilt the center, and quilted parallel and intersecting lines on the different sections of the quilt.  All in all, it was a charming, relatively easy and satisfying project.

I made a gallery tutorial on how to square off fabric, which you can find here.

The Revolutionary Road dress is nearly finished, just a little tweaking and she’s ready to wear!  I’ll need advice about styling and accessories…

Also, if you live in Brisbane and you’d like to come to a knit-together email me.  A few people I know are planning to get together on Wednesday night to watch Meet John Doe and knit/crochet together.  I’m knitting for Occupy Our Needles, but you can work on whatever you’d like.