5 Techniques Every Upcycling Seamstress Should Know

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Another Halloween has come and gone; my favourite part about it has to be making my costume. My best friend since childhood and fellow fancy dress enthusiast Steph and I always get fully involved when it comes to costume making. I apply the same upcycling mind set to costumes that I do to refashioning my clothes. There are several trusty techniques at the core of my sewing repertoire that I often come back to, so it occurred to me that  I should share a round up of the resources that I use time and time again. Not only will this (hopefully) give people a bit of inspiration when it comes to their own refashions, but I also wanted to give credit to the creative minds that have inspired me.

So here we go, 5 simple skills that will have you transforming your old clothes (and possibly old curtains) in no time!

1. DIY Velvet Circle Skirt Tutorial  

By Annika Victoria, author of The Pineneedle Collective

The circle skirt is a classic, but I found this tutorial particularly helpful because Annika clearly explains the mathematics required to make your own pattern. This is useful if, like me, your memory of the Pi equation is somewhat lacking.

My top uses for circle skirts:
  • Turn bed sheets, table cloths or any large pieces of fabric into retro skirts with minimal sewing.
  • Make a top into a dress by adding a circle skirt to the bottom.

2. Tutorial: How to Make Bias Binding 

By Maris, author of Sew Maris

My attempts at making my own bias binding were rather lackluster before I found Maris' blog. She shows you clearly through the use of great photos how you should cut your bias tape and stitch it together. She has many detailed tutorials on her blog so it's definitely worth following to tap into her wealth of sewing knowledge.

My top uses for bias binding:

  • Give a skirt or dress a facelift by adding contrasting binding to the hem.
  • Brighten up a cardigan by adding binding to the neck and sleeves.

3. Basic Ruffle Tutorial 

By Andrea, author of It's The Life

Ah ruffles; what a great way to spruce up a long forgotten garment! If you're unsure how to go about adding ruffles then I suggest you head over to Andrea's blog as she breaks it down for you very clearly, and even follows on from this tutorial with how to attach the ruffles to a hem.

My top uses for ruffles:

  • Everything! I'd put a ruffle on everything if I could, but they look particularly fancy around the neckline of a blouse or the hem of a skirt.

4. Shirring With Elastic Thread 

By Rae, author of  Made By Rae

Having had no idea how to shirr, I found this to be the most helpful tutorial when I first began. Shirring is a great skill to have under you belt because, as Rae mentions in her post, by adding a shirred back panel onto clothing you can omit the need for a zip. It's a great way to put some stretch into non-stretch fabric, plus it looks pretty too.

My top uses for shirring:

  • Cinch in a waist on an oversized top.
  • Turn a long skirt into a summer dress by shirring the top to create a bodice. 

5. Shrink That Dress: a DIY Tailoring Tutorial 

By Sheri, author of Confessions of a Refashionista

This easy to follow video tutorial shows you the ultimate skill in upcycling clothing: re-sizing an overly large garment. With this sewing skill in your arsenal, it opens you up to a world of opportunities when it comes to making something fresh.

My top uses for tailoring:
  • Tailor a man's shirt into a feminine, tailored blouse.
  • Nip in the waist and bust of baggy clothing.

Well there we go, I hope these clever ladies will inspire your work as they have mine!

Halloween Costume Refashion: DIY Sexy Witch Dress Tutorial

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Oh how I love Halloween, what a great time of the year. I may be a full grown adult but I won't let that stop me from getting fully involved in the festivities. It seemed only fitting that I created an upcycle tutorial to show you how to make a costume out of old t-shirts (old t-shirts... is there anything they can't be turned to?!). I think the dress I've made looks suitable for a Witch costume, but it's quite a versatile tutorial.

On to the upcycling tutorial! You will require 2 t-shirts, in contrasting colours. One of them needs to be quite large to give you enough fabric to make a dress that isn't horribly revealing! My boyfriend sacrificed this Thin Lizzy t-shirt because it was covered in bleach stains, but that will be disguised by flipping it inside out.

1. Measure your bust, waist and hips, halve this measurement and then add on 1 inch for seam allowance (eg, bust = 34 inches, halved that is 17 inches, plus 1 inch seam allowance = 18inches). Use these measurements to draw the outline of your dress on the large t-shirt, then cut out. Put the excess to one side as we will need that later.

2. Take the top layer of your dress, and cut it into 3 as shown in the photo (I've flipped my t-shirt over to hide the logo and bleach marks). The centre panel needs to be at least 4 inches wide. Only do this with one of the dress layers, not both.

 3. Lay the centre panel over your contrasting t-shirt, try to lay it across the longest point. As you can see, my green t-shirt isn't quite long enough but that's fine, you can get away with it being a few inches shorter.
 4. Cut, pin, and sew the two panels together as close to the edge as possible. You can see that my green panel 'grew' a bit whilst I was sewing it down. Jersey fabric has a tendency to do that so be careful!
 5. Cut horizontal slashes across the panel, all the way up. Don't be afraid to get right up to the edge of the stitching.
 6. It should look like this when you're done cutting. Get your 2 side panels from earlier and re-attach them using a sewing machine with a straight stitch (and a zig-zag stitch to finish off the edges if you're feeling fancy).
 7. Not sure what I did with my camera here, but apologies for the blurry photo! You should have something that looks a little bit like this, you can see it taking shape now. Get your back dress panel and stitch it to this panel, right sides together. Voila... one refashioned tube dress! Hem the top and bottom edges by folding the hems over inwards, and zig-zag stitch them down.
 8. Now on to those sleeves. Take the discarded t-shirt remnant from your large t-shirt. Lay the sleeves of it out flat, and cut off the hemmed edge strip. You want it to be at least 1.5 inches wide. Next, cut out a shape that looks like a quarter of a circle. As the sleeve is folded in half, it will be a semi-circle when unfolded. Just work with what you've got here, there is no exact measurement but I would suggest that if you're unsure, make your quarter circle as big as you can, and cut it down later if you need to.
 9. Snip your edge strip so that it opens out to be one long strip, open up your quarter circle to it's full semi-circle glory and lay them as so in the photo, right sides together. Stitch the semi-circle onto the strip.
 10. You will have an excess of fabric running the length of the strip where you have stitched the sleeve down. Pin it under and stitch it down.
 11. Cut the sleeve in a Halloweeny, fashion to create a ragged edge. Witches don't want neat sleeves! Now stitch the sleeve onto your tube dress. I would recommend trying it on, and pinning/adjusting/trimming the sleeve until your happy with the fit.
 12. This is optional, but I think it really brings it all together once the sleeves are attached. Take your contrast t-shirt and cut out 2 long, thin strips from it (mine were 18 inches long, and 1.5 inches wide). Tie them in bows around the bottom of your sleeves to create a couple of very Witchy bows.
Here is the finished costume; just add a witches hat and a broom and you've got yourself one very sexy Halloween costume at a fraction of the price of a store bought costume. You could apply this technique to different coloured t-shirts to create a variety of different costumes. For example, a red and black t-shirt combo could be a 'fallen angel' or devil dress depending on what accessories you add. Use your imagination... go wild it's Halloween! As always, if you have a crack at this tutorial, please do share your results, I love to see what people come up with.

Happy Halloween refashioning!

Men's Shirt into Retro Dress

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

My brother accidentally bought a shirt that was far, far too large for him. Rather than return it, it sat in the bottom of a cupboard for months doing nothing, so I kindly offered to take it off of his hands. Being quite a large shirt, there was plenty of material to work with for my latest refashion, as you can see it swamps me!

I do have a love of all things vintage, so I decided that a retro style sun dress would be a great project. This is probably my most ambitious upcycle to date, and it wasn't plain sailing but i'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, so... grab yourself a large shirt and let the refashioning commence!

I should mention that you'll also need a bit of extra fabric to create the collar, and 1 hook and eye fastener. I had the smallest slither of red plaid left, and I thought it would go nicely with the black.

1. To start with, chop off the arms as close to the seams as possible (keep these, we'll be using them later!), and cut off the collar straight across the shoulders. Then cut the shirt in two pieces- the top piece is for the bodice and the bottom piece is for the skirt. You'll want the skirt to be about twice as long as the bodice but alter the ratio to suit your shape. Bear in mind also, that the top 2 inches of the bodice will be folded down to create the collar trim.
NOTE: Be sure not to cut too close to the button holes, chop right through the middle so you've got equal amounts of fabric either side of the cut.

2. Pin the bodice around your torso with the right sides together (inside out) and the buttons done up (at this point, it would be useful to get a friend to help). Start pinning it in so that it fits you nicely- don't make it too tight though or you'll find it strains at the buttons! This was the hardest part, and I found that the best way to get the right fit was to keep trying it on, altering it bit by bit. You should aim to pin it in at both of the sides under the arm pits first, and then under the bust. Carefully take it off, and using your pins as a guide, mark with tailors chalk where you need to sew. Remember to leave yourself room for error by not making your bodice too small, it's easier to sew an additional seam in than to unpick one... as I learnt the hard way!

3. Once you've got your bodice fitting you nicely, it should look a little something like this. You should be able to see that I've folded the top 2 inches down, this is going to form a retro style collar I mentiones earlier, and will be covered with the strip of fabric I mentioned earlier. But for now, move on to the skirt.

4. Get the bottom part of the shirt, and cut it vertically straight down the back middle.

5.Then get those sleeves, chop off the cuffs and cut them in half long ways. This opens out the sleeves to give you extra fabric that we'll sew into the skirt to give it more volume.

6. See how I've laid out the sleeves in between the 2 skirt panels that I cut in half- this is how they will be stitched together, but forst you need to sew the sleeve panels together with a straight stitch, and close off the raw edges with a zig zag stitch. If you have any wonky lines on the lower unhemmed edge (as I did in the above photo), give them a quick trim so they match the shape of the 2 skirt pieces. Then, hem the lower edge of the sleeves. Now they are ready to be sewn into the skirt, one edge at a time- be sure to line up the lower hems so that it doesn't look out of place.

7. Time to gather the skirt now on the upper raw edge; sew a straight stitch (change your machine settings so you can sew a stitch with loose tension, and long in length) all the way across. You may find it easier to work in sections so you don't have to sew across any hems that could snap your thread when being pulled together. Gently gather your skirt, keeping the bodice near as a point of reference- you'll need the width of the gathered skirt to be the same width as the lower edge of the bodice.

8. Pin the bodice and skirt 'right sides' together and sew across with a straight stitch, Finish off the the hem with a zig zag stitch.
You should be able to see the dress taking shape now! BUT you'll need to finish off the upper raw edge, which is where the additional contrasting fabric comes in. You will need to cut 3 strips:
-1 x strip that is 2 inches longer than the width of the bodice, and 3 inches wide.
-2 x strips that are 2 inches wide, and 20 inches wide (these are for the straps, 20 inches should give you plenty of room for error!).

9. Use an iron to press the bottom raw edge of the long strip up 0.5 inches.

10. Pin the the raw edge of the strip, to the raw edge of the bodice, right sides together. Fold the over-hanging ends in and pin those in place, then sew a straight stitch all the way across.
Once the strip has been stitched down, fold it across the other way, so it is now 'inside' the dress, with the ironed edge flapping loose. You will now need to stitch this ironed edge down, get as close to the edge as you can. Once you've done this, fold and iron the strip so that it takes the form of the collar. I'd recommend sewing across again with another straight stitch to keep the collar folded down in place.

11. For the straps, get your 2 smaller strips of fabric, and fold them in half long ways, right sides together and stitch into 2 long, thin tubes. Turn them in the right way using this amazing bobby pin trick that I learnt from this blog (Dimity's Fiber Adventures). Where you sew the straps down is a matter of preference, I pinned them where I thought they should go, tried the dress on and marked accordingly. I had to cut a few inches off the length to make them short enough, then I pressed up the edges with an iron and sewed them to the dress with 2 parallel straight stitches on each join.

Almost done now... I promise!

12. The top of the dress is probably flapping around a bit, and that will never do! To give the collar a nice curve, I did a type of 'concertina' fold with the edges of the collar forming an 'M' shape. I then pinned the fold in place and sewed it down with a straight stitch.

13. To keep the dress closed at the top, I sewed in the hook and eye fasteners.

The result should be a light, floaty, retro style dress that buttons down the front!

 I am rather tall so it does come up a little short on me so realistically I'd probably wear this with leggings. Here is the finished product, let me know if you try this out!




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Hello and welcome to my blog! I'm a seamstress with a passion for refashioning clothing, and I've decided to document my creations and share my upcycling tutorials. My aim is to inspire people to re-use and re-love the clothes that they already own.

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