RECYCLING YOUR WARDROBE! March 24 2020
In this very strange situation we find ourselves in I know people will be looking for projects to do, perhaps dusting off that sewing machine and thinking - what can I make? It all seems to have happened so quickly and there's been so much to worry about that you won't have thought to dash out and buy fabric and findings, ready to create something beautiful during this time of lockdown and isolation.
This blogpost is here to inspire you to look no further than the corners of your wardrobe and to give you some tips and advice that I've picked up having spent years recycling. My first collection in 2005 was a mix of accessories that were created either from recycling or creating my own fabric by printing it locally at a photocopy shop. Much has changed in 15 years! Since that first collection I've concentrated on recycling Scottish materials like Harris Tweed jackets, Kilts and mohair capes etc as well as focusing on the amazing contemporary Harris Tweeds that are woven today on Harris & Lewis. I never dreamed when I started out that I would land up with designs in the British Museum and the V&A, create collections for the National Galleries and work with Judy Murray creating a collection for her Wimbledon inspired Harris Tweed. But before we start, here are some of the things I've made over the years - many are from that first collection but the vintage kimono and tweed have certainly been constants in my collections over the years:
FROM VINTAGE KIMONO
FROM VINTAGE CURTAINS
So as you can see, you can make something out of almost anything! Most of the pieces that I make for my own personal use have been from much loved garments that I can't bear to throw out, but I can no longer wear. Either they are so beautiful, remind me of such happy times or have huge sentimental value, that I cannot discard them. These are the ones I tend to make into other things, so that I can still use, see and touch the material, bringing the memories closer and giving me such an emotional connection to whatever it is I've created.
A good idea is to perhaps do a bit of a 'Marie Kondo' (https://konmari.com/) on your wardrobe then see what a fabulous haul you have to play around with. Besides clothing, old bags that are no longer functional, or have just lost their allure, are rich pickings for straps and fittings and sometimes zips too. You'll see in the images above the bags that are made from vintage curtains use my old wooden bangles as a motif on the closing flap, that also keeps it weighted down. I also sometimes use kilt pins to attach leather straps - at the time, I didn't have a strong enough machine for thick leather - so I made a couple of holes in the leather and attached the strap to the bag with the kilt pins. It's an amazingly strong closure that I still occasionally use today - and it's securely soldered closed.
Look through your haul and decide what kind of bag you might like to make, it's great fun choosing what it should be, letting your mind run free with the possibilities. Necessity is the mother of invention after all - and it's great coming up with ideas or suddenly seeing a different use for something because you have no access to other materials. I tend to make accessories but you can easily make dresses, skirts...anything you want. Because accessories is where my expertise lies, I'll stick to talking about that. I'm not doing a tutorial - there's loads of brilliant ones online for any number of designs so once you decide what materials you have, just get googling.
For accessories, it's always good to use heavier weight cloths for the outer material, and lighter for the inside. I unpick everything first and then always give it a wash. Even things that are generally dry clean only like wool, mohair, tweed etc, it's good to give a short 30 degree wash. This makes sure it's all clean to work with but as importantly, pulls the fibres together to make them stronger for their new life as a messenger bag or backpack. Delicate fabrics, like the kimono silks I've worked with, I do still hand wash (Note: some vintage kimonos are hand painted so you don't want to be washing that!).
Steam press all the material with a protective thin cloth; then use a fusible interlining (if you don't have any, good and quick sources are www.u-handbag.com and www.sewessential.co.uk). I tend to use a lot of Pelon Decor Bond 809 with my tweeds but something much more pliable and lighter with delicate fabrics like silks. I find the right fusible makes the material easier to work with, the lines sharper and helps hold the shape and gives strength. I also use interlining - this can be found online too but also if you've ever made curtains and have some spare blackout - this is a brilliant interlining in the absence of anything else.
Once you've decided on your material, then empty out your sewing box as well. If it's anything like mine, it's always a surprise what you can find in there that may be helpful in putting a bag or purse together. Studs, buttons, loop elastic to hold buttons in place... embroidery threads for finishing touches; ribbon that you can create a strap out of.
Get to know what you can do on your domestic machine, really become familiar with how it works and what it will take, to build your confidence when you come to make. You can even do some leather work on a domestic with the right needles and some patience. I use a semi industrial Janome 1600P. I do also have an industrial Juki but I love my Janome - and we use both in the studio for the main collection of backpacks, messengers and handbags. The thickness the Janome can go through is incredible and I like to think of it as my old war horse as it just keeps going. I started with a domestic Brother though, very light but still wonderfully versatile for different weights and thicknesses. So don't be frightened to try things out on your domestic machine - be patient and sew slowly, try working samples of the cloth first, with different thickness of the interlining, interfacings etc to see what you might be dealing with. For your first project, Try something easy like a shopper first, or a small clutch. Zipper clutches are very easy to make too, and quick - and once you've mastered a basic style then it's easy to change the size and shape to make different styles of bags. My really popular Toiletry Bag is effectively the same style as the new Traveller Cross Body Bag - just a few tweaks makes it appear completely different.
Besides accessories and clothing, cushion covers and quilts are something to think about - and we are so lucky now with an endless supply of tutorials online, on blogs and you tube. I very rarely make clothes for myself now, but I do love watching the tutorials - I find them very relaxing!
I hope this inspires you to start a project using what you have around you. If you have any questions that you think I can help with, why not post them on my Facebook page, so that others can see the questions and answers.
Good luck, happy making and wishing you all to stay safe during this health emergency.