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How to Refashion / Upcycle Clothing – the very incomplete guide


I hate sewing zips and buttonholes.  It’s almost enough to put me off a pattern.  So I often avoid them where possible, but realistically, all my clothes can’t be fastened with velcro or snaps.  Darn.

This is why refashioning is so perfect.  All the hard work is already done and I can just update the final look.  Ideal for lazy sewers (me!) and beginners too.

So I thought I’d share with you some tips I’ve garnered along the way.  I’m no Marisa Lynch, but we’ve all got to start somewhere!

Choosing the Garment

  • I have to love the fabric I’m working with otherwise I won’t like the results.  Lighter shades can be dyed, but fabric texture, weight and patterns can’t be altered, so make sure you like what you see.
  • You get to use lots of imagination here.  Turn garments upside down, on their side or use them to do a complete remake.  Just because something is a skirt now, doesn’t mean it has to continue that way.  This pink top is a cardi turned upside down!
  • Check the quality.  Rotting fabric won’t do you any favours!

The Nitty Gritty – Getting Down to Business

1949 Singer Featherweight 221k

  • Where possible, work on the garment inside out.  You will often be taking the garment on and off for sizing, so you don’t want to find just the right spot, only to be relocating the pins to the other side for sewing.  This will save you so much time and frustration!
  • I like to have an end goal in mind for the garment before I even start. Feel free to change that goal as you go, but you need to have an idea of where you are heading.
  • Take your time to think about what you’re going to do and how. Leave an item in a spot you’ll often walk past to remind you about it and think about possibilities for a few days. Will it become a skirt? What kind of skirt? Can the shirt collar become a waistband? Do I want to keep the buttons or remove them completely? I enjoy this part of the process the most. Dreaming of the possibilities and thinking about logistics all while I do dishes, vacuum or drive.
  • Just relax (grab a glass of wine?) and go for it.  I sometimes get a little nervous, knowing I only get one shot at this.  So while I probably don’t have another garment with the same fabric to patch up errors, if I held back for fear of mistakes, I’d never make anything.  And isn’t it better to learn with an old item I was going to hiff anyway, than with expensive fabric from the store?  If you find you’re still very nervous about it, practice on an old sheet or some ugly fabric first.  By the way, I have made a lot of things that only went straight to the bin afterwards.  Just put it all down to experience gained.  You’ll be making magic in no time.
  • There are oodles of great tutorials online.  So if you want to make a puff sleeve or use bias tape etc and have no idea how, Google is your friend.  Often things aren’t as tricky to make as you may think.
  • When shortening something, don’t forget to leave room for sewing a new hem.  There’s no firm rule about hem size, but if in doubt, aim for 2-2.5 cm.
  • A lot of things you already own can be used as patterns.  Just turn a pair of pants inside out, lay them flat and trace around them.  Or unpick an old garment to get a sleeve pattern.  It’s quite liberating when you realise what you already have on hand and patterns can often be so expensive to buy.  This Dana Made It tutorial explains it really well.
  • When you pull something apart, keep little bits like buttons or elastic that is still in good condition.  They’ll come in handy for other projects later on.
  • Every little scrap you cut from the garment has potential to be reused elsewhere in the project.  That excess fabric can be transformed into a new sleeve or belt, so don’t throw scraps away until you’re totally finished.
Filed under: refashion

About the Author

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Freelance writer, sewing enthusiast, and coffee appreciator living in NZ


  1. Some great tips here!! Thanks for sharing. I’m not a fan of zips either, but more so button holes – arggh!

    • Thanks Erica and ta for sharing the link 🙂 Wouldn’t it be super handy if we could just dress like paper dolls and fold over tabs on the shoulders!

  2. I love invisible zips… as long as you have the right foot for them they go in easily. I hardly ever use any other kind of zip. Great tips Trina!

    • Really?! That’s it, I am pinning you down for a tutorial next time you’re in town. It may very well change my world as I know it 🙂

  3. This is a terrific post on refashioning! Patterns seem fussy to me, and I just can’t wrap my mind around buying new fabric and making something from scratch when there’s so much out there that can be made awesome with just a few tweaks. 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with being a lazy sewer. 😉

    • Thanks! You do some fabulous refashioning yourself. I think it also involves a bit more creativity than just following a store bought pattern. Refashioning is quite individualistic, which is refreshing. Keep up the great work! Your blog looks so inspiring.

  4. hayleeread

    I love your blog! I am an Aussie living in Wellington, New Zealand.. I have just started a blog upcycling random things in my house, including clothes and jewellery.

    You have inspired me to look at things even deeper and see what I can come up with.


    • Thanks Haylee. You’re so sweet and I’m so pleased to have you following. I’d love to see your blog and keep up with what you’re creating. What’s the address?

  5. Pingback: It was bound to happen…my first ever tutorial « Tethered Butterfly's Blog

    • Thanks Kathy. Yes, of course, feel free to share as long as credit is given where it’s due 🙂 happy refashioning!

  6. MJ

    Exactly!! Excellent tutorial! I have sewn my entire life (decades) and once I found refashioning, I have not sewn something from fabric, notions, and a pattern since. But I have to admit that when we grew up with little money, my mom would sew things for herself and us from hand-me-downs from richer family members. She does not like to sew, but had to do it. I did some refashioning (before it had that name!) while in college and grad school because I had so little money and loved to sew and have cool clothes. Even though I have money now, it is more fun to take hand-me-downs or thrifted purchases and make them interesting and well-fitted!! Thanks for the encouragement! I am going to share this with some of my friends!

    • That’s fantastic, MJ. It is rewarding, isn’t it? and there’s nothing like a custom fit. Thanks for commenting and sharing. Happy sewing!


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