Refashion 101

I got an email from a reader the other day with a question about how to get in to refashioning. She is a student and a new mom, so clothing money is tight, and her closet is feeling really boring and outdated. Now, I don’t pretend to know much about refashioning — I’ve done a grand total of maybe twenty refashions ever. But it was a good question and got me thinking.

How do you get into refashioning? How do you make things look professional and not homemade? How do you get the creative juices flowing?

Here are a few of the ideas I thought of and shared with her:

1. Learn to use your sewing machine. This is huge for me. Your clothing
will most likely look homemade if you are just tying knots, or gluing things on.
You only need to know the basics of sewing for most refashion projects,
but doing real seams will make a world of difference in making your clothing look professional.

2. Utilize Pinterest. There are so many amazing ideas on there,
but not just DIY projects. Most of the things I make or refashion come
from outfits I see models or other bloggers wearing. An idea is usually sparked when I see
a model wearing a shirt with a similar color or pattern to a shirt I
already own, and from there I can figure out how to manipulate my shirt to look like the models’. 

3. Make a “repair box” and then go through your closet and put everything in there that you don’t wear.  Going through your closet one piece at a time lets you know what you have to work with when refashioning. Then when you see a refashioning idea, you know exactly what you own and how you can use it to make a piece you love. Also, work on each piece in the repair box one at a time. Seeing each item individually can
help the task seem easier. Attacking your whole closet at once will get
overwhelming really fast. Some of my clothes have only needed a simple seam
for me to love them again (baggy sleeves are a big one for me…I’ve
taken in so many sleeves and suddenly the cardigan or shirt fits me like
a dream and makes me love it again).

4. Clean out your closet. I have a strict policy that I don’t keep
anything in my closet that I don’t like and won’t wear. I either get rid
of it or put it in the repair box. Having a big closet full of clothes
that I don’t like makes me unhappy. Who cares if you have a lot of clothes in your closet if you hate them all? It’s okay if your closet is small if
you love and will wear every single item in there.

5. Don’t be limited to your closet only.  Utilize your husband’s (or boyfriend, or brother) old clothes, if he’s going to get rid of them. I did that with my polo refashion,
and it’s now one of my favorite tops. Also, there may be lots of potential in cheap thrifted items — taking in the sides or hemming the bottom can often make an awful piece into an amazing piece.

6. Accept the fact that some clothes are not fixable. I’ve sent
plenty of shirts to Goodwill, or thrown them away, because there is
nothing I can do with them (after I’ve tried). Don’t hang on to it forever, hoping that it will somehow get new life, or it will become a thorn in your side or a wet blanket for your creativity. Sometimes you just have to throw things away. It’s okay.

7. Learn how to layer. Pinterest is another great guide for this, as
are fashion blogs. Style is about putting pieces together in interesting
and creative ways. If you learn how to mix pieces, you have endless
outfit possibilities, even if you’re using the same pieces over and
over. Use belts, scarves, cardigans, and tights to mix and match your
clothing, and make it feel new and fresh. I’ve had some of the same
pieces in my closet for years that I’ve always worn the same way, and suddenly when I layer them together, new interesting
outfits are born.

8. Re-purpose. Put a shirt on over a dress, and turn that dress into a
skirt for a day. Or the opposite — put a skirt on over the dress and
turn it into a top. Use a thin scarf as a belt, or a headwrap. Wrap long
necklaces around your wrist to create the look of several bracelets.
When you start thinking outside of the box, style and creativity start
developing.

9. If you can, buy something new every once in a while. Having a new piece in your wardrobe can spark new ideas,
make a bunch of new outfits, and make you feel like your closet is staying current.

Okay, fellow bloggers, what else can you add to this list? Help me make this a nice even 10, cause that’s driving me crazy.

  • I love this post, and I think you covered just about everything. I don't have a #10 for you, but I really loved your, "Wear it backwards" tip a few months ago about that striped shirt you got from Target. I've done that with a few different clothing items since then and it's saved them from the donate pile.

    Also, I think you should just try and copy an outfit that is completely not your style every once in awhile. You might feel silly and really out-there, but you might also find a few trends or ideas that you turn out to love.

  • I think #10 for me would be, subscribe to your favorite fashion magazine. Pinterest is great for ideas on fashion and refashioning but you might not always be connected to the internet. Plus, it's always great to use multiple sources of inspiration.

  • Ooh! I don't know much about refashioning–well, I do now. I think I need to start with #1: learn how to use my sewing machine…

  • hey! i love your blog. i'm sure you don't remember me, but you were in my ward (36th ward) for a little bit when we first moved in. anyways…i found your blog through elle apparel. you have some great ideas and such an adorable little boy. hope you don't mind me sticking around. 🙂

  • Thanks for this! I am so sick of people's posts about outfits you can buy for under $200! Hello! Who has the funds for that!

  • Great post! I started refashioning from reading awesome blogs and thinking "I can do that." My addition is to learn to make your own jewelry or refashion thrift store or garage sale jewelry. You can tie a ribbon on the ends of a necklace and you have a new piece. Costs almost nothing especially if you use a necklace you already have.

    Christine @ Projectsaroundthehouse.blogspot.com

  • This is great. Reading this makes me anxious to go do something with all the clothing sitting in my repair/wonder-what-to-do-with-it bag.

  • Great ideas! Simple things like adding elastic to the back (or sides) of waistband of pants or skirts can make them look and fit so much nicer.

    Bit of history: Using a scarf for a belt was big in the late sixties and early seventies, as was wearing jewelry on long chains, ropes, or leather strips. That same jewelry made great belts in the 1980's.

    Remember, that if you have something that just can't be fixed for you, check to see if it 1) is the fabric suitable for a children's or dolls' clothes, 2) would make a good rag, 3) has any usable buttons or trim, 4) a working zipper than can be used in another garment. Gotta add in the extra thrift factors. 🙂

  • Merrick, I love reading your blog. You are very creative and I love all your advice on fashion. So I have a question. I have this really awesome pair of grey, almost cow boy looking boots. I have had them for 2 years but I can't think of what color would go best with them, so I never wear them. I would like to pair them with skinny jeans and a colored shirt or some kind of a skirt. What do you think. I am going to try and e-mail you a picture of the boots.

  • What a great list you have!! I also have a "repair box" and it makes me so happy to fix something up to wear again! Glad I found your blog. 🙂

  • Hi Merrick, I love your creative use of otherwise cast off clothes! I, too, love to refashion. My number 10 for your list would be "Don't Forget your Shoes" With all the shoes, bags, belts, jeans, etc. coming out in primary colors, I decided to start painting some of my older, but not very worn shoes. They turned out great
    and cost me less than $3.00. See my tutorial at my blog http://funfashionbyOdessa.wordpress.com under From Brown to Green in Less than an Hour.
    I am brand new at blogging, so I don't have that down perfectly yet. But, I am good at refashioning!

  • Hi Merrick, I love your creative use of otherwise cast off clothes! I, too, love to refashion. My number 10 for your list would be "Don't Forget your Shoes" With all the shoes, bags, belts, jeans, etc. coming out in primary colors, I decided to start painting some of my older, but not very worn shoes. They turned out great
    and cost me less than $3.00. See my tutorial at my blog http://funfashionbyOdessa.wordpress.com under From Brown to Green in Less than an Hour.
    I am brand new at blogging, so I don't have that down perfectly yet. But, I am good at refashioning!

  • I'd say number 10 would be that you shouldn't be afraid to mess up, but start of smartly. Don't start off trying to cut, sew, and refashion something you buy at a department store for more money than you're willing to lose. I've experimented with this a little and I've tried to just use things I already have that I don't wear (like you suggest) or buying something with potential from a thrift store. If I mess up, I lose a few bucks and gain experience. I will always regret buying a dress from Kohl's (on sale, but still painful) and loving everything about it but the color. I tried dying it and it turned out a dull olive green–not my color at all. Live and learn, but now I only mess with stuff that is cheap or free to prevent discouragement when I mess up. But it's important to not be afraid to mess up and look at every mistake as a growing experience.

  • Great blog! Thanks for all the lovely ideas.

    My #10 would be: host a clothing swap for all your girlfriends. Create a Facebook event, invite all your girlfriends (even if you're afraid they won't all get along), tell them to clean out their closets and to bring all their unwanted clothes (and shoes and jewelry) to the party. At the party, refrain from organizing clothing by size. Instead, organize by type of clothing- shirts, skirts/dresses, pants, etc. That way people will be more likely to pick up and try on an item because they like it!

    My friends and I have swaps twice a year. This encourages me to clean out my closet more often and to be more honest about what I actually need to keep and will wear again. I always find something new at the swaps. At the most recent swap, someone dared me to try on a 1990s petites pantsuit (I'm 5'10")- it looked great, and now I have an on-trend romper!

    At the end, you can donate to charity all the clothes that don't find a home.

  • This won't go on the list, but I recently discovered that target turtlenecks become amazing boatneck 3/4 sleeve tops. In about 5 mins. Cut straight across the top from shoulder to shoulder (leaving about 1.5-2" of shoulder seam) and chop the sleeves to 1" longer than desired length. Fold under top neck opening and sleeves and sew

  • Mine is cute and striped. Love your tutorials!! Thanks!!

  • This won't go on the list, but I recently discovered that target turtlenecks become amazing boatneck 3/4 sleeve tops. In about 5 mins. Cut straight across the top from shoulder to shoulder (leaving about 1.5-2" of shoulder seam) and chop the sleeves to 1" longer than desired length. Fold under top neck opening and sleeves and sew