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  • Writer's pictureSew Retro


An estimated 140 million worth of clothing gets dumped into land fill in the UK every year.

According to Down2Earth Materials, materials like leather take 25 to 40 years to decompose.

Synthetic fabric like polyester and Lycra can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. The decomposing of clothes release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.

3.781 litres of water are used in the production of one pair of 501 jeans, this includes growing the cotton, the processing of the denim and washing at home.

Post war people routinely repaired and reused clothing due to scare resources, but plentiful cheap clothing has sadly put an end to this practice. The worrying question is what is the cost to the environment ?

This blog post is a step by step tutorial showing you how to adapt your dressmakers patterns to fit the smaller pieces of fabric you will have to work with, when you upcycling clothing, into a new garment.

If you have a tracing wheel and pattern notchers, that's great, but all you need is spot and cross or tracing paper, or some paper, a pencil and a ruler. And of course ! your dressmakers pattern, and the jeans or garments that you plan to cut up and use the fabric.

1. Pin the pattern on the paper, trace around the pattern and cut out.

2. Transfer the markings from the original pattern onto your copy. For example, the straight of grain, darts notches etc.

3. I have marked another parallel line opposite the original straight of grain, on the pattern piece, this will tell me where the straight of grain is, when I cut up my pattern into a smaller piece to fit on my upcycled fabric.

4. Draw lines where you plan to cut the paper pattern to fit the your fabric, number your pattern pieces and take a photo, this will help, if you get confused when you start to sew or cut. On the new seam lines mark notches.

5. Cut the paper pattern on the new seam lines.

6. I have used a highlighter to mark, where seam allowance needs to be added to the pattern. The original pattern piece has seam allowance added, BUT every time you make a new seam YOU MUST add seam allowance to the new seam on the pattern piece. Its easiest to add the same seam allowance as the other seams all ready added to the pattern, i.e 1cm or 1.5cm. If you forgot to add seam allowance to the new pattern pieces, the garment would become way to small and possibly not fit together, as you reduce the size by sewing seams.

7. Its more time consuming but MUCH safer to add the seam allowance to the pattern, just tape a new small piece of paper to the pattern, then add your seam allowance as shown and cut out.

8. The finished new pattern piece with added seam allowance. If you are not able to cut a pair of sleeve you may need to trace the sleeve twice, flip the original pattern when tracing the second sleeve to make a pair.

The other option is to chalk on your seam allowance when you are cutting out your pattern pieces, HOWEVER this is risky, as is so easy to get engrossed with the placing of the pattern pieces on the upcycled garment, getting on grain etc, and forget to add seam allowance and cut out.

You will need to repeat this process with all the pattern pieces that are too large to fit onto your fabric.

Its tempting to cut the master copy, thinking I can just tape it back together, somehow it is impossible to do. If you are pinning and cutting the pattern pieces which you require two off to make one pair, on single fabric, DO NOT forgot to flip the pattern piece, when you cut it for the second time to make a pair.

Pattern from A Beautiful Mess

1. Preparing the upcycled fabric. If your recycled denim is new to you, start by washing your denim using the washing powder and wash cycle you intend to use once your outfit has been made. The previous owner may have hand washed and if you spend lots of time cutting and sewing it would be heart-breaking to find your upcycled outfit shrinks during the first wash.

2. Cutting your upcycled garments. You will need a stitch unpicker, and some sharp scissors. Carefully unpick the seams that will allow you to have the largest pieces of fabric to work with. If you are planning to upcycle a pair of jeans, I would suggest opening the inside legs seams first. Once you have opened the inside leg seams you can start to see how your pattern will fit on and if you need to un-pick further.

3. Methods of transferring pattern markings. Use water soluble chalk or an invisible pen in a contrasting colour for markings that are easy to see and wash away. Transfer the darts using tailor tacks.

Upcycled denim basket from Oh oh Blog

4. Thread use an all-purpose thread for sewing your garment together. If you plan to topstitch, use topstitching thread on the sewing machine and an all-purpose thread in the bobbin. Use a longer stitch if necessary to achieve a good even stitch.

5. Needles Use a 90/14 needle for light- and medium-weight denim and a 100/16 for heavyweight denim.

6. Seams can be reinforced with top stitching. You may want to use a flat felled seam or a faux felled seam.

7. Pressing. Use a hot iron and plenty of steam on the seams.

With some bleach, you can transform those used jeans into artwork using shibori and tie dye techniques.

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