As we move further from fast fashion, it’s becoming more popular to buy eco-conscious or second-hand items. And yes, you can buy bags made from sustainable materials like jute and vegetable-dyed suede shoes. But the cheapest and most sustainable option is breathing new love into the clothes you already own. Instead of tossing jeans with holes or pilly sweaters, give them a cute and easy refresh.
Remade in Brooklyn, a remaker space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is all about upcycling. At its events, you can learn how to mend, hem, and redesign your clothes—as I did during a session with Adriene Booth, a Remade in Brooklyn volunteer. She helped me hem and add a longer slit to a skirt I’d never worn because it was never just right. Since we’re all staying at home now, what better time to give some attention to your old clothes? Booth, a sewer and crafter who upcycles thrifted blazers on her site Maybe is Now, shares her easiest tips below.
5 easy upgrades to upcycle old clothes without a sewing machine
1. Resew or change buttons.
For this, all you’ll need is a needle and thread. Finding buttons that you love can help jazz up that old blouse that’s stating to feel stale. “If you are changing buttons, you can use appropriately sized buttons from another garment, or purchase special ones in sewing supply stores.” says Booth. She prefers sewing supply stores like the ones in NYC’s Garment District over big-box craft stores, as the selection is much better. Shop online or call a local store to see if it offers shipping and over-the-phone payment.
2. Patch or darn holes.
“Rips in jeans and pants can be easily repaired with iron-on patches,” says Booth. Options such as Loops & Threads Assorted Denim Patches ($4) provide plenty of choices. “Choose a patch that is much larger than the tear and a similar color to the garment,” she says. “Follow manufacturer’s instructions and iron the patch over the rip from the inside.” You can also get fun with it and hand-sew a patch of contrasting fabric for a very Free People-esque look, or add a novelty patch such as these cactus patches ($8) on the outside of the garment.
3. Remove sleeves and collars.
As the weather starts to get warmer, revisit some of your old T-shirts and get to cutting! “This works really well on T-shirts because the fabric will roll a bit, not fray,” Booth says. Using tailor’s chalk ($6) carefully mark where you want to cut. Using very sharp and clean scissors, cut slowly and cautiously. (“You can always cut more off, but you can’t put back what you already cut,” Booth notes.) This is great for tees with irreversible pit stains or too-tight sleeves.
4. Use a sweater shaver
Nothing is more annoying than a sweater covered in pills. If, like me, you’ve ever tried to pull them all off one-by-one, the tedium is enough to give up and toss the sweater in the trash. Turns out, there’s a tool for that. “Get a sweater shaver to remove pills from your sweaters and other woolens,” Booth says. “There are manual, electric, and battery-operated models.” This Conair Fabric Defuzzer ($12) is battery operated, has three settings to change the depth of the shave for different types of fabric, and a detachable lint catcher.
5. Use dish soap to remove old stains
Booth says you can spot-treat stains on clothes before washing with to remover older stains and grease spots this way. “Always test the soap on a hidden area of the fabric to make sure it doesn’t fade,” she says. And with that, you’ve got a garment that isn’t just like new—it’s better.