Upcycling and refashioning

I’ve been writing about ethics in the fashion industry off and on for over a decade. Naturally, if I’m trying to encourage people to shop and behave ethically, I try and practice what I preach. My group of friends have been having clothes swap parties since the late 90s, and I try and buy 2nd hand and vintage too. When buying new, I’d prefer to buy from more ethical or responsible companies, or small British labels. However, it’s not always possible when you factor in cost and fit and so I still buy clothes from the high street too.

One thing I haven’t done much of, is taken the initiative and customised the clothes that I no longer wear. I don’t own a sewing machine, and I’m not even capable of shortening a pair of trousers that are too long for me.  Yet I love the idea of dressing more individually and of putting my old or worn-out clothes to better use.

With no real clue of where to start, I decided to host a refashioning and upcycling* workshop along with my friend Bryony, author of ‘bagsful’ ethical fashion blog. We got ourselves two fab facilitators, a venue and advertised through our networks and on twitter, with no real idea of whether anyone would be interested. To our surprise, the workshop was fully booked two weeks ahead of time and we even had people on the waiting list.

We had wanted the session to be quite informal – and didn’t want to dictate that everyone should learn how to make the same sort of thing. We also made it clear that the workshop WASN’T just about making alterations and that we wanted people to bring along an item of clothing – or scrap material– that they wanted to do something with. The idea was that our facilitators would provide some inspiration, ideas and know-how, and that people would be able to make a start on their project.

Busy upcycling

Happily, that was more or less exactly how it worked. We had ten eager, creative and interested women who had each brought different things with them. Our facilitators brought along some examples of things to demonstrate what could be done, as well as sewing machines and some materials. I cheated, and brought a half-finished purse that I’d started to make from scraps. I hadn’t known how to sew the zip on so Jacky showed me how and I was able to finish it off.  It was a really fun evening, with a friendly atmosphere. Everyone pitched in helping with ideas and I found it fascinating to see what people ended up creating.

Mandy making a toy bag out of old curtains

Mandy making a toy bag out of old curtains

Nicky made a bow badge out of some scrap materials

Karen is making a bag for her daughter from an old pair of children's jeans

Jenny cut up a too-big t-shirt & made it into something unique & funky

Leanne is going to make this beautiful - but rarely worn - top into an envelope handbag

Heather cut up a too-big dress, made it fitted and also took off the frilly bits

Zoe is making a purse out of an old leather jacket

My finished purse, made from material scraps

Although most people didn’t have the time to finish off their creation there and then, hopefully they won’t lose motivation and will end up with a refashioned and unique home-made item.  I’m looking forward to seeing photos of the final product. In the meantime, I’m going to look at my bag of scraps and old clothes with a different eye now. You never know, I might even try and learn how to use a sewing machine!

If you’d like to take part in future refashioning/upcycling workshops, please contact me and I’ll let you know where and when they’ll be taking place.

Manchester-based Upcycling & creative resources

  • Stitched Up is a sustainable fashion collective based in Manchester. They specialise in leading upcycling workshops, swap shops and styling.
  • If you’d like to buy refashioned and upcycled clothes in Manchester, try Junk. It has shops in the Northern Quarter and in Didsbury and also runs dressmaking courses.
  • Rubbish Revamped in Chorlton runs courses and workshops
  • Learn some basic and advanced sewing skills with Ministry of Craft
  • Crafty courses can also be found at The Classroom in Didsbury
  • Alice Eleanor runs upcycling and other workshops

*Upcycling; “Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products”

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About Ruth Rosselson

I am a writer, researcher and consultant with over 14 years experience of writing about ethical and environmental issues. I specialise in writing copy for NGOs, charities, social enterprises and the co-operative movement.
This entry was posted in Environment, ethical, ethical fashion, Recycling and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Upcycling and refashioning

  1. Nicola says:

    I loved it! Totally up for doing another one sometime. Keep me in the loop x

  2. Jennifer Gilmour says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the workshop last night. Can’t beat a bit of crafting and some cake….

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