Most of my Clothes Used to be Bedsheets

 

It’s true, most of my clothes were originally produced to cover mattresses. Other people’s mattresses. Now, those old sheets have become my arsenal of t-shirts and dresses. I love transforming bedsheets into everyday garments.

The Practical:

It’s already been established that I’m operating on a tight making budget. $40 a month doesn’t go very far for everything needed to make clothing. Plus, I’m a newbie. I’ve only been sewing regularly for nine months – and teaching myself no less. If I hope to get any better, I need to practice, which requires access to materials. Sheets have a ton of yardage. Thrifted bedsheets, which I can sometimes buy according to weight, are a perfect solution to a tight budget. Most of the time I can get a bedsheet for $1-3, and each bedsheet will make two items (50 cents a shirt! that’s even cheaper that fast fashion). But the practical is only one piece to this grand making adventure.

The Philosophical: Beyond the practical reasons for sewing with bedsheets.

When I use my hands to create a garment from a discarded textile, I give those materials new life. I honor the hands involved in producing those materials – from the farmer who grew the cotton, to the workers who processed the fiber, to the artists who compiled the pieces together. My transformed garment remembers all of their efforts. I’m remembering the nameless and faceless. I’m refusing to let their efforts be masked. I’m recognizing that behind every item is a collection of hands desperate to make a living because my community demands absurdly cheap materials. And by remembering them I can resist my own urge to demand the same. I consider making garments out of discarded items as a gentle but powerful act of resistance. I resist the structures of capitalism that equate human beings to energy – simply cheap resources to get the job done. I resist the culture of waste – that new is always better and the old is better off discarded. I resist the idea that making things by hand is useless and meaningless. I resist the concept that handwork is too costly and inefficient.

Each time I choose to transform a discarded item into an everyday basic, I am habituated to see the good in the unwanted and discarded. This act small act of resistance reminds me not to give in to the demanding voices of an economic system that feeds on cheap labor and easy access to anything I want.

Making from unwanted items satisfies more than just my small budget, it creates the space for thoughtful reflection and critical engagement with economics, culture, and capitalism. I’ve grown to love my practice of sewing from bedsheets. But it doesn’t end there, while the practical and philosophical reasons for sewing with bedsheets are necessarily entwined, I wonder what would happen if my craft budget increased? I’m committed to the philosophy behind making with used materials, but I don’t believe that used materials are the only answer to my environmental and ethical commitments. Used materials fit within my budget at the moment, but I’m confident that ethical options are available at any budget point. I know if I had the resources, I would gravitate towards newly produced materials that acknowledge and valued the work of farmers, producers, and makers.

I’m purely speculating. I don’t have the resources at the moment to buy new, and I don’t think I’m good enough at sewing to use new ethically produced materials without the fear of ruining them forever. So while I’m building my skills with needle and thread, I feel confident and comfortable with my choice to use discarded items.

All that from an old bedsheet!

Happy Making.

 

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Uniform Cardigan

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I am so excited to have this cardigan in wardrobe rotation. It fills a massive gap – the everyday cardigan – that has been empty since last spring. Uniform is a versatile pattern by Carrie Bostick Hoge, one pattern with different lengths, waist shaping, sleeve details, and necklines to choose from. I choose the long, a-line cardigan with fitted sleeves, a regular neckline, and patch pockets. I also made the optional waist tie which really *ties* the whole look together.

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I used Berroco Remix for this cardigan. It’s an aran weight yarn made from 100% recycled fibers (nylon, cotton, acrylic, silk, and linen). I chose the “charcoal” colorway, black with white flecks, because I knew this would be the best option if I wanted a basic, wear every day kind of sweater. I am so glad I did. I don’t see this sweater going anywhere or losing its appeal.

This yarn is unique – to say the least. It has almost no memory; it’s very slouchy. It does, however, hold sleeve wrinkles (those folds around the elbow). The black with white flecks makes it a tweed yarn ( I think? Is a flecked yarn the only criteria for a tweed?). While I was knitting I noticed that sometimes I would come across these rough patches in the yarn, almost like a hard plastic and pieces of straw. This was a weird experience that I chalk up to the recycled nature of the yarn. Would I buy this yarn again? Maybe, I might buy the fingering weight version… I’m looking forward to the one day that a yarn company has a 100% recycled yarn that has a high twist and is great for cables. This yarn certainly doesn’t fit that. If anything, this yarn has really cemented my love for natural fibers.

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This sweater used to be a Portage Cardigan (coming up in tour de sweater). I made the decision to frog it after I was unhappy with the fit and appearance. What a relief – frogging this sweater and knitting it into this perfect basic number that actually fits has redeemed the yarn and the process, and maybe even garment knitting (was garment knitting ever really up for consideration? no… I’m obsessed).

I am happy to say that the sleeves fit perfectly! I think my days of too tight sleeves are behind me (I hope).

This sweater is pretty basic. Tons of stockinette, plus some garter stitch. I like the deep garter stitch sleeve cuff for the fitted sleeve option. It’s an unexpected detail that adds some interest during the knitting process.

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The pockets were a bit strange for me to put on. I chose to knit the patch pockets. But the pattern instructions were very vague about the location of the pockets and how to attach them. So I decided to graft the bottom and use mattress stitch for the sides. This proved to be challenging – black yarn and seaming are not a good combination, throw in some poor lighting and you have a total meltdown on the horizon.

By far my favorite thing about this cardigan is the waist tie. I have never knit a waist tie, nor worn a cardigan with a waist tie. At first I thought it would remind me of wearing a robe – something I’m not too fond of. Once I had bound off my last stitch on the cardigan, I looked at my remaining yarn pile (three balls of yarn left…) and thought, might as well try it out. This was one instance where branching out and trying something new really benefited. I could not imagine this cardigan without this waist tie. It would definitely be slouchy and baggy, and I think without the tie, I would feel swamped with all the slouch. But with the tie… the slouch is still there, but I feel like it’s all a little contained. I even considered knitting ties for every larger cardigan I make in the future… too much?

 

On Recycling (and a pair of socks)


The #slowfashionoctober Instagram prompts have me thinking about my craft as of late. I highly recommend checking out the feed here. The “what” prompt got me all excited about recycled materials. Even though the prompt was posted over a week ago, I’m still thinking about the meaning behind using recycled materials for my work. There are a lot of ways to be ethical/considerate in crafting. Sourcing locally, dyeing naturally, and organic wool are a couple that jump out at me. I love these options, but price wise they’re usually out of my reach. However, I don’t think cost has to be a barrier to conscious crafting. Recycling materials from items that already exist can really cut down on the overall costs of making. Buying a linen duvet cover from a thrift store is most likely going to be less expensive than new linen. And, with extra effort, quality materials can be found. But cost is only reason why recycled materials play such an important role in my life.

From the perspective of waste reduction, the best materials are the ones that already exist. According to this view, making my clothing from clothing that might end up in the landfill would minimize total waste. It’s a simple calculus that I find motivating and useful when I think about the impact of my hobbies on the earth. Of course, this is a very mathematical/economic way of thinking about making clothes.

Sometimes I like to be a bit more poetic. As I was knitting these socks I kept thinking about non-human recyclers. Just about every other creature on this earth might be better at recycling than us humans. Or at least every ecosystem has designated recycling systems built in. There are mammals, like raccoons and possums, who scavenge food waste. There are birds who build their homes from discarded items in the forest and the city. There are entire species whose job it is to break down plants and animals so they return to the earth. These decomposers perform essential roles by creating rich and fertile soil that is open and welcoming to new growth. Without these mammals, insects, and mushrooms, we would live in toxic environments.

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I wonder if there is a role for the scavenger and decomposer in the making community? We place much needed emphasis on sourcing thoughtful new materials, but do we pay enough attention to the back end of the process? What would it look like for makers to take note from the scavengers and decomposers of the world?

Just like every slow food devotee has a compost heap, would every slow fashion maker have a yarnpost heap?
Would we dumpster dive for materials that others have deemed irreparable?

Would we have competitions for most mended garment? Or item with the longest or most wears? Would we begin to keep note of these stats on our own clothing items?

Would we celebrate, rather than despair, when our friends frog a garment because it’s unworn and celebrate again when they knit it into something loved?

Would we start up new quilting bees for our fabric scraps?

As I think about the role recycling could have in maker communities I get excited. The ideas I mentioned above actually sound like a blast. I love making with other people, and all the more l reason to gather together in creativity!

I know that talking about material sourcing and waste can be a touchy issue. It’s so easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not following one of my slow fashion goals. But, it doesn’t have to be about strict adherence to moral-fashion guidelines. We are all creative people, and this isn’t a competition. The massive challenges facing our earth and communities won’t be solved through individualism. Working together to do our best which will almost certainly be imperfect is better than perfection alone. I think the best place to start is with a small idea and a forgiving heart.

Happy Making

In Progress

It’s halfway through August and I’ve been on a making spree. Classes start on August 29th so I’m trying to work at peak making speed before most of my time will be spent reading academic jargon. 

I have one sewing project and one knitting project in the works at the moment. 

Sewing

I was selected to review the Laneway Dress by Jennifer Lauren Handmade. I’m almost done, just have to insert the invisible zip (my first one!), the facings, and the hem. I’ll be writing a separate post to review the pattern- so look forward to that. 


So far this dress feels very Cinderella to me. Not in the modern massive ball gown way… More like everyday Cinderella pre-prince style. The dress is 1940’s inspired, which, combined with the light blue color, probably contribute to the Cinderella feelings. Also… could use a good press. 

Knitting

I’ve joined the Brooklyn Knitfolk #hipsterKAL. Very excited about the whole theme of the KAL – knit a pattern that has less than 30 projects. I’m knitting the Circlet Shrug by Norah Gaughn in the newest issue of Making (this is the most amazing knitting periodical in existence). It’s a beautiful pattern that uses cables and lace to create a really unique fabric. 


 I’m using unused yarn, Brooklyn Tweed Arbor in the Potion colorway, because this thing requires a ton of yardage… and I was doubtful I could create the right fabric type from salvaged yarn. I’m pretty stoked about Brooklyn Tweed though. I love that it’s 100% American made


Im trying out the KT method of knitting all the parts at once. Rather than knit the entirety of one side, I’m keeping the pattern fresh in my mind by knitting similar sections all together. I’m almost done with the ribbing which means I’m about to start the cables! I feel really excited about this knit. Lots to keep me interested. 

Clothing Swaps are Magic

I’ve been a swapper since birth. My twin sister and I had one closet until we were in grade school. Then, when that vast resource was halved, we would walk the entire 20 feet of the hallway to build outfits. Though, her outfits were always more put together. My friends would always swap clothes, and our church had a great culture of swapping hand-me-downs. I loved it.

img_3990-1Sporting some hand-me-downs

Swapping, not donating, is my favorite way to let go of used clothing.

  • Swaps reduce waste by providing a venue for used items to be reworn
  • Swaps are more personal
  • By swapping with a small group, there’s a greater chance clothes will be used and cared for
  • Every swap I’ve been to has unique and interesting items
  • Swaps have a minimal door fee, by the pound fee, or could be free!

In my last post I wrote about my handmade wardrobe goals. Well, every season my replacement plan leaves me with a few items that I no longer wear. They’re still usable, so I shuffle them off to my local swap.

My favorite swap in St. Louis happens at PerennialSTL – a creative reuse studio. Besides generally being my favorite place in the world, Perennail hosts well organized swaps that draw in people from all walks of life. After the swap is over, any leftover items that can be used for classes and workshops are set aside and unusable items are sent to the local textile recycling plant (I think to be made into airplane upholstery or carpets?)

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I’ve volunteered at the past few swaps – it’s amazing how much is donated, how much people take, and the amount left behind. Watching the vast quantity of clothing pile up is almost overwhelming. Because of the piles of cute and trendy pieces, I am so tempted to grab whatever fits, but this doesn’t actually address my overall goal of reducing waste. If I continue to grab whatever I like, I’m still participating in the endless cycle of consuming textiles rather than wearing fewer pieces for longer periods. I also don’t need seven variations of a button down – I just don’t.

Now that I’ve committed to making my clothes from used materials, I try to see the swap as a materials resource and keep my eye out for quality fabrics. Before I go I write down the items I’m potentially interested in to guide my browsing. Before I leave the swap I scrutinize everything for repurpose-ability. I try to have very high standards at this point in the process. I only take home that which can and will be used.

Clothing swaps have been a huge resource in my slow fashion journey. But, if you don’t live close to St. Louis, don’t fret. If you live in a city, there is probably a swap close by – it might even pop up in Google. If you live remotely, why not try organizing a swap for your community? All you need is a designated space and time. I organized a few swaps in college where we laid clothes out on dorm beds and couches – it was amazing.

I would love to hear your stories about clothing swaps! Let me know in the comments below.

Until then, happy making (or swapping)

Recycled Denim Cleo

Plus some newbie pattern hacking!


This style of dress has the most names I have ever encountered. Overall dress, dungaree dress, pinafore… I grew up calling it a jumper, so that’s what I’m going with here.

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This is my second version of this pattern. It’s the first pattern to receive the high honors of a repeat project. Though I do wonder why I need two jumpers in my closet, but something just screamed at me that these two are both incredibly worth it. Is that a sewing gut instinct?

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The Inspiration

I was totally enamored by this denim jumper from ASOS I found while perusing the internet.

I was like, oh my god I could make that out of jeans.

So I did. Shamless copy.

The Pattern: Cleo Dress by Tilly and the Buttons

This is an amazing pattern. It’s already all over the internet. Just google it.

The Hack

Okay hacking this pattern was actually more complicated than I thought it would be. And I didn’t take many pictures… lame. I’ll do my best to describe the process.

The most difficult part was the diagonal section on the front of the dress. To create a pattern piece, I traced the pattern on a roll of large paper. I basically created the front piece of the dress as if there were no center seam (I subtracted the seam allowance from the center). I drew two diagonal lines to create my new pattern piece. I then cut these out and traced them again to add seam allowances (important step).

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I did a similar process with the back, but since I kept the center back seam, the process was a little easier. I took one picture of this part 👍🏼

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I followed the instructions as written, making sure to stitch up my extra pieces before joining the center seams.

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The Fabric

I deconstructed three pairs of jeans for this jumper. All were around a US size XL. I first took my seam ripper to the pockets. Then I cut off the waistbands of each pair of jeans. I then cut around each zipper (saving it… for something?). I then cut the crotch seam apart. Finally, I seam ripped up the outside leg seam on each leg. This left me with four usable leg pieces.

I didn’t use interfacing in this dress. Mainly because I haven’t found a reclaimed alternative. My facing pieces are from the same denim and I found it provided a nice amount of stiffness.

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Final Thoughts

This pattern is great for recycled fabrics. I especially like the button option; it’s much easier to come across used buttons than used overall buckles. Plus, the no-sew buttons on overalls and jeans are rather impossible to reuse. If anyone has found a way to do this, let me know.

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This is my new favorite workshop dress. It’s sturdy, tough, and I can imagine myself wearing it all year long. I’m already dreaming about this dress over leggings and boots in the winter.
P.S. Shoutout to Kyle for the photo cred.

 

An Orla Affair


The Orla Dress is my first fitted bodice dress. After scanning the internet for free dress patterns to use as skill builders, I came across the #anorlaaffair sew along on Instagram. The organizers had such a supportive schedule that I felt confident someone on the internet could lend a hand if I got stumped. So I jumped straight into sewing.


The Pattern: Orla by French Navy

As a beginning sewist, free patterns are so helpful. I love the chance to jump on the opportunity to test out a new pattern without much investment. It’s also a great way to keep the cost of sewing down while gathering skills.

The instructions on this pattern are basic: like sew the side seams or insert the zipper. I’m glad I had constructed a few garments before jumping into this one. 

This pattern has darts in both the front and back bodice pieces, as well as sleeves, a back zipper, and a gathered skirt.


The Fabric: Vintage 1960’s(?) Cotton Bedsheet

I love the pattern of this fabric. Mid-century florals, who could go wrong. The recommended fabric for the Orla Dress is viscose or rayon, or fabric with drape. This sheet is quite stiff. Also, it’s see-through… But I thought this would give me the chance to line a dress bodice. So I grabbed another old white bedsheet and watched about five videos on youtube and declared myself a lining expert.


A note about fitting: I have athletic shoulders. I’m a regular rock climber, which has added a lot of muscle to my shoulders (specifically the latissimus dorsi for those anatomy geeks). I always find that choosing a size on my bust measurement will lead to tightness in the shoulders, especially underneath the armscye (sleeve opening). But, I don’t have broad shoulders. The actual distance between my shoulders is quite proportional.

So, to avoid tightness in the Orla bodice, I used my upper bust measurement to determine my size. That meant I had a lot of extra room in the waist. Even though I made a muslin, after completing the construction for my Orla, I realized I didn’t like the extra room in the waist with my fabric choice (more on that below). So after some playing around, I took in 1/4 from each dart (including the lining…). No idea if this was the right fitting method, but I’m happy with the results. I would be happy to hear if any sewists with strong shoulders have any suggestions.

I also added pockets to my Orla following Anna Zoe’s instructions. This is one of my favorite features of this dress.

 

I love the basic silhouette of the Orla. It’s quite adaptable to different fabric types, which makes it great for using reclaimed fabric. My first Orla is so sweet, almost too sweet. I call it my Easter dress, because it seems like it would fit in so well at a pastel garden party with dainty pastries and tea. While I do love all those things, I am a little more rambunctious in my everyday life. It’s also mainly a white dress, and I am guaranteed to spill marinara sauce on every white item I own. But, despite it’s dainty-ness and gleaming white fabric, this dress might be miraculous and find regular rotation in my closet. I am already planning to make another version of this dress from a light chambray fitted sheet, definitely with pockets, and maybe try to stretch my skills in some more pattern hacking.