Fabulous scrap fashion – with Elisalex de Castro Peake
Love Sewing columnist Elisalex is inspiring us to refashion and reinvent unloved clothing in a more modern way
Say what you like about social media, but I think it’s pretty awesome. Through social media I have made genuine friends who share in my passions. It’s thanks to blogs and Instagram that I even have a job. As long as you can find a way to drown out all the negative noise (just stop looking at stuff that makes you feel inadequate), social media has the power to connect, inspire and teach, and has been the vehicle for millions of lonely sewists to become part of a global tribe. Because, let’s face it, sewing is a solitary hobby. This is why I have an extra-special soft spot for sewing community challenges. I think it speaks volumes about our human instinct to participate, collaborate and contribute to something bigger than just ourselves, in a way that binds us to the people with whom we feel a kinship.
With so many sewing-related community challenges on throughout the year, and more cropping up all the time, I like to dip into the ones that resonate with me (all in a subconscious effort to establish my tribe within the wider sewing community no doubt!), my favourite of all being The Refashioners. Dreamed up by Portia Lawrie in 2011, The Refashioners is simple in ethos yet incredibly powerful in its message and delivery. Calling on sewists to make a garment or outfit to a theme using at least 80% reclaimed fabric does us the favour of both stretching our creativity and giving us pause to reflect on how we consume; we can consider our impact on the current precarious environmental and social situation, especially as it relates to the fashion industry and our sewing practice.
When it comes to refashioning there are two main approaches: reworking and harvesting. A reworker will look at his/her thrifted garment and totally reimagine it within the parameters of its existing construction and fabric. Tweaks and tucks here and there, turn it on its side and all of a sudden a collar is a shoulder and a top becomes a bottom. In my mind, reworkers are the true right-brained artists of refashioning. Harvesters, on the other hand, will see beyond the seams and mostly consider yield. How much fabric can I get out of this garment? What can I achieve if I take the fabric from this dress and the fabric from that shirt and combine them to make something entirely new? Harvesters are the more mathematical, practical and left-brained refashioners. I fall into the latter category. When I’m shopping in charity shops I’m feeling fabric and eyeing up the colours and prints in a very similar, but more restricted, way than I would in a fabric store. One of the things that I love to experiment with is print clashing and colour blocking! As a harvester, I find combining fabric from several garments and print clashing to be the most efficient and creative way of refashioning. Luckily for me, the ‘Frankenfrock’ look is bang on trend, so there’s no shortage of inspiration to get you excited about refashioning right now! At the moment, my favourite designers and retailers for Frankenfrock refashioning inspiration are Gucci, Shrimps, Coco Fennell and Zara. The looks are playful, expressive and unapologetically feminine.
Recreating these looks from reclaimed cloth is a two-fold operation. Firstly, gathering supplies; when you’re out thrifting, try to keep one project in mind at a time and combining fabric of a similar weight and drape is key. Let your hands guide you as you rummage, collecting fabric that will marry well when hacked up and Frankenfrocked together. Aesthetically, which colours and prints will and will not ‘go’ together is totally subjective, so you’ll need to go with your gut on that one. I for one like clashing large and small scale florals, florals clashed with geometrics, and I’m more than a bit obsessed with the multicolour gingham look right now – look out for secondhand girls’ summer school uniform to get in on that trend! Secondly, you need to carefully consider your choice of sewing patterns. Remember, your fabric yield from thrifted garments will be fairly minimal and awkwardly shaped – you might get a couple of sleeves and a collar out of one shirt, a bodice back out of another top, a bodice front and the scant beginnings of a skirt out of a dress… Having a pattern whose construction is made up of smaller panels will help enormously.
Patterns I’m loving for refashioning revelations
This is a great place to start. It works well in a variety of fabrics so if you’re new to sewing and refashioning you need not dive in at the drapey end with this one. Gather up vintage cotton in the form of pillowcases, sheets, duvet covers and men’s shirts to make a modern-day prairie dress of dreams.
This is another good one for a first attempt at refashioning. With its flattering fit-and-flare shape and multi-panel construction, this dress was made for scrapbusting and would look great made from thrifted cotton, curtains, old wetsuits or dodgy eveningwear.
For whatever reason, I hardly ever see people using stretch fabric to refashion, but it’s important not to disregard them seeing as knit fabric is so densely represented in fast fashion these days, and therefore eminently available second hand. Zadie is the perfect pattern for refashioning knits! Again, make sure you gather up knits of a similar consistency and stretch percentage for maximum Frankenfrocking success.
If this article has inspired even a handful of you reading to get out there and start having some fun with refashioning, then I’ve done my job. There is such a huge wealth of unwanted, super-discounted secondhand fabric out there in the form of shirts, dresses, curtains and bedding and it is our responsibility as people who have the skills to make something from nothing to breathe new life into the rejected, reduce waste and hopefully inspire others to start doing the same. So let’s get experimenting shall we?
Liked this post? How about reading our feature on recycling denim also written by Elisalex