Welcome to a new series where we feature our amazing clients! For over a decade we have been able to build up a community of clients who continually amaze us with their creativity and drive to create thoughtful garments. For this series, our intention is to share their design story, how they started their clothing labels or personal journey into a custom wardrobe, and inspire you to be creative.
This month I sat down with Javia Leung, who has been a client in our studio since May of 2017. In the four years, I have assisted Javia through a variety of pattern drafting, draping, fitting and garment construction techniques. Providing Javia with the necessary skills to create designs such as a pleated dress, denim jacket, pleather pants, pleather skirt, dolman top, bow dress, gathered linen skirts, silk bow top, block drafting, and a variety of wool coats- to name a few.
Photo Credit: Miguel Paulo Campos
Javia attended the Fashion Design program at LaSalle College. Graduating in 2020. In 2019, Javia spent the summer with our studio to complete a Digital Marketing work term in association with LaSalle College. She worked directly with Natasha, our Digital Media Assistant in creating digital marketing content for our blog and socials. She even pitched the idea for our Bubble Tea Tote: Sew-a-Long.
In 2021, our focus with Javia has been more on developing new designs for her clothing label and gaining a better understanding of digital pattern drafting with Accumark software.
Chatting with Javia
Read on to learn more about Javia’s thoughtful clothing label and a Q & A that will hopefully inspire you to thread up your sewing machine.
Q: How did you get started sewing?
A: I was always interested in fashion but was never good at sewing, so instead I went to a fashion design camp when I was 18 years old where we were taught more on the design development process of fashion. I attended a similar program when I was 21 years old and the instructor there told me that a good designer needs to understand how garment construction works. Once I finished my undergrad degree, the first thing I did was sign up for private sewing lessons (with Sheila), and my love for sewing started there.
Q: What is your favorite design you have created?
A: I don’t have a single favorite design but my current favorite designs are the pieces for my upcoming collection. The theme of my collection discusses self-growth and discovery from grief and loss, so I took classic silhouettes and added twists to them to symbolize transformation.
Photographer: Ignatius Tam
Q: What part of the design process do you find the most rewarding?
A: Seeing the finished garment come to life is the most rewarding part and always feels surreal to me.
Q: Machine or hand sewing. Which one is your preference and why?
A: Both! I like to include a mixture of both machine and hand sewing in my designs— machine sewing for its clean lines, and hand sewing for a personal touch.
Q: What are your favorite fabric stores?
A: For local fabric shopping, I love Atex Designer Fabrics. For online shopping, I like browsing Mood Fabrics and Swatch On. If you ever get a chance to visit Tokyo, Nagato and Momo Fabrics are my favorite fabric stores in Nippori Textile Town for high-quality fabrics. Nagato also does overseas shipping and can assist you in English.
Q: Working for yourself has many challenges. Have you ever found time(s) when you have lost motivation? What do you do to gain motivation?
A: Yes, definitely— working for yourself is so different in many ways. Being a very visual person, I often get inspired by looking at my surroundings and the people around me. Sometimes I would see a cool design detail and try to sketch it down or sneak a photo of it. I also feel the most inspired during my travels. However, all of that was impossible due to the pandemic. Luckily, I do have a habit of keeping inspirational images categorized by theme on my phone, as well as having a physical scrapbook of images I collect. Going through them helps me feel inspired and excited to create.
Staying connected with my peers from fashion design school has also been very helpful for keeping me motivated. We spent endless nights working together and experienced the same hardships while designing, so we know and understand each other well. We’re always rooting for each other and happy for each other’s successes. Coming to the design studio and working with Sheila also inspires me a lot— she is honestly one of the most nonjudgmental instructors/mentors I’ve met and pushes me to challenge myself. Overall, I think that having a strong support system is so important.
Q: You recently started your clothing label. Do you currently have a full or part-time job in addition to your label? If you do, how will you decide to go full-time with your clothing label? If you do not, please share why.
A: To be perfectly honest, running a label is expensive, and I believe that it would be easier to have a full or part-time job to help fund business expenses and to have more capital to expand the label.
Attending the fashion design program was very physically and mentally intensive. By the time I finished the program, I experienced burnout. The pandemic also started in March 2020, which was when I finished school, so in the end, I took some time to rest. I focused on what I really wanted to design mindfully and slowly, something that wasn’t possible for school projects due to tight deadlines.
I am happy to say that my health is in a much better state now. Going forward, I want to look for technical and design-related jobs that will help me to gain more knowledge and skills in this industry. However, I also want to keep working on my label because it keeps me passionate, curious, and inspired.
Q: What skills do you wish you already possessed or been stronger before starting your own business?
A: I wish that I had better budgeting skills because there are so many hidden costs of running a business.
I’m generally a free-spirited person and not too business-oriented, and that has proven to be difficult for creating strategic and consistent social media content. The whole idea of planning what to post ahead of time and thinking of captions etc. sometimes feels exhausting, but marketing is an area that I would like to improve on. Interestingly enough, this seems to be a common concern for other designers I know, so many of them have hired someone else to manage the marketing side of the label.
At school, I was very grateful to have learnt how to use Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign. However, I do want to learn more about the design aspect of graphic design— I do all the packaging design for the label, which is one of my favourite parts of making a brand. I really wanted to go into packaging design when I was younger so getting to design my own labels fulfills this dream.
Q: If you could give advice to your past self before you started your label, what would it be?
A: Advice that I would give my past self, or anyone who is considering becoming a fashion designer: You don’t have to start big—take small steps and celebrate the small accomplishments. Your first collection doesn’t have to be your best collection (and probably won’t be) so don’t be afraid to get started— I believe in you!
Javia Leung is a womenswear label that focuses on timeless, minimalist, and sculptural designs. Our brand was born out of the desire to create high-quality and functional garments that are meant to be collected, cherished, & worn for a long time. We hope that our clothing helps to accompany others on their journeys of self-exploration.
Photographer: Grace Liu
We hope you have enjoyed this new Client Feature series. We will continue to showcase more of our talented clients. Please let us know if you have any questions you want us to ask in our next interview.
Starting a clothing label in 2021 looks a lot different than 10, or even 5 years ago. It is not good enough to just create sellable designs and produce thousands of garments each season. Well, it might be good enough for some, but here in the studio, we have found many new designers struggle with this ethical dilemma. Consumers want to be more informed about the businesses they are purchasing from, sometimes even part of the process. Designers need to be more mindful of their potential environmental impact. Some are finding the balance of how many units sold is enough to live but not harm our planet. There is no absolute solution to this balance, but finding what you think as a designer is right and what you can stand by is a start.
Sheila Wong Studios.
Incorporating patchwork and quilt work into designs can be seen all over social media right now. Not only is it popular, but it has the ability to decrease leftover scraps otherwise thrown out from past designs. Patchwork is a composition of pieces of fabric in a variety of shapes, colors and sometimes fabric weights. Kind of like a hodgepodge. Patchwork is similar to quilting, but I feel like quilting is more calculated- less hodgepodge. But! I am not an expert at quilting, so feel free to share your insights in our comments below. You can read more about incorporating quilting techniques into designs in our Latest Design: Quilted Heart Bag.
Your feedback has been so positive on our Instagram when we shared our patchwork sweatshirts last year. It is now time to share with you our process for creating patchwork fabric, sewing with patchwork fabric, and tips to make it enjoyable! Read on to gain a better understanding of how we take a pile of scraps and turn them into in this case, a knit sweatshirt. You can incorporate patchwork fabric into your fabric pattern. Bonus for you is we made a Fast Forward Edition video going through the steps.
Creating patchwork fabric can be as easy or complex as you would like to make it. You could keep things simple with 2-3 colors and maintain the same dimensions for each patch cut out. You could get as complex as us, with up to 6 different colors and patch together a variety of cut out dimensions. In this section I will go over the steps you should take to create patchwork fabric for your next design!
Go through your fabric scraps to see which ones are suitable for the design you have in mind. It is important to have the pattern of your design close by to ensure you have enough fabric. Decide upon your color palette at this time. You can always remove a color if it doesn't feel right during layout. If you tend to hold on to your fabric scraps, it is best to keep a bin for wovens and a bin for knits.
With your paper patterns handy, mark out a box on your table approximately 4-6” larger than the current pattern piece you are about to lay the patchwork for. We recommend using draping tape, painters tape, or washi tape! Something you can easily remove.
Clean up all of your scrap edges to be straight and squared off. Using a quilting ruler and a rotary blade is the easiest way to achieve straight lines.
Working inside your marked box on the table, lay out possible patch formations. You can trim down large scraps to make more patches. Start thinking about where the corners or seams of the garment may hit on the patchwork fabric you are creating. It is best to avoid seams of the patchwork in these areas. It is not the end of the world, but when you can avoid bulk it is nice.
Stitch together each piece of fabric to create your patchwork fabric for each pattern piece. Be mindful to not set yourself up for any in-set corners.
Please note in our example, we are working with knit fabric and will overlock our seams with a ¼” seam allowance. If you are working with a woven fabric, you will need to accommodate for your desired seam allowance. Press seams as you go along if you are working with a woven.
Cut out each pattern piece. Our sweater has a front, back, and two sleeves. Be mindful of not placing patchwork seams on garment seams.
Mark all necessary notches. Now you are all ready to sew up your design!
For fun, we filmed the entire process of creating patchwork fabric for a knit sweatshirt, including stitching up the design. Check out our YouTube video for the full Fast Forward Edition.
Using what we have is a great way to be sustainable and slow down consumption rates of new materials. Our variety of patchwork sweatshirts were created entirely out of scrap fabric from Fabricana and Atex Designer Fabrics. This was by far our favorite way to recycle those scraps!
Designed, photographed, and written by Sheila Wong Studios.
A straight woven skirt is an item all novice beginners learn while entering into the world of garment construction. You learn a variety of skills from darts, zipper installation, seam finishing, hemming, and basic hand sewn finishes. Our clients in our Intro to Garment Construction course learn just that in one of two projects.
While working with one of our latest clients in Intro to Garment Construction, we demonstrated using a beautiful plaid from Atex Designer Fabrics. Our team really felt the retro color palette and vibe of the skirt could be elevated with some fabric suspenders. I had to share with you the step by step process for many reasons. Fabric suspenders are so easy to construct, it uses up scrap fabric, and you get a whole new look for a skirt. Here is a tutorial on how to measure, draft and stitch up your very own fabric suspenders. Go grab yourself a skirt you think needs an upgrade!
Decide where you would like buttons placed on the front and back of the skirt. In our example the buttons are approximately 3- 3 ½” away from the CF and CB of the skirt and 1 ¼” down from the waistline.
Mark with a pin or thread mark button placement. Feel free to hand sew buttons on at this point or wait until the end when suspenders are fully constructed.
While wearing the skirt, measure from front button placement around shoulder to back button placement. Record measurement. Our length is 36” with a cross-back formation.
Draft out the suspender pattern as follows.
Length= Button to button measurement (from step 2) + 3” (back extension) + 1” (front extension). The back extension will allow space for two buttonholes and the front will allow for one buttonhole. Example: 36” + 3” + 1”= 40”
Width= Desired suspender width x 2. Example: 1 ¾” x 2= 3 ½”
Add desired seam allowance around the entire pattern piece. We are using ⅜” in our example.
Cut out fabric. If you have loosely woven or unstable fabric feel free to fuse a small piece of interfacing to the backside of where the buttonholes will be stitched.
Fold along the middle fold line with the right sides of the fabric facing each other, pin around three edges. Stitch around three edges using one stitch line. Drop down to a smaller stitch around corners. Leave a 5-6” opening anywhere along the longer edge. Trim away excess bulk in seam allowance, flip and press.
Mark and stitch buttonholes using a sewing machine or by hand.
Here is our placement for buttonholes. We used two buttonhole options on the back to allow for a variety of tops to be worn under with ease. Feel free to personalize.
Hand sew buttons onto the skirt and hand sew closed the 5-6” opening. Draw stitch works well.
This 60’s inspired retro skirt and suspender set was fully stitched on one of our Juki industrial machines and took just over 6 hours of sewing while instructing. We still have two meters of this lovely plaid in the studio. Let us know below if you think we should evolve this design into a pinafore with the remainder.
For Valentines Day our studio celebrated love by creating an intricate Quilted Heart Bag. The love continues with our latest design- Faux Fur Heart Bag. Full disclosure, I adore sewing with faux fur, so I jumped at the opportunity. This adoration all started as a teenager where I experimented with faux fur dance costumes. I still have a bin of faux fur I work with occasionally. This bright red from Fabricana is definitely the boldest color I have ever worked with.
In this blog post, I will dive in-depth into how to cut out faux fur without creating a fuzzy mess. You even get a short YouTube video of my must-do steps. Please let me know in the comments below if you would like a second blog post focusing on sewing with faux fur.
Cutting Faux Fur Tips
If you have ever cut into faux fur you have probably experienced fur fibers flying in the air, sticking to the walls, your clothes, and possibly in your mouth. The mess deters many of us from cutting into this fun fabric. After two decades of working with faux fur, I now implement a few essential steps.
Here is a step-by-step how to cut faux fur on your own. Video and photo options available below.
Layout fabric with the wrong side (backside) facing up. Be aware of the fur direction (nap). You can even chalk in an arrow on the wrong side for guidance. Once you have your pattern pieces on grain, weigh down the pattern and begin marking around the pattern and the notches. Avoid pinning pattern pieces down as it will distort the pattern edge shape. Once marked, remove weights and pattern.
It is important to note we will be cutting one layer at a time. If you are cutting out any asymmetrical pattern pieces, ensure you flip your pattern pieces as you proceed cutting out any more than CUT 1 patterns.
Cut through just the backside of the fabric along your marked lines, avoiding the fur pile. DO NOT cut through any fur. You want to maintain the length of each fur fiber.
With high-quality faux fur, you can glide your fabric scissor edge along the backside of the fabric avoiding any closing of the scissors on the fur itself. Once cut, pull out each pattern piece. This is where the magic happens! If you have cut correctly, there will be minimal fur stray bits.
Keep a vacuum handy. Vacuum all the edges of each piece after cutting to remove away any excess dust or fibers hanging on. If you have leftover fabric, be sure to vacuum the cut edges before storing them away.
Always wear a mask when cutting out high pile fabrics like faux fur. For years, we have kept N95 masks in the studio for this purpose. Here I am in 2015, cutting out faux fur for a fully lined vest.
I hope this blog post provided you with the confidence to cut into faux fur fabric. Fun fact, items I have made using faux fur include a vest, stole, bolero, skirts, dresses, crop tops, triangle tops, boot coverings, and bags.
Designed, photographed, and written by Sheila Wong Studios.
Spreading some community love with our latest design! Our team decided a heart-shaped bag would be the perfect project to celebrate Valentine's day.
Our bag drew inspiration directly from a local mural created by Vancouver artist Brynn Staples. We drive by this mural every day on our commute to work and find ourselves drawn to the colors and the positive feelings it evoked. As Brynn put it herself, this mural was meant “to be a symbol of the community that can bring people together”, and we were inspired to do the same. The mural can be found on the corner of Cambie and King Edward.
With leftover fabric from our Color Block Denim Jacket, we are giving a go at creating two styles of quilted fabrics. Fabric is from Fabricana. This blog post will discuss our process, how to incorporate quilted fabrics into a design (that is not a blanket), and what we learned.
Creating fabric from scraps comes naturally to us in the studio. We have patchworked a number of designs in the past, so quilting was inevitable. Our team experimented with two different styles of quilting. One style required more perfection (perfect square tiles), while the other was more forgiving (asymmetrical subway tiles). We know they are not called “tiles” in the quilting world, but we thought it was much more exciting!
SIDE A: Asymmetrical Subway Tiles
The final dimensions for our heart bag pattern are 21” x 20”. With this in mind, a bit of math was involved in figuring out how many strips (tiles) we needed to cut. We decided to keep the height of each time the same 2”. The tile length varied from 2” x 6” up to 2” x 24”. You can really play around with this depending on how much of one color of fabric you have or how much vertical seams you wish to sew.
We made sure we had a 24” x 24” final box of fabric in the end, to be able to cut out the heart pattern. Be sure to sew each row first, press the vertical seams, then proceed with sewing rows in the desired order. Keep reading on helpful tips like taking photos of the tile layout prior to sewing.
SIDE B: Perfect Square Tiles
Welcome to side B! We leveled up with the accuracy required for cutting and stitching on this side compared to side A. We determined each individual square would be 3”x3” for a total of 80 squares. You can really choose your own sewing journey with this style. Larger the tiles, less effort in sewing. Smaller the time, the more sewing and accuracy required to maintain the perfect square look in your final piece.
With three colors to work with, the color blocking took on a life of its own, creating a pixelated effect.
When incorporating self quilted fabric into a project, there are many details to consider to make the process easier. We wanted to share with you what we learned, and boy, did we learn a ton.
Planning the tile dimensions, cutting and stitching them up, we think you should consider the following.
After the quilted fabric has been created, keep in mind these helpful tips we learned.
We are absolutely mesmerized by our Heart Tote Bag. You might even say we have fallen in love with it. Quilting is a fun and creative way to elevate a design. We were able to achieve two completely different yet cohesive aesthetics to the same bag. This entire project took approximately 10 hours to complete, so you know it’s made with love!
We completely see the fascination with quilting and are starting to see why some of our quilting clients are in love with the process. It involves a great deal of organization, planning and accuracy in its execution. For us, you will only see quilting incorporated into our designs.
Stay tuned for our bonus Heart Bag sans quilting. In our blog post- How to: Cutting Faux Fur Fabric, we will provide you insight into working with faux fur and an insider look into our Heart Bag's construction. To learn more about how to incorporate quilting techniques into clothing, contact us to book lessons.
Designed, photographed, and written by Sheila Wong Studios.
I have absolutely no recollection of tie-dyeing anything as a youth. I started sewing at a very early age. From the get-go, I was in awe of the variety of fabrics one could design with. It was my mission to feel, cut, sew, and understand the nature of textiles and how they could be manipulated into a 3D form. It is only in the past few years, I have slowly started taking an interest in using paint or dye to manipulate textiles.
I have always wanted to stitch up a complex design and chuck it in a dye bath. So let's do it! I had some leftover black stock solution from my Ciba Washfast Acid Dye. Obviously, I am not going all tie-dye rainbow colors on you. I’m sticking to more subtle colors, or in this case, lack of color. Read on to learn more about my inspiration, tie-dye process, before and after shots, and what I will be dyeing or painting next.
This tailored shirt design comes full circle for a number of reasons. First, the pattern/silhouette is the same as our Rainbow Faces Tailored Shirt. I love the way that the original shirt sits when worn, but the colors were too much for me to wear often.
The white and grey vibes may feel familiar to you because back in October 2020, our team experimented with a White Sweatshirt Dye Project. My sweater was inspired by rainy days in Vancouver. That sweater was very time consuming to achieve the ombre dye. As I mentioned earlier, I am all about chucking this tailored shirt into a dye bath. So if the Rainbow Faces Tailored Shirt and the Rainy Day Sweatshirt had a baby...VOILA! I present the baby.
My experience with resist dyeing is limited to shibori. Shibori is the art of folding, clamping, or manipulating fabric in either a calculated or organic way to resist dye. The outcome of shibori is beautiful. Check out Ombre Slip Top Post to see the outcome of my shibori dyed slip dress.
The only thing I had in the studio to create dye resistance on the fabric was a ball of elastics. So tie-dye it had to be! I had no rhyme or reason when wrapping this white tailored shirt with elastics. I started scrunching up the sleeves tightly, then slowly worked towards the middle of the garment and up to the collar. I wanted the collar to be darker if possible, so I left this area last so it could potentially have the most exposure in the dye pot. 27 elastics were used to tie this shirt. Unexpected was the heart shape created in the end. The tops of the heart were made by the sleeves being tied in. Perhaps this was a gentle reminder that beauty can be found anywhere.
After approximately 1 hour in the dye pot with my black Ciba Washfast Acid Dye from Maiwa, what emerged was a very subtle tie-dye result. Here are some before and after shots for you.
I still have one more jar of the black stock solution. I know that this particular type of dye (Ciba Washfast Acid) works best on wool and silk. So, I am thinking the next project will need to be a wool cropped coat, a silk dress, or a silk skirt. I will continue with the tie-dye technique. Let me know your thoughts below.
Want to keep up to date on how our dye projects evolve? Sign up for our Insider Newsletter.
Designed, photographed, and written by Sheila Wong Studios.
For any designer, 2020 has been a year of sewing countless face masks. I have waited to post anything about face masks for a number of reasons. Digitally, we are bombarded with a variety of how-to-sew, what-to-buy, and how-to-wear face masks. Furthermore, our health officials have evolved the necessities when it comes to protective materials for face masks. So after months of observation, research, experimentation, and wearing masks for long hours every day while in the studio- here is my blog post on face masks. I will cover the following.
Comfy DIY Ear Elastic for Face Masks
If you have ever worn a face mask for a full day, you know the importance of a very comfortable ear elastic. I absolutely despised using the ¼” elastic trim everyone was stitching into their masks, so I dug into my large pile of knit jersey leftovers to create my own ear elastics. I really like to use bamboo knit jerseys for added softness but any jersey knits will work well. You can even cut up old t-shirts! Just remember to pre-wash your fabric prior to cutting as knits shrink dramatically.
Here is a step by step tutorial on how to create your own comfy ear elastics for face masks. Video and photo options available below.
Cut out 1 ½” width strip of fabric on the crossgrain or stretchiest part of the knit fabric. If you are cutting out of a 2 way knit then you can cut on grain or crossgrain. No need to cut on bias. Best to work with a long strip so you can create multiple ear elastics at once. So the full width of the fabric from selvage edge to edge will work well.
Fold right sides of the fabric facing each other along the long edge, line up the raw edges, and pin/clip in place.
Overlock between ¼” to ⅜” in from the folded edge. There is some fabric being cut off during this process. If you do not have an overlock sewing machine, just use a medium width zigzag stitch and trim away excess seam allowance.
Approximately ½” in from the end of one strip, cut into the fold, creating a hole. Attach a safety pin around the fabric loop you just created.
Feed the safety pin into the tube to help flip it inside out.
To finish, cut elastic according to the length you require. Strap lengths are approximately 7-9” for adults and 6” for children. But you will need to fit accordingly, as each knit fabric will have a different stretch capacity. Feed the elastic through the mask tunnel, stitch the elastic ends together then turn the elastic into the mask tunnel to hide connecting stitches.
Mask Style Recommendations
I have stitched up a variety of mask silhouettes to find the best shape. I have experimented with 2D and 3D shapes, with vertical and horizontal pleating. I even considered gathers at one point to create structure. My key factors- the masks must provide little to no exposure, I could breathe in them, and be stylish. Be sure to read on for material and trim recommendations, as picking out the right fabric to match a silhouette is just as important!
My first favorite shape is a 2D center front seam mask I found on Craft Passion. After my first toile, I made the following pattern adjustments and design changes to better suit my face shape and improve construction.
My second favorite mask shape is a 3D horizontal seamed mask I found on Japanese Sewing Books. This is probably one of my favorite silhouettes so far as it provides space inside the face for you to breathe yet seals the edges along your face, so you feel safe!
As usual, after my first toile, I made some adjustments to the 3D pattern. Just like the 2D pattern, I lengthened the back edge by ½” to make it easier to sew the ear elastic tunnel and insert in the elastic with ease.
To allow space for a nose wire, I topstitched the upper edge at ¼” instead of the recommended edgestitch (1/16” - ⅛”). I have tried two different kinds of moldable nose wires. One is a thin galvanized free molding wire from Canadian Tire. I used 24 gauge and cut them at 2 ½” in length. I then used pliers to carefully twist back the raw edge of the wire.
The other is a flat 5mm moldable bridge you can purchase from several online shops. A simple Google search will yield a hundred sites for you to pick from. It was important for me to perfect the art of the nose wire, as many of my loved ones wear glasses and need to wear masks for long periods of time. Their favorite combo so far is the 3D mask with the flat nose wire.
Recommendations for Mask Materials
To maintain a 3D shape, the fabric choice is so important. The more structured your fabric, the easier it will be to wear. You want to avoid sucking in fabric with each breath. I've found that a cotton canvas fabric works the best, as it is tightly woven and provides structure. If you just want to use lightweight 100% cotton, that is fine, but try to back it with a fusible non woven interfacing to provide structure and decrease particle penetration.
Wearing a mask is not going to be forever. I support mask wearing and feel we should do our part by using our creative skills to keep our community safe. I will continue to improve on the fit and comfort of face masks and share when possible. A reminder that all the face masks shown in this post are non medical grade. If you love the printed cotton fabric shown, it can be found at Fabricana.
Let us know of any sewing tips, pattern modifications or material recommendations in the comments below, and be sure to sign up for our Insider Newsletter to keep up to date with our designs.
Stay safe and happy sewing!
Designed, photographed and written by Sheila Wong Studios.
Pivoting our design process to include a variety of sustainable practices is imperative as we go forward. Traditionally, we have a fabric in mind already during the conceptualization process. However, we must give the fabric we already have in our stash a chance to be used first. Non-traditional fabric like drapes, bed sheets, already worn garments, or second-hand fabric from thrift shops can all serve as fabric for a new or upgraded design.
Additionally, many of us also have garments in our wardrobe that sadly never see the light of day. We wish we could wear these items, but we do not, and for some reason, continue hanging on to them. So think about how you could either refashion your current wardrobe into a new wearable garment, take apart an item to use for fabric or parts, or simply pass it along to a loved one who will wear it.
Our latest upcycled design is a two-piece jacket and skirt set that was dreamt-up by our marketing coordinator, Natasha. During her down-time, Natasha does freelance styling for local Vancouver models and photographers. Back in 2018, she picked up this awesome shiny pleather jacket (pictured below) from a consignment shop to use for a photoshoot. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t what the creatives were looking for, so it sat in her closet unloved for quite some time.
One October night, Natasha had a 90’s movie marathon in which she watched “Clueless” and “The Craft” back-to-back. This inspired her idea to merge two very different 90’s aesthetics- preppy and grunge. She took to her closet to find something that could potentially fit her upcycle criteria and ultimately landed on this wicked jacket plus an old pair of thrifted wool pants.
For those of you that love to shop second-hand, Natasha recommends the below thrift and consignment stores.
Upcycle Construction Process
Upcycling is all about working with and around what you already have to create a new perspective. Here is Natasha's step-by-step experimental process of preserving and creating certain design elements.
Step 1: Determining Waistline
Natasha wanted to maintain certain design elements on the original jacket, so she halved the garment by cutting just below the second button and just above the side seam pockets. This sat at the natural waistline. If she had cropped the jacket any higher or any lower, she would have had to sacrifice either the second button or both pockets, but this way, she could keep them!
The garment is fully-lined, so once cut in half, Natasha stay-stitched the rayon lining to the pleather fabric on both the upper jacket and lower skirt. She found that these two fabric types were a little trickier to work with together than usual. The lining was slippery, while the pleather was very thick. Good thing for industrial sewing machines— thank you, Juki industrial machine!
Step 2: Finishing the Waist
To help define the waist of both the jacket and the skirt, Natasha brought in another thrifted garment to assist and add texture to the overall outfit. Finishing off the waist with a non-shiny fabric really grounds the two new garments created. This also allowed the garments to lengthen slightly by 2”. During the upcycling process, you can lose length easily, so this change was very helpful! Now the skirt was a tad more wearable.
Natasha was able to use one pant leg's worth of fabric to create both waist finishings. One for the jacket and one for the skirt. Any suggestions on what she should do with the other pant leg?
Step 3: Choosing a Skirt-Closure
Snap snap snaps! The pleather fabric proved to be too thick for buttonhole installation on our sewing machines, so snaps it was to close up this skirt. This also allowed Natasha to play around with the drape of the skirt. In placing the skirt slightly asymmetrical, a new flared silhouette took shape.
Presto, 90’s makeover complete! We love how Natasha's upcycled retro blazer set turned out. Natasha gifted this set to her little sister, and it was a perfect fit! Great to know this design will finally get some love after so many years.
Upcycling gives new life to forgotten garments and prevents you from adding to a world that is already overwhelmed with material items. Furthermore, it challenges you creatively by forcing you to think outside the box. For more upcycling inspiration, check-out our blog post, Latest Design: Retro Upcycled T-Shirt.
Do you like to upcycle? Let us know what garments you’ve re-worked in the comments below, and be sure to sign up for our Insider Newsletter to keep up to date with our designs.
Designed, photographed and written by Sheila Wong Studios.
In early 2018, a simple slip silhouette dress pattern was drafted to allow me to demonstrate couture sewing techniques in my hand sewing intensive course at Maiwa School of Textiles. Since then, I have made four variations of the dress silhouette showcasing different fabrics, seam finishes, and surface manipulations. Having a simple silhouette to showcase a variety of machine and hand sewing techniques is ideal while teaching our clients.
Earlier this year, we cropped the dress pattern to become an easy-to-wear slip top. In doing so, this allowed me to continue to demonstrate with clients but with less fabric waste. Pictured below, you can see the variety of slip tops we have made to date, with the most recent changing up the design elements the most.
Our latest slip top variation was created as a demo garment while instructing our client Anita. I had initially taught her how to draft a simple slip top for her daughter, using the original slip top pattern. Anita wanted to take this slip top even further by introducing darts, gathers, convertible straps, and an empire seam. So voila, a gathered slip top was born!
Creating a Toile (Fit Sample)
Before cutting into our intended fabric (ombre silk), we created a toile (fit sample) to test out the gathers, bust dart, convertible straps, and strap width and length. All of which were changes from the original slip top.
Creating a toile is extremely important in the design process. It helps a designer test out their concept, pattern draft, and correct fit requirements. Not only that, but it also assists the designer in understanding the best sequence of construction. Typically a toile is made out of muslin fabric. But when the final intended fabric for use does not move like muslin, you can choose to make your toile out of a similar but cheaper fabric than your final fabric. We used silk charmeuse. Not exactly cheaper, but it is what we had on hand, not to mention it best resembled the drape of our final ombre fabric. Silk charmeuse fabric is from Atex Designer Fabrics.
After fitting the toile, the following adjustments were made to the pattern.
In 2017, I picked up ombre textured silk fabric from Nagato Fabrics in Nippori Textile Town in Tokyo, Japan. It was the last of the bolt with only 2 m left... so I bought it all! The fabric is 25” wide, which is more narrow than typical fabrics. I was informed that this type of fabric is meant for kimonos, hence the narrow width. Nagato Fabrics is one of my favorite textile shops in Japan as they have three shops within one block of each other to experience. For more information on Nagato Fabrics, check out our blog post: Latest Design: Couture Striped Jacket.
The upper bodice is lined with a grey silk charmeuse fabric, purchased from Atex Designer Fabrics.
Our slip top might look simple in nature, but as per usual, there are a ton of elements hidden within this design. While our top features French side seams, a topstitched tailored hem, an empire waist, front bust darts, convertible straps, and a lined upper bodice, I want to focus our attention on our designs' most visual element— gathers.
Gathering Sewing Tips:
Creating variations of a basic silhouette is the best way to explore a pattern to its fullest. There are other elements we could potentially add to future versions of this slip top such as pleats, round neckline, color blocking, double straps (2 per side instead of 1), cross over straps, pintucks, lace overlays, and the list goes on! What design elements would you like to see on the next variation of this silhouette? Let us know in the comments below.
Want to watch this slip top transform and progress? Sign up for our Insider Newsletter to keep up to date with all our latest designs.
Designed, photographed, and written by Sheila Wong Studios.
When I am not designing new clothes, I am a huge supporter of altering what I have in my wardrobe. Upcycling an already made garment into something unique is an art form on its own. Ever said the phrase “I have nothing to wear” while staring at your clothes-filled closet? Upcycling is the best solution to this age-old fashion dilemma, and it’s kinder on our planet too!
We create our own designs here in the studio but even so, a fair amount of consumption is involved when it comes to purchasing and working with new fabrics. Just because it’s handmade, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s environmentally-friendly. We need to ask ourselves several questions when fabric shopping...Who made the fabric? Where did the materials originate from? How much of that fabric is actually sold? And how much fabric did you waste on one design alone? Although we do our best to be mindful of these relevant factors and repurpose our fabric scraps when possible, upcycling remains the ideal solution when it comes to “green” garment construction.
Original Thrifted T-Shirts
Two thrifted T-shirts were used to create one new design. Our marketing coordinator Natasha provided us with two oversized shirts from her closet that worked perfectly. The shirt on the left is a white T-shirt that features a graphic design, of a lucky cat, with the text “Better Luck Next Time.” The shirt on the right is a retro Johnny Cash concert Tee in black. Both shirts received a lot of love in their prime, maybe a little too much love. The stains and rips made them ideal candidates for this makeover. Get a good look at these two because it’s the last time you’ll ever see them (like this)!
Watch us speed-stitch this design on our latest Youtube timelapse video: Upcycled Retro T-Shirt: Fast Forward Edition.
Want to follow along? You’ll need an over-lock (serger) sewing machine for this project. If you do not have a serger, use a zig-zag stitch. If you find we move too fast, try lowering the playback speed on the Youtube video settings.
Something old and something new, here are our favorite design elements that make up our Retro Upcycled T-shirt.
Graphic Design Placement
Placement was key for this design. We needed to ensure the original T-shirts were at least a women's size large to account for the cropped silhouette. This was especially important since both shirts feature a graphic design. In our case, we tried to preserve as much of both graphics as possible. Sadly ol’ “Johnny” didn’t quite make the cut. Har har fabric cutting jokes aside, the bigger the better for this type of project!
Initially, we planned on making the front bodice the “Better Luck Next Time” white lucky cat T-shirt. We realized once we placed the pattern down, a major chunk of this graphic image would have been cut-off. More so than the “Johnny Cash” and “Rock N Roll” graphic image/ text on the black T-shirt. So, we swapped them! A project like this is all about working with what you have. You have to be open to changing your plan if you want to achieve the best result.
Color Block Sleeves
We are BIG fans of color block, as made evident by our past designs. We hummed and hawed about keeping the sleeve and sleeve hem a solid color, but in the end... we just couldn’t help ourselves. Besides, the black and white contrast reminded us of a panda bear. Who doesn't like pandas?!
In this shirt, we used approximately 1.5 shirts to make it happen. You can mix and match more than 2 shirts to create a color blocking visual.
Self Fabric Ribbing
The pattern we used for our Retro Upcycled T-shirt is our Crop Knit T-shirt design with a neckline, sleeve cuff, and hem ribbing finish. For this design, we wanted to make use of the leftover fabric from the original T-shirts. So, we made the ribbing pieces out of self-fabric instead! If you do not wish to apply a ribbing finish to the sleeve cuff and hem, you can position the bottom of the Front Shirt, Back Shirt, and Sleeve pattern pieces aligned to the finished hem on the original shirts.
This is actually the fifth time we've used this pattern for our designs! Check-out our blog post: Latest Design: V-Neck Knit Crop Top to see the different variations of our cropped T-shirt design.
You don't always need to purchase fabric for a new garment. Look within your closet to see what garments could be upcycled or provide you with enough fabric to create a design. Sometimes the best fabric store is your closet! Using what we have is a great way to be sustainable and slow down consumption rates on new and raw materials.
Alternatively, if you have nothing in your closet that will work, think about visiting your local thrift shops for fabric or larger garments. We plan on exploring more upcycled designs going forward, as the overall message is important to us.
Want to elevate your current wardrobe by upcycling? Contact us to book private drafting and sewing lessons.
Designed, photographed and written by Sheila Wong Studios.