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.