Upcycling 101: A Story For Inspiration

Elisabetta @messystreets

It began the unusual way, sitting in an August sunset-lit kitchen when I was eight

years old. My eyes avidly stole my mum’s almost-ritual movements and, even if she’s never been much of a sewer, it gave me the bug. So, when my passion was younger, I used to sew or embroider whatever I could lay my hands on and, although the results were – obviously- quite lousy, I felt like I created the most beautiful things all the same. Long after, when I turned sixteen, I went to our village seamstress asking for private lessons but she turned me down claiming that I was “too old to learn”.I won’t deny her answer annoyed me greatly but I was stubborn and I just dug my heels further.


Twelve birthdays later, in mid-2019, I managed to get the lessons I longed for ages.

In June, it had been a year since I effectively started sewing and I often found myself thinking that I just can’t believe that I was really doing what the child-me wanted to do. I cannot pretend it was easy. Firstly, I had to master the art of hand-stitching; it has proven to be very usefully in many many situations, especially when the sewing machine has utterly failed you (e.g. Invisible hems, small reparations or basting) - eventually being able to sew my very first Marks&Spencer-inspired midi skirt all by myself in October.

After that first very project, my solo journey started.

Apart from sewing brand new clothes out of immaculate fabrics, I mainly use old garments and different sewing techniques, from refashioning or embroidery to upcycling or recycling, to be able to reuse those dismissed clothes I had stuck in my wardrobe for ages.

That’s my propeller.

If you’re new to sewing I daresay upcycling is right for you, therefore, I can’t help but show you two simple, yet effective upcycling projects I made last Winter:

a 90s-inspired faux fur “BAG-guette” I made out of a friend’s scarf, and a beret

I made out of, yet, another scarf.

In my opinion, both this bag and the beret are quite suitable projects for beginners who want to move their first steps into the Wonderful Sewing World.

As I realised that a needle is nothing different than an Ollivander’s finest Wand,

everything can turn into something else according to your own creativity. I started revisiting my clothes and how to refashion them in my mind ever since.

Some alterations need some advanced magic skills and a lot of patience to be done (just like the daisy dress that happened to come from my mum’s wardrobe) but they’ll ultimately make you feel like you’ve reached the top tower in no time at all whereas other projects (see the tulle skirt) will come as easy as pie and won’t take more than 15 minutes to be done.

Mischief managed:

It is acknowledged by those who know me that my mind is irremediably set on a Zero-waste mode that leads me to constantly think and look for new projects that can allow me to reuse efficiently the items I bought during my – as I use to call them – “Shopping raptus”.

One of the easiest things to alter are Dungarees as they would only need to take the bib off and sew the waistband back together, just like I did with these white jeans (that I refer to as my Fake White Jeans):

Still, another DIY project I’m really fond of are these Bermuda shorts that, more than being a refashion project , are a definitely make-over one.

I got a pair of big black trousers that I wouldn’t have been able to use so I decided to bleach them beforehand ( two days of bleaching) as I wanted them to reach this very yellow shade, consequently I cut them knee-length, altered the darts , hemmed and zipped and ECCO QUI a totally different, sustainably- made pair of trousers:

Along this sewing-fruitful year I also succeeded at altering numerous clothes I never used because of their size. Experience taught me that every problem can be sorted out with the right approach. For instance, one of my favourite dresses was too long and my instant thought was “ go on and shorten it by the hem for good” but I had to find a different way as the hem was too nice to be touched.

Guess what?

I cut not the hem but the part sewn under the breast line instead, leaving the original scalloped hem UNSCATHED.

Sure enough, needle and thread can provide you limitless possibilities when it comes to refashion or upcycle projects. Consequently, as I love being able to wear items that I link to pleasant memories, I always adapt these garments (that usually were my brothers’, mum’s or dad’s) on my tiny figure just by making minor alterations as removing the zip off a cardigan and wearing it backwards or just shrinking my father’s teal jumper with the holy aid of some patterns I made out of my own clothes.

Dulcis in Fundo, the DIY project I’m most proud of: the cord dress I made out of a camel

blazer that was my father’s. I got the idea from a dress @PetraAlexandra wore last January.

I fell in love immediately but couldn’t afford it so I said to myself “You can do this” and started my refashion project. It took 3 whole days and a fairly great amount of struggle but the result was so great that I felt over the moon.

I decided to end this article showing you this dress for I staunchly believe that this dress and my whole experience is proof that no one is too old to learn anything when one’s

passion is genuine and strong. Bear this in your mind and be stubborn.

Finally, If you cannot get any sewing lesson, you would be delighted to know that on YouTube you’d find loads of channels devoted to sewing and DIY projects that would give you good bases if you’re new to needle and thread.

Just don’t give up.

So, That’s the end of the love story I have sewn for you, now it’s up to you to embroider your own.


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