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7 Simple Ways To Upcycle Your Clothes

by Rachel Yeoh. |


Green is the new black. Even if it is not, we have to make it so.


No, I am not referring to wearing green coloured clothing, but about being friendly to our planet when it comes to what we wear.


The buzzword that keeps emerging amongst sustainable fashion circles is ‘upcycling'.


It is a trendy word for creative use of products; not limited to apparels, but encompasses anything and everything that is revamped to serve a similar or new purpose. In this article, I will be looking at clothing because we have clothes on us almost all the time.


Let me crank up some numbers from Google to give you some perspective on why everyone should start upcycling their clothes (or at least take good care of them).


The equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second. - Make.Good


11.2 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills in 2017. - Environmental Protection Agency


An estimated 18.6 million tonnes of clothing will be thrown away in 2020. - Ellen MacArthur Foundation


Extending the life of your clothes by an extra nine months of active use will reduce carbon, water and waste footprints by approximately 4-10% each. - WRAP UK


By the looks of it, if we don’t do something about our textile consumption, we might be choked by our clothes, similar to how we are choking marine life with our plastic waste.


To avoid all of these complications, we must look at our fashion consumption. There are many ways to consume fashion more sustainably. You could:

  1. Purchase sustainably made clothing from brands that promote the use of organic material and consumption of less water, chemicals and waste during production

  2. Take good care of your clothing by washing them according to the instructions, patching up holes, and being gentle with them to extend their lifespan

  3. Buying pre-loved to reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfills

  4. Upcycling your clothes to give them a new lease in life


We are going to take a closer look at the last point. It does not matter if you are a fashionista or not, anyone can upcycle clothing. You just need to practice creativity and be a visionary about it.


1. Snip it


Long dresses, long pants, long sleeves… anything long can be cut off to create a new clothing item. All you need is a pair of scissors, needle and thread (preferably the same colour as your fabric). If you are lazy, take it to a tailor, and they will be able to do some alterations according to what you’d like.


If you’ve got a pair of pants or jeans that you want to cut short, measure it according to the length you want, and snip it off. Simply hem the bottom part with a straight stitch, or you could check out this video on how to hem your pants by hand. You could do the same with your jeans, but if you’re still lazy, just use your house keys and fray the bottoms. Voila, you’ll have a pair of cute hipster shorts in no time!


The same can be done with other pieces of clothing.


You can turn long dresses and skirts into short ones, shirts into crop tops, and long sleeves into ¾, half, or short sleeves.


After you are done with your transformation, you will have excess fabric. Don’t throw it away. These fabrics can be used to make bags, scrunchies or, if you have a lot of access fabric, it can be turned into a skirt or top. If creativity fails you, it can still be a rag (but come on, you are more innovative than that).


2. Extend or patch it

Source: Cosy Project


This part requires more creativity as you’ll be adding an extra piece of fabric onto your clothes.


Let’s tackle holes first. It could be holes in your socks, your knitwear, your jeans or your jacket - apparels cannot escape a tug that could result in ever-expanding holes. Here are a few ways you can patch it up:


  1. Do some embroidery magic with just a needle and embroidery thread. Perfect for small holes. You can add similar patterns, so it looks like the stitches are meant to be there.

  2. Patch large holes with fabric scrap (which you may have discarded after your snipping project). Perfect for jeans, patching them up scrap fabric will give it a unique style. You can learn how to patch holes by following this video by Knots & Needles.

  3. If you are super lazy, you could always buy an iron-on or sew-on patch. Watch this video by Sew Anastasia for some inspiration.


If your clothing item is a little too short (especially dresses - guys, you can donate the clothing items that might have shrunk to a lady who wants it), you can always extend it.


  1. If you like girly prairie-esque clothing, you’d love extending your dresses or skirts with lace. Check out the ways to do it in this video by Fairyanne.

  2. If your style is a little more casual, you’d like experimenting with colour blocking. Try out this project by Bonnie Wiscombe.

  3. For a no-sew option, you can always use fabric glue, buy lace trimmings from a DIY project store and piece it together. It’s super easy! For an idea on how to piece it together, watch this video by Dana Jean.


3. Cut off the sleeves


When I was a teenager, many of the boys in my circle cut off the sleeves to their tees - wanting to show off their muscles perhaps? And those were brand new shirts! Today, we can take that inspiration for our older tees.


A T-shirt is a good material to start with when it comes to snipping off the fabric. You don’t have to hem the sides if you don’t want to because the material does not fray. You just need a pair of scissors!


This muscle tee making video by Lean Life Revolution is for men, but ladies, you can try it too.


However, if you’ve got loads of time in your hands, have a sewing machine and are ready to do up a masterpiece with your humble tees, check out this one by Blueprint DIY. Once you are done, you will be wearing a money-can’t-buy top that will be demanding compliments.


4. Add or remove shoulder pads


One thing I like to do is rummage through old clothes at the thrift store (or my mom’s closet) and get some vintage pieces that can be thrift flipped. Sometimes, the easiest thing is just to take off the shoulder pads. Your mom might have some funky clothing from the 80’s that she used to wear - you know, the puffed sleeves and football shoulders kinda clothes?


Just take off the extras, like the shoulder pads and sleeves and it would make for a nice top or dress. All you need is a pair of scissors to snip off the thread holding it together.


But wait, don’t throw away the shoulder pads just yet.


Shoulder pads have been making subtle rounds in fashion for quite some time, ever since Lady Gaga reintroduced it to the fashion world about a decade ago (wait, that was a decade ago?!?!). This no-sew shoulder pad t-shirt by BlueprintDIY is a modern way to use shoulder pads.


5. Switch-up the buttons

Source: Well+Good


Do you ever have clothes that fit you, but somehow does not represent your personality anymore? Boring work shirts usually make me feel that way. If that feeling resonates with you, try switching up the buttons. All you have to do is get new buttons, maybe in a contrasting colour or a different shape (just be sure it can fit through the buttonhole). Snip off the old buttons and replace them with new ones.


6. Make a shopping bag


Once you complete any of the upcycling projects above, you might have access fabric. Make easy no-sew shopping bags with them. Check out this video by WhatsUpMoms for an easy tutorial on how to repurpose an old fabric or t-shirt.


If you are looking for a sewing alternative, you can always try this easy handbag tutorial by DIY Art and Craft.


7. Make a face mask (non-surgical)


The battle with COVID-19 is not over yet, at least not until we have reached herd immunity or come up with a vaccine. It means our masks must still be on to protect ourselves from other people and others from ourselves.


I made a face mask with my old t-shirts without a sewing machine (which took a long time) and even asked my mom to help me make them (because she has a canggih sewing machine). It’s pretty easy to do, and you do not need a lot of fabric. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube that are suitable for beginners too.


There are a few no-sew face masks like this one by Jan Howell, but I still prefer it to be sewn, so I don’t have to keep adjusting it when I have to take it out and put it on later. I like the mask style options given by withwendy in her video tutorial that is said to be hospital approved masks.


These are just a few simple examples on how you can upcycle your clothes, prevent them from being thrown in the landfills (in which most clothes will take around 200 years to decompose) and save money from buying more.


We often talk about recycling plastic, paper and glass, but to date, one of the biggest contributors to pollution are our clothes!


Look at what is in your closet, and before you trash any of them to make way for new ones, remember to spare a little thought for the earth.


If you've done any of the projects above, don't forget to tag CRUNCH by Nuffnang because we would love to kaypoh and check them out!

You can learn more about the writer on Instagram.

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