Back in the not-so-distant past, garments used to have multiple life cycles. Clothing was considered to be extremely valuable, and people got pretty creative trying to extend the function of a textile. In the 19th century, when clothing and textiles got to a point where they were super ewww, rag-and-bone trades men would sift through street garbage to collect them and sell them for repurposing. Women used to unravel yarn and other textiles to reweave and embroider to create items which replicated luxury. It was literally trash to treasure. When the sewing machine was invented, people kept the trend going, now enabled by technology and convenience to mend and repair their own clothes at home. Revamping was all the rage. It was culturally encouraged, especially in wartime, to redesign a garment to match the trends. That's no longer the case, and I can understand why. Repurposing, repairing, or revamping clothes seems like an obsolete practice when trendy clothes are available at the click of a button and for wildly affordable prices, in generous supply. But as I have mentioned before, clothes cost more than money. They cost the environment, they cost economies (both local and abroad), and they cost human lives.
I have always been a huge fan of scouring trash in search of treasure. I inherited a ferreting gene. I got it from my Momma! (finger snap) Even as a teenager, I would salivate over gorgeous vintage pieces, weird and unique. I have vintage pieces that I bought back then that I still wear to this day. A garment can give you years, even decades, of enjoyment. But I know from eons of sifting through Goodwills the size of a Costco that tons of vintage is truly unwearable in its original state. From questionable stains to gaudy buttons to quilted shoulder pads, some vintage pieces are an immediate, vigorous head shake.
But wait! ..... you feel a glimmer of hope. You remember a lost daydream.
Enter 19th and 20th century garment repurposing mentality. With a bit of imagination, and selection of the right piece, your friend Garment Repurposing can help you offer a completely new lease on life to an article of clothing who is not yet ready to succumb to landfill heaven.
Last week I was lucky enough to set up an atelier at the art gallery Zeitgenießische, or ''The Z,'' run by local artist Anna Baer. For all the English speaking readers, Zeitgenießische is a German play on words for ''enjoyable time/enjoying things made at that time.'' And enjoy my week I did! Because of time restraints (aka my normal adult working responsibilities) I wasn't able to put in as many hours at The Z as I would have liked. But with a hop in my step and a twinkle in my pants, I was able to conceptualize and actualize three completed pieces, upcycled and repurposed from vintage who whispered to me that they wanted to be loved like the Velveteen Rabbit.
PIECE NUMBER ONE: Lighthearted Funk
sleeves for dayz
The first piece is a vintage blouse with a print I felt could be a funky swing on modern, given the right touch. It had massive sleeves, puffed well past the elbow, and robbed the wearer of any type of silhouette. The shoulders had a nice ruching detail that I wanted to keep, but the first thing I was itching to do was chop off those massive arm tubes. So I designed a breezy sleeveless blouse with a wearable and functional shape. Once I cut away all that excess fabric, I played around with some design elements like buttons and hem length. This blouse ultimately ended up as a fun crop top, hitting just at the waistline. I modeled a sleeve cuff into a faux front pocket (at least those sleeves were good for something!) and decided on black buttons to compliment the pattern of the fabric.
The finished product, to the right, is so much lighter and easy to wear!
It's versatile, and can be paired with just about any bottoms. It transformed from a frumpy pillowcase to a modern tart, ready for mimosas at brunch.
PIECES NUMBERS TWO AND THREE:
Peas in a Pod This gorgeous forest green suede skirt was a real beaut, but so heavy to wear. Moreover, parts of the leather had been compromised with age and water damage. But the structure of the waist band and zipper were still in perfect condition. So I set about salvaging what I could from it.
This skirt has a fun V shape design element in the front and back seams, which made for the perfect point at which to make a cut. With tailor's chalk I carefully drew on my new hemline, snip snipped, and reinforced the seams on all sides for a structurally sound and fresh, wearable suede mini.
take her for a twirl
I had quite a bit of really soft, useable suede left over after my skirt got a haircut. But what to do with the rests? Hum mum mum! I rustled up a black skirt with sturdy leather (which also had some stains on some places, thus a perfect candidate for recycling) and a cotton striped belt and set about determining how I could section off this green suede into a functional bag.... and upcycle a few more textiles while I was at it!
I decided to create a really classic tote shape. Leather is a wily workmate! Even if you're a super patient and precise cutter, leather has a will of its own and and will change shape and personality about five times before you're finished with it. But it is such a valuable material due to its durability and the precious living resource from which it came that it is worth the work you put into it. Creating a basic shape with such a beautiful material is a recipe for a terrific upcycled outcome.
From the ashes rises the Phoenix. Suede tote with leather front pouch, cotton woven straps reinforced with leather.
This generous suede skirt gifted me with two new functional and lovely pieces. One garment and one accessory, ready to be utilized and given a second life. Due to the weight of the skirt and portions of compromised material, I am relatively certain this skirt would have had a hard time finding a renewed lifecycle without repurposing. I hope both these pieces will bring joy and use for years to come.
Nerd alert! I love history, especially the history of fashion. So bringing back the practice of reutilizing clothing and creating new, modern treasures from fabrics with lots of potential is so gratifying. Revamping and repurposing can once again become culturally encouraged. For this blouse and skirt, a landfill fate has been averted for a while longer, and the valuable mentality of preserving what has already been produced is revived in the 21st century.