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#061: Revamp your wardrobe! Clothing refashioning tips

with special guest Elise Sinclair

When it comes to clothes, we're all being encouraged to re-use and recycle, but how easy is that in practice?

Well, recently I asked Elise Sinclair of Elise's Sewing Studio to share her thoughts on refashioning items that we might have in our wardrobes or might pick up from charity or thrift shops.

So if you've struggled for ideas on how to zhuzh up an old favourite or how to give a pre-loved item, a new lease of life, then she has lots of great suggestions as well as tips on things to look out for when you're preparing your project. So read on to find out more.

And if you'd like Elise's free guide on basic alterations then check in the Connect with Elise section below for the link.

Why refashion an item of clothing?

There are lots of great reasons to consider refashioning a piece of clothing.

My charity shop jacket
My charity shop jacket
  • It's outdated or no longer in fashion but you love the fabric colour or feel

  • It no longer fits your style - maybe it's from a different era or maybe your lifestyle has changed and the garment needs some updates to better meet your needs

  • It's damaged but there's still a lot to the garment that is salvageable

  • It's too big or too small but you love something about the garment and want to retain that in some shape or form

  • It can be quicker than heading to the shops and trying to find something new. If you already have a garment with fabric you love, restyling it can save time trying to find a replacement

  • It's great for the planet - buying less and re-using more is a great way to reduce the amount of fashion we buy (which also saves money!)

Whatever your reason, refashioning is a great, creative option.

What type of garments can you refashion?

"In 2010 I got a tunic - not long enough to be a dress that you wear on its own but longer than a regular shirt," Elise told me.

Inherited hawaiian shirt ready to be refashioned
An inherited shirt - ideal

"I really liked the fabric but it was about 10 years old and I felt the style wasn't quite up to date anymore. So I chopped it off under the armpit, put an elastic casing at the top of the bottom part I had cut off and turned it into a skirt."

It gave a new lease of life to a garment she hadn't worn for 3 or 4 years.

So if you have items in your wardrobe for a long time that are collecting dust they are great candidates for a refashion. Or if you have items that no longer fit you, but that are made from fabrics you could re-use then they can also be good options to consider. It might be that like me, you have found something in a charity or thrift shop that needs a bit of TLC. Or it could be something that you have inherited from someone else, like some old T-shirts that my other half 'donated' to me. I have also used refashioning on items that I have made, that didn't turn out quite as I had planned or imagined. If I feel like I am not going to wear it then I'll look at ways I can change or adapt it instead.

What's the difference between refashioning and recycling?

Recycle vs refashion
Recycle vs refashion

That's a great question. For me, refashioning implies that I will keep some features or the essence of the original garment in some way. So I will usually keep some part of the garment intact.

I think refashioning can also be as simple as changing buttons or adding something decorative so it doesn't always require a huge transformation. It can be as big or as small a change as makes the garment work for you.

I consider recycling to be a bit more extreme where I may take the garment back to just pieces of fabric, or I might remove elements to keep and use on other projects such as buttons, zips or other decorative features.

But I don't get too hung up on the terminology - as long as you are able to create something that you will get some enjoyment from it doesn't really matter too much what you call it!

Refashioning ideas and techniques

So you have found your garment - what do you do with it? Well, there are lots of options to choose from. Cut off a part of the garment and turn it into something else. In Elise's example, she cut the skirt part off her tunic and made it into a skirt in its own right. Equally, if you just like the top part of a garment then cut the bottom off and use that fabric for another project. You can also just shorten or crop the item as this can really change the style and appearance. Change the sleeves. I bought a dress with very wide long sleeves that had too much fabric for my personal style, especially as the fabric also had quite a large print. I cut off the sleeve just above the elbow and left the fullness to create a new flutter sleeve and it just changed the whole look of the dress.

Elastic ruching - Tilly & The Buttons Stretch Book
Elastic ruching - Tilly & The Buttons Stretch

You can also add cuffs to sleeves with any fabric you remove including adding buttons or other details. Or add elastic to change the shape, either at the bottom to turn it into more of a puff sleeve or even along a section of the length of the sleeve to gather it up. Sheering is another great option for wide sleeve openings. Changing the buttons, fastenings or the colour or style of a zip can create a new focus or modernise a garment and swapping buttons can be quite a quick change to make. Add or modify the collar. This could be to remove or reshape an existing collar, to add details such as a fabric overlay or beads to it, or to create a brand new detachable collar that you can wear with your garment to give it a new look.

Add trim such as lace, ribbon or bias binding on top of or underneath the edges of the garment, poking out. You can do this at the front edges of jackets, round necklines or round sleeve or bodice hems. You can even use contrasting fabric to create the effect of an underlayer if you want to add more length. Add contrasting patch pockets or appliques - these can be great for covering up stains or damage to a pre-loved garment. But visible mending is also a really popular look at the moment so adding visible patches even for decoration can be a simple way to add new interest and colour.

My charity shop jacket

Charity jacket with missing button
Charity jacket with missing button

One of the reasons I asked Elise about refashioning was to get her ideas for a jacket that I had bought a couple of years ago at a local charity shop. I loved the style of the jacket but when I put it on, the shoulder pads are definitely very 1980s and a bit too big to feel comfortable. There is also a button missing and sadly because I haven't tackled it for some time, there are now a few little holes that have appeared in the fabric (from moths I think). The buttons are covered in velvet to match the trim so we talked about trying to find a similar colour fabric and adding new covered buttons to the front of the jacket. To address the moth holes, Elise suggested repairing the fabric. "Usually for that you just have to do a very careful job by hand. I have done that. There are some people who are experts at it, but you basically have to sew a few stitches horizontally and then vertically, and then basketweave to try and basically build the fabric back up. And then usually if you give it a press, that helps those stitches sink in a bit too. Depending on where it is too and how obvious it is, if it's close to the neck, you could add, some sort of detail. You could stick a broach over one of them, or a decorative element like an applique." One of the holes is very close to the shoulder seam so we also talked about adding a strip of new fabric in one of the base colours or feature colours of the jacket, as a kind of epaulette. That same fabric could then be used to cover buttons to tie them into the overall theme. I think changing the shoulder pads will also soften the shape and make it a bit more classic. But I think that will create a bigger job as I think that will also mean adjusting the length of the shoulder slightly too.

What to look out for when refashioning

Moth hole in my jacket
Moth hole in my jacket

So there are a few things that have caught both Elise and me out in the past when starting refashioning projects so here are our tips on what to look out for:

  • Fabric quality - check to see if it is intact or starting to wear through in particular areas. That may still be OK but it might affect what options you have, e.g. moth holes in conspicuous places

  • Functioning hardware - if it has zippers or closures, are they working or will they need to be replaced? If the zip is broken, how accessible is it and do you feel confident in tackling it.

  • Do you have the time and space - if you are thinking of buying an item for a future project, consider whether you have the time and space to complete it, or will it just sit in your cupboard instead, creating pressure.

  • Will it fit/how much fabric is there - if the item is too small, do you know how you will add to it and do you have a fabric that will work with it?

  • Does the item have an integral feature such as a chunky zip or pockets? If so that can affect the options you have in relation to possibly shortening it. It can be more work to shorten a zip front garment for example as you have to take the zip out completely to shorten it.

  • Does it have distinctive topstitching (e.g. jeans or shirts)? This might affect how you approach your alterations. Elise has a great article on how to straighten boot-cut jeans while still retaining the original topstitching: How to straighten boot-cut jeans And also an article on how to shorten jeans and retain the original hem stitching (known in Canada as a Euro hem): How to sew a Euro Hem on Jeans

To listen to our chat on this topic click the button below or look for Sew Mindful on your favourite podcast app:

In this episode you'll hear:

  • [00:01:36] Introducing Elise Sinclair

  • [00:02:22] Why refashion an item?

  • [00:05:39] What type of garments can you refashion?

  • [00:07:19] What's the difference between refashioning and recycling?

  • [00:08:28] Refashioning techniques

  • [00:13:09] Ideas for my charity shop jacket

  • [00:18:38] What to look for in your refashioning project

I'll be working on my jacket project and will update you once it is done! If you have any items that you'd like ideas for then do email me with some photos and Elise and I will try to come up with suggestions to help. And if you would like more help with any of the aspects mentioned in this article or this podcast episode then I would love to hear from you so do please email me at Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I hope you find some useful tips that you can apply.

Connect with Elise Sinclair

If you'd like to connect with Elise she would love to hear your feedback or thoughts on this topic too. Website: Instagram: Facebook: YouTube: Free Guide to Basic Alterations: You can also hear my chat with Elise about making alterations for your body shape here: 053 - Making alterations for your body shape

Sharing is caring - reviews

If you found this article helpful then please click the heart icon below to let me know and I'll create more content like this. And you can also use the icons in the footer if you want to share this with other sewing friends. If you enjoy this podcast episode please be sure to share it and to leave a review in your favourite podcast app to help others find us.

Get in touch

I always love to hear about you trying out what you pick up from these articles and episodes so do let me know:

Thank you so much for listening and for all your support. x

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