Upcycling your wardrobe for expansion

Person holding plastic while standing on a wall with only legs showing
What to do when your clothes have reached its end cycle but you still don't want to toss them? Upcycling may be the answer! We highlight some techniques to upcycle your wardrobe.

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling, also known as creative reuse, is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality, such as artistic value or environmental value.( Wikipedia) Upcycling creations expand the wear of the garment by transforming into something better than its original use.  I know that modern society views upcycling in a negative way because the perception of waste congers trash wealthy of the garbage bin. Today we discuss some ways to upcycle your wardrobe to expand it rather than just change it. 

The Design process

When upcycling your wardrobe, decide if you want to use the outdated garment as fabric or just want to resign it using a upcycling technique. We discussed Boro in our last blog (read here) as well as other mending techniques but these techniques can also be used to upcycle a garment. Other ways to upcycle a garment include screen printing, cutting and patches. We discuss both ways below.

Redesigning a garment

Redesigning a garment  differs from a complete edit because the garment resembles what it was before and the focus remains on changing the design rather than the garment its self.  Here are some techniques of upcycling to consider when redesigning your garments.


Women standing in ripped jeans in front of boats on water. Shredding jeans is a part of upcycling

Cutting holes and trimming fabric at different angles created interesting patterns within garments. Using shapes like hearts create a more meaningful cut then randomly removing fabric. 


A pattern stenciled onto beige fabric as decorative form of upcycling

Using a stencil creates new ways to print on clothes with fabric paint and adds great detail as well. Buy vinyl stencils at your local craft store and some fabric paint. Remember to choose a theme first.


Different fabrics sewn together into a quilt as a symbol of patchworking a form of upcycling

If the garment needs repairs, using patches and scrap fabrics can help. We covered patchwork techniques from Boro to quilting like techniques. See our previous blog for more of these mending techique.

Recreating a garment by using it as fabric

Upcycling by creating a new garment from an old one by using patterns is the best way to revive a wardrobe. If you chose this route, choose patterns that allows the best use of garment and creates the least waste. Choose separates like pants, skirts, tops and shorts depending on how much fabric can be produces from the garment. Always layout the fabric to make the best use of the fabric. For tops, omit sleeves since it requires a lot of fabric.  Try to make an outfit from the previous garment or an accessory and a separate. Remember to incorporate scraps into the design to minimize waste.

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

Deconstruction of a bra surrounded with measuring tape, scissors, thread and safety pins.

Deconstruction is the process of dismantling garments in order to repurpose or transform them into something new and unique. It involves breaking down existing clothing items to their core components – fabric, seams, buttons, zippers, and embellishments – and reconstructing them in innovative ways (theselfbywake). Here you return the garment into fabric and then sewn back into a new garment.


Sewing studio with a heavy duty sewing machine on brown table with a blue shirt ready for upcycling

Repurposing is when you break something down and give it a completely new function. A form of upcycling, this process creates an entire new garment or accessory from the previous garment through the use of patterns. Check Youtube to get upcycling patterns.


Woman wearing 5 different t-shirt dresses upcycled by cutouts

Like cutting, editing removes a piece of  fabric from the original garment creating a new silhouette but keeping the original use of the garment. Dresses and shirts are usually great for editing because a small change creates unique results. Lacing, splits, weaving and other forms of editing are easy ways to upcycle clothes.

In conclusion, Upcycling creates new ways to expand your wardrobe. Which way would you choose? Comment below and if you have some links to share also add to the comments! Check out handbags made from upcycled materials!