Archive for the ‘sewing’ Category

Even more shopping parables to demonstrate the value of improvisation

January 28, 2009

A couple days before the end of 2008 I was standing in line at Joann’s, a crafts and fabric store, waiting to get some fabric cut.  A woman ahead of me had bolts and bolts of trims spilling out of her arms.  When she reached the front of the line she proceeded to drop them all on the table with a triumphant, “Half a yard of each, please!”  As the clerk busied herself, the woman held up the lengths of lace to the light, inspecting them, mental calculations evident on her face.

“What are you making?”  It is the standard question to ask at the cutting table.  This time, though, everybody in line was curious to hear the answer.

She laughed.  “My daughter loves Abercrombie & Fitch.  They have these $30 tank tops with lace on them.  I told her, ‘No … you can have the $8 tank tops instead’,” she gestured to the trim that the clerk was busy measuring, ingredients for tank tops at one third the price.

I admire her approach.  Then again, I’m the one standing behind her in a fabric store, so maybe I’m inclined to admire her approach.  Still, with the recent decline in the economy, I’ve read all sorts of reports of parents who must cut back on teenager’s spending money, how tween stores are not faring as well as they used to; doomsday articles foretelling the psychological damage economic uncertainty will inflict upon impressionable young teenagers, articles fretting about the best way to broach the topic of money with children.  After working with children and teenagers for two and a half years now, I’d argue that our children and teenagers are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.  Challenge them and they will rise to the occasion.  Parents, put your foot down.

It won’t create a sense of deprivation.  This woman is teaching her daughter the value of a dollar, and demonstrating creativity, improvisation.  She could have brought her daughter along to match trim to tank tops to involve her in the process.  Even without that, she’s showing her daughter that she doesn’t have to stay loyal to a certain expensive retail brand.  She can create her own look.

The thing about dressing to one company is that you’re no longer just buying clothes.  You’re buying an image.  In some ways this is easier; you can achieve instant cool with “the A&F look” or “the Gap look.”  Some careerwomen I know like the cache that comes along with certain expensive suit retailers, and shop accordingly.  In the impressionable teenage years, though, when spending habits are often set, it is dangerous to blindly fall into the trap of brand loyalty.  It is expensive.  You’re not creating your own style, your stamp on what you like and how you view things.


9 Easy Tips for Making Over Thrift Shop Clothing

January 15, 2009

One of the beauties of thrift shops is that you never quite know what you’ll find.  Of course, one of the downsides is also that you never quite know what you’ll find, or worse yet, you’ll find something that is almost perfect but not quite there.  This happens to me all the time.  I used to automatically put the item back and keep foraging, but have since discovered the fun and magic of tweaking thrift shops finds.  This list focuses on clothing, but there are other websites that offer great improvisational ideas for furniture, toys, household decorations, and home improvements.  Most of these tricks involve basic sewing knowledge and may take up to a couple hours, depending how complicated your design becomes.

Without further ado, 9 easy tips for making over thrift shop clothing:

1.    Shorten the hem.  This works especially well for pants and skirts; sleeves can be a bit tricky, depending on the type of garment.  The simplest is to just turn the hem under and sew it into place.  If you want less bulk, cut the fabric and turn under twice before sewing.  Tutorial here.

2.    Change the buttons.  Buttons can really date a garment, but they’re also cheap to come by and completely alter the look of an outfit.  Be sure to substitute buttons that are similar in size to the originals.

3.    Add trim.  Lace, ribbon, buttons, embroidery, appliqué, vintage trim, doilies are all great embellishments and really make a piece pop.  Ever wonder why Anthropologie can get away with selling their clothes for so much money?  The money’s in the details, and they use embellishment to their advantage like no other.  Phenomenal examples here, here and here.  I haven’t read this book myself, but it gets rave reviews for garment embellishment ideas.

4.    Take away ugly trim.  Thrift with an eye for potential, not necessarily the garment in hand.  Is it well constructed, made of high quality materials, or have a classic cut?  If so, it may be worth the half hour investment to freshen it up by removing sequins, an oversized collar or other decorative details.

5.    Applique over imperfections.  Applique, or sewing fabric shapes onto fabric, is perfect for covering up logos, rips, stains, and holes.  Examples here and here, basic tutorial here.

6.    Dress up a simple tee or skirt with fabric paint.  The paint bonds permanently to the fabric, and you can go crazy with all sorts of shapes that make your outfit perfectly one of a kind.  A popular technique is to cut shapes out of freezer paper for a one-time-use stencil, or you can freehand as well.  Tutorial here.

7.    Salvage jeans with elastic in the waistband. Have you noticed that woman’s jeans no longer curve inwards from the hips towards the waist, so that if your waist is at all narrower than your hips you’ll spend all day hiking up your pants?  This trick solves this problem in about 30 minutes.  Just snip a small slit in the inside part of the back of your waistband, thread a piece of elastic through it, and sew it into place on both sides.  This shrinks the waistline enough to keep the pants sitting on your waist.  Thanks to this, I’ve gone from 1 pair of functional jeans to enough pants to get me through winter.  Brilliant!

8.    Alter a dress to skirt but cutting off the top and making an elastic waistband.  This works best with dresses that are several sizes too large.  When thrifting with potential in mind, don’t forget that you can make one piece of clothing over into another, or that a garment that’s too large or too small may still be salvageable!

9.    Cut down a too-small waistband to make it fit.  Have you ever bought a piece of clothing thinking, “This will fit perfectly if I just lost 5 pounds!”  Come now, don’t be shy, I’ll admit to it if you will …  A couple years ago I found a great skirt for $2 that was just a tad snug but that I couldn’t pass it up.  It sat in my closet for over a year until I finally trimmed about an inch off the top of the skirt, then bound the raw edges with bias tape, which is a stretchy finishing trim.  Tutorial here.  Now I wear this skirt all the time and love it!  This tip is a bit trickier and involves more extensive sewing abilities.  Just remember, when cutting down a waistband even ¼” goes a long way, so trim conservatively!

If you’re interested in learning more, there are entire websites and books devoted to restoring, altering, and refashioning vintage clothing.  One of my favorites is Wardrobe Refashion, a collaborate blog that chronicles the efforts of people as they pledge to purchase no new clothing and instead refashion vintage clothing, make it from scratch, or make do with thrift shop finds.  I’ve taken a four month pledge this time around (over the summer I pledged for two months) so I may not be entirely unbiased in recommending the website, but you really should pop over for a peek – there is a whole range of projects that will change the way you see garments and everyday objects!