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How to Sew Using Recycled Clothing

Updated on April 11, 2012
recycled clothing from jeans
recycled clothing from jeans

Recycling Vintage Clothing and Cheap Clothes

Clothes recycling is nothing new, but with the depressed economy most of us are experiencing now, recycled clothing is enjoying a resurgence. If you’ve been shopping lately, I don’t have to tell you that cheap clothing is difficult – if not impossible – to find on the racks. I can’t believe the pricing of some apparel! This hits me especially hard because I enjoy buying clothes for my three daughters and especially for my eight grandchildren. I’m pretty creative and innovative, and my mom taught me how to sew a little when I was a teenager. She was a gifted seamstress, and she knew how to sew clothes that even a teenage girl was proud to wear. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to sew clothes; the recycling projects I’m sharing with you here don’t require any fancy stitching. In fact, some don’t even require any sewing, at all!

My mom enjoyed recycling clothes into quilts.
My mom enjoyed recycling clothes into quilts. | Source

Recycling Clothes – A Family Tradition

I’m not sure how many generations back my family members had to recycle clothes, but I know for sure my grandmother and great-grandmother did. Mom used to tell me how my great-grandmother made underwear from flour sacks. Once the underwear wore out, she’d turn them into dishcloths. The better pieces were saved to make quilts. In turn, some old quilts were made into warm winter coats. Now that’s what I call getting a lot of mileage out of fabric!

My grandmother reared eight children – six of her own, along with a niece and a nephew. During the Depression, the family was poor, as most Americans in the South were. Mom said Granny recycled clothing all the time. Old clothes were mended, patched, and altered and were handed down from the older kids to the younger kids.

My mother didn’t recycle clothes a lot, per se. my only sibling is a brother who’s eight years my senior, so I never got any of his hand-me-downs. Mom did save old clothes, however. She turned them into beautiful quilts. She was an artist, with oil paints and with needle and thread.

Recycling clothes isn’t hard to do, and it can save you a boat load of money. You can make new items from old items, and you can turn cheap clothing into trendy pieces with very little effort.

Blue jeans are the ultimate in vintage clothing!
Blue jeans are the ultimate in vintage clothing! | Source

Vintage Clothing

Vintage clothing is hot now! Items from the sixties and seventies are especially popular, and you might be surprised at what you can find in thrift stores and at yard sales. Some of the most popular styles now were the rage in decades past, and now these items are called vintage clothing. That sounds better than used clothes, right?

Hit the second-hand stores and find vintage clothing like bell bottoms, peasant blouses, palazzo pants, tunics, and anything with a military look. Sure, you might have to hem the items or take them up a notch or two, but you’ll have some great vintage clothing you can be proud of, for very little cost. Don’t overlook accessories either. Scarves, fringed handbags, and costume jewelry from the sixties and seventies can make a real fashion statement. Platform shoes are back in again, too, so be sure to search for a pair at your local thrift shop.

Recycle old blue jeans into skirts, shorts, capri jeans, or bags.
Recycle old blue jeans into skirts, shorts, capri jeans, or bags. | Source

Blue Jeans

Old blue jeans are the ultimate in vintage clothing. In fact, some brands and styles demand big prices. Even those that don’t can still be recycled into useable items. It’s easy to turn a pair of old blue jeans into shorts or skirts. If you have a pair of jeans you like, but the bottoms are frayed, or the jeans are too short, you can also make a pair of Capri jeans or crop pants from the blue jeans with a simple cut-and-hem job.

If you have or find an old pair of blue jeans that aren’t vintage, you can make them look like vintage clothing. I was a teenager in the seventies, and we hippie wannabes loved our old faded jeans! When I got a new pair of jeans, I’d spend hours washing them in bleach water, sanding them, and rubbing them over rough concrete to give them that aged, comfy look and feel. Most of us adorned our favorite jeans with jeans patches, often placed on a back pocket or on the bottom of the leg. These jean patches were usually a smiley face, an American flag, a peace sign, a dove, a heart, or a whimsical saying. Can you still find these jeans patches? I found some online!

I’ve always had a special affinity for white jeans. To me, white jeans are perfect for summer, and they look great with leather sandals, suntanned feet, and a bright top. Also, white jeans can be dyed any color you want. Also, if you find used white jeans that have stains, bleach and sunlight will usually make them sparkling white again.

If you know how to sew a little, you can turn blue jeans into all sorts of items. Think handbags, totes, beach bags, and laptop bags. I’ve made several blue jeans bags. I simply cut the jeans off at the crotch and sewed up the seam. I used leather thongs, scarves, or cord to thread through the belt loops as carrying straps. To make a blue jeans bag that’s slightly more complicated, watch the following video:

How to make a jeans bag:

Stones and gold glitter paint can transform cheap clothes.
Stones and gold glitter paint can transform cheap clothes.
Add bling to cheap clothing with stones.
Add bling to cheap clothing with stones.
Buttons are easy to affix with E6000 glue.
Buttons are easy to affix with E6000 glue.
I turned an old white tee into a bathing suit cover-up with fabric paint, rhinestones, and appliques.
I turned an old white tee into a bathing suit cover-up with fabric paint, rhinestones, and appliques.
My best pal and I stoned this winning gown.
My best pal and I stoned this winning gown.

Recycling Cheap Clothes

I love lucking up on sales that offer cheap clothes. The problem is that cheap clothing is often boring. But it doesn’t have to be! The options for improving the pizzazz of cheap clothing are practically endless. If you know how to sew, you can add sequins, beads, and all sorts of appliqués. Even if you don’t know how to sew, you’ll still have plenty of options. One is to use iron-on transfers. These are available at most sewing stores and craft shops.

What’s that – you can’t sew or iron? No problem! Use acrylic paint to make designs on your cheap clothes. Even if you have no artistic skills, you can always use stencils and stamps. Cheap clothes can also be adorned with buttons and rhinestones. The stones can be placed in any pattern you choose, and they come in lots of different shapes, sizes, and colors. To apply the stones, spread E6000 glue onto the back of each stone. I use a wooden toothpick for this. If you’re going to be placing a lot of small stones, you can fill a syringe with the E6000 and use that to place dots on the fabric. Press the stones into the positions you want, and allow them to dry overnight. This glue is very tough, so even washing machines rarely cause the stones to loosen. We've used this process on numerous pageant dresses and gowns. Now, go hit the sales racks and thrift stores. Turn your cheap clothes into one-of-a-kind apparel!

How to add rhinestones to "dress up" cheap clothes:

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    • profile image

      Mike 3 years ago from Harrisburg Pa

      I've recycled clothing to give them a different look or for a Halloween costume. I've seen people who taken a pair of jeans and made them into a lampshade or purse. Some things are too expensive for the poor quality.

    • profile image

      ElleBee 5 years ago

      Cute ideas!

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 6 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      inspiring..I used to do a little of this/GREAT photos!

    • profile image

      Nan Mynatt 6 years ago

      Great Ideas and you are showing us how to have our own designer clothing for pennies on the dollar. I use to make my own suit jackets and purchased slacks. You can use the fabric and cut another piece of clothing. Fabric is so expensive, I prices some summer fabric up to $25.00, and that is too much. I will go back to buying cheap clothes and remaking them over. Also cheap clothes are boring, you see yourself everywhere.

    • poowool5 profile image

      poowool5 6 years ago from here in my house

      Yes, yes, yes!!! Love this hub, habee, you make so many great points here.

      I'm from the UK and second-hand clothing is way trendier and "hot" there, has been for years. I have lots of friends here in the US that wouldn't touch the stuff. Their loss! It can be so much fun and easy to transform a good thrifty find. Plus, as you say, in this economy and this recycling age, we should be looking to re-use stuff. Love the stories of you grandmother's efforts, how hard women worked back then, now we throw out socks if they have a hole. Disposable culture. Not sure about the flour sack underwear though ;)

      Love the origins of quilts too (there's a hub needing to be written!). I'm thinking of making a quilt using old favorite t-shirts of my son's for him to take to college in the fall.

      Great ideas, and a really interesting and inspiring read.

      Thank habee, voted up and useful and interesting!