Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!


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Thrift-Shop Thursday: The Remnants of the Day

Since my last Thrift-Shop Thursday post, which focused on finding fabric bargains in the remnant bin, I’ve been thinking about more creative uses for remnants (including pieces gleaned from thrift-shop items). There are so many possibilities that I had to narrow them down to just 2 in this post: garments and accessories that require small amounts of fabric, and color-blocking.

First, let’s define remnants. For me, this includes odd pieces of fabric left over from past sewing projects, as well as the small lengths (usually 2 yards or less) sold as remnants in fabric stores. (Remember the color-blocked top I made entirely out of scrap fabrics?) Remnants could even include parts of garments, like collars or sashes, that have been rescued from otherwise defunct clothes; I think these qualify as remnants because they can be incorporated into new garments as easily as pieces of fabric. And don’t forget about other things that come by the yard, like interfacing, lining fabrics, and trims such as piping, sequins, or fringe; even tiny quantities can make a big impact. You can also rescue beautiful buttons from thrift-shop clothes and reuse them.

Clarification: Although I define remnants pretty loosely, in my posts, when I say “remnants”, I mean pieces that you buy as remnants in a fabric store; “scraps” means pieces you have left over from previous projects, and parts salvaged from old garments.

Tip: How do you decide if a scrap is too small to bother keeping? If you generally make garments, I’d say a scrap that’s at least 12″ x 12″ is worth keeping; it could become a pocket or it could be cut in half to make cuffs, for instance. But if your sewing projects include things like pillows and quilts, a scrap would have to be even smaller than that to give up on it. However, the uses for your scraps will depend on the type of fabric. For example, if what you have left over is small pieces of thick wool coating, well, there may not be much you can do with those, outside of possibly making a clutch purse or something similar that would make sense with that fabric.

Now we’ll get into specific project ideas, starting with garments that require small quantities of fabric.

When you go remnant-shopping at a fabric store, as a general rule of thumb, you’ll probably need at least 1.5 yards to make a simple sleeveless top, if the fabric is 45″ wide, more like 1 yard if it’s 60″ wide.

Tip: Since so much pattern information is now available online, it’s easy to get an idea of the yardage you’ll need for various types of garments before you head to the fabric store. Here’s a simple bias-cut top (this is one I’ve made myself) that would work well with a remnant:

Vogue 9771

Vogue 9771 sewing pattern. The sleeveless version of this bias-cut top only requires 1.5 yards (45″ wide) for a size 12, making it perfect for using a remnant. (Illustration courtesy of Vogue Patterns; click on the picture to see this pattern and all its yardage information.)

With this one pattern, I see so many possibilities! Yes, you can make the entire top with just one fabric, but wouldn’t it be fun to mix 2 different prints or textures? I once made a sheath dress that was plain black in the front, and the entire back was covered in tiny black shimmery sequins. (I’ll have to use that idea again… I miss that dress!) A beautiful floral print for the front, with stripes for the back would be fun; some patterns, like Butterick 5856, might even lend themselves to combining a knit fabric with a woven one.

Tip: When combining different fabrics into one garment, keep 2 things in mind: 1. All fabrics should be of a similar weight. I’d make an exception to this rule if I wanted to use something sheer, like lace, on part of a garment. 2. All fabrics should be laundry-compatible. When you’re sewing your own garment, pre-shrinking your fabrics ensures that your garment won’t end up with one part shrinking more than another.

You can also use a double layer of fabric, such as a sheer fabric that needs a backing, if you want to combine them with a heavier fabric. I did this for my color-blocked top, because the black fabric I used for the back was much heavier than the others, so everything on the front of this top is double-layered. (This turned out to be a great benefit— almost like having built-in shapewear!)

Other small-yardage garments include pencil skirts and shorts (anywhere from 1-2.5 yards, depending on the fabric width and garment size); remnants can also be ideal for many accessory items, like scarves. Here are some patterns for a few less-expected accessories:

Butterick 5695

Butterick 5695 pattern for gloves. These require only small pieces of fabric, and could easily be made by upcycling thrift-shop leather garments. (Photo courtesy of Butterick; click on the photo to see this pattern.)

McCall's 6366

McCall’s 6366 apron pattern. Many aprons require less than a yard of fabric. (Photo courtesy of McCall’s; click on the photo to see this pattern.

McCall's 6615

McCall’s 6615 boot-topper pattern. This super-fun pattern includes several different styles, any of which would make good use of scraps or remnants. I saw quite a few remnants of faux suede and leather at a fabric store just the other day, but these could be made out of almost anything. (Photo courtesy of McCall’s; click on the picture to see this pattern.)

These are just a few of the possibilities I ran across in a quick tour around Vogue/Butterick/McCall’s patterns, but let’s move on to color-blocking! I had no difficulty finding patterns that are specifically designed for color-blocking, including some I’ve already made myself, like the knit top I mentioned earlier; you can find that pattern here.

Tip: The main issue when planning a color-blocked garment is figuring out how much fabric you need for each block; if your pattern was created with color-blocking in mind, it should list separate yardage requirements for each one (usually called “Contrast 1”, “Contrast 2”, etc.). However, if you’re starting with a pattern that’s designed for just one fabric, but you want to use more than one, the best thing to do is get your pattern pieces out and measure them, making a list of measurements/yardage for each block; laying out the pieces on some fabric from your stash (I hope I’m not the only one with a stash!) is one of the more accurate ways to assess your yardage requirements.

Now for some of my favorite patterns that are designed for color-blocking:

McCall's 6435

McCall’s 6435 pattern. I’ve made this myself; it’s simple color-blocking, so it might be a good one to start with. (Photo courtesy of McCall’s; click on the photo to see this pattern.)

McCall's 6511

McCall’s 6511 pattern. The backs of these tops are all in one fabric (not more than 1.25 yards required), and the fronts have 12-13 different contrast pieces listed, making it easy to know what size pieces you need. You could use a remnant for the back, then gather fabric scraps in various colors and textures for the front! (Photo courtesy of McCall’s; click on the photo to see this pattern.)

Butterick 5852

Butterick 5852 pattern. This requires a bit more of some fabrics (it’s lined, too), but I think it’s a really interesting use of several different materials. (Photo courtesy of Butterick; click on the photo to see this pattern.)

This last one is really intriguing. In the photo, it’s hard to see what’s going on in this color-blocked skirt, so I’ve included the line drawing below to show you the details; I’ve imagined making both pieces with all those tiny-but-too-beautiful-to-toss scraps of lace, sequins, embroidered fabrics, satins…

McCall's 6712

McCall’s 6712 pattern. This photo doesn’t show the top that’s also included with the skirt pattern (the white top is not part of the pattern), or the details of the skirt, but you can see more in the line drawing below. (Photo and line drawing courtesy of McCall’s; click on the photo or drawing to see this pattern.)

McCall's 6712 details

McCall’s 6712 details. The top has 23 blocks, and the skirt has 37! How much fun would it be to play with these patterns? (Click on the picture to see this pattern.)

I have several of these patterns myself, and I’ll be posting photos as I get the garments made. Many of these would work well as TTTW (Take Tango to Work!) pieces, so I’ll probably start with those; the Butterick 5852 dress is a good candidate for using some of my scraps and remnants.

What about you? Do you think you’ll try color-blocking with your own fabric scraps, and/or sewing garments or accessories with remnants? They’re not to everyone’s taste, I admit, but personally, I love creating a color palette, then mixing textures together, for a truly unique look. And projects like these are certainly in keeping with the spirit of Thrift-Shop Thursday, which is not just about finding great deals— it’s about making good use of them. This is especially true when you’re creating your own clothes by combining your fabric scraps with discounted remnants. Now that’s thrifty!

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Thrift-Shop Thursday: Expanding the Definition

The last 2 TST posts are all about developing your shopping strategy. Part 1 suggests making the prospect less daunting by narrowing your focus before heading to the thrift shop; Part 2 shows how to apply your strategy while shopping. Today, I want to explore the idea of applying thrift-shopping strategy to other types of stores.

I was at one of my favorite fabric stores the other day (Mill End Fabrics, if you happen to be in Portland); I hadn’t been there in quite a while, things were all rearranged, so this was basically a reconnaissance mission, not a buying one. While touring one of my favorite sections (Silks—not usually a source of bargains), I noticed a larger-than-usual display of remnants. It occurred to me that even in a store that’s not a thrift shop per se, bargain-spotting tactics still apply— beyond the usual sales. (This particular store doesn’t have a lot of sales, actually; since it’s stocked with mill ends of designer fabrics, they’re already priced well.)

My thrift-shopping heart beat just a little faster as I approached the remnant display, lured by the subtle glow of silk crepes, georgettes, and charmeuses. (Sorry— there’s something about silk fabrics that makes me talk like that.) I was so entranced that it didn’t occur to me to take a photo of the whole display, but I do at least have some pictures of what I bought. Here’s the whole group:

Silk remnants

My new silk remnants! 1. Black & white printed georgette. 2. Berry organdy. 3. Striped crepe de chine. 4. Printed charmeuse. 5. Lavender stretch charmeuse.

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The Accidental Shopper

Today, on my way from one errand to another, I decided to take a different route. (This is common for me.) Well into this exploratory drive, I realized I was going to go more or less right past one of my favorite fabric stores in Portland: Mill End Store, which announces itself as having the largest display of fabrics in America. (I’ve been there. I believe them. How did I get so lucky as to end up in this city??) So, natch, I decided to pop in.

Now, since I hadn’t planned a fabric-shopping foray, not to mention that I had just been in this shop a little over a week ago (and I had purchased plenty of impulse items then, thank you very much), I had no shopping list, no plan, no agenda. Dangerous stuff for a fabric lover. The only decision I made before entering was that I would act as if I was there for the very first time, and simply browse. (This is something I usually avoid like the proverbial plague, since it frequently leads to the aforementioned impulse purchases.) Continue reading