Low cost new wardrobe: ‘upcycle’!

woman using a sewing machine

The Papered Parlour in Clapham, South London, runs practical classes in ‘upcycling', demonstrating how to take tired, old or unfashionable clothes and make them into something new. The centre, which opened in 2009, was set up by young artists Claire Heafford and Louise Hall. Claire was motivated by the ‘make do and mend' approach of her grandmother and was keen to pass on these skills on to others - especially in these austere times.

The parlour itself is beautiful; 1940s-inspired and almost everything is reclaimed, from the vintage tea cups to the old vaulting horse, which came from a school sale. There are classes on everything from recycling jewellery to making earrings and silversmithing.

I went along to their ‘Make me a Domestic Sewing Goddess' class taught by fashion designer Mia Jafari (www.miajafari.co.uk). First, Mia gave me a list of dress-making essentials:
1. Dressmaking pins
2. Dressmaking scissors - must NOT be used for cutting paper
3. Small scissors for trimming threads and unpicking
4. Tailors' chalk for marking fabric
5. Tape measure - cm and inches (although using centimetres is usually more accurate.
6. Hand sewing needles - a variety of sizes
7. Thread - 100% polyester as it is strong and inexpensive

And here's how we transformed an old, plain T-shirt:

1. Draw an outline of the T-shirt on paper and design the changes you would like to make

2. Decide how much to shorten the T-shirt by, mark it in chalk and cut

3. Use the off-cut to make a frill around the neck or sleeves - this can then be neatened up using bias binding

4. Bias binding in the same or a contrasting colour should be sewn along the bottom where the cut was made

We dressed the T-shirt up with a corsage. To make a corsage:
1. Take a rectangular piece of material and fold it in half
2. Cut each end into a gentle curve with pinking shears
3. Sew the two edges together using large, tack stitches and pull tight to form a rose shape
4. Arrange the ‘petals' with your fingers and then stitch together in the centre

Add a matching button

You can also add a matching or contrasting button to the centre of the corsage, which you can make using a metal button template from a haberdasher. Select your fabric and then sew the edges together before pressing the back of the button into place to pull the fabric tight.

Making corsages, buttons and bows are easy ways to revamp almost any item of clothing. It also means that if you spot a gorgeous piece of fabric which you can't afford, you can buy just a tiny bit and do something inventive with it.

A bow is even easier to make than a corsage:

1. Decide how long and wide you want your bow to be, eg 5cm by 10cm

2. Multiple the height by 2 and add 1cm to both the height and width; cut your material to size

3. Fold the fabric in half and machine stitch along the vertical seams

4. Stitch along the centre using long, straight tacking stitches and pull tight

5. Tie a knot and then wrap a matching or contrasting ribbon around the visible centre seam

Mia also showed me how to upcycle a dress I was bored with. Here's how:

1. Decide what length you would like the dress to be and mark in chalk

2. Cut to length

3. Hem. Mia showed me how to hand stitch the hem so that it was almost invisible on the outside but had a lovely vintage look on the inside. It was a time-consuming but enjoyable task and gave a better finish than machine-stitching would have done

4. Add buttons, bows, corsages or bias binding to necklines and/or hems as the fancy takes you!

I had barely done any sewing before and had never been taught to sew beyond a few lessons at school, so the simple tricks I learned were quite a revelation to me. Now I feel like I can have a go at altering my clothes and those of my children, and fix things rather than throw them away or pay for them to be altered.  The course also taught me that breathing new life into a tired old garment isn't as difficult as it might seem, even for someone with limited sewing skills like me.

More information

Courses at the Papered Parlour start from £75. For more information visit www.thepaperedparlour.co.uk or call 020 7627 8703.

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