Upcycling – From Drab to Fab by Lucy

Sometimes you find a vintage gem in a charity shop that fits you like a glove, and sometimes you see something that has a lovely pattern, collar, buttons… but it makes you look like a sack of spuds! Don’t despair, here are a few quick fixes to bring a frock up to date.

One of my favourite things to do while away at lunch-time is rummaging through vintage shops to find clothes that might need a little TLC but have the potential to be something really great (warning: this can get addictive!) Buying vintage and second hand clothing is a brilliant way to keep your style unique, but it’s even better if you can take those threads and truly make them your own.

To give you some inspiration, I’ve taken a vintage dress that I picked up in Barnardo’s Macclesfield shop for £8 to show how a few minor changes can make a big difference.


I’ve chosen simple alterations that you don’t really need any fancy equipment for. You don’t even really need a sewing machine. All that’s required are:

• Scissors
• Needle and thread
• Tape measure
• Iron

Remove shoulder pads

Nothing says the 80s like big shoulders. Unless power-dressing is the look you’re going for, the quickest and simplest update you can make is to whip those shoulder pads out. They’re usually only kept in with a few stitches that can easily be unpicked or cut out with scissors.


Reduce the sleeves

My absolutely favourite quick fix for dresses and blouses is to turn up the sleeves. No scary cutting required – so totally reversible if you ever decide you want longer sleeves again – and it only requires a tiny bit of hand-sewing, making it a great introduction to alterations. You can check out a tutorial I wrote on my blog for details on how to do this.


Shorten the skirt

Shortening a hem involves cutting off some fabric and creating a new hem so the raw edge of the fabric doesn’t show. It works for tops, skirts and dresses, and is a great skill to learn if you’re on the short side.

To work out your ideal length, try on the garment and mark where you’d like the new length to be with a pin (it’s handy if you can get someone to help you with this bit). Next, measure the difference from this point to the bottom of your garment. Then measure the length of the existing hem and subtract this from the first number. The number you’re left with is how much fabric you need to cut off.

How you finish the hem depends on the type of material, but if it doesn’t fray you can simply fold it over, pin, press with an iron and then use a pick up stitch to keep the hem in place.


Sometimes all it takes are a few statement accessories to give an outfit a new look. Removing an ill-fitting old belt and replacing it with a thin gold one, plus adding matching gold shoes and a necklace worn over the shirt collar really give the outfit a pop.


These are just a few ideas of what you can do to update your clothes. If you want to get started, grab a frock from your local Barnardo’s for a few pounds and just give it a go.

Lucy is a vintage collector, blogger and self-taught seamstress who writes about upcycling and vintage things at frockvintage.co.uk. You can also follow her on Instagram @fiandme.

Inspired to go on a Barnardo’s shopping haul? Find your local Barnardo’s store here with our store locator.

Want to share your top Barnardo’s looks with us and feature on The-Thrift? Comment below and we’ll get in touch!



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