£4 Up-cycling Challenge

I’ve spent most of my adult life rummaging through charity shop rails, often finding garments I loved that didn’t fit or that I wished I could alter. It’s only very recently that I’ve started taking sewing more seriously. I’ve always hand sewn but I’ve never wanted to invest in a sewing machine as I’ve heard so many horror stories about what a nightmare they can be. My Mum lent me her old sewing machine to practice on and I’ve finally invested in a machine of my own!

I love the creative freedom of being able to sew. My guilty pleasure is indulging in the latest fashion trends and sewing allows me to do it on a budget!

This is what I decided to up-cycle:

It looks horrible right?! Even I thought what on earth am I thinking once I’d seen the photo; especially after seeing my boyfriends reaction!

When I’m charity shopping I’m usually drawn in by whether something looks well made and then I decide whether I can work with the rest of it! I chose these items because I love the pattern of the men’s shirt and it’s 100% cotton which is always a plus! I also loved the lace up detail on this skirt and I’m seeing it everywhere at the minute.

I decided I wanted to keep the skirt the same style but make it shorter and smaller. Then I wanted to be a bit more ambitious with the shirt by making it into a shirred puffy sleeve top.

You will need:

  • A sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • Stitch picker
  • Dress-making chalk/fabric pen
  • Pins
  • Tape measure
  • Elastic
  • Elastic thread

The skirt:

First of all turn the skirt inside out so I could see what I was working with. My skirt had a really annoying lining inside so I removed it.

Next I needed to work out how small I wanted my skirt to be. You can put it on and pin it to yourself but you will probably need help! I’d recommend getting a skirt that you like the fit of to use as a guide. Just bear in mind the types of fabric you’re working with and pick a skirt that’s made of a similar fabric. For instance if your skirt is made from a non-stretch fabric don’t use a stretchy fabric skirt as a guide or it will end up too small!

Trace around your skirt to give you the pattern you want and make sure to leave room for seam allowance. I usually leave 2cm, if your material is prone to fraying maybe leave a bit extra to be safe!

Next I measured both sides of the skirt just to make sure the outline I’d drawn was even. Then I unpicked both sides of the skirt with a stitch picker.

Then you’ll be left with this…

I put the back piece and the front piece right sides together (the outside of the garment) and pinned along the guidelines I’d drawn earlier. If you’re unsure about the size, try it on while it’s pinned or you can tack stitch the skirt and try it on.

I sewed down the pinned sides making sure to leave a 2cm seam allowance. Then you can overlock/zig zag stitch or do a rolled hem seam, whatever works best for you! I personally didn’t need to do this as the fabric of my skirt doesn’t fray.

Now you’ve taken the skirt in you can work out what length you want it to be. I did this by using another skirt as a guide. I tried the skirt on just to make sure it wouldn’t be too short. I cut the excess length off the skirt and ended up leaving the edge raw because the original skirt had a raw edge and I liked how it looked!

On to the shirt…

I decided I wanted to recreate something similar to this…

The first thing I did was remove the sleeves. Then I trimmed the bottom of the shirt to make the hem straight rather than curved. I cut off the button and buttonhole strips after this.

Next you need to cut the upper part of the shirt off just below the armpit. You will be left with a long rectangle of fabric and this will be the body of your top. I recommended buying an XL shirt as you need a lot of fabric to work with if you’re shirring because the elastic shrinks the fabric.

This is how much fabric I had to start off with, which I thought was an ample amount. However, I still had issues with the shirt being too small. This may have been because of the type of fabric (the fabric is very light weight so will shirr more tightly) or because of my sewing machine. I have an older hand crank machine and just assumed I’d be fine shirring the same way as with a modern machine. I’ve since realised I need a gathering foot to shirr with, so bear this in mind if you have a hand crank machine!

You need to zigzag/overlock the raw edges of the shirt before you continue. I decided I wanted to elasticate the top of the shirt, so made a casing by folding over the hem and sewing it, making sure the elastic could be fed through it.

I decided to wait until I had shirred the shirt before I cut and thread the elastic. Shirring takes in the fabric making a garment smaller, so if I were to do this beforehand the elastic would be way too long! I finished off by hemming the bottom of the shirt.

Next we start shirring!

Make sure your fabric is lightweight! You will need to hand wind the bobbin and then load it into your machine as normal. Before you start, I’d recommend practicing shirring on a scrap piece of the same fabric so you can get an idea of how your material will look when shirred. Try out different tensions and stitch lengths on your machine. Once you start shirring your garment leave ½ inch between rows. I’d advise marking them out with a fabric pen or tailors chalk beforehand.

I really like how the fabric looks shirred…

As I mentioned earlier I had a problem with the shirt being too small after I shirred it. I measured how much extra fabric I would need to close the body at the back and I unpicked half of the measurement on either side. This left me with a small decorative panel of shirring in the middle. I still really like how it turned out!

After this I measured the bottom of the shirred shirt and cut some elastic to the same length and threaded it through the casing at the top.

To do this you will need to safety pin one end of the elastic to the side of the garment to secure it before it’s threaded through the casing (see image below). Next attach a safety pin to the other end of the elastic so you can feed it through the casing. When you reach the other end of the casing pull the elastic out and safety pin it to the other side of the shirt like you did initially with the other end of the elastic.

After this you need to join the back of your shirt. Wrap the shirt around you and pin it in place so it fits. If you have another top in a similar style you can use that as a guide.

When you have the shirt pinned on you should also work out how tight you would like the threaded elastic to be. You need to join the ends of elastic, so remove the safety pins and pull them until the fit feels right. Mark where you want them to be joined and safety pin both ends of elastic back to the sides of your shirt.

This shirt is going to be taken off over your head so you will want to mark where you’ve placed the pins with a fabric pen or tailors chalk and remove the pins before taking the garment off so the pins won’t stab you!

Take it over to the sewing machine and start by joining the two elastic ends together where you marked previously. Place one on top of the other and back stitch repeatedly over them until they feel secure. After the elastic is joined you can feed it back through the casing to hide it. Then you can join the rest of the shirt.

The Sleeves…

First cut off about a ¼ of the bottom of the sleeves to get rid of the cuffs and to shorten them. After this, zig zag stitch or overlock all the way around the sleeves and hem the bottom of them (the straight part).

The next step is to add the elastic to the curved part of the sleeve. You will have to create a casing for the elastic to go through like I did earlier.

This casing differs from the one on the body because it is folded on a curve making the fabric harder to fold over neatly. This means you will need to gather the fabric on the curve as shown above. This won’t be noticeable on the front of your garment as it’s being elasticated. Take the sleeves over to the sewing machine and stitch down the casing.

Cut some elastic the length of the bottom of your sleeve and thread it through the casing as shown previously. You will then need to put the sleeve on your arm and pin it to fit. Pull the elastic until it feels comfortable, you want it to have a little bit of give. Then mark where you need to sew the elastic together and join the sleeve.

Again you might want to mark where the pins have been placed and then take the arm off so you don’t stab yourself!

Sew the elastic together by back stitching over it like I did previously with the body. Feed the elastic back through the casing, then join each arm together by sewing down the pinned line. (see image above)

I didn’t want to stitch the arms straight onto the body of the top because there would be too much friction with the elastic and the fit would be too tight. I decided to add two squares of fabric measuring 2 ½ inches (with a 2cm seam allowance)to join the sleeve and the body of the top at the armpit.

Zigzag/overlock the raw edges and hem them. Mark where you want the arms to be attached to the body of the top. Next attach one side of the fabric square to the armpit and the other to the body. Make sure the fabric is right side to right side. And it should look like this…

Make sure all raw hems are zig zagged/overlocked and cut off any loose threads and you’re finished!

Big thanks to Becky for sharing this fab up-cycling idea. We are low key obsessed with  the look. Be sure to give Becky a follow on Instagram for even more amazing upcycles.

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


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