Upcycling – Top Tips

Josephine is a hairdresser and established charity shopping pioneer thanks to her now retired YouTube channel which consisted of mainly vintage & charity Shop hauls and lookbooks. She was elected the ‘Shop Good Stuff’ Ambassador for Giving Tuesday in 2016 and has continued to spread the message of second hand love, choosing to buy entirely second hand only from January 2019.

When people come to me and ask me how I always find good things in charity shops, I often tell them I don’t, I just alter a lot of what I find to make it my own. Yes, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t lucky to an extent with what I find most visits but I can’t deny that having the basic sewing skills to transform an item into something else really can change your pre-loved shopping experience. Even before I owned a sewing machine I used to spend evenings hand sewing jeans to fit me tighter, skirts shorter and elastic to add ruffles and frills.

In an ever changing world with fast fashion brands churning out new clothes quicker than ever before, there has never been a better time to not only shop pre-loved, but to learn to upcycle!

Here’s a few things I’ve altered over the years, Perhaps it’ll inspire you to give it a go at home.

In this video I’ve linked from my old You-Tube channel, I show you how to create a really simple off the shoulder dress out of an old mens shirt, pictured below. Still a very on-trend D.I.Y. that i’d still do today!

D.I.Y Bardot Shirt

Next came my puff sleeved, shirred top obsession. Honestly I’m one of those people who were so happy that puff sleeves returned to us in the past few years. When I realised how easy they would be to make I was hooked.

This one I made out of an old H&M shirt that my friend gave me, with the help of YouTube (the greatest source of info for rookie sewers out there). It took me around 4 hours and a lot of Netflix to make, which I had time for thanks to that wonderful and fantastic lockdown we had this year… no sarcasm there at all… I jest, having the time to get stuck into sewing again really was the best.

The materials I used were simply black cotton thread, shirring elastic and 1cm thick elastic for the arm bands. Unfortunately you’ll need a sewing machine for this but mine is just a basic Singer so you don’t need a whizzy expensive one!

I guess it’s quite obvious now that you can tell I like to upcycle large shirts… for some reason they’re just the most versatile fabric to work with for me. Lots of these things can be made from dresses and even bedsheets if you’re feeling brave! Don’t shy away from cutting jeans into shorts, sewing on a bit of tassel or fringing or even just making the hems of things shorter. It all counts towards the bigger picture, make do and mend!

The next thing I’ll show you is this Babydoll dress that took me a year to finish….not because It was in any way difficult, but simply because I get distracted easily. I purchased this large linen tunic from a charity shop for around £3 because I just fell for the amazing pink colour.

After a year of procrastination I finally finished it. It was actually very simple, alter the size to fit, sew channels for the elastic in the body of the dress and turn the existing sleeves into puffs. Took me maybe 3 hours? Why do I put everything off. Nightmare! I ended up wearing it as my birthday dress this year! Sorry for the differentiating photo quality but you get the idea!

Upcycling really is such a fun way to breathe life into your clothes. Most items can be reworked into something more to your liking and failing that keeping them as scraps for other projects works too! I made eight reusable masks to wear on public transport and at work and it’s one of the best things I’ve sewn this year for sure.

I had this Leopard silk slip dress that I hated when it was on but loved the fabric of so I saved it, fast forward to 2020 and I made 3 reusable masks, a scrunchie and covered an old headband in the fabric! I get compliments on them all the time and I’m so happy with my fabric recycling.

That concludes my tips, honestly the most important part is that you have fun with it. I spent so long worrying that people would notice that I’d sewn something myself and scoff, but it’s actually the opposite, more and more people are coming round to the reality that second hand is better, recycling is paramount and buying new is OUT.

Have fun, learn to sew, and make sure you tag me and Barnardo’s in your upcycles!


Feeling inspired this Recycle Week? Why not get involved and be sure to share your creations with us, we would love to see.

Want to feature on The-Thrift? Comment below and we’ll get in touch!

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