How to reclaim and use fabric from old clothes

old clothes, yelow and grey and green
Why not find new and inventive ways to reclaim the fabric from your old clothes and use it to create something new?

Sometimes our fondness for certain pieces of clothing outlasts our desire to wear them. You might still love the colour or pattern of a garment that no longer looks good on you or no longer fits. On other occasions, clothes get damaged beyond repair, but you may still feel sad about throwing them out. So why do so? Why not find new and inventive ways to reclaim their fabric and use it in creating something new?

When you recover fabric, don’t try to unpick stitching; where it has been sewn once it will be permanently marked and in danger of tearing. Simply cut out the largest whole pieces you are able to. If they are delicate or prone to fraying it can be a good idea to store them inside paper bags – don’t use plastic ones, as they encourage mildew.

Uses for pieces

Everybody who’s enthusiastic about sewing should have a scraps basket for remnants of various sizes. This can be an invaluable resource when the item you’re working on needs that little something extra and you don’t want to have to go hunting through the shops.

Small pieces of fabric can be put to good use making patchwork or repairing damaged clothes that you still want to wear, and there is a wide range of possible uses for larger pieces. Sometimes you can recover enough fabric from an adult’s old dress or shirt to make a whole new outfit for a child. Layered skirts can incorporate pieces of several different types of fabric if they go well together. And you can use any soft piece of fabric for lining other garments without worrying too much about how they look.

Making soft toys is a good way of using up pieces of plush or velvety fabrics, and you can use other scraps to stuff them. Dolls’ clothing can be made from small leftover pieces.

Details and trimmings

If you can’t recover large enough pieces to make clothing from them, you can still find uses for attractive fabric from old clothes. Trimmings such as lace and ribbon can often be unpicked neatly enough to be used on something else, and buttons and zips can be recovered. When you’re taking an old garment apart to do this, do it attentively, as it can teach you a lot about how to put new garments together.

Small pieces of fabric recovered from old clothes can be used to fashion trimmings for new ones, such as contrasting cuffs, collars and waistbands or ribbon, bow and flower details.

Damaged fabric

Sometimes you’ll decide you want to re-use a favourite piece of old fabric only to find that it’s damaged. If it’s simply tired and worn, you can work around this by attaching it to a stronger piece of fabric for support. Use a thin, flexible lining material and make sure they’re pressed flat together by ironing them through a damp tea towel. In some cases, it’s practical to use a fabric adhesive, but check that this is suitable for the particular materials you’re using.

Stained fabric can often be cleaned more easily once it has been isolated. Sometimes re-dying is a practical option, or, with light coloured fabrics, you can expose them to the sun so that the stain fades.

Sourcing old fabric

Once you’ve become accustomed to working with pieces of old fabric, why stop at your own? There are lots of charity shops out there full of cheap garments made from attractive fabrics. This can be one of the cheapest ways to purchase the fabric. It’s also a great way to find beautiful materials that are no longer available in the modern market.

Most fabric shops have a remnants section where you can pick up offcuts of new fabric at a substantial discount. It’s worth keeping an eye on these whenever you visit to see what you can add to your collection.

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