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Welcome to Sewing Stadium! Home of the Top Stitcher sewing challenge, and the jaw-dropping creations of the most imaginative minds in the sew-blogging world. You're in for a real treat. Go get inspired!

{expert interview} On Upcycling & How to Get Started

Today we continue our EXPERT INTERVIEWS with Stephanie of Swoodson Says! She is a genius upcycler, here to give us all the inside scoop on the challenges upcycling brings and how to overcome them. Read on!


Becca: Thank you for lending your expertise to our "Upcycling" week! You have a sewblogging reputation as an excellent upcycler. What got you started refashioning?

Stephanie: I actually started refashioning before I knew how to sew! My Mom is a talented sewist and would help me make my plans a reality when I was younger. I wanted a unique [homecoming] dress and ended up finding a really atrocious pink number at the St. Vincent De Paul's in my hometown. It had pearls all over it, a gored skirt with lace insets, and terrible pearl-encrusted straps. She helped me cut it up and sew it back together; we ended up with a really chic lace sheath dress that I loved. I was hooked! The combination of transforming something undesirable into something beautiful and useful is so much fun. I'm also really cheap, so the price benefits appeal to me. No way was I going to spend $400 on a homecoming dress :)

Related Resource: "It's a good primer for shopping with an eye to refashioning." - Stephanie

Related Resource: "It's a good primer for shopping with an eye to refashioning." - Stephanie

Wow! What a fun project! Do you think your upcycling interests pre-dating your sewing skills has given you a refashioning advantage?

In some ways! Being able to look at X and think about it could become Y is just a good skill to have, at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory. I do think, for a while, I got frustrated when I was figuring out sewing for myself because my vision did NOT match up with my finished product. I remember a silk t-shirt I tried to slim down and add a keyhole to... without measuring anything. (What? Why!) But incrementally, as I gained skills and knowledge, everything came together more nicely.
And by not measuring anything, I mean I just eyeballed sewing each side and cutting the new neckline. It wasn't pretty.

I bet the sewing learning curve is extra challenging when you can't go pick up replacement fabric at the fabric store! Have you picked up any useful tips for salvaging an upcycled project when your inital plans go awry?

It so is. Pressure is 100% on when you have less than an inch to spare.

I think my #1 tip would be don't panic. Once you've realized something went wrong, or there is a hole you didn't see, etc. back away from the scissors and mull for a few minutes.

This romper:

I used an upcycled tshirt for the back/sleeves and flipped it over to realize I'd used the wrong side of the shirt, so the screen printed label was showing on the outside of the romper. It was all nicely serged and there was no way I was unpicking all that, so I added a star appliqued over it! And called it a design element. Haha.

I think that's a fabulous tip for all sewists! Take a step back and craft a plan. My dad always says "Perfect is the enemy of good" - and without spare fabric to bail you out in a pinch, I bet you learned to let go of any perfectionist tendencies. Has refashioning shaped any of your other sewing habits?

Yeah I definitely don't have perfectionist tendencies, ha!!

One element of refashioning that is also important to me is the fact that I'm diverting trash and unwanted goods from going unused. I've been trying to take a much harsher look at my shopping habits and the realities of "fast fashion". Refashioning has definitely shaped my sewing habits when it comes to scraps - I try to keep and reuse them all! Even the tiniest serger scraps can be filling or stuffing.

I'm also less apt to be frustrated if something goes wrong, when I'm using "nice"/new fabric. I can refashion my own handmades, too!

That's a great point! All the more reason to muslin, right? ;) Does your resourcefulness spill into your everyday life as well? Or is this challenge unique to your sewing world?

I think being able to look past stains and holes for useful potential definitely colors everyday life. I also try to minimize our trash outputs just in general. Making useful or fun things out of things headed for the trash/recycle gives me great joy, whether it's sewing related or not (like this toy! It's a big hit!)

I try not to be a packrat though - you can't keep *everything* to make it into something else. I do try to offer things up on Freecycle & Craigslist so someone else can transform them though, instead of just pitching them :)

Speaking of 'pitching things' - this week's Top Stitchers were challenged to "turn the trash around you into the most durable, functional, and stylish duds" for a post-apocalyptic world. What makes this prompt so challenging for an upcycler? And how would you advise them in tackling that challenge?

Hmm. I think post-apocalyptic world adds a definite challenging element because you have to consider durability and utility! I'd advise them to get lost in some books! Post-apocalyptic fiction is super popular right now so there is lots of inspiration to pull from.

How would this prompt guide your fabric selection and pattern choice?

I would definitely look for patterns with versatility - lots of pockets, a hood to protect from the elements. Fabric would definitely have to be breathe-able and probably not too eye-catching, just in case there is any stealth involved smile emoticon Something that could be ripped and repurposed as bandages seems prudent, too.

Crafty!! Those are excellent tips! You have shared great insights for those of us who are totally intimidated by the challenge of refashioning.

That's one of the best things about it - if you tell people you want their old clothes, they will start bringing you bags by the dozen! Lots of room for trial and error.

What other refashion bloggers should readers follow?

For more inspiration, I recommend these other refashion/upcycle blogs: Very Luna, Vicky Myers Creations, Refashion Co-op, House of Estrela [Becca's note: another Topstitcher!], Sew Thrifty, and Feathers Flights.

Thank you for these recommendations, and for taking the time to share your refashion wisdom!

Thanks for having me!


Click through to see some of Stephanie's favorite Up-Cycle projects!

And, ALL NEW TODAY! Stephanie has a round-up of her of some excellent scrappy projects to get you feeling super re-useful ;) Go click-through the image below! You know, after you've voted for this week's upcycle sew-down, of course!

Or browse Stephanie's refashion pinterest board for some inspiration to get you started: