(all images sourced from Charity Shop Chic except where stated)
Oh you lucky peops!!! It's time to read another interview with one of the interweb's most inspirational and talented Refashionistas! After the warm reception Miss P's interview received I put a call out for suggestions for other refashioners you'd like to see interviewed for Refashion Friday, and by far the most called for potential interviewee was Sally from Charity Shop Chic. I believe firmly in democracy! Read on...
1) Refashioning, up cycling, remaking, reworking.... How would you describe what you do and/or what term do you use?
I prefer the word ‘refashioning’ because it’s got ‘fashion’ in it! There are elements of recycling and remaking in there too. I am happy with ‘dressmaking’ or ‘sewing’ as well – I think that drawing a line between sewists that work with new materials and those of us that recycle is a bit artificial. We all use sewing machines and most of the same techniques to make new clothes. Probably the only word I don’t like is ‘upcycling’. It has connotations of working with furniture or household objects, and I like that ‘refashioning’ is specifically for clothes.
2) What proportion of your sewing projects are refashions compared to projects that start with a piece of fabric?
These days, about 85%. It may surprise you to learn that I sew with new fabric at all! I don’t blog about it because when I first started, I didn’t think it was that interesting to write about just tracing something from Burda and making it up out of fabric – I didn’t feel I had much to say about it. I read hundreds of sewing blogs, a lot of them are excellent, and I guess I felt like that area was already pretty well covered.
3) What appeals to you about refashioning and can you remember how you begun?
It’s a combination of several things. I love a good rummage in charity shops because I like finding fabrics and garments that are a bit more interesting or unusual to work with. I also like the idea of recycling old or ugly clothes into something I want to wear; the transformations can be pretty dramatic and that’s very satisfying. There’s an element of feeling good about donating to charity in there as well, as well as creating a stylish wardrobe on a budget. Because I’m often working completely ‘freestyle’ (ie. making it up as I go along), to me it feels like a more creative way to sew than following someone else’s instructions in a list. I also love to make my own patterns (I guess it appeals to the mathematical side of my brain) and combining this with those interesting or unusual raw materials just seemed to be an avenue I wanted to explore further.
I can’t really remember how I started refashioning – I have been cutting things up since I was a teenager! Refashioning old clothes was a great way to get into sewing – you can reuse parts of the garment that are difficult to sew like collars and buttonholes. I started blogging after reading a lot of sewing and refashioning blogs and realising I had something to add to the blogosphere that was different to what others were doing. Once I started to get some positive feedback my output accelerated and I’ve never looked back.
4) Where do you source your 'raw materials' and what do you look for when selecting a garment to refashion?
Charity shops are my number one destination for raw materials! I find my best weird and wonderful stuff in ‘old school’ charity shops in less-well-to-do parts of London – shops in the better areas are often a bit too sanitised. Shops supporting local charities like hospices often have weirder and more interesting stuff. I also look out for charity shops that support various ethnic groups locally since they tend to carry some interesting ethnic garments you don’t see elsewhere. Outside London, well, I’m from Yorkshire originally and whenever I’m up there I like to scour the charity shops for bargains. My home town is a particular goldmine as it has about 12 charity shops on its 3 shopping streets.
In fact, whenever I’m in a new town, especially up North, I try to find out where the charity shops are so I can unearth any hidden gems. I’m lucky enough to travel fairly frequently for work (and holiday) and my favourite destination for buying raw materials is the US, where ‘thrift’ shops are plentiful and really, really cheap. My number one favourite is Thrift Town in San Francisco where I bought a suitcase full on my last two trips; it’s as big as a warehouse. US thrift stores often have more weird and wonderful garments, like rack upon rack of Hawaiian shirts, and it’s easier to find larger sizes to work with, too. And everything is $5 or less. I’d go so far as to say my dream holiday would be a thrift store tour of the US, with unlimited airline baggage allowance. I guess that makes me pretty strange!
I like vintage shops but they’re often too expensive for my purposes. I’ve yet to buy anything from a car boot sale or jumble sale but am not ruling it out. I rarely remake things from my own wardrobe, I prefer to donate that stuff directly to charity if it’s good enough to sell.
I’ve often thought about opening it up so that readers can ‘challenge’ me by sending me horrible garments and the challenge would be for me to turn it into something wearable. Watch this space.
There’s no one thing I look for in a garment to refashion other than ‘I like it’. If I like it, I buy it! I lean towards interesting fabrics/prints or those with interesting style details or buttons, and ugly garments that need TLC. It helps if the material is in good condition (not stained/bobbly/worn out/ stinky), and a large size, but anything goes really.
5) Talk me through a typical visit to a charity shop, where do you head first, etc.?
I always head straight to the back to see if there is a rail of sheets and curtains. I use old sheets to make toiles – I don’t make toiles very often, but when I do, sheets are ideal – or make shirts out of them if they’re good enough. Curtains are great to use as a source of heavy fabrics, but not a lot of charity shops carry them. When I’m working with curtains I like to think of myself as more of a Scarlett O’Hara rather than Maria von Trapp. I would love to do a project on making a lace dress out of a net curtain, which you’d think would be easy enough to find, but to this date I’ve never come across one…
I then hit the rails of dresses starting at the end with the largest sizes, followed by a good rummage of all the womenswear. It really annoys me when things are grouped solely by colour! So hard to find anything as it’s totally random. I always check the menswear as well, especially if there’s something specific I’m looking for like jeans, T-shirts or jackets. Menswear is larger, so there’s more fabric to work with, but it’s often more worn, so it pays to check the condition carefully. My personal style has elements of tailoring and menswear influenced stuff in it, so menswear is useful from that point of view too.
I guess it goes without saying that life is too short to try anything on in charity shops, especially with the amount I buy. Mostly I adjust the sizes anyway. It’s rare that I’ve been caught out by something that was too small – maybe once or twice – if that happens I just re-donate them.
When paying, these days I ask about gift aid. It’s a great way for charities to get more money on top of what you spend. You may have to sign up at the till but I think it’s worth it. I then gently rebut any well-meaning questions about whether the item I’m purchasing will fit me and head to the next shop.
6) Some of your projects are quick and simple, like taking in the sides of your apple green blouse (pictured above), yet some of your projects involve complex draping and pattern drafting. How do you approach a refashioning project?
Tough question! It really depends on the project; there’s a very wide spectrum between making a blouse fit and drafting a complicated pattern from scratch or draping a toile before I start working on a garment. Sometimes the garment inspires the idea but sometimes I’m looking for something to refashion with an idea already in mind. It really depends!
If it’s a ‘quick fix’ project I’ll always start by trying it on and pinning in front of the mirror to see how much to cut and where. There’s hours of fun to be had just pinning things into different looks!
For simple projects where I’m using a pattern, I’ll often trace something from Burda magazine as a starting point and adapt it from there. I love Burda!
(check out Sally's amazing Union Jack top!)
For the more complex drafting and draping projects, I’ll start with the idea for the garment and use whichever method gets me there the quickest, often a combination of the two. My methods are sometimes a bit ‘guerrilla’ including a lot of rub-offs (where you draw around the original garment or part of it) and even crazy things like pinning tracing paper to my dress form (not recommended for accuracy but it is a lot of fun!). I like to combine drafting and draping for the quickest results, but sometimes one will make more sense than the other. I am usually literally making it up as I go along – that’s the fun part!
7) it seems to me that a lot of your inspiration comes from current fashion trends and high fashion garments, would you say that's true? Where do you find your style inspiration?
Yes, I’d say that’s true. I’m a red carpet junkie and love critiquing the outfits – I get a lot of inspiration from the red carpets and from fashion magazines. (Check out Sally's amazing Stella McCartney inspired jacket refashion, the inspiration pictured above, outcome pictured below.) I love the idea that I can make something for a few quid that would cost hundreds or thousands in the shops. I do love to see what designers are coming up with for the same reason. Of course designer garments are out of my reach, but I can make my own versions to emulate the trends I like and still get the look.
I also get a lot of inspiration from reading other people’s blogs. I read a lot of sewing and fashion blogs and often will see something that will spark an idea for a project. The sewing community in particular is so creative and so generous with sharing everything, blogs are a great resource for ideas and inspiration!
8) What would you say are your favourite refashions you've completed?
My all-time favourite is probably my Stella McCartney-style dress made from old t-shirts, with my Grace Kelly-inspired circle bodice dress coming in second place. Old favourites include this dress with a keyhole cut out because of the fantastic print, and the red dress I added a peplum to, both of which are still worn regularly. And then there are my Carrie Bradshaw inspired projects... don’t get me started on those ;-)
9) Can you share with us some of your favourite refashions by other people?
I am a fan of Geneva at A Pair and a Spare – this cut out dress was inspiring, very ‘high fashion’ and so simple!
This trouser refashion (pictured below) from Cotton & Curls proves that sometimes a small tweak plus some great styling can make a lot of difference.
Also, I loved Jillian’s refashion of what would have been her wedding dress after her circumstances changed. Very emotional!
(image source: Cotton & Curls)
10) Do you have any dream charity shop finds/projects that you hope to fulfil someday?
Of course! Far too many to list here. For example:
- I’d love to make a lace dress out of a net curtain, but have yet to find one, so that’s pretty high on the list.
- I’d love to make a coat or jacket out of a woollen blanket – the kind with fringing down the side, using a waterfall cardigan pattern, with the fringing down the front, and wear it belted as a coat. Those blankets seem to be pretty tough to come by though.
- I’d love to try shoe refashioning – adding charity-shopped clip on earrings as shoe clips to a blue or green court shoe to look like Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolos from the SATC movie would be awesome. Finding shoes in the right colour that fit is nigh on impossible but I am keeping my eyes peeled!
- I’d love to learn embroidery and use that on a garment. I love Erdem’s flower embroidery on smart dresses.
- Ditto knitting. I’d like to unravel a charity shop jumper and knit it into something else. Maybe even cutting some beyond-repair garments into thin strips and knitting or crocheting those into something. Sadly I don’t think I am cut out for knitting; I haven’t got the patience!
- Anything ballgown-y. I live in hope!
Massive thanks to Sally for taking the time to answer the squillion questions I wanted to put to her! You are a total star and a huge inspiration. Good luck finding that blanket and ball gown!