Choose Your Restyling Weapon Wisely

Have you ever wondered how you can take one garment and transform it into another?

There you are looking at your closet at, say, a mega-shouldered designer jacket that you inherited and you know it cost a mint, but it will never see the light of day in its current state.  While shoulders are back, they may never be back to that extent, right? Couldn’t you just cut down those pads  and create something a little more … wearable?

In a word, no. 

On the surface, it looks like an easy shortcut to sewing. Everything is already put together and you just have to, you know, improvise. But before you take scissors and a seam ripper to that couture jacket, think twice. The armhole, or armscye, and shoulder cap areas are one of the most challenging to fit even the first time around. A second stab could be disastrous and should be left only to the experts.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up on restyling and upcycling favorite garments.

Here are some basics that I’ve learned about restyling ready-to-wear clothes and giving them new life:

      Silver jacket in need of a restyling

·      Embellish first: Start small with beads, ribbon, gems, embroidery, etc. There are so many ways you can use surface design to create a new look. And if you make a mistake,, it is usually reversible. I have lovely silver jacket that is so classic, but has a big mystery stain on the pocket. I glued some fuschia gems in a pretty pattern all over the stain and had a jacket that went from blech to blastoff.

·      Be careful what you wish for: If it involves a key refitting area, like the armhole and

     Detail of embelilishment restyle

shoulder cap mentioned above, or the bust, best leave it to the pros. Those sorts of changes are like playing with a house of cards.

·      Take it easy: You can tackle easier areas like hemlines and waistlines. For instance, you can take a longer, boxier, unlined jacket and nip it in the waist and shorten the sleeves and bottom to create a cute, cropped vintage-style jacket. Or turn a well-fitting pair of dress pants into walking shorts or short shorts that everyone is wearing with heels and black tights these days.

·      Avoid linings: Notice how I emphasized unlined above? A lining is really a whole separate garment from the garment and when you change the garment, you need to change the lining to coincide. Taking up a hem lining is a relatively easy matter, but major alterations are another task for the pros.

·      Downsize: You can only go smaller, not larger. Unless you want to get into fabric insertion, which is a whole other fashion design quicksand, stick with revising garments from large to small, not the other way around.

With this said, there is nothing to stop you from picking up some tailored garments at the local Goodwill and going to town on them. Taking apart garments, particularly well-made vintage garments, is an excellent way to learn how to put them together.

For an elegantly simple guide on how to cut up clothes and turn them into something fabulous and new, check out the new Cut-Up Couture: Edgy Upcycled Garments to Sew

Have you transformed an old garment into something stunning? Share on and upload to the gallery. Can’t wait to see what you’ve done!

Happy Stitching!

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Upcycling, Zippers

About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

4 thoughts on “Choose Your Restyling Weapon Wisely

  1. Being a former tailor, and long time clothing designer (professionally degreed and trained) I have to say AMEN! Finally someone “gets” it about the armholes of garments. Its otherwise been referred to as hanger appeal – if it does not hang well on a person it will not hang well on a hanger. It is key to looking great or looking “loving hands made”. And the majority of people “running” alteration shops can equally destroy the armsyce – I was repeatedly chastised for altering shoulder lines correctly when they would just slop thru it and the party having the work done would know something wasn’t right, but didn’t know why. I used to redo countless hack jobs over the years. There are tricks to it, and perhaps you should contact me for the steps required to do it. Lined, unlined, shoulder pads, set-in sleeves, men’s suits you name it, its come across my table. The key to altering any garment is to make it look like it has never been touched afterwards. That is the sign of superior work.

  2. I find it sad that a website called ‘Sew Daily’, suggesting that it’s geared not (only) towards beginning sewers but towards those who’ve been sewing for a while, is so limiting in its suggestions.

    Sure, mention that the presence of a lining can mean double the work (even more if you need to detach it first). Mention that fabric insertion can be quite tricky. But ‘leave it to the pros’? Really?

    Turning a pair of pants into walking shorts is just one step above the ‘cut off your jeans’ everyone my age seemed to be capable of in high school. I was hoping you’d expect more of us.

  3. I had a denim shirt that I couldn’t button anymore. I added a 3 inch panel over the button area in a red striped pattern. I found some red heart shaped buttons and enjoyed wearing it every Valenines Day or when I needed a loving boost.

  4. Would like to upload a cashmere cardigan remake but cannot find the upload link in the Galleries page to upload my re-make. Can you post a reply – please? Thank you.