A Heartwarming and Simple Sweater Upcycle

Just earlier today, I was listening to a new favorite podcast “Wardrobe Crisis with Clare Press” which is all about sustainability in the fashion industry and other intersecting industries and movements. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s amaze-balls. Clare Press is the Australian Vogue Sustainability Editor -at-large (and is a reformed shopaholic, which makes her human) who is spearheading the modern and growing conversation about sustainability in the fashion industry. I love an intellectual who’s in love with fashion, so naturally, Clare is currently my new girlboss crush.

A total (sustainable) babe.

While listening to an episode with Sarah Ditty (founder of Fashion Revolution) , I started to get really fired up about the four R’s- refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle, and their place in my sewing practice. So much so that I immediately began texting a friend too many memes of excited children and telling her my grandiose plans. Thanks Brigitte for always listening to my crazed plans and energetic inspiration sprees.

Now, I obviously hoard fabric scraps like a squirrel prepping for winter (Reuse). I also have made the conscious effort to be very mindful when purchasing new fabric, asking myself if I “need” this item (the Refuse part) while also considering how much new fabric I’ve taken in recently (Reduce, it’s always a work in progress!) but there is one element that I tend to drop the ball on: recycle.

Refashioning has become super popular among the sewing community in that so many of us got our start in sewing by chopping a part thrift store finds or old pieces of our clothing to learn how to put them back together into something better than it’s first incarnation. But here is where I have to be honest: refashioning something doesn’t get me as excited about sewing as taking a few yards of flat, fresh fabric and manipulating it into something. While I love thrifting and shopping second hand for clothing items to give them a second life, I don’t often see the potential in an old blouse or dress.

I’ve been following some amazing sewists who focus on refashioning the past few years on Instagram and I recommend you check them out: Portia Lawry (who ran the online competition “The Refashioners” for the past few years) Cotton and Curls, Trish Stitched , and my friend Gwenstella Made. Everytime one of these talented women posts a refashion I get the little spark of inspiration to try the same. But that spark lasts all of two seconds when I lovingly glance across the room at my beautiful fabric stash and promise them I’ll personally cut and sew each of them up in due time, not to worry BBs.

SHE IS SO IMPRESSIVE I can’t even. Photo from Trish Stitched’s Blog

But, this year I’m making the effort to push myself out of my comfort zone when it comes to my sewing practice. Outside your comfort zone doesn’t have to mean massively complicated, though! So I present to you: a simple upcycle that can be done in a few hours that will breathe new life into an old t-shirt or jumper.

let’s wear our hearts on our…uh…shoulder!

Me, battling my mixed feelings on Valentines Day.

Right around Valentines day this year I hosted a Sip & Stitch event at the swanky new Asbury Hotel over in hip & historical Asbury Park, NJ. I was super flatted that their events manager reached out to me to have an event there, so naturally I needed to go out of my way to impress (people pleasing Sagittarius up in HERE) by making a Valentines themed outfit for the evening, which was an embroidery workshop with a feminist touch!

Enter: my large box of recycled poly felt and an excuse to go sift through the racks at one of my favorite local shops- Squan Dry Goods over in Manasquan! SDG is a crazy reasonably priced consignment shop that has the best finds in the area- if you do not shop there, what gives?

One quick hunting session left me leaving with 2 cute tops and a practically-new-millenial-pink Kate Spade bag, all for under $80. YEAH I SAID IT, $80, KIDS. I don’t shop at actual RTW stores anymore, so Dr y Goods is where IT IS AT.

Here’s how I went about being extra cheesy on Valetines day with this upcycle:

  1. Snag a unloved sweater from the back of your closet or a thrift store. See the potential in it’s boringness. Embrace the boringness.
  2. Get some of that Eco-Fi Felt over at the craft store or online (it’s made of 100% post consumer plastic bottles)
  3. Channel your inner 3rd grader and cut out some felt hearts in various sizes.

4. Play around with the arrangement of the felt hearts on your top. I knew I wanted them concentrated at my shoulder so I placed a few large ones down first, then filled with smaller hearts. I also layered hearts for more texture.

5. Once you have an arrangement you’re into, lets pin them in place so we don’t accidentally pick up the sweater to try it on and they all fall off. Learn from my mistakes.

6. Carefully try your sweater on. Take a look in the mirror and assess if there are any poorly placed hearts (i.e. hearts on nipples looks funny, trust me!) Adjust hearts as necessary.

7. Let’s get stitching! Thread your machine with a matching color to your hearts- or don’t, it’s your world.

8. I stitched down the center line of each heart, with a small backstitch at the beginning and end to secure. Be sure to do only a few stitches for your backstitches as we’re topstitching and it will be obvious if you back tack the heck out of it. I usually like to ‘sink’ the needle into each heart while the pin is still in, make sure I’m centered, then lower the presser foot and take the pin out before I sew down the heart.

9. Stitch all hearts down, clipping your threads as you go.

10. Tidy up the inside by clipping the zillion threads. Ta-da you’re finished! You probably haven’t even hit a commercial in your Spotify playlist or have had to check your phone, this project went so quickly.

I am obviously super jazzed about my upcycling project.

If you make a top similar to mine, would you please share it with me or tag me on Instagram? I love talking about making stuff and would love to see what your take is on my goofy Valentines sweater! I’m @Julia_OldSpoolSewing on instagram, let’s be friends!

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