Recently I set myself the task of clearing out all my worn and semi-worn clothes to decide what to keep and what to cull. It’s one of those tasks I avoid, preferring to stuff the undesirables into any space they’ll fit and ignoring them. It’s hard to face an old project that doesn’t work for any of several reasons- wrong color, weird fit, a design experiment gone wrong or an unfortunate fabric choice. And even worse- the clothes that are just fine but never get worn. How to let go? As I worked my way through the pile of unwearables, I couldn’t help but think about Sarai’s post about “Killing Your Darlings.”
I certainly felt like I killed a whole laundry load of darlings when my whites came out of a wash dyed an implacable shade of pepto-bismal pink. (Yep, I’m still gutted about that and don’t care if it’s silly.) I stuffed them into a bottom drawer, and every now and then I’d peek at them regretfully. I tried everything known to man to change them white again, and I can also say without reservation that several months in a drawer will not restore whites to their proper color.
Spurred by the challenge I set myself for Frosting Fortnight to find and cull my “Unworns,” I dyed my ugly whites purple. Why not? At least purple is a color, right?
As soon as I pulled the whites-gone-pinks-gone-purples out of the washing machine, I knew there was no way I’d wear them. Ever. I’m not saying purple lace insertion is a bad look, it’s just not me. I gamely squared off the shirts for rags, but before I relegated them to the cupboard under the kitchen sink, Lila expressed her delight in their color. The monkey liked a bit of lace lying around, too.
What can I make for a little girl from large squares of purple jersey in less than half an hour? Pillows! I finished squaring off my ruined favorite tops, put a little pink lining fabric culled from another Unworn behind it, and together Lila and I stitched them into little pillows. So far they’ve been used for sleeping, as extra walls for her dollhouse, as lilypads, and as weapons in a giggly pillow fight. I count that as a win.
Once I got honest with myself about what I wear and what I don’t, I had a nice big pile of garments. The guilt! Oh, the guilt… I hesitated over this skirt for quite some time. It’s a plain and simple 6-gore from a 50’s suit pattern, nicely made from a medium weight hemp fabric that shows almost no signs of wear though I wore it constantly for years. I like the way it looks on my body, the way it feels and the many small and unnecessary details stitched into her. I like everything about this skirt but my lifestyle does not realistically permit me to wear such things anymore. I haven’t worn her for over a year.
Once I started ripping out the zipper and findings, I realized something about the magic of sewing. I’ve always loved the process of taking a length of fabric, some thread and various notions and rendering them into a garment that was more than the sum of its parts. Yet as I stripped down a favorite skirt, I saw myself doing the same thing in reverse. Fabric becomes a garment, and a garment becomes fabric. It’s really easy to look at a skirt and only see the object. But if I reduce that skirt to a flat piece of fabric and some notions, then I can stitch a new garment from old-but still lively- cloth.
When I “ripped” this skirt, I only ripped one seam and removed the waistband and notions. I did this for several skirts I don’t wear- reduced them to a single flat piece of fabric. Now I have several pieces of linen, hemp, and cotton canvas I can remake into anything I want. For free. Completely free- reclaimed fabric is a “pass” in my book. I have the idea these fabrics will become summer shorts, maybe an industrial seamed skirt or tote bags- we’ll see. The next project will carry the seams from the previous garment, but I like that. It’s a history, a reincarnation.
Reclaiming my mis-placed sewing materials is definitely not very interesting or sexy, but it didn’t take much time once I started. When I finished, I had “new” lace and buttons and zippers and hooks and bars to add to my stash. I can always use more of those things. And I have more closet space, less clutter, and several pieces of free pass fabric.
I’ve had a few questions from some of you about how to refashion. I don’t know. I honestly, really don’t know how to answer that question. I think the main thing is to remember that a skirt isn’t just a skirt (it’s also a piece of fabric). Also remember to allow a little serendipity into the process- like making a set of purple lace throw pillows for a little girl. I doubt I’d come up with that as a project even if I sat and thought for years, but in the moment it seemed like a great idea. She loves her new pillows and we had a great time sewing and stuffing them.
It’s really satisfying to re-use old projects and I’m challenging myself to continue to re-make, re-fashion or discard Unworns. In fact, I want to feature little refashioning projects regularly. Next week’s re-make:
How great is this little tote made from a felted sweater? Yeah, I have one of those… Handknit, alpaca… And now I know what to do with it! I wonder if little bows would be as charming as the roses?
Besides rags, charity donations, and fabric reclamation, what other ways do you deal with Unworns? Trash? Do you have a clever or satisfying “life-cycle” story to tell?
Next time: deep, dark wardrobe secrets. Maybe with zombies or vampires, something nice and festive, anyway…