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How to upcycle an old dress

In this sewing tutorial, I want to show you how to upcycle an old dress.

I see that more and more people and companies are supporting upcycling: the process of creating something new and beautiful from old items that would normally be destined for trash or recycling. This process uses fewer resources to create new things and helps keep used old items out of the waste. This is the latest and continuously growing trend and one of the most sustainable things people can do in the fashion industry.

People who sew are among the first to adopt this new trend. Actually, sewists did this long before the word upcycling even existed. Right?

For example, you took an old shirt and made an apron from it, or you took an old pair of jeans and made a skirt or shorts, etc. I found tons of articles about how to use scrap fabric and old garments and I see there are endless possibilities to do it – aka upcycle. Check out these great posts: 100 Brilliant Projects to Upcycle Leftover Fabric Scraps, 49 Crafty Ideas For Leftover Fabric Scraps, and 100+ Scrap Fabric Projects.

All these examples of creating one-of-a-kind items from scraps and old garments are the result of a considerable amount of creativity and vision. Some sewists even developed sewing patterns for upcycling so that people can sew their own garments. Check out this site: http://paganoonoo.com. “Paganoonoo is all about fashion upcycling! Through selling upcycle sewing instructions, providing upcycle sewing education, and creating upcycled fashion we make upcycling sewing simple. Owner Michelle Paganini wants all sewists to have access to successfully transforming existing fashions into flattering new creations”.

Why is upcycling important? As Danielle L. Vermeer writes in the post “7 UPCYCLING COMPANIES THAT ARE TRANSFORMING THE FASHION INDUSTRY“, it’s sustainable.  “Upcycling reduces clothing and textile waste by reusing deadstock or gently used fabric to create new garments and products. Making a single cotton T-shirt requires over 700 gallons of water, whereas using a pre-existing T-shirt to make something new requires nearly no water. In addition, upcycling can divert some of the 85% of textile waste that ends up in landfills.”

And I also like what this article about 5 great benefits of upcycling indicates: “Upcycling is a great green practice for several reasons: there’s less trash in landfills, the air and water pollution are reduced and last, but not the least important – it sets an example for the others.  It raises the environmental awareness, teaches us about green living, inspiring us to venture into upcycling – with or without significant financial benefits.”

I absolutely agree with Jamie Hailstone who says in his article “The upside to upcycling“: “Good upcycling is an art…  upcyclers are designers and should be following trends, exploring new materials and creating thought-provoking pieces.”

Upcycling is also changing the way we see things – you don’t need to spend money on your creative projects. You only need a few things – some tools, time, inspiration, and creativity.

So, after reading all these posts I got hooked and decided to turn some of my ideas into reality.

I started with my old dress, which I made a long time ago just to test my newly bought Janome serger.

The fabric was nice but the dress was shapeless so I didn’t really like to wear it. And it turned out to be good that I didn’t donate it to a thrift store.

I decided to use some silk scraps I recently got after sewing a new dress. I made the dress for a tutorial on my blog “How to sew a dress without a pattern”, and in the end, a few small pieces of that wonderful silk fabric were left.

Below is the video of my very simple creative process.

And here is the result.

I  cut the length of the dress a little (15 cm) to make it a tunic. I put one bias strip to the hem to make it nice. I made frayed edges and made a flower with my silk scrap also. I made some belt for the back.  And voila!  The whole process cost me absolutely nothing and I think the new creation is really beautiful.

I am sure you will agree with me that it’s important for us to know the impact our sewing has on the environment and think about how we can upcycle it.

I want to ask you – what is your successful upcycling experience?

Did you find this tutorial helpful? If so, save this pin (see below) on your sewing board so you can come to this tutorial later when you want to upcycle clothes, and follow me on Pinterest for more tips, tutorials, and inspiration! 

How to upcycle an old dress

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Tuesday 13th of June 2023

The proper term is seamstress or tailor. Sewist isn’t even a word. If you are going to promote it at least know our terms.

Olga Balasa

Sunday 18th of June 2023

Thank you for your (low) opinion of my writing. "Seamstress" is defined in the Cambridge dictionary https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/seamstress as "a woman whose job is sewing and making clothes". I am a woman but my hobby is sewing, and not necessarily making clothes. Same for "tailor". I am looking for a term that describes someone who has a passion / hobby in sewing in general, be it crafts, Christmas ornaments, clothes, embroidery or quilting but does not necessarily make a job out of it. "Sewer" is the most used term and I am not sure why I don't really like it!

Jan Deakin

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

I’ve got mum’s darning mushroom too!

Olga Balasa

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

I wish I could find real silk stockings though, the lycra/nylon ones are terrible for my skin


Monday 4th of September 2017

I love this project!! It turned out wonderfully. Thanks for sharing.

Here is my upcycling project that I did a while back. I have another that I am posting to my youtube channel tomorrow. I'm so excited to meet a kindred spirit. I'm going to have to pour over your blog.



Olga Balasa

Monday 4th of September 2017

Thanks, Stephanie. It's my first upcycling project. And I really like how it turned out. I recently found Facebook group Upcycle Sewing https://www.facebook.com/groups/180124212497155/. So much inspiration there! People put their projects every day. And I will try to put more on my blog also.


Monday 4th of September 2017

Here is the link: http://farrellfocus.com/how-i-made-my-fun-artsy-thrift-store-sweater-refashions/


Tuesday 29th of August 2017

Such a good idea! The dress looks amazing!

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