upcycle: for the love of a leather jacket

This jacket belongs to a friend. When I asked him for the “story” behind it, he gave me two versions to chose from.

Version 1 “When I was a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War I was shot down over enemy territory and held captive for 3 years. They took my jacket but 25 years later I visited as a tourist and amazingly found MY jacket for sale in a flea market.”

Version 2 “I bought it on E Bay 3 years ago. It was a Xmas present from J but she used my Paypal account so I ended up paying for it myself.”

I was amused by the contrast and I think perhaps this says more about him than if I’d pressed him for any further background to the true story so I decided to use his first response and include both versions in this post. Interestingly I think it was J who was wearing it when it got caught as she was getting out of the car and the leather was torn.

A repair for #menditmay

I’m a member of a Fb group called Mend it May, started by ethical blogger Jen Gale, encouraging us all to mend something during the month of May.

I found a YouTube video made by Leather Repair Company about repairing a leather jacket but couldn’t find anything that showed a repair to a sheepskin, so I contacted the company and they were really helpful. Based on their advice, this is what I did …

1. Removed the buckle and strap.

2. Trimmed the fur from the edges of the tear and loosely stitched them together to hold them temporarily in place so that I could patch over the tear.

3. I searched the Charity Shops for a similar leather to take a patch from. I found a handbag that was a close match but nothing close enough to do a proper job. So I cut a section out of the inside pocket, where it wouldn’t be seen and used the bag to patch the pocket.

4. I used specialist leather glue to patch over the tear. I cut it on an angle so it followed the lines on the jacket and as it was such soft leather I was able to work into the join a little to blend it in. I took out the top stitching and tucked the patch underneath the edge of the cover strips.

5. I restitched the buckle and strap in place and replaced the top stitch to secure the patch and finish as original.

6. I also stitched down the straps so there is less risk of them getting caught again.

7. The final task was to repair the pocket with a patch from the handbag. I glued the straight edges and then stitched at the bottom and seam edge.

I really enjoyed this repair, I’d never worked with leather before and learnt a lot.

And it’s such a joy to bring a treasured possession back to life (yes A, I know you love this jacket, I can tell when you wear it, despite covering up with a funny story and playing it down with your Ebay story)

upcycle: chiffon dress becomes layered skirt

This dress was given to me by a friend, Julia and had belonged to her Mum. It was lovely quality chiffon and the skirt flowed beautifully but it had been well worn and showed signs of age around the armholes.

Julia was having a party to celebrate 6years of her pilates studio business and her Mum was attending so I wanted to upcycle it to wear at the event. The style is perfect for my shape, straight at the waist is more flattering. Then the dropped seam and fullness at the lower part of the skirt shows off the flowing chiffon.

I thought I’d pick up  a recent trend and make the underskirt shorter than the chiffon overlay.

Upcycling tips: I find with a 2-layered skirt it’s easier to take them apart and alter each separately and then reattach. It’s fastened with an invisible plastic zip at the back which I removed, shortened and reinserted. As it was lined and made of a delicate fabric, I didn’t put a waistband on it.

This is quite a straightforward upcycle, ideal for a dress that is dated or no longer suits. And another garment saved from landfill. I styled with some fishnet tights, a silver top and gold brogues (sorry no pics, will add next time I wear it). It was a joy to wear and always satisfying that I made it myself. Julia’s mum was chuffed that her old dress had been given another life.

upcycle: vintage silk update



I bought this dress at the Kings Road Royal Trinity Hospice – this shop is great for vintage and really unusual pieces. The colour struck me first, then I noticed the detailing … the collar shape, slightly puffed sleeves and folded back cuff detail. I think it’s home made so respect to the hands that made those shapes, I wanted to keep the details as much as I could. I was going to a screening of Embrace, the Body Image Movement documentary so I wanted something striking and individual. (Sorry no progress pics, just before and after  ….. I was under a bit of time pressure.)

Nothing like colour blocking to update and give an outfit some edge. I couldn’t find a place for the collar without overcomplicating the outfit, so I’ve saved that for another upcycle. By taking off the collar, I was able to expose the lovely v-neck placket detail and those sleeves!

upcycle: 70’s housecoat gets new life

(This is a bit of  a catchup post, as I did this one last summer and just realised I hadn’t posted it – apologies for the terrible photos.) It was my Mums housecoat .. I’ve always loved the design at the bottom and the unusual criss-cross. I cut the top and bottom apart, removed the zip and turned the skirt around. Put a smaller zip in the back and added the black waistband from some fabric I had at home.

upcycle: re-tailoring shoulder pads on vintage jacket

Big shoulder pads are what date a jacket and make it unwearable. A jacket is a high cost item so it’s ideal to buy preloved if you want a variety in your wardrobe.  I bought the Vintage Fortnum & Mason jacket in a charity shop in Summertown in Oxford. It’s classic, beautiful style drew my eye but the shoulder pads were too much. I really wanted to retain the rounded look at the shoulders but reduce the size of them. I re-tailored to reduced the size but retain the shape of the shoulder, now I have a very wearable jacket that retains the gorgeous spirit of the original garment.

Recently H&M collaborated with London College of Fashion students on a sustainable collection for London Fashion Week. One of the comments raised on Facebook was the issue of how scalable upcycling as a design technique is and it’s a big challenge for ethical fashion. In many cases of upcycling, designs are one-off bespoke pieces involving such time consuming alterations that they would not be profitable. Those are the ones I do just for the love of it, such as my brown dress in my last post. However, I believe this is exactly the type of upcycling technique that could be scaled profitably. A professional seamstress could make this type of alteration to a jacket in a couple of hours, keeping these garments in the retail pool. What’s more, these are exactly the garments that end up in landfill because they are not stylish or useful as they are.

Even better, if you fancy a go at upcycling this is a good technique to learn because it can be repeated. Learn some new skills or brush up your old ones and have a go, then you have a made-to-measure version that fits you perfectly. And once you have done one, you can scout the charity shops for more jackets to alter. Jackets are a great buy second hand .. bought new, they tend to be pricey; they are not a heavy wear item of clothing so they retain good condition and they are often made of 100% wool so they represent great value for money.

Here’s how I altered mine ….


shoulder bulk.1

leather trim.1

One sign of a good quality garment is proper pattern matching so I was determined to make sure I matched this one, to stay true to it’s Fortnum & Mason routes … and because it just looks better!

pattern match.1

So, there you have it, a scalable upcycle!  Tailoring is not for the fainthearted but it’s really satisfying and a useful technique to conquer. If you do have a go yourself, please share some pictures, you could post them on my 1134SewingClub Facebook page or email to summerscales@gmail.com.

upcycle: back to front dress for London Fashion Weekend

brown vintage before & after

I was really pleased with the final result of this upcycle and I really enjoyed wearing the dress for my visit to #LFWEND and the V&A. It was my perfect combination of comfort, style and individuality.

Recently I have been reflecting on past posts and how I present information on my blog. I’m also teaching a Re-fashion Workshop which started on Saturday. I took along some finished upcycling projects and explained my design process, what I had liked about the original garment and how I had changed it. I then handed out some design templates, scribbled and talked the students through how I came to the design decisions that I had for a couple of my designs. Everyone enjoyed sharing ideas, bouncing off each other and getting to know the design process. So I thought I would try and introduce the design element to my blog posts.

This dress was a full deconstruction and re-make. It was a 1970s dress in a really good quality cotton, I loved the print and the full length of the dress but it was too small. When I buy a garment for upcycling, sometimes I have a clear idea of what I am going to do with it but more often, I will spot elements of the original that I like and work with those to come up with a final design. So usually, I put the original on the stand and pick out the original design details I like ….. these are the elements I want to keep in some way. I like to update a garment but it’s important to me that it echoes the original, particularly if it’s a vintage garment.

brown vintage - ODD

Working with the original design details, I have a browse of a few magazines and check out any trends I like that are complementary to the garment. If it’s a vintage piece, I’ll do some research online or have a browse through some good old-fashioned books! I will then come up with some upcycle design ideas. I loved that long, front, flat panel and thought it would look cool as the back of the dress. The zip then gives the new design an on-trend deep v-front, the metal zip reminding us of the age of the piece as you don’t see metal zips like these so much now.

brown vintage -UDI.1


Next, I try and work out how to realise my design, sometimes it’s straightforward but often, it’s just a case of diving in with a few ideas and figuring it out as I go along. Of course, that means it doesn’t always work out as planned but sometimes it’s better than I’m expecting. But that’s upcycling and that’s why I love it!

brown vintage - DR.rev1BV-deconstruction

Upcycling tip – when cutting new pattern pieces for reconstructing, its a good idea to use a garment that you already have to decide about the shape, fit, style and alterations required.

BV - insert panels


The front of a garment is cut quite differently to the back, particularly in ladies clothes so turning a bodice around is not straightforward. It’s invaluable to have a dress form that is the right size and shape for you in order to get a correct fit …. or a good friend who will adjust it whilst you model it.

shaping bodice.rev1


neckline shaping

BV- neckline facing

H&M have recently collaborated with London College of Fashion, supporting students to produce an upcycled collection during London Fashion Week. Fashion Revolution founder Orsola de Castro commented that upcycling should be taught as a design technique. It is great news that a big retailer, for all it’s faults, is embracing the idea and collaborating with the designers of tomorrow. Hopefully, this will lead to change.

On a personal level, by Upcycling, beautiful vintage garments can be brought back to life, textiles can be saved from the landfill pile and craft skills can be re-loved. And it is immensely satisfying to wear a garment you have made with your own hands.


When recycle actually means downcycle, then upcycle instead


Phew that was a busy, hot, wonderful summer full of fun and festivals, camping and campfires, stories and sunshine, fruit picking and friends, kids and kayaks, beaches and buddies, swimming and of course, sewing … can I think of any more? Probably, but you get the gist. In July, I ventured into the world of Facebook live with some video reviews and a rummage of my own wardrobe. I held two events at local charity shops, with a bit more Facebook live. August began with my event at the Pewsey Music Festival where I met lots of wonderful people excited about upcycling. Then I had a few weeks break from blogging and sewing. September is here, the kids are all back at school and I’m itching to get back to some projects.

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now and I’ve done lots of different things, I feel I have left a few threads unfinished. I also have some ideas for new projects. So, having had a break, I think it’s a good time to take stock and have a look ahead.  I want to reflect on what has worked well, what I’ve enjoyed and invite some feedback so that I can figure out my next steps.

I’m anticipating a random few weeks, I have a couple of events in the diary to prepare for but otherwise I’m planning to tie up those loose threads and catch up on blog posts awaiting.

Next in the diary, some high fashion ….



I’m off to London Fashion Weekend on 24th September, so I want to upcycle something to wear. I have a gorgeous vintage dress I’m going to upcycle, which picks up this seasons winter florals trend. I’ll post some progress photos on Instagram and Facebook in the coming week.

When RECYCLE actually means DOWN-CYCLE


This week H&M are promoting once again, their Recycle initiative where you can get a voucher for handing in unwanted clothes. Don’t be fooled into buying more under the illusion that they can recycle unwanted textiles. There are still very few textiles that can be turned into new ones, the processes just don’t exist. If retailers truly wanted to support sustainability, they would encourage consumers to buy better quality and keep clothes for longer … but where’s the profit in that? H&M are however, one of the best of a bad bunch on the high street when it comes to ethics;  they rate as one of the highest when it comes to work practices and the environment and they are at least doing something to encourage awareness of the issues. But a voucher system where people can trade old for new, when there is no way to recycle the old is only adding to the worlds massive pile of unwanted clothes and encouraging people to buy more. That’s not upcycling or recycling .. it’s DOWNCYCLING! 

UPCYCLE instead

With that in mind, here’s a project that will hopefully inspire you to take a left turn to the charity shop rather than the high street. I bought this skirt earlier in the year from The Shaw Trust charity shop in Wantage for £4.50. I love the 70s style and detailing but the waist was too small for me. 


A trusty selfie and I decided I’d shorten the skirt and use the cut-off fabric for a waistband. I like the stitching and buttons at the top of the skirt so I didn’t want to take anything off at the waist.

IMG_1274I unpicked and removed the waistband. It was a vintage M&S, cotton/linen blend so it was well made of good quality natural fibres so it was easy to take apart and good fabric to work with.


The skirt had a couple of darts and a pleat at each side, I figured I could take out without losing the style. I also opened up the side seams a little and added an insert to give the extra room I needed at the waist, which I topstitched to match the stitching detail already on the skirt.

I like the deep, flat-fronted top section of the skirt so I went for a deep waistband to balance it out. I only had enough cut-off fabric to make one length of waist band so I used an old cotton top for a contrasting inside facing band. I also liked the four buttons stacked at the front opening so I added two more to continue the design. The deep waistband and shorter length gives the skirt a fuller shape but taking the extra pleat and gather out makes it more flattering at the waist so I was pleased with the finished skirt.



Have a go yourself 

Your favourite skirt that no longer fits need not be given away or discarded onto the landfill pile. Have a go at altering it yourself. If you are new to sewing, there are loads of video tutorials on YouTube. Taking a garment apart is a great way to learn how they are put together, so buy one from a charity shop and have a practice before taking apart your own treasured piece.  If you live near Wantage I’m holding some upcycling classes at The Mix starting in October. The course is not a sewing course and it’s not about producing a perfectly sewn garment, it is about exploring what can be done to re-fashion existing garments. I’m aiming to encourage people to restyle and upcycle secondhand garments rather than buying new. Email me for more information or contact The Mix to book.

Re-fashion Workshop



upcycle: tie shirt and pencil skirt

Remember these items from Save the Children? …. I love the colour of the jacket but the style was rather serious and I wanted to make it into something more playful. The skirt is a supermarket skirt but the fabric was cool. I thought a straight skirt would show off the shine and I continued the playful theme with a frill. Not usually my kind of thing but I really enjoyed wearing it to our coffee and blogging event at the Wantage Summer festival.

So a few photos of how I got there ….






Ta da!!


upcycle: embroidered velvet dress


I can’t remember where I got this, it’s been in my “to do” drawer for years. It’s made of the most gorgeous soft velvet and the embroidery is, perhaps a little full on, but it’s interesting. I had seen a shift dress in the White Company catalogue and loved it so I thought I would make my own version (that’s £95 saved!) And it was Lauren’s 18th, she’s very special to me, so I needed something special to wear!


I went for option 3. I did feel the embroidery needed reducing and I liked the V-shape that was created with the embroidery. See how it also draws the eye down the dress and makes it look longer and narrower and more flattering.

And it gave me a chance to try applique with my new sewing machine! Bonus!


I did this upcycle shortly after the bodywarmer so with PTSD (post traumatic sewing disorder), I needed a nice easy upcycle to feel the love again.  I shortened the length, took in and shaped the side seams, the fabric was lovely to handle and sew. Then I shortened the sleeves, I’ve kept those cuffs for another upcycle ….just noticed the pic below, they look like a couple of pints of Guinness! Cheers! Sewing love affair renewed!


A good time had by all, I felt stylish and comfortable …. my perfect combination for any outfit! Officially named my “Lauren dress”.


upcycle bicycle: tribute to #fashrev


My tribute to Fashion Revolution and my silent protest against fast fashion, I’m a walking #haulternative to shopping on the high street. Upcycled vintage skirt, given to me by a friend; home-made top and jacket and my shoes are one of my best investment buys, featured in Fridays post. Even my jewelry .. the one with the purple beads was 2hand and the other two I’ve owned for over 10 years and I wear them every day.


I had so many friends on FB say they loved this skirt as it was, I decided to stay true to the original design. I was also intrigued by the branding on the inside of the hem so I did a little research. Sportaville were a London company well known for vibrant novelty prints, this one dates from the late 1950s. Their garments were made from high quality cotton, as this one is, often from a French manufacturer, Boussac.  One of their mainstay products was the “kit-skirt”, customers bought the fabric cut to shape and made up themselves. I just love the fact that this skirt has a story and a history to it, that I’ve been able to bring it back to life; makes it all the more delicious to wear!

UB skirt+top2

As lovely as it was, it was tiny so I needed to alter the waist to fit me. I took out a couple of the pleats at the front and put a new waistband on it. I went for a vintage-look washed out denim that I had in my fabric drawer which toned with the confetti dots but didn’t detract from the print design. I was able to keep the pleats at the back and found a button in my sewing box in the perfect colour.

As it’s a full, pleated style, it calls for a short top showing the waist. The flowered top above is a vintage M&S one which fits me well and was the boxy shape I wanted. I took a pattern from it and used the same denim as the waistband. I’m a bit partial to raw edge denim, it happens to be on trend and I thought it would give the skirt a modern twist! I was determined to use the top hat waistband somewhere!

UB jacket

The jacket was a piece I made in my 2nd year at college. The top was attached to the jacket, at the back shoulders and waist … to put it on you had to lift over the head .. not very practical. I took the top out, it wasn’t quite right with skirt so I’ve saved that for another upcycle.

I wore my tribute outfit to go to an exhibition of The Upcycle Project organised by Fashion Revolution attended by the wonderful #fashrev team, pictured below with founders Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers. The project was a 2 day upcycling workshop for fashion students, lead by experienced practitioners from the industry, including Dr Noki. They used textile waste and experimented with new techniques and materials. The garments were then exhibited and auctioned to raise money for Fashion Revolution. I’m going to have a go at the Dr Noki t-shirt slashing technique in a future upcycle.