Purls of Wisdom

Upgrade Your Back-to-School Wardrobe! 10 Fun & Crafty Ways to Upcycle Clothing

Posted by Marjanna Smith on Sun, Sep 02, 2018 @ 10:00 AM


                      Source: Google Images

Looking for a fun, unique way to be creative with your family? How about a cheap and eco-friendly one? Try upcycling, the perfect combination of originality, creativity, and sustainability for you to try with your kids. Read on to find out what it is and how you can do it at home.

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is the reuse or repurposing of an old object into a product that is more useful or more beautiful than the original. Upcycling can be super simple and kid-friendly -- for example, instead of throwing out old CDs and magazines, you can make them into mosaic picture frames and woven coasters. It can also be more complex, such as repainting and repairing a piece of furniture instead of kicking it to the curb.

Why is Upcycling Important?

You may be thinking, “Why should I take the time to upcycle? Isn’t recycling good enough?” Well, there are a lot of reasons why upcycling is so important. First, let’s establish the difference between recycling and upcycling. While recycling involves breaking down material to be reused (which decreases the material’s value), upcycling is all about finding new, creative ways to reuse the material (thus increasing its value)! So, like recycling, upcycling reduces the amount of landfill waste you generate; however, upcycling also creates a new product that has a functional and/or decorative use.


                        Source: Google Images

Next, let’s talk about waste. Remember that helpful catchphrase that everyone uses when talking about how to be more eco-friendly? Reduce, reuse, recycle! Well, I recently learned that these three actions are actually in order of importance. First and foremost, we should make the effort to reduce the amount of things we buy and resources we use (i.e., taking shorter showers and avoiding impulse purchases that we don’t really need). Next is reusing, which includes upcycling! Last is recycling -- so, while it's obviously important to recycle, it is more important to prioritize those first two steps over recycling.  

What Can I Upcycle? Why Should I Upcycle Clothes?

Upcycling can be done with any object or material you can think of -- if you can repurpose, modify, or personalize it, you can upcycle it. For this post, I decided to focus on a popular material of choice for "upcyclers": clothing. Clothing is a great medium for upcycling because it is versatile, available, and can be modified in an infinite number of ways. Clothing is also a big issue when it comes to keeping our planet clean. In 2014, the U.S. alone generated approximately 32.44 billion pounds of textile waste even though 95% of all textiles have the potential to be reused or recycled. This number will only continue to increase unless we raise awareness of this issue and the different ways we can reduce, reuse, and recycle clothing.

Now that you’ve learned how upcycling is an economical, eco-friendly, and creative activity, you must be ready for some inspiration! Whether you have thrift store finds, hand-me-downs, or old clothes of your own, here are 10 different ways you can upcycle them with your kids.

1. Tie-Dye


Tie-dye is a fun, kid-friendly way to upcycle that never goes out of style. This easy DIY will instantly upgrade any plain, light-colored clothes (and it can camouflage stains). Dye a t-shirt, tank top, skirt, pair of leggings -- or even accessories like headbands or socks! Thinking outside the box is encouraged. Let your kids’ imaginations lead the way as they combine colors and patterns into their own custom work of wearable art. Check out this guide to tie-dye for plenty of tips, tricks, and pattern ideas.


Don’t have any white clothes laying around? Don’t worry! If you have solid-colored clothing, try tie-dyeing with bleach for a new twist on this classic activity.

2. Freezer Paper Stencil


Who knew that you could use freezer paper and paint to add a design to a t-shirt? I didn’t until I found this tutorial on how to do it, and it looks as simple and fun as the pictured results.

3. T-Shirt Tote Bag


Basically all you need to make this tote bag is an old t-shirt, sharp scissors, and 10 minutes. This no-sew project is a great way to repurpose a t-shirt that is too big or no longer worn.

4. Patches, Pins, and Appliques


Personalize an old hand-me-down (or even cover up stains or holes) by adding some 3D art to your clothes! You can buy patches, pins, and appliques at craft stores and online, or you can make them yourself! See this tutorial for no-sew felt appliques and this tutorial for no-sew fabric flowers. And if you’re up to the challenge, you can try making embroidered patches by hand.

5. Stamped Clothes


To make your own printed clothing, all you need is a stamp and some paint! You can buy stamps of all kinds at your local craft store, or you can make a quick DIY stamp out of a kitchen sponge, sponge brush, or even a potato! Then simply dip your stamp in acrylic or fabric paint and press it onto any piece of clothing that you want to make 100% cuter.

6.Throw Pillow


Your child doesn’t have to say goodbye to that beloved t-shirt that has become too small to wear -- preserve it as a throw pillow! Try the no-sew, hand sewed, and machine sewed version depending on your available equipment and skill level. Leave the shirt plain or embellish it with buttons, sequins, fabric stickers, or paint designs! 

7. Unconventional Dye Techniques


Looking for something different from the average tie-dye or bleach methods? Try using some Elmer’s glue to draw a design or make a pattern with found objects and let the sun do the work!

8. T-Shirt and Tank Top Upgrades


Cutting up a top is a surprisingly popular DIY project -- and there are sooo many ways to do it. Turn a regular old t-shirt into a cold shoulder top, workout tank, or tie-front tank. Also, don’t hesitate to explore the internet for hundreds of other ideas.


If you're looking to use an old shirt in a completely new way, you can repurpose t-shirt fabric! From a simple headband to a woven pillow, t-shirt “yarn” has many colorful and practical applications.

9. Peplum Shirt


Embrace the timeless style of a peplum shape in your upcycling endeavors! Convert an oversized t-shirt into a peplum top or increase the charm (and length!) of a shirt by adding a different colored fabric for a trendy color block effect. While this project can be created through hand sewing, it is also an excellent way to practice and develop basic machine sewing skills.

10. Denim Shorts Upgrades


Cut an old pair of jeans into shorts and make them stylish using a variety of techniques! This video shows how to do modifications such as adding lace, bleaching, painting, and adding patterned fabric.


Have fun with your new, upcycled clothes! And don’t forget to share your upcycling projects with us on Instagram using the hashtag #SewMoreLove so we can see your wonderful creations!

If you and your family is feeling inspired after your adventures in upcycling, make sure to check out The Handwork Studio’s camps and classes so your child can continue to make more handmade art! Our students flourish in our nurturing environment, and we encourage creativity and original projects while developing handwork and needlework techniques for multiple skill levels.

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Saturday Studio: Dillon Eisman

Posted by Kelsey Underwood on Sat, Jul 15, 2017 @ 09:00 AM

Remember Dillon Eisman, 17-year-old founder of Sew Swag, from Maker Monday? Dillon described his studio as “organized, vibrant and galvanizing.” Check it out below!


Have you met Dillon yet? Read his Maker Monday Blog here.

Be sure to check back every week to see another amazing studio!

Want your children to learn skills similar to Dillon? You can find our summer sewing camp programs here. For project ideas join our YouTube Channel or visit our Store.

#TheHandworkStudio #SummerCamp #HandworkandMachineSewing #FashionandMachineSewing #KidsCanSew #LearntoSew #Upcycling #SewSwag



Tags: Machine Sewing, Design, Fashion, Fashion & Machine Sewing, Fashion Design, Eco Fashion, Upcycling

Maker Monday: Sew Swag Founder Dillon Eisman

Posted by Kelsey Underwood on Mon, Jul 10, 2017 @ 11:00 AM

Name: Dillon Eisman

Age: 17

School: Malibu High School

Company: Sew Swag

Established: 2014

Website: www.sewswag.org







Dillon Eisman, rising high school senior and California resident, uses his passion for fashion design and upcycling to make a difference in his community.

Hobby to Non-Profit

In need of a hobby to keep busy over summer break a few years ago, Dillon taught himself how to sew on his mom’s machine with the help of websites, such as YouTube and WikiHow.

I have always been interested in fashion design since I was young, always reading Vogue and trying to sew dresses for Barbies,” Dillon said.  

Following the discovery of his newfound talent, Dillon toured the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which shelters homeless youth. While on the tour, he learned that the shelter needed work appropriate attire for teens attending job interviews.

“When I saw people my own age on the streets with nothing to wear, I realized I needed to take action,” he said.

Knowing many donated clothing items are outdated, Dillon devised the idea of transforming donated apparel into trendy, esteem-boosting fashions. He began his mission by transforming the clothing his mom planned to donate to the shelter into trendy, fashionable pieces.

“Ever since then, I realized that I could combine my newly found skill and passion for design with helping those in my own community,” he said. “Thus, Sew Swag was born.”


A Second Chance

Dillon gives clothing with life still left and incredible stories in their seems a second chance. The designer completes a process known as upcycling, which encompasses a combination of skills including cutting, dyeing, sewing and embellishing to align old fashions with present trends.  

“Upcycling is like recycling, except with the goal of producing a product of higher value than its initial state,” he said.

Upcycling not only increases the physical value of the garments, but also uplifts the receiver's self-value, the goal of Sew Swag.

Unique Inspiration

Dillon derives inspiration and follows design plans unique to each garment he creates.

Since I deal with clothing that has been neglected, my process of upcycling always varies depending on what needs to be fixed, changed or added,” he said. “Sometimes I see a top and immediately think, ‘some trim around the cuffs and collar would really make this fabulous,’ or ‘if only this was a different color.’”


Sometimes he becomes inspired when shopping at the fabric store.

For example, I'll see a box of appliqués and buy some of them without knowing what I'll put them on until I find something that they work with,” he said.

Dillon also finds inspiration in the work of his favorite fashion designer, Alexander McQueen.

“A lot of my out-of-the-box designing stems from my love of his extravagant looks,” he said.

Overall Transformation

Dillon's favorite upcycling transformation is a set of overalls turned mini skirt. The designer strategically cut the overalls into pieces; sewing them together to form a skirt. Then, he embellished the garment with patterned elastic straps and crystal buttons.

“I was so happy that I could take something that I literally couldn't imagine anyone wearing and made it into a fun garment,” he said.

The skirt was one of the first garments selected at his recent event in Venice, California.

“It made me feel so special when Iris, the homeless girl who received it, came up to my rack and said ‘this is so beautiful’ before she even knew all the work I put into it,” Dillon said with excitement.


Innovative Solutions

As a self-taught sewer, Dillon faces obstacles involving learning new skills and using new tools to complete projects.

“One of the first pieces I've ever done was a flannel shirt to skirt transformation that I learned from an online DIY tutorial,” he said. “I didn't have French curves to cut the skirt along or a dress form to fit it. I managed to use a soup pot to fit the skirt around and a large bowl to cut along for curves.”

Dillon's quick thinking and creativity allows him to push through design barriers resulting amazing garments, which makes Sew Swag such a unique success.


Balancing Act

As a high school student, Dillon faces the challenge of balancing designing and complete homework.

“It can be very challenging trying to balance academics with growing my organization,” he said.

He often stays awake until early hours of the morning to complete all of his responsibilities.

“It can become very stressful and tiring, but at the end of the day, I am happiest when I am continuing to create and knowing that all of my effort will make someone in need very happy,” Dillon said.

To Future Designers

In regards to advising future designers and philanthropists, Dillon said, “My advice to youth with similar aspirations and dreams as me is to go out and chase them! If you can find a way to use what you love doing to help others then run with it. You are never too young to start something and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Find your vision and go out and make it a reality, because nothing will ever stop someone with a passion and the will to work hard.”

Be sure to check back every week to meet another amazing maker!

Want your children to learn skills similar to Dillon? You can find our summer sewing camp programs here. For project ideas join our YouTube Channel or visit our Store.

#TheHandworkStudio #SummerCamp #HandworkandMachineSewing #FashionandMachineSewing #KidsCanSew #LearntoSew #Upcycling #SewSwag

Tags: Machine Sewing, Design, Fashion, Fashion & Machine Sewing, Fashion Design, Eco Fashion

Saturday Studio: Anna Welsh

Posted by Kelsey Underwood on Sat, Jul 08, 2017 @ 09:00 AM

Anna describes her workspace as “organized, artsy and colorful!”

Studio Space copy-3.jpg

Have you met Anna yet? Read her Maker Monday Blog Here.

Be sure to check back every week to see another amazing studio!

Want your children to learn and be inspired in the same classes that jumpstarted Anna's passion for sewing and fashion? You can find our summer camp programs here. For project ideas join our YouTube Channel or visit our Store.

#TheHandworkStudio #Narthberth #SummerCamp #HandworkandMachineSewing #FashionandMachineSewing #Knitting #KidsCanSew #littlebagsBIGIMPACT #TreeHouseBooks

Tags: Machine Sewing, Design, Classes, Narberth, Fashion, Fashion & Machine Sewing, Eco Fashion

Maker Monday: Little Bags.Big Impact's Anna Welsh

Posted by Kelsey Underwood on Mon, Jul 03, 2017 @ 11:00 AM


Name: Anna Welsh

Age: 12

Company: little bags. BIG IMPACT

Achievements: 2017 Young Entrepreneur of the Year & 2017 Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) Saunders Scholarship Competition Semi-finalist  

Website: http://www.littlebagsbigimpact.com/

Bio: Anna Welsh, a sixth grader from the philadelphia area, has a passion for sewing, learning and protecting the environment. As a result, she founded little bags. Big Impact, a company that sells handcrafted clutch bags created from resourced vintage materials. Fifteen percent of each sale goes to Tree House Books, an organization dedicated to improving child literacy and education in the North Philadelphia area.

Big Discovery

At the age of six, Anna began taking handwork classes at The Handwork Studio, where she discovered her talent and love for sewing. She graduated to machine sewing classes at the age of 11.

“These eye-openers early on inspired me to incorporate handcrafts and other handmade materials into my everyday life,” she said.

Now, little bags. Big Impact allows Anna to continue and share her passion for sewing and helping others.

Little Materials

Anna finds the fabric for her little bags at various organizations that collect scraps from warehouse closings and local donations. 

“I have been fortunate to incorporate all of these fabric scraps into my little bags,” she said. 

Another unique touch Anna incorporates in her clutches is a zipper charm. The charms vary from tassels, to beads, to recycled earrings! 

Big Inspiration

Anna said she is always inspired to create new pieces for her collection. She often finds inspiration from her conversations with others.

“Just having a conversation with someone can change your mindset, thinking, and motivation,” she said. “Sometimes, I find myself daydreaming about how I can take an idea someone gave to me and incorporate it into my business and personal crafts.”

She also finds inspiration from reading magazines, newspapers, and books. Sometimes Anna reads a whole article; other times merely a picture strikes an idea.

Other inspirations include businesses, entrepreneurs, Instagram, and giving back to her community. Her passion for education and reading is what inspired her company’s contribution to Tree House Books.

Big Pride

Anna is most proud of the polar bear project she knitted at the age of seven. She uses the bear as a reminded of her perseverance and hardwork.

“Yeah—the eyes may be crooked and there are endless holes, but it gives me joy and pleasure just knowing that I created that piece and it is actually holding together,” she said.

Anna is also proud of her Young Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Philadelphia Center for Advancing Entrepreneurs and the National Association of Women Business Owners - Philadelphia Chapter, which she received this month (your Handwork Studio family is proud of you too, Anna!).

Facing Big Obstacles

Anna said, she has encountered obstacles when creating pieces. Her solution: talk it out with Miss Meredith at The Handwork Studio.

“I am thankful for Miss Meredith from the Handwork Studio to help me out,” Anna said. “She’s amazing and has a creative solution for everything.”

Big Advice

As for advice to future entrepreneurs and designers, Anna said, “You have to be committed and be willing to take risks. There may be long nights and you may get frustrated. However, if you are creating something you love, it will all be worth it!”

 Be sure to check back every week to meet another amazing maker!

Want your children to learn and be inspired in the same classes that jumpstarted Anna's passion for sewing and fashion? You can find our summer camp programs here. For project ideas join our YouTube Channel or visit our Store.

#TheHandworkStudio #Narthberth #SummerCamp #HandworkandMachineSewing #FashionandMachineSewing #Knitting #KidsCanSew #littlebagsBIGIMPACT #TreeHouseBooks

Tags: Design, Classes, Narberth, Knitting, Fashion, Fashion & Machine Sewing, Eco Fashion

Saturday Studio: Kelsey Underwood

Posted by Kelsey Underwood on Sat, Jun 17, 2017 @ 09:00 AM

“This is one of the amazing studio spaces at my school, Virginia Commonwealth University. My workspace is typically filled with music in my headphones, vibrant inspiration boards at my side, and a measuring tape around my shoulders.”    

-Kelsey Underwood

Viriginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Fashion Design Studio

Have you met Kelsey yet? Read her Maker Monday Blog Here.

Be sure to check back every week to see another amazing studio!

Want your children to learn and be inspired by Kelsey this summer, you can find her at our Avalon, NJ Camp, West Chester, PA and our Newark, DE Camp. For project ideas join our You Tube Channel or visit our Store.
#Avalon #IndependenceSchool #WesterChester #SummerCamp #MachineSewingCamp #CraftCamp #KidsCanSew #VCU

Tags: creativity, Fashion Camp, Design, Studio, Sewing, Fashion, Fashion & Machine Sewing, Fashion Design, Eco Fashion

Maker Monday: Eco Fashionista Kelsey Underwood

Posted by Kelsey Underwood on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 @ 11:00 AM


Name: Kelsey Underwood

Age: 21

School: Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)

Studio: The Handwork Studio

Bio: My name is Kelsey Underwood and I am a second year counselor at The Handwork Studio. I am also a fashion merchandising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Passionate about eco fashion, I recycle old fabric and clothing by transforming them into new pieces.


Scrappy Kid

As a child, I learned how to sew before I learned how to write my name. Since both of my parents worked, my grandparents looked after me during weekdays. My grandma often sewed and mended on her sewing machine. Sitting on the floor right at her feet, I would collect and quilted pieces of her scrap fabric together. My grandma taught me the beauty behind each fabric; telling me stories of when and where she purchased each one.

Fast forward 18 years, I am a two-time top gold Delaware State Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) Recycle and Redesign STAR Event winner, 2013 gold National FCCLA Recycle and Redesign STAR Event winner and 2014 silver National FCCLA Recycle and Redesign STAR Event winner.

Thrifty Inspiration

When planning my designs, I visit thrift stores to search for standout fabrics. When creating eco fashions, I find designing with an open mind is the best approach. Searching for reusable garments in thrift stores with very specific design expectations can cause frustration. The stories of vintage textiles inspire my creations.

A Vision in Curtains

While on a trip at the local thrift store, I spotted pink and silver floral curtains that had a purpose of becoming a chic, European cocktail dress. I am most proud of my curtain cocktail dress not only because it is award-winning, but also because I overcame several obstacles while working through the construction process. 

Working with old fabrics definitely has its challenges. For this particular project, my first challenge occurred while still in the thrift store. The beautiful, pink curtain did not have enough yardage to construct the entire dress. After searching through numerous racks, I found a beautiful white curtain. During the construction process, while stitch ripping a seam, I soon learned that my sewing machine needle left permanent holes in the fabric. Thankfully, I could strategically sewed the new seam on top of the fine holes. This project definitely taught me patience, precision and perseverance.

Teaching Green

As a busy college senior who studies long hours and serves as Collegiate DECA at VCU president, I struggle finding time to sew during the school year. However, my summers working  as a counselor at The Handwork Studio are full of fun, sewing and eco fashion! I always encourage my students to recycle by transforming their scrap fabric into hair accessories, belts, scarves and more. I am so excited to work with such talented and inspiring students again!

To Future Eco Fashionistas

I advise kids who are passionate about both art and eco fashion to set goals, write them down, share them and take action. Your art and contributions, big or small, matter and make a huge impact on the world! Creating eco fashion projects is so rewarding and fulfilling. You not only reduce waste in landfills, but also create a unique, new look!

Be sure to check back every week to meet another amazing maker!

Want your children to learn and be inspired by Kelsey this summer, you can find her at our Avalon, NJ Camp, West Chester, PA and our Newark, DE Camp. For project ideas join our You Tube Channel or visit our Store.
#Avalon #IndependenceSchool #WesterChester #SummerCamp #MachineSewingCamp #CraftCamp #KidsCanSew #VCU

Tags: Machine Sewing, Avalon, Design, Fashion, West Chester, Eco Fashion, Newark