Similar to recycling, yet with a fundamental difference, upcycling is the process by which we reuse an item for another purpose without profoundly altering its original composition. Plastic bottles, for example, can be recycled by shredding, processing and reassembled into many other types of products like carpets, children’s toys even fabrics. Cut up an old sweater and upcycle into a pair of gloves, hat and scarf or a sweat shirt into a toddler’s jumper which keeps the original material still recognizable as to its former use. Both reconstructed processes however, reduce the amount of waste that impacts our environment.
Customize a long-sleeved solid-color, collared, button-down (or button-up) shirt into one of wearable art. If the collar has a collar stand - that part of a two-piece collar before it folds down, a beautiful print fabric can be used to cover the inside of the collar stand or band. Since the collar stand is a somewhat standardized component of a two-piece collar, any shirt pattern of similar size that had one can be used as a template. Cut out the print fabric using the template and hand stitch over the inside of the collar band. Using the same fabric, cut out two pieces to use to cover the inside of the shirt cuffs. If the shirt has a pocket or pockets, use a small fabric piece over the pocket top edge, perhaps with an antique button as embellishment.
Admittedly, hand sewing is in order to accomplish the shirt transformation, however the end result is charming. Different fabrics can even be used as coverings on the same shirt for a decidedly modern look.
Another way to customize a classic long-sleeved shirt is to cut the sleeves to elbow or three-quarter length and sew on lacey trim that would peek out from the underside of the sleeve. Add a piece of flat lace to cover the outside of the collar by hand stitching the lace to the collar for a new upcycled look.
A favorite classic denim shirt alternative would be to spray a weak bleach solution – usually 50% water and 50% bleach, onto a simple stencil placed on the shirt front to create an interesting pattern. Additional embellishments may be to add interesting buttons, crystals or pearls, or simple embroidery over the design element created by the bleach solution.
Consider cutting off the collar and sleeves of the shirt entirely and adding a narrow ruffle around the neckline and down the center button-hold front, made of lace or contrasting fabric, for a totally different strategy to upcycling the classic shirt.
These are just a few of the ideas that can be a starting point for upcycling and reimagining a classic women's shirt into a fascinating wearable fashion statement. What was once perhaps thought old, can be made new and fresh again.
Sew happy, sew inspired.