Ask: 11/28/11

Have you sewn with upcycled/reclaimed fabric from the home? Anything special tips? Any secrets?


Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


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  1. I frequently use old cotton bed sheets to make dresses, skirts and other things. I love that I can find amazing vintage fabrics really cheap in the form of sheets, and usually the cotton is also very soft and flowy from years of use. For example the green birthday dress I made in august (blogged here: ) is made of two vintage bed sheets I found at my mum and dads house while visiting. Layering or interfacing can be a good idea when working with really old or well used sheets, since they tend to stretch and slip around a lot when sewing, and might need some extra stability.

  2. If it’s made of fabric, and that fabric is in good shape and interesting or pretty, I try to figure out a way to use it. Sometimes I pick apart old jackets or formal gowns to use the fabric for vests or coat linings… I usually pick up a construction secret along the way.
    Good quality second-hand bedsheets are an awesome inexpensive source for fabric-hungry 50’s dresses. Duvet covers are great, too. I picked one up on sale at IKEA for $10, it will make a floaty summer dress.
    I get “destashed” fabric from some sewists I know. They’re usually older, and sometimes the fabrics they give me are truly, truly special. The less special stuff works well for muslins. I suggest putting the word out among older friends that you sew; someone might be sitting on a stack of fabric they don’t know what to do with.

  3. I love round tablecloth skirts and I’m always on the lookout for those very large tablecloths, especially with interesting prints. My favorite was one that had a stain that I cut out, and used the seam that created to insert a zipper. It’s a circle-minus-5-degrees skirt.

  4. I’ve made a circle skirt from a round petticoat tablecloth, and I love it. Its a great way to get vintage patterns or fabrics without having to pay heaps. I also like using them because you get plenty of fabric to play with – especially from sheets, and you generally know exactly what the fabric is, if they’re labelled.

  5. I used old stained tablecloths to make a patchwork quilt for my niece. Then I liked it so much, I kept it for myself!
    A co-worker gave me the idea to use double-layered placemats to make cushion covers, by separating the two layers on one side and stuffing it.
    I have yet to make clothes from re-used fabrics, but it sounds fun!

  6. Lately when I am done with a dress or shirt, or have a chunk of fabric after a project for my self, I have been modifying it to make something for my daughter. My husband calls them her Franken-dresses. It is an easy way to be creative, the sizes for her 5 year old frame are easy and quick to sew, and we are further recycling all of our clothes and fabrics which we love.

  7. I’m going to have to be on the lookout for round tablecloths! But I truly love sewing with old bedsheets; you can’t beat three yards, at least, of fabric for $2-3! Almost all of my dresses are made from sheets, mostly because I’m too stingy to buy actual fabric. Also, I feel better that I’m recycling. Eases my guilt for all those years I’d buy something from Forever 21 and wear it twice.

  8. I can get floor length curtains (for 12′ ceilings!) at the thrift shops here in NE England for £5-6 max. I use the lining fabric for my practice muslins. The curtain fabrics are yet to be used, but I expect to make things like tote bags from them. I don’t think the prints will be very flattering in clothing on my petite frame, else I would certainly use that material for clothes!