A Stitch in Time- Part 2, by a Florida Mom

Recycle and Redesign!


With the cost of fabric today, few women continue to sew clothing. Sewing has become more of a craft hobby. With this cost in mind, it pays to look for other options for fabric. Yard sales, consignment shops, and thrift stores provide an additional source, either fabric pieces or larger size clothing in good condition. If you shop at a fabric store, make sure you look for sales and use coupons.

Repaired or Restyled Man’s Button Front Shirt

A man’s button front shirt can be recycled by adding a new collar and cuffs from similar or contrasting fabric, using the worn ones for the pattern. To re-cut a shirt with a smaller size pattern, take the larger shirt apart at the seams and cut pieces with the smaller pattern. It might be possible to utilize the shirt front placket with buttons and buttonholes without redoing them but additional buttonholes are usually required and the collar and cuffs would have an additional seam in the back.

Man’s Shirt Recycled Into A Girls or Ladies Skirt

A men’s large long-sleeved shirt (or two) can also become a girl’s or ladies’ skirt. Cut off the sleeves, and re-cut and piece them together for the waistband. Cut off the collar and rip the shirt open at the shoulders. Press the fabric. Consider utilizing the front buttons down the front of the skirt for your closure (or stitch it closed most of the way). Re-cut using your favorite skirt pattern. (Make sure to line up the “straight of grain” markings on the pattern with the grainline of the shirt; no cheating on this or your skirt won’t hang straight!) Add pockets, if desired, and then stitch the side seams. Add a waistband or add extra buttonholes and buttons as needed. Group them differently to add styling.

Man’s Shirt Recycled Into Kitchen/Garden Apron

An old button front shirt can also become a kitchen/garden apron. For a sleeveless option for warmer weather, use the collar and front of the shirt. Leave the collar attached to the front. (The button-front neck opening allows for easy access as well). Remove the back; angle the cut from the shoulder/collar line to the side seam, and remove the sleeves (save them for cutting apron ties). Finish the edges with a hem, or make binding from the extra fabric and add ties.

Children’s T-shirts Recycled From Larger T-shirts

Children’s t-shirts can be made from larger t-shirts, also. You can use the finished hem and finished sleeve hems, and it goes together quickly. Sometimes you can re-use the neck ribbing, if it is wide enough, or just cut a new neckline and facing and re-design the neckline. Leftover pieces can be used for matching doll or teddy bear clothes. Pajama pants can also be cut from old t-shirts, using a pattern for drawstring or elastic waist shorts a size larger than the child wears.

Pillowcase Dresses

There are also patterns available for a young girl’s “pillowcase dress”, utilizing the embroidered pillowcases from Grandmother’s hope chest. These are simple drawstring neckline dresses that are great for warm weather wear. Shirts and skirts can both be re-cut to make these simple dresses.

One of my daughters went clearance shopping with a friend and both found skirts they liked. They each bought two– one in their own size and one in a plus size. Then my daughter made them vests from the larger piece of fabric in the plus size that matched their skirts.

When you learn how clothing is constructed, you also have the option to tailor your purchases for a better fit. Sometimes an additional dart makes the fit better, and sometimes an extra button and buttonhole are required for modesty. A clearance item that requires a simple repair you know how to do can be a budget bonus.

Re-design Options – Time for Creativity!

I taught a ladies’ sewing class at a ministry center for a number of years. We had donated clothing, trims, and fabrics. Each project we planned taught a different skill set. A simple lined tote bag taught a “bagging” concept to hide all the beginner mistakes; and it let them take home a finished project the first day. A pillowcase dress utilized French seams and homemade binding. A group quilting project demonstrated the complete process. Simple pattern projects taught the basics of layout, cutting, and following instructions.

Stories of Class Creativity

My favorite class time, however, was when the women had learned the basics and became creative. They looked at the donated clothing with new eyes. Some items were chosen for the fabric, and then cut up and re-designed. A rather risqué crocheted dress received a more modest lining and was ready for church. A pair of loose pants (turned upside down) was re-cut into a dress. A band of color was added to lengthen a skirt. A coordinating bolero style jacket updated a sleeveless dress. Pray for new eyes to see the possibilities in re-design.

Extra fabric from shirts and old skirts can be re-designed to make a colorful tiered skirt with each layer increasing in width for a nice flare. The pieces of fabric you have available determine the number of tiers. Coordinate your colors, or not. You’re the designer. The simplest waistband style would be a pocket opening with a button, or make an elastic waistband. (Just make sure the first tier fits over the hips!) If you’re focused on creativity, find some scraps of used clothing with pretty embroidery and use it for patches or part of a tier.

A Shirt Redesigned Into An Overblouse

An out of style shirt/blouse can be made into an overblouse. Cut off the collar, and use a French curve to smooth out the front collar edge. Edge with scrap fabric or something decorative, like a silk tie in coordinating or contrast color, or crochet a new decorative edge.

Loose-legged Pants Become A Skirt

Loose-legged pants that fit at the waist can be re-stitched to become a ladies’ skirt. Rip out the inner leg seam and the crotch seam, up to where the curve ends. Try it on inside out, and pin/mark a smooth flow from the straight front seam to the hem. Stitch the seams and plan to add a slit or kick pleat; the bottom hem may be too narrow for ease of movement without it.

Use Old Jeans For New Skirt

A pair of jeans that have worn out but still have a stable waistband can be trimmed above the crotch line (at least ½” below the end of the zipper) to become the wide waistband for a new flared skirt. If you have enough worn out jeans, cut panels out of denim to “renew” the skirt. You could also alternate denim and colorful cottons; add triangular flares between the panels; or use it as the top of a tiered skirt.

Think About Purpose Of Your Re-Designs

As you re-design, be aware of the way your body moves and the purpose of the clothing item. Examine clothing you have that fits well and moves with you. If you need more room for arm movement, cut the underarm curve higher/more shallow (not deeper); and change the sleeve curve to match. Think. BDU/ACUs are obviously made for much different types of movement than dress slacks. Use your worn-out favorites as patterns for something new.

Growing up, my daughters liked comfort and modesty. I used t-shirt cotton knit to make them split skirts or culottes. I started with a knit shorts pattern a size larger than they wore, but I added several inches to the width and a flare on the outside edge. You decide the length. Colorful wide elastic (thrift store belt) can be applied directly to the top. Plan ahead for what you’ll need. You can also add an extra inch to the top and stitch a tube for threading the elastic. The girls looked feminine, but they could stop and climb a tree without worrying.

Mini-skirts (full/flared) were going out of style about when my five-year-old needed some new clothes. We picked up a few skirts at the consignment shop, tightened up the elastic in some, cut several inches out of others, and she had a new wardrobe. She had cute skirts that were long enough (on her) to cover her knees! Think outside the box! Skirts that are too short for a taller girl can be adjusted for younger children.

Machine Maintenance

Get comfortable now with maintenance and repairs of your sewing machine. Take the machine apart (older machines work best for this; the new ones are not made to accommodate any major repairs), clean the lint (large make-up brushes are great for lint), and examine the function of the machine. Oil the moving parts but don’t overdo it. (An overzealous repairman once left my machine dripping oil on my fabric for months!). And lubricate the gears. If you have machine problems, there are lots of videos on the Internet on repairs.

Pass It On

Interest your children. Start with the basics and teach everything. Teach them how to hold the scissors to cut without chopping; how to pin pattern pieces to maintain the shape; why “straight of grain” is important, why not to sew over pins, et cetera. Challenge them to figure out the order of sewing by ripping apart an item and noticing the seam overlaps (and taking notes to put it back together in reverse order). Find a project that interests them, a simple string backpack, a tote bag, pillows or cushions for their bedroom, upholstery, et cetera. Ask them to oil and repair the machine.

Overcoming Fear of Sewing Machine

Children five and up can overcome their fear of a machine with some simple projects. Let them try out all the stitches by making a machine sampler with different thread colors. By learning how to properly thread the machine and insert the bobbin correctly; and by changing colors of thread and trying out all the stitches, stitch lengths, and widths, they get comfortable with the machine. When they’ve finished experimenting, they can finish it as a wall hanging, pillow, potholder, or pencil case.

A Skill to Enjoy

Sewing is a skill to develop and enjoy. When you first learn to sew, you use a lot of pins to hold things in place. As your skill develops, you use fewer pins and learn how the pieces fit together more easily. Have you ever watched a professional seamstress? She knows the order but also which piece goes on top to make a curve stitch together smoothly, sometimes with no pins at all! Don’t be afraid! Start with children’s clothing. Find some fabric or large shirts at a thrift store and start learning without spending a lot of money.

God bless!

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part two of a two part entry for Round 73 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
  8. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
  6. A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
  7. A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value), and
  8. RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
  6. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).

Round 73 ends on November 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. I want to thank you for two of the very best articles I have read in a good long while. As you mentioned sewing has almost become a lost art. I can count on one hand all the people I know that still know how and use their knowledge of sewing for the benefit of their families or communities. I for one would like to hear more from you and other like minded people. what will we do when the shtf for sure and the grid goes down and no cloth period will be manufactured. No more thread. no more needles, no treadle machine parts being made or available due to loss of communications and the list goes on and on. Where and how will our shoes be repaired? where will we get batting for quilts and heavy winter clothes etc. Again, Thank you for a thought provoking article! God Bless all your endeavors.

  2. Thank you so much for this great article! I hardly know anyone who even thinks about saving, mending or redesigning clothing let alone knows how to do it! I’ve been asked lately to repair work jeans with holes in the knees and after patching on the backside with denim I’m having fun adding hearts and other shapes with the patches on the outside. Many comments and the guys are proud to wear them.

  3. Thank you for an interesting article, with lots of bright ideas.
    So many items apparently on their way out can be stored to come in handy later. I’m thinking here specifically of Grandpa’s old best braces, which contained yards of thick red elastic making waist bands for pretty skirts. Old denims, and summer dresses re-purposed. Old T shirts cut into strips and crocheted make very useful door mats and pet beds and are virtually indestructible as well as washable.
    However sorting and storing your notions and equipment in an easily accessible location is necessary.

    Thanks again for providing hints on an essential subject.

  4. Interesting article. I can remember as a kid, playing with my taylor grandfather’s machine. Do spend time with your kids doing simple tasks, the learning environment is so much more productive than modern schools.

  5. I really enjoy sewing, especially redesigning clothes. I seldom make an entire garment from scratch anymore, but if I do, I usually try to make the pattern myself. I shop thrift stores for fabric. The local thrift store has a brown bag sale, which is $10 right now. Any clothes that will fit in that bag are $10. I can fit a lot in a bag! I use them for fabric. I have done lots of stuff. I took 2 t shirts and made a pair of shorts. I make bras out of the stretchy women’s shirts. I am scheming up some other projects too. Maternity clothes can be made from other clothes. The Internet has so many ideas. I never bought maternity clothes.

  6. It is nice to know there are a few people with sewing skills left in this country. Most of the fabric stores in my area have closed and the few stores carrying fabric are “craft” stores which do not carry quality material. I go to the thrift stores and buy 1/2 price items of good quality and “re-engineer” them in to useful items. Thanks for the article.

  7. We have Amish north about 60 miles. We have Mennonites about 60 miles southwest. They know what quality is and the have fair and reasonable prices. I realize strip mall rent is insane and our local fabric store is ridiculous compared to those in homes and barns.

  8. You can get good fabrics for good prices on Ebay.

    Also, search New York Garment District Fabric Stores. This will bring up a number of them. You can order samples, and they will ship anywhere. I have bought from B&J Fabrics (expensive high end), and New York Elegant Fabrics (everything you can think of). Most of my old stomping grounds are out of business, unfortunately. Mood Fabrics also has a good reputation, but any of them should be safe to buy from, as long as you don’t see bad reviews.

    Just tell them what you want (black wool garbardine, lightweight denim, cashmere, chantilly lace, cotton shirting, heavyweight linen, boiled wool, lining fabric, or whatever). They sell to designers all over the world.

  9. Thank you for these 2 wonderful articles! I sew but it seems to be a lost art. As a teenager, I practically lived at International Silks and Woolens, in LA. I would pour over fashion magazines and then re-engineer patterns to be “Vogue” ready. I have always shopped thrift/consignment/odds n ends shops for material. A large REAL cashmere sweater can become many things! I have a friend who even unravels sweaters of good quality, and then re-knits them into new garmets. The ideas to be creative are just endless. I feel sorry for women who are enslaved to designer names and ready made clothing.

Comments are closed.