Something from nothing

Can you make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Can you make something out of next to nothing? This is what I set out to do when I made my jacket for New Designers 17.

Upcycling is very on-trend at the moment, make do and mend being very cool again, and so my jacket is made almost entirely of pre- and post-production waste to give it it’s fancy name. In layman’s terms, its the fabric that’s scrapped either before a garment is made or after.

The basic jacket block is made from a pre-production waste fabric sample given to me by a friend (thank you P!) from a local company that is no longer in business. The layers that are added are post-production fabrics from a variety of sources: leftover scraps from dressmaking, deconstructed redundant clothing. The top layers are deconstructed worn-out shirts that I dyed. The gold layer is new fabric – paper lurex – and the sewing thread and beads are also new. I wanted to use glass beads as they would be eventually recyclable but the weight and cost put me off. I used acrylic in the end and even these were very heavy in bulk. Not great using plastic, I know, but I felt it was ok for this experimental piece.

For the basic block I radically hacked a Grainline Studio pattern – the Tamarack jacket – and this went fairly smoothly as I had a reasonable amount of the green cotton fabric to play with.


The next stages were more tricky as I tried to make up layers using odd shapes. 

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I decided early on to dye the top layers navy and burgundy to try and bring the whole jacket together visually. This was a tenuous nod to William Morris and his medieval colour palette. Adding the gold was another link. And I do like a bit of bling! 

This jacket very much evolved as time went on, with it almost taking on a life of its own at times! Originally it was to have a beaded smocked waistband and a similar collar but these became a yoke instead when I found the pieces of fabric didn’t fit as planned. There were a few occasions when I wanted to just fling it out of the window when nothing seemed to fit anywhere, but I persevered!

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The body and sleeves were made using the layer, sew and slash method, which I  wrote about in my blog “What can you make from scraps?”. This is the right front layered up and stitched...

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...and the left front sewn and slashed.

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Then the folds were sewn to give a rippled effect. 

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Water and reflections are a constant inspiration to me and especially since my trip to Brunei and Hong Kong this year. I love how this jacket reminds me of that.

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I actually sewed the middle section of the back twice. The first time I sewed lines straight across but when I slashed them the layers of fabric began to fray because they were not cut on the bias. Why did I forget this?! 

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So, I undid the stitching of the middle section and rethought the lines to give cuts on the bias. There was a lot of use of the ruler and set square at this stage!

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The sleeves were a doddle by comparison!

Moving on to the beaded yoke, what was I thinking! I chose to smock the yoke inserting beads as I went along. It took forever! But I really enjoyed the process and although I was really up against it, time-wise, I found I enjoyed this hand-sewing stage much more than I thought I would. And, yes, more waves!

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I had serious issues trying to attach the yoke to the bodice, and because it was made of separate pieces, I had to come up with ideas to hide the joins.

Epaulettes? Collars? Nah. Tried both, abandoned both! Eventually I settled on yet more beads!


The raw edges were bound with more green cotton and it was eventually complete.


Oh, did I learn a lot from making this! The end result is in some ways better than I expected, seeing as I made it mostly from waste. I’m not entirely happy with the finish of the beadwork and I think the colours would be different if I began it again. There’s a weird blue cast to the gold in this photo but it’s just the odd lighting.


I really like the inside! At one point I thought about lining the whole thing, but I like that you can see how it’s come together, even the repairs to the damaged areas.

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I would definitely use this method of construction again, maybe washing it to give a chenilled effect.


And now I have left over a bag of bits of shirts and so on which I would like to make into something else so I will have used up everything I can.

Overall, I’m really happy with the way this worked out. I did what I set out to do, to make a jacket mainly from waste, giving new life to scraps. However, I do know that eventually this will go to landfill. Maybe not for a long time but eventually. It’s great to upcycle things but very hard to keep upcycling fabrics as they degrade so much at each stage.  More research for me to do I think!