Giving New Life to Handmade Clothes


I have been sewing my own clothes for over three years.  In that time I have tackled shirts, skirts, dresses, leggings, underwear, bags, slips, and scarves.  My plan was to sew new pieces slowly and carefully, filling holes in my wardrobe left by my ready-to-wear clothes falling apart.  I considered fabric type (cotton, soft and breathable), color (mostly neutrals), print (mostly solids because they go with everything), and style (flattering while remaining work-appropriate).

But I did not consider whether my clothes would grow with me as my body changed, whether they would provide nursing access for breastfeeding my baby, and whether they would double as maternity wear.   As a result, when my husband and I decided to start a family, some of my favorite tops and dresses were packed away.

At first I thought the situation would be temporary, that within a year I would be back to my pre-pregnancy size, reveling in some of my favorite handmade pieces.  A year later, I have finally accepted that my body is simply a different shape.  My hips are wider, my chest is still larger.  In response to these changes my style has shifted from fitted wovens to drapey knits.  I revel in the comfort of clothes that gently hug my body without drawing attention to the bumps and wiggles motherhood brought.

So what do we do with our favorite handmade clothes when they no longer fit our bodies or our style?

The nuclear option is to turn them into something else entirely.  Perhaps a tank top becomes a toddler dress or part of a quilt.  This way the fabric doesn’t go to waste, but time and additional resources (thread, for instance) are needed.  Frankly, I have an entire box of old clothes waiting to be transformed into something more useful, so I’m hesitant to add to the pile.

A less dramatic approach is to alter the clothes to fit a new shape and style.  This way a shirt stays a shirt, but its sides are taken in or let out.  A collar is added or the hem is shortened.  The time and resources required scale with the level of alterations, but there’s the chance that a quick fix will bring the piece back into the fold.

Perhaps the easiest and kindest path is to find a new home for our clothes with someone who will love them as they are.  No more time spent crafting.  No more resources spent making. Another person gets to enjoy a piece of clothing made with care under fair conditions (a mug of hot tea handy, tunes in the background, a comfy seat on the couch).

What do you do with your handmade clothes that are no longer worn?



Signs of Spring


They are everywhere now.  Hints of color or bold dashes.  Lush green.  Deep yellow, blue, purple, and orange.  After watching the gardens I pass on my way to work unfold, I finally remembered to tuck my camera in my pocket so I could remember this joy next winter when we are once again smothered in snow and ice.


I was so hesitant to photograph other people’s flowers that I waited until I reached more quiet back streets to finally take out my camera, passing by some of my favorite gardens in the process.  How silly when I stop to think of it: passing cars wouldn’t care a bit.  And yet the feeling of intruding on another person’s private space is palpable and I expect any moment for them to come out and tell me off.


But on my walk home I was too distracted by the new emergence of flowering trees – I would swear they weren’t blooming when I passed them in the morning – to care what anyone thought.  Midway through photographing the second flowering tree, a woman my age pushing a stroller stopped walking to give me time to finish a photograph.  As soon as I realized she was there I leaped out of the way, but instead of passing me by she stopped to tell me of the bloodroot flowers growing a few houses down.


Indeed, the white flowers I had photographed in the morning were bloodroot, or Sanguinaria canadensis, and they are apparently toxic.  They can also be used as a red dye, but since one of the (questionable) alternative uses of bloodroot is to kill skin cancer cells, it wouldn’t be my first choice to use on something I will have next to my skin.


Now that I’ve overcome whatever disinclination I first had about photographing other people’s flowers, the camera comes with me everywhere.  I’m hoping that by taking pictures of plants I pass in gardens, in the park, in the cracks of the sidewalk, or wherever they find a foothold, I will slowly start learning to identify what grows in our urban environment.  This is all part of a master plan to forage for both food and dye stuffs, since my ability to garden is currently contained to pots and whatever I can convince my parents to grow in their garden in Maine.  And who knows, maybe I’ll meet some kindred spirits; there’s nothing that invites conversation with strangers like doing something out of the ordinary in a public space.  I still remember the person foraging for crab apples from a tree on the main street of a small Maine town who was more than happy to tell me what she was up to – those crab apples make excellent pickles, apparently!