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Top tips for Reuse, Repurpose and Recycling garments by Wendy Gardiner

Last night we saw our intrepid contestants of the Great British Sewing Bee turning a mix of garments into a bomber jacket and the final challenge, turning sweater knits into a winter dress (which seams incongruous whilst we are having such sunny weather, but of course, this was filmed last year!). Here are our top tips for re-purposing old, previously loved garments or upcycling charity shop finds.

  1. If you are going to mix woven fabrics with stretchy fabrics, consider putting some stabliser on the stretchy fabric – a strip of washaway or tearaway along the seam will work well.
  2. Cut all the garments into big pieces – don’t forget you can use some of the features such as zipped areas, pockets or plackets just like some of the contestants did.
  3. Use a walking foot to help feed the layers evenly.

  1. When placing the zip into the garment, stabilise the area with interfacing – if you are making an unlined garment, cut strips to put under the zip tape, if a lined garment, fuse it to the wrong side as usual.
  2. To fit ribbing easily use the quartering method – first make the ribbing into a circle by stitching the short ends together. Then divide it into four. Divide the garment edge into four too. Pin ribbing to garment, matching the quarter pins and then stretch the ribbing to fit as you stitch. It is also easier if you sew from inside the circle (to avoid accidently catching the underside when sewing)

If sewing ribbing to the neck edge as our contestants had to, pin at centre back and at the front. Stitch from centre back to front, stretching the ribbing as you go. Repeat for the other side.

  1. When working with old woollen sweaters, you could ‘felt’ the knits by washing on a very hot wash which will shrink them and mesh fibres together so the resulting fabric is dense – great for jackets or coats.
  2. Choose a pattern that is designed for stretch fabrics and then get hacking! If cutting big pieces into sections, remember to add seam allowances to each edge.
  3. Not only should you use a walking foot to feed the bulky bouncy knit fabrics, but you may also need to increase the stitch length a bit. Test stitch on layers of remnants of the same fabrics.
  4. Matt’s dress with the fabulous mix of patched pieces was fabulous but could have been difficult to sew without ripples or later, the seams could droop as they were cut on the diagonal. So when sewing seams that have been cut diagonally (on the bias), add stabilising strips down the seam line to prevent rippled seams and future drooping!
  5. To hem a knit dress, consider using a small single turned hem (the fabric shouldn’t fray and you don’t need the bulk of a double turned hem) and then use a twin needle to get two parallel rows of stitching on the right side. Note you do need to sew from the right side as underneath, the bobbin thread zigzags between the twin top threads.