Thursday, December 13, 2012

Upcycling - Yay or Nay?

I don't know about you but the word 'upcycling' gives me the heebie-jeebies.  It makes me think of all the amazing vintage clothing that gets turned into things like this:

This WAS a 1950s ballgown

Or this:

Ok, so maybe this was just an ordinary cardigan,
but who's going to wear it now???

Upcycling seems to mean one of the following:
  • Chop it off so its shorter; or
  • Add flowers or extra bits of fabric to it; or
  • Make it into something it was never inteded to be; or
  • All or some of the above.
What's wrong with letting it just be as it was?  I shudder to think of all the fabulous rare vintage clothing who's historical value has been destroyed by it being cut up and refashioned.

I don't have a problem with lingerie being dyed though, because you aren't changing the nature of the item, just its colour.

Upcycling is different to the concept of 'make do and mend' that was popular in the 1940s due to rationing of fabrics and other things.  Back then you would repair the clothing so it was still wearable, not utterly destroy it and make it into something unrecognisable.  Unless you are talking about making curtains into a dress - thats ok.

I started thinking about this whole upcycling thing when I realised it is the root cause of my hesitation to alter vintage clothing.

Recently I purchased this gorgeous 1950s vintage dress:

Its divine!  I love the bow detail on the shoulder and the full circle skirt which is lined in net to give it extra body.

Now I wasn't too fussed on the neckline.  Its kind of in a nowhere area for me.  Straight necklines on me either have to be high (like a boatneck), or low.  This middle distance doesn't really do anything for my figure.  It had a huge facing on the inside so it was able to be altered to make it look nicer - but I really wasn't sure if I should do it...

I thought about it all day as I was wearing the dress, and I realised that the adjustment I wanted to make was more in the 'make do and mend' spirit than upcycling.  All I wanted to do was make a small adjustment - it was still going to be an amazing vintage dress, and if I did it properly, no-one would even know that I'd changed it.

So I went home, took a big deep breath and changed the neckline:

Please excuse the lack of make-up.  The first thing I do is take off my make-up when I get home

I changed the neckline into a very shallow V, moving the centre down two inches or so.  I also moved and re-attached the bow so essentially it looked the same as much as possible.  I like it much better now.

So what are your opinions on upcycling?  Does it give you the heebie-jeebies too?



  1. Oh that poor dress - The ball gown I mean ;-P Yours looks fantastic! That's a good kind of alteration. I don't hesitate to take up or take in my vintage dresses - I usually have to alter the bust because its often too big.
    I agonized over this decision when I bought an unworn 40's dress a while ago (from Adelaide!). It was overall quite big and because of the side zip and sleeves, I couldn't just take in the sides. So I had to unpick the waist, make the darts bigger and re-sew it. This was only when I'd just started sewing and I was terrified of ruining my new dress but it worked out in the end and it's one of my favourite winter dresses :-D

    1. I had the exact same reaction when I saw that ballgown. It shows what puts me off the whole upcycling thing so well.

      And I would have agonized about altering the unworn 40s dress too. I'm terrified to even hem vintage clothing!!! Although I may be over my terrors now...

  2. I hate it when people ruin vintage pieces like in the firt picture. The only upcycling I ever did was raise the hemline. I'm petite, so it hit me around the ankles. I looked like old mother Hubbard...eeekkk!!!

    So I took off 9" and it hit me at the knee. Whoohoo!! Now it's a dead ringer for a 40s dress. I believe it is a 80s does 40s vintage.

    The Fictionista

    1. Wow - 9"... either the dress was for a very tall lady or your quite petite! Or maybe both :)

  3. Nay, with the exception of hemming. And I even do that by folding up the extra fabric instead of cutting it. That poor 50's dress!

    1. I'm a folder too Amy, and I know - that first dress is a tragedy!

  4. Did you ever see Pretty in Pink? Worst upcycling ever. A pretty 1950s cocktail dress is turned into the most hideous prom dress ever. More like downcycling, really. I think of upcycling as turning something horrible into something wearable, so maybe it's a matter of definition.

    1. No I haven't seen it Jeanne Marie - but it sounds like there is one scene that I will want to fast forward through!

      I think thats a good definition for upcycling, but so much of what I see is in fact downcycling that I'm not sure its the common definition...