I was really excited when Portia got in touch asking whether I’d be up for taking part in the refashioners challenge this year. I’m not much of a refashioner. Like – At. All. I’m very comfortable buying a nice big piece of fabric – often much more than I need in fact – and molding it into whatever I want. But I love a mass-participation project, I really enjoyed watching Portia’s 2015 shirt challenge unfold, and I had the niggling feeling that I was avoiding refashioning cos it involved being more resourceful and creative than I actually was. So I decided to jump right in.
After Portia let us know that the challenge would be all about jeans, I started collecting inspiration on Pinterest and thinking about what I’d like to make. This (00 Denim array) image of a pile of jeans became my key source of inspiration.
All those slightly different shades and tones of blue look so beautiful together. I was struggling to think of what garment I could make that I would actually wear that could be made from lots of small pieces of fabric. This image made me think I could use strips from different pairs of jeans to create a colour gradient. In a way, I’d be creating myself a nice big sheet of fabric, just made out of smaller bits of fabric pieced together.
My first major challenge became getting my hands on jeans. I don’t wear blue jeans and a pair of jeans in a London charity shop costs anywhere between £5 and £8 pounds. I calculate I’d need at least 7 pairs of jeans, and spending that much money seemed to not be in the spirit of this thrifty project. I tried to strike a deal in a charity shop in Chichester, asking if I could buy 10 pairs of jeans for £15 but they were having none of it and I left feeling a bit embarrassed – like I had just asked them if I could steal money from someone with cancer. The shame.
I had 2 massive laundry bags of homemade clothing that I didn’t want sitting at home. I sewed 86 garments for my first book alone, none of them fitted me and they were just taking up space in my tiny flat. I had been meaning to book a collection from the amazing charity TRAID so I emailed and asked them if they would consider swapping my handsewn garments for a pile of unwanted jeans from their stores. They kindly agreed to my proposition and one of their trucks stopped by my house to exchange the goods. They had very generously stuffed a huge bag full of blue jeans for me, and the truck driver swung my bags of clothing up into the belly of the truck and off they sailed into the sunset to be upcycled themselves into something wonderful no doubt.
The jeans were all massive! Not just in their size, but in their style. My boyfriend suggested this is probably why they have been rejected in these days of skinny and slim fitting legwear. Most of the jeans were dark or mid blue, so inspired by Portia’s suggestion of using bleach, I set to work creating some lighter shades.Here is my first lot of jeans soaking in bleach.
From this first bleaching session, I learned that jeans need a lot of water to move around in whilst bleaching. These jeans came out very patchy where different surfaces had been touching each other. I also learned that a world of sins can be hidden by the indigo dye of denim. Lots of them had looked perfectly clean whilst dark blue, but once pale showed dark spots and stains. I started to get a feel for the past lives of this cast of trousers.
For my next bleaching session I cut off all the unwanted parts of the jeans – the waistbands and front pockets – divided them into individual legs and cut up the inside seams.
I’d like to say that was my last bleaching session… But it wasn’t. I did 5 batches of bleaching all in all. I started to feel extremely bad for the oceans and rivers as I tipped yet another tub of bleachy water down my drain. I wondered if maybe I had missed the point of upcycling, which is to work with what you have rather than force an idea. A lesson to be applied to my next upcycling project! Now it was on to the pattern.
I chose the Inari dress as I wanted something with a simple design and a bold shape that would really let the denim do the talking. I hadn’t made th Inari before and I spent so much time bleaching that I ran out of time to make a toile. I spent a lot of time on the internet reading about everyone else’s Inaris (if you have made an Inari and blogged it have probably read about it!) and decided to trace the pattern off grading to a larger size at the hips as recommended by Heather. I measured the length of the longest pattern piece, laid my jeans legs out in a rough gradient and calculated how deep each strip would have to be to make up the full length of the dress.
I measured, marked and cut out all my strips (8.5cm deep in case you are wondering!).
I was actually creating a lot of waste! This was another moment where I thought maybe I was missing some of the purpose of upcycling; to use what you have wisely, rather than to throw stuff away. Again, a lesson noted for the future.
Before sewing, I numbered all my strips with tailor’s chalk so I wouldn’t get mixed up. I also remembered some advice from a quilting tutorial I watched a long time ago, which recommended sewing seams in alternate directions when joining long strips together, so that the resulting sheet of fabric wouldn’t become twisted. I drew little chalk arrows along my seams to remind myself which direction I had sewn in.
The fabric was starting to take shape and I was loving it. So was my neighbor’s cat, Dave.
I cut the front piece of the dress and was pretty pleased with the gradient effect.
Construction of the dress itself was very simple, though I had to do a lot of readjustment of the width of my denim strips so they aligned at the side seams. The inside of my dress is pretty messy as I don’t have an overlocker. But I kind of like it!
And I love, love, LOVE the finished dress. It feels strong and it feels special. It is incredibly comfy and the natural affinity of denim with workwear means it doesn’t feel showy, which is exactly what I want from a dress.
In a conversation I had with Sarah from TRAID, she said “I love working with reclaimed denim, it has such integrity.” What a great description of this incredible material. It really took some manhandling when sewing, and my finished dress feels sturdy, like it can undergo a lifetime of wear.
I’m feeling proud that I have rescued some of this wonderful fabric from unloved jeans and turned them into something durable that has real longevity. I’ve learned a lot about upcycling from this challenge, so thanks for having me Portia, and I look forward to seeing all the other creations this years refashioners inspires.
Wow, wow, wow! What a way to let the fabric do the talking. And the subtle hues of those blues and that ombre effect is completely beautiful! You can apply this technique to any number of patterns. Essentially you’re just creating a large expanse of fabric from several smaller pieces before you start. But when you’re piecing a garment like this, you are adding bulk in the process. The trick Rosie has employed here is to keep the shape simple and let the piecing and ombre effect do the talking. It just works, right? LOVE this!
Rosie has just released her second book and I can attest, it’s brilliant!! You can find Rosie here or here. And if you’re inspired to get your refashion on and enter the Community Challenge and be in with a chance of winning some epic prizes…DO IT! Deadline for entries is 30th Sept. Midnight GMT.
….I think you’ve go the idea now right? Essentially we want you to refashion some jeans! (You can find the full details/small print of the brief here). BUT, if you want to be in with a chance of winning one of these amazing prize packages you need to SHARE that refashion with us in one of the following ways:
- On Instagram: Share a pic using the hashtags #therefashioners2016 and #jeanius
- On Pinterest: There is a community board here where you can pin your makes. (You will need to request an invite to join)
- On Facebook: There is a community board here where you can post your makes (You will need to request an invite to join)
Only entries shared via the above 3 methods will be entered into the competition. Closing date for entries is 30th September 2016 Midnight GMT.