Second Wind: Breathing new life into old clothes

AUTHORS:

This was published in Kindred Issue 28 as part of a larger feature, Cotton thread count

Don’t throw away those old clothes yet! Remember the days of yore when every bit of clothing was saved and somehow reused as another piece of clothing or fabric for some other purpose. We’re all doing our best to throw away a little bit less than we’re used to, and clothing is a perfect place to start. Clothes unsuitable for wear or that you aren’t planning to donate can easily be reworked into new clothing. There’s an abundance of crafters out there doing just that—recycling clothes into new ones or ‘reconstructing’ them.

Not only does this save on the amount of trash we generate and the amount of clothing we demand to be produced, but it’s also an amazingly creative way to express ourselves and our sense of individuality. What a gift to a child not only to have the skill to create their own clothing, but to have the confidence and creativity to wear something that is truly them and not just like the same shirt that thousands of other people are wearing. You’ll be able to give your clothing as much character as the unique person wearing it.

Colour from the earth

Did you know that some of the richest dye colours might be right in
your backyard? Dyeing with plants and other natural fibres can be fun
and educational, as well as safe, inexpensive, and easy to do yourself,
as well as with your children. This was the first method by which colour
was added to textiles and one that people have continued to return to
as a way to connect to the earth and the colours it offers us. Dyeing
with natural materials is something that requires experimentation—which
is half the fun of this kind of project, especially with children.
Depending on the season, the material you choose for a colour, and the
textile to be dyed, the variations are as many as the colours of the
earth. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Brown—oak bark, sumac leaves, coffee grounds, ground acorns, marigold
  • Orange/yellow—onion skins, turmeric, goldenrod
  • Pink/red—strawberries, roses, dandelion root, red leaves, beets, hibiscus
  • Blue/purple—iris roots, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, grapes
  • Green—grass, nettles, spinach leaves, lily of the valley, rhododendron

This project does involve boiling hot water on a stove, which should
be done only by an adult. Children can be involved in the process of
selecting the materials and fabrics and, with supervision, in the
dyeing process.

What you’ll need

  • Salt
  • Cold water
  • Vinegar
  • Large pot for boiling the plant material (You may want to use one that is not for cooking, as the process can stain the pot.)
  • Rubber gloves, if desired (The dye colour may stain your hands.)
  • Fabric to dye. Muslin, silk, and cotton all work well. Start with a light colour or white to get the best results and most vibrant colours. Fabric should be clean and dry when beginning.
  • Plant material. This will vary, depending on your location and the season. Remember never to take more from the plant than you need. Berries should be ripe and nuts and plants mature when selecting for dye. Do a search online for ‘natural dyes from plants’ to get a complete list of plants to use for dye.

What to do

1. You will need to ‘set’ the fabric in a fixative before beginning to dye. This will help prevent the colour from washing out or fading. If you are using a plant to dye, you will need four parts water to one part vinegar. If you are using a berry to dye, you will use ½ cup salt to 8 cups cold water. Add your fabric to whichever mixture is suitable, and let simmer for at least an hour. Remove from the hot water, and rinse the fabric in cold water until it runs clear.

2. To make the dye bath, place your plant material in a large pot, and cover with water (you can experiment with how much water you want for different shades). Bring to a boil, and let simmer for an hour.

3. Strain the plant material from your water. Add your fabric to the drained water/dye.

4. Allow the fabric to soak as long as you like, anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight for a very strong colour. The colour will dry much lighter than it appears when wet.

5. You will want to wash your dyed fabric separately in cold water for the first few washings to see how the colour holds up and to ensure that it doesn’t bleed on your other laundry.

Excerpted from The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com

Virtually any piece of clothing can be reconstructed somehow. Look
through your discarded clothing—things that are too small, too big,
that you never wear, or that are headed out to donation or the trash.
Are there aspects of these clothes that you really like? The fabric? A
colour? A style? These are good pieces to start with. Once you’ve found
a piece of clothing that you’d like to reconstruct, sewing it is the
most obvious way to re-create it into something else, but if sewing
isn’t your thing, try one of the following ideas with (or for) your
children.

Dyeing

Perhaps with a bit of colour you’ll see this item in a new light. This is particularly true for my sweet Ezra, who really wears his shirts until they are covered with a mix of mud, marker, and spaghetti sauce. Tossing a few of these in a bit of dye gives him a whole new wardrobe!

Embellishing

What can you do to that shirt that might make it more fun for you or your child? Does it need some buttons sewn on? Some stencils created for it? Perhaps some beads, a bit of trim, or a little extra fabric will turn it into something you love.

Constructing children’s pants<br><br>What you’ll need

  • One adult’s shirt, from your closet or the thrift store. (Flannel, knit, or cotton all work well for this project. Keep in mind that knit jerseys will stretch quite a bit as you sew.)
  • A pair of elastic-waisted pants or shorts that are the appropriate size for your child. (These will be used only for tracing the size.)
  • Waistband elastic, 3/4-inch width / [2 cm].(Length should be your child’s waist measurement plus 1 inch / [2 &frac12; cm])
  • Needle, scissors, thread.

A pair of pants, pinned onto the shirt, provides a size template for your pattern.

What to do

1. You will need to ‘set’ the fabric in a fixative before beginning to dye. This will help prevent the colour from washing out or fading. If you are using a plant to dye, you will need four parts water to one part vinegar. If you are using a berry to dye, you will use &frac12; cup salt to 8 cups cold water. Add your fabric to whichever mixture is suitable, and let simmer for at least an hour. Remove from the hot water, and rinse the fabric in cold water until it runs clear.

2. To make the dye bath, place your plant material in a large pot, and cover with water (you can experiment with how much water you want for different shades). Bring to a boil, and let simmer for an hour.

3. Strain the plant material from your water. Add your fabric to the drained water/dye.

4. Allow the fabric to soak as long as you like, anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight for a very strong colour. The colour will dry much lighter than it appears when wet.

5. You will want to wash your dyed fabric separately in cold water for the first few washings to see how the colour holds up and to ensure that it doesn’t bleed on your other laundry.

Excerpted from The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com

Sewing

Then there are the endless possibilities of what your clothing can become with the help of your sewing machine or just a needle and thread—putting pieces of clothing together, swapping sleeves with another shirt, and so much more. Look at magazines or online for ideas that inspire you. Your clothing can also be used for many things other than reconstructed clothing. What else can you do with it?

What to do

1. You will need to ‘set’ the fabric in a fixative before beginning to dye. This will help prevent the colour from washing out or fading. If you are using a plant to dye, you will need four parts water to one part vinegar. If you are using a berry to dye, you will use &frac12; cup salt to 8 cups cold water. Add your fabric to whichever mixture is suitable, and let simmer for at least an hour. Remove from the hot water, and rinse the fabric in cold water until it runs clear.

2. To make the dye bath, place your plant material in a large pot, and cover with water (you can experiment with how much water you want for different shades). Bring to a boil, and let simmer for an hour.

3. Strain the plant material from your water. Add your fabric to the drained water/dye.

4. Allow the fabric to soak as long as you like, anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight for a very strong colour. The colour will dry much lighter than it appears when wet.

5. You will want to wash your dyed fabric separately in cold water for the first few washings to see how the colour holds up and to ensure that it doesn’t bleed on your other laundry.

Excerpted from The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule, (c) 2008. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com

Categories: Environmental Justice,Sustainability

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