Recyling challenge

posted in: WIP (work in progress) | 11

Have you ever bought an item from a charity shop because you like the fabric, and then remodelled it into something completely different?

Recently I bought some nice old embroidered antimacassars from Cancer Research. Antimacassars used to be draped over the back of sofas and easy chairs to protect the fabric from hair-oil, and similar. Perhaps people were grubbier, or sofas just had to last longer. But these items are rarely used today (except on trains and aeroplanes), and are often for sale in charity shops. I have seen this “flower basket” design many times, and was probably a really popular design in its heyday.  There are five pieces (one large, and four smaller), and I think I could make a dress or top from them. The linen cloth is really nice quality. One blog I like is Trash to Couture. Laura produces some really beautiful pieces from thrift shop finds – but beware she looks like a model and can make a doily or tiny T-shirt skirt look amazing!

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When I was growing up you could still get amazing vintage clothes at low prices – flapper dresses, silk satin evening dresses, amazing original shoes and underwear. But most of these treasures now find their way direct to the much more expensive vintage industry. Recycled usually means not very nice, hardly wearable or grim design. You can rarely take an item and just incorporate it wholesale into your wardrobe. I find that Shelter, a UK charity close to my heart, has many new clothes, especially the branch in Finchley Road. They get the samples from M&S and other big shops (usually with the labels cut out). These can be really great items at about half or less price. My yellow leather skirt came from Shelter and Autograph this season has the same skirt in light turquoise – obviously yellow was seen as too out there. My skirt was £60. Yellow leather skirt and hand printed top

Yellow leather charity shop skirt


The turquoise version is in the shops for £199.

Autograph skirt
Autograph skirt

While it is relatively hard to find a really nice outfit in the charity shops, second-hand clothes can be a very cheap way to acquire antique or unique fabric, or yarn. This weekend in one of the many charity shops in Clitheroe – raising money for the YMCA – I found an extra-large knitted jumper with Rupert Bear on it. Hmm. If I were a keen knitter I would have had that and unravelled it. Instead, at Help the Aged, for just over £4, I got a tiered maxi skirt in soft cotton, lined in plain white cotton.

Charity shop long skirt
Long skirt

Obviously it’s horrid, and I haven’t attempted to style it with a toning top, belt, and reasonable shoes. My navy and white rabbit socks look ludicrous. But even with styling I can’t say much for this item. It is exactly the type of garment worn, with headscarf and sleepy baby, by Roma beggars in our nearby Edgware Rd.

However close up you will see the fabric is quite pretty, and probably made in India where it imitates a wood block print. I picked it up as it included charcoal grey, two slightly different colours of turquoise, green, white and a nice bright red pink. I was thinking it may have a role to play in my SWAP this year, with its emphasis on re-cycling.

close up of turquoise black and red fabric
Recycled cotton

It looks a bit like William Morris’s Strawberry Thief, at least from a distance.

Strawberry Thief by William Morris
Strawberry Thief by William Morris

Because the skirt is a large size, gathered, full length and unshaped it will yield quite a bit of fabric. I don’t know what I will use it for at the moment. Maybe a top, a scarf or even a lining.

And I bought something else. A bright blue Angora/Wool Kangol beret for £2. The problem is – it’s very itchy. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?

Kangol beret
Kangol beret


11 Responses

  1. sweatyknitter

    Ahhh, yes, antimacassars! Once commonly put on sofas and high-backed arm chairs to protect the upholstery – an unusual name. In the mid 19th century, a very popular men’s hair product was Macassar oil – used since the late 1700s. It had the properties of an oily ointment – destined to leave greasy marks on upholstery! By 1850 people began adorning their upholstered chairs with “antimacassars.”

    And Great patterned fabric!

  2. Stephanie

    This is a very interesting post, Kate, and I like the fabric of the skirt. That should make something lovely. I look forward to seeing what you do with the antimacassars, too. Love the yellow skirt!

    When I was in my late teens and early twenties most of my clothes came from vintage shops on Queen St. in Toronto. In those days, you could also still get gorgeous things at reasonable prices. I had a collection of 1930s-1950s women’s suit jackets in pristine condition that cost me very little and furnished my first work wardrobe. Even the buttons were something to look at. These days, you can get nice pieces, but they either cost a fortune or if they don’t they are not in ideal condition. It’s a shame. A few years ago, people were saying that Winnipeg was a great place for vintage, because it was a small city that was relatively unknown and had a good stock of dead stock and other garments from the early twentieth century. Hollywood actually arrived there and cleaned out much of the stock for film costumes, as I understand it. That said, the market in London is a completely different story…

    Interestingly, it’s not so easy to find vintage in Italy, although there has recently been a surge in openings of vintage shops in Florence (and possibly elsewhere). My understanding is that there is not really a culture there of wearing second-hand clothes. Gianni thinks it’s strange if it is not something previously owned by family! That said, even with shops cropping up like mushrooms, I haven’t found anything particularly interesting there and the prices are high. At some of the markets you can get seconds or vintage clothing, but they usually aren’t the nicest pieces. My mom has charged me though with the task of finding some vintage linen fabric for some work she is doing, so I will be on the hunt over the holidays.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for another informative and interesting comment Stephanie. Some people and cultures seem to have a problem wearing “dead people’s” clothes, but your first work outfits sound amazing. I know a lot of the stuff we don’t want gets shipped by the container load to Africa where low income workers manage to put some pretty good looks together from second hand clothes. africa

      • Stephanie

        That’s cool, Kate. I have always admired the creativity of students, for example, who work with low budgets and second-hand clothing and put together great looks. It looks like there is a photo in the comment but I can’t see it (there’s an x).

    • Julie

      Good post and I echo the request for follow up on the antimacassars as I come across those often. Stephanie, I’ve now lived in Winnipeg for five years and appreciate your observation! I haunt the various charity and thrift shops and my best finds are vintage fur coats. Not everyone’s cup of tea but they are warm and stylish and I love the workmanship. Where else can you buy a gorgeous pristine mink coat for $65! I recently acquired high quality vintage clothing from the friend of a friend’s estate. The lady was tall and I am not. But these clothes are worth refashioning and altering. Lots of wool and cashmere sweaters/jumpers with moth holes but they are from the oversized 80s era so some I can take in and use as is why others have become fabric sources. I even made dog jackets from sleeves for a friend’s now well-dressed and warm Yorkie.
      BTW, yellow leather skirt = wow!

  3. Caroline

    Ooh this is a subject close to my heart. I still buy lots from charity shops. May be it is different in the provinces: less demand from a smaller number of people maybe? I always go into charity shops in ‘posh’ towns as I have often found really good quality clothes there. Today I was wearing a beautiful short tweed jacket with a velvet collar made by Winsmore. I bought it for £8 with its pleated skirt. I used to wear the skirt too but it was too long and bulky for me and has been returned to a different charity shop for someone else to enjoy. I also own some lovely Hobbs sandals and a quirky Nicole Farhi cardigan – both seemingly brand new!

    But a passion of mine is buying and altering second hand clothes – I actually prefer it to straight forward dressmaking. I have made tops from silk scarves, dresses from tablecloths, styled jackets from baggy ones, shorts from skirts and patched and sewn together all manner of items. When my younger sister first went to school in 1977 I turned a bottle green skirt I had made for myself into a small pinafore. It was completely different from anyone else’s and yet still fulfilled the uniform criteria. For a while I used to be handed adult clothes to be restyled as funky items for people’s kids. It was such fun!

    I still love dressing up and my younger son used to try out all sorts of weird and wonderful combinations of clothes – until he became too self conscious – at about 15 (quite late, huh?)

    I wish I had photos to send you but my techno skills aren’t yet quite up to it.

    As for that lovely skirt fabric – how about a sixties inspired shift dress with matching bolero jacket..?

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