Tag Archives: recycling

What I Didn’t Buy – Ties + Denim = Disaster Skirt

When shopping at the Goodwill Outlet bins, I never know what I’m going to find.  For each found treasure, there are probably one thousand pieces of drek.  I’ve gotten really good at filtering out the Forever 21 and the Kathy Lee junk, but sometimes a garment will surface that makes me stop and think.  This is such a piece.

I posted this photo on Instagram, and got some really interesting comments.  One person asked if it mattered when the ties were so ugly.  Another pointed out that it could be the work of a student, as some schools’ textiles programs assign a tie reworking project.

My objection to this skirt has nothing to do with the ugliness of the ties, though there are some ugly ties there.  I’m not concerned with the haphazard construction.  And at this point in time, I can’t see that there would be much of a market for these late 1970s and early 80s ties.  What really bothered me was that I’m very certain that 7/8 of each of the sixteen ties and 3/4 of the denim from the skirt ended up in the trash, all for a skirt that was probably never worn.

A lot has been written lately about how much textile waste each person living in developed countries generates in a year.  I’ve read everything from sixty to seventy-five pounds of waste per person.  At that rate we will soon be buried in fiber.

There is no way that the Goodwill in my area can sell in their retail stores all the stuff that is donated.  Much of it never even reaches the store, as items thought to be unsalable go straight into the bins.  Items that have been on the sales floor for over a period of time are culled and put into the bins.  Even after spending hours in a bin that is sorted through by dozens of eager shoppers, there is a lot of textile items that are left unsold. At that point the leftovers are baled and sold to a rag house.

There is a great article in The New Republic about how these raggers work.  Basically, cloth items are sorted into three groups:  the really good stuff and vintage which is sorted and sold to vintage and other resale shops, the okay stuff which is sent to developing countries, and the stuff that is so bad that all they can to is sell it to be made into rags, felt, and other reprocessed cloth.

The article mentions that there are people in these rag houses who are trained to spot vintage clothing.  I’ve read elsewhere that some of these companies actually let vintage shop owners come in and sort through.  I do hope that all the great things that I see, but can’t justify buying, end up in a nice vintage store somewhere.

There is never a shortage of neckties in thrift stores, and my Goodwill is no exception.  I imagine that ninety percent of the ones that go through that place end up at the rag house.  But at least those ties will be recycled into rags or whatever for industrial use, and will not land in a landfill somewhere like the unused portion of the skirt ties most likely did.

But what about the project itself?  Is there any hope for the dated and seemingly ugly tie?  What can be made with all the millions of out of style neckties?

Actually, I think there is some hope for a similar project.  In this case, not only was the choice of ties unfortunate, but the execution of the project was poor.  Instead of overlapping and stitching the ties, they could be placed edge to edge and zig-zagged.  They could even be left unstitched, to make a dancing skirt with a lot of movement.  But most importantly, some actual pretty ties could be used, like those from Liberty of London.  But then, how does one come up with sixteen Liberty neckties?

As I spotted this skirt, another shopper also spotted it.  In one of the great cross-overs from digital to real life, this shopper was Jessamyn, who is a reader of this blog and who recognized me.  We ended up in a conversation that included the question of what can be done with unwanted neckties.  She mentioned that she had made crazy quilts using some of the wonderful silk ones she had found.  And that is a good point, for though it seems like the thrifts are full of the tacky ones from 1982, there are also plenty of fabulous Italian silks.

I recently mentioned that I always buy the Liberty ties because they make great bias binding and can be used for small projects.  Reader Nancy was so kind as to send to me two lovely Liberty ties she had found.  It’s just too bad that not all the old neckties were made of such wonderful fabric.

One last thought: I can’t help wondering if the ties that I consider to be ugly and pretty much worthless will someday become desirable.  It has happened before with neckties from the 1940s.  

Interior look at how the ties were attached to the skirt.


Filed under I Didn't Buy...

Currently Reading: Cath Kidston’s In Print

I was vaguely familiar with the Cath Kidston name when I spotted this book at a thrift store recently.  And the subtitle, “Brilliant Ideas for Using Vintage Fabrics in Your Home”, pulled me right in.  I finally got around to reading it in the quiet hours after Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s pretty much just a picture book, with lots of soft and romantic prints splashed across each page, so I was able to get through it in one sitting.

For people not in Britain where the Kidston company is located, a bit of history is in order.  According to their website, Kidson became interested in vintage fabrics while working for a dealer of antique fabrics.  In 1993 she set up shop, making accessories from vintage fabrics and selling her own fabric based on a vintage wallpaper design.  By 1999 the business was a huge success and Cath Kidston released her first book, Vintage Style.  Now there over a dozen books, including the one above, published in 2006.

As with any “lifestyle” book that is written by someone who has a product to sell, the lines of vintage fabric and Cath Kidson fabric are somewhat blurred in the book.  Which are actually vintage prints, and which are Cath Kidston prints are not clearly identified in the text.  Perhaps they are all vintage, but some do look like updates to me.

In one section on abstract prints, I was impressed by one particular passage:

Abstract prints are still easy to pick up and well worth looking for, despite the fact that they are becoming increasingly fashionable.  There are famous designs by artists such as Lucienne Day, which are expensive and collectible.  They tend to appear at better auction houses and are a serious investment, not to be chopped into cushion covers.  Because I know little about this era, I am always cautious about cutting fabric up for cushions without looking at the seams.  Fabrics are normally named along the edge if they are by a famous studio or artist, so it is really worth checking before you get out the scissors.

Could it be that there is someone out there advocating caution before chopping up old textiles?  But later on, this brought me back to reality:

Some of the best painterly prints can be found on old fifties sundresses and summer skirts.  For me, the problem is that they never fit because they all have such tiny waists, so chop them up.

If you are in the UK, then if you take Kidson’s advice, you very well could be chopping into a Lucienne Day textile, as she did produce fabrics that were used by such dressmakers as Horrockses.  If you are in the US, then you might be cutting into a Picasso or Klee print from the Modern Masters line that was used by designers such as Claire McCardell.

Caution should be taken before cutting into any textile.  I’m a believer in redesigning old unwearable clothes that have no real value otherwise, and I have little problem using my stash of vintage fabrics.  But some thought has to go into the decision-making process before cutting.  Any vintage garment may have historic value, not just those by a famous designer.

As a collector of sportswear, I know that a 1920s wool sweater for a woman is much rarer than a beaded  party dress of the same era.  We need to be preserving a full range of what people wore, not just the couture and the special.

Okay, I’m not a fan of big rose prints, so I couldn’t really relate to the photos nor to the style promoted by the book.  Today, Cath Kidston is big business.  The prints are a bit trendier, and cute in a mumsy sort of way.  I have to admit that if I were traveling to London this season I’d be tempted by the London Christmas print umbrella.  It’s a seriously great novelty print.

Edited to correct spelling errors.


Filed under Currently Reading, Viewpoint

Brooks Brothers Linen Shirt Re-do

I thought I’d continue with yesterday’s topic of remaking textile items by showing you a project I recently finished.  The danger of going to a thrift clearance center where stuff is sold cheaply by the pound is that it is hard to resist things that I can’t wear or that are not collectible, but that are made of great fabric.  This Brooks Brothers shirt, made out of a beautiful indigo linen (contrary to the faded out look of my photo), is a good example.  It was too small for my husband, but I have a hard time leaving indigo linen in any form behind.

So I bought it, and then started looking on the internet under such as “man’s shirt re-do” or “remaking a man’s shirt.”  I got hundreds of results, mainly on Pinterest.  Some were interesting; others were highly entertaining.  In the end I decided to just make it up as I went.

Call me crazy, but I just did not want a result that shouted “recycled old shirt” but at the same time I wanted to use as much of the original construction as possible.  I considered switching the buttons and the buttonholes to the traditional women’s placement, but I liked the placket.  I also left the breast pocket and the back yoke and pleat.  Everything else is new construction.

I like a rounded V-neckline, so I cut off the collar and shaped the neck accordingly.  I made bias strips to bind the neck and the sleeves from the bottom half of the old sleeves.

I narrowed the shoulder and re-cut the sleeves.  I narrowed the body, and re-attached both using French seams.

To finish, I went through my considerable button stash and chose these diamond-shaped ones.  I did consider just leaving the originals, but since I found these I knew they would be such a nice touch.

In theory, I love the idea of remaking and updating clothes.  People have always done this to make their clothes last longer or to outfit younger children with hand-me-downs.   But I’ve seen some disasters made in the name of “up-cycling” where valuable pieces of vintage clothing were destroyed to fit the current aesthetic.   If you are like me and visit a thrift store occasionally, then you know that we are not in danger of running out of textiles anytime soon.  The thrifts are full of the raw materials for a million projects.  Just make sure your raw material does not have a Claire McCardell label.


Filed under Sewing

Thoughts on Green Fashion

This year’s Oscar awards ceremony has brought up some important questions concerning vintage clothing and green-ness.  Vintage clothing dealers have long maintained that wearing vintage is really the greenest clothing choice of all.  It’s easy to see why.  Except for transportation costs and cleaning, old clothing paid its carbon dues years ago.  There’s none of the waste associated with making a new garment.

In the past new years we have a new idea that has attached itself to the reusing of old materials.  I’m talking about “up-cycling.”  Up-cycling basicly means you take an old garment, or sheet, or curtain, do a few creative snips with the scissors,  sew up some new seams,  stitch an owl or a funny little bird on it, and call it “green.”   The problem is that by doing so, you are actually creating waste.  When an old object is cut up to make a new one, unless all the fabric and all the findings are used, then stuff is going into the garbage.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of cutting up old clothes.  It’s not that I think every scrap ought to be kept in its original form.  There are tons of old clothes out there that are poorly designed and poorly made, and there are plenty of clothes that have severe damage.  It’s not a terrible loss if someone chops up a dress from the 1980s made from flimsy fabric in an ugly color with a Wal-mart label stitched inside.

Continue reading


Filed under Shopping, Viewpoint

From Luxury to Necessity

We think of a hood as something that is attached to a coat or a jacket, but during the 1940s, a hood was often a separate piece.  They became very popular during the war, as  a practical solution to the on-going problem of obtaining enough warm clothing.  Hoods could be made with very little fabric, even from an old garment.

It looks as if this one was made from silk velvet, possibly from 1930s gowns.  The lining is white, to go with the white rabbit trim of the matching mittens.  It’s a great example of “Mend and make do,” as this was not only functional, but warm and very attractive.  I bought this set to go with a velvet skating dress from the 40s.  Just imagine this out on the ice…

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing