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All it takes is a couple of hours and a little bit of scrap fabric to update old wardrobe pieces. There are certainly no rules when it comes to design or execution (surely we’ve all seen our fair share of DIY disasters a la Regretsy), but this is an easy how-to to help even the most maladroit seamstress update any old shirt or sweater.

Maybe I’ve been nerding out on too much “Firefly” lately, but I thought this sleeveless cardigan needed a little east-meets-west action, so I gave it some epaulettes and an oversized obi-inspired sash.

Step 1: Draft yourself a pattern for the epaulettes. Give yourself some seam allowance and enough length to attach it to the inside of the sleeve when it’s finished. Cut 4 pieces out of your chosen fabric.

Step 2: Sew 2 pieces together, right sides facing, on all sides but the bottom edge. Trim the extra seam allowance and notch the corners so that they will lay flat when you turn them right side out.

Step 3: Turn each epaulette right side out and topstitch the sides. (I used orange thread and zig-zag stitched for a crafty look). Now add your button holes by making two parallel rows of small zig-zag stitches — cutting between these will create your button holes.

Step 4: Finish the bottom edges of your epaulettes however you see fit and attach them wrong side facing up to the under side of the outside sleeve edge (you probably want this on the shoulder seam). Sew down, place your button, and fold the button hole over to meet the button. Voilà: epaulettes!

Step 5: Make your sash. Make it as long and wide as you like (I know, I know, “That’s what she said!”), and finish off the seams in whatever way strikes your fancy. This is a good time for beginning seamstrixes to experiment with raw edges and decorative stitches.

Step 6: find the center back where you would like your waist gathers to be. Stitch long loose rows at the top and bottom of where you will attach your sash, making sure to leave plenty of waste thread. Pull both threads to the front, pulling to gather and tying off the thread when you’re done. You can cinch as much or as little as you like (for reference, I stitched 7″, gathering it down to about 3″.)

Step 7: Attach your sash at the gathers, being sure to zig-zag it securely, especially if you haven’t reinforced your gathers with any bias or hem tape (I’m rather fond of grosgrain ribbon for a crafty look).

And finally…

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Step 8: Take your new top out on the town! Show it off to your friends and watch them marvel at your very basic sewing skills. And, most of all, revel in the feeling of acomplishment that acompanies making something with your own two hands and breaking the cycle of planned obsolescence that fast fashion has established. That will show those hipsters with their self righteous “infinity mpg” t-shirts! Save the environment and look better doing it!

To some, the concept of wearing clothes found in a box on the sidewalk may seem unthinkable – to San Francisco’s Haight Asubury neighborhood, it’s practically a way of life.  No matter where you fall on the hippie spectrum, though, you probably have some treasures hidden in the back of your closet that could use a good rescuing.

I found this sweater on down the street from my house a couple of weeks ago, and after a good washing and a little bit of planning, it’s ready for a makeover.  It would appear that someone had already tired of it once before, cutting the arms off (luckily, at the seams, so that the body of the sweater did not come un-knit) before tossing it completely.  It’s not the cost of the sweater that is the biggest waste — this cotton/acrylic H&M sweater probably cost its original owner very little, which is why it’s so easy to part with our unwanted clothes these days — but were it to have ended up in the trash instead of in some scavenger’s hands, it would be contributing to the millions of tons of textile waste we consumers generate each year.

I like the olive color that this sweater already has, so instead of dyeing it, I’m going to roll with the olive inspiration and give it a military feel with epaulettes and a cinched sash at the waist.

This is a good DIY project for beginners (or lazy folk like myself).  All it takes is a deserving sweater, cardigan, or t-shirt, a little bit of scrap fabric, and the most basic of sewing skills.  The patterns for both the epaulettes and sash are easy geometric shapes based on simple measurements, and can be tailored to your preferences.

For this project, I’ll be using some of this interior design fabric that was given to me.  The botanical print is unexpected for a military-inspired design, the colors complement the sweater, and (most importantly) I happened to have it lying around.  I’ll also be using some vintage buttons for the epaulettes, and maybe some seam binding or bias tape around the cut-off sleeves if they need a little cleaning up.  I will take step-by-step photos of the upcycling process for interested parties, and the final product will be thrown up on My Etsy for your shopping pleasure.

One of the first rules of fashion merchandising and visual display is that in the 3-5 seconds that stores have to capture your attention, color is the first thing you pay attention to.  So, when you find yourself staring down an overflowing closet with “nothing to wear”, perhaps what you’re really feeling is the need for new color.  Unless you’re a time traveler or one of the few octogenarians in the online DIY community, you probably don’t remember the era of dyed-to-match fashion, but fear not!  There are plenty of ways to infuse your tired wardrobe with new color, whether you’re a vintage queen looking for the perfect slip and gloves to match your collection of 40’s chic day dresses, or a modern hipster, making offerings of tribal-inspired discharge dyed prints at the altar of American Apparel.

Armed with an array of sweet dyes (courtesy of Rit), I’ll be hosting an Upcycling Extravaganza chez moi on Sunday, June 27th (with the help of the Hootenanny craft circle, organized by my friend Renée).  If you’re in the Bay Area and would like to participate, shoot me an email and I’ll send you the address.  If you’re not local, but would like to participate, host your own dye-a-thon, and send in your photos!  I’ll throw ’em up here, and some may even end up on Rit’s Designer Profiles page.  In an effort to keep everything sustainable, I’m also taking donations of fabric, from once-loved t-shirts to yardage and sheets — let me know if you’ve got something to donate!

In the mean time, I’ll keep you posted with details as well as a sampling of dye methods and how to recreate each look at home.

While a post on the fallacies of “green” fibers is still in the works, I just don’t have it in me tonight.  What I do have is a room full of looks for my styling shoot tomorrow, and a serious hankering for a good shopping spree.  What turns me off to shopping best, though, is the daily drudgery of working in luxury retail.

At its best, my job gives me great satisfaction.  Gaining the trust of a stranger and seeing them in something that makes them feel fantastic about themselves is a downright warm-and-fuzzy, super lovely feeling.  What intrigues me most about fashion is the divide between what we feel our image choices say about who we are and what the world thinks we’re trying to say.  That divide is something at once personal, cultural, and universal, and is our first (and often only) chance to communicate what we’re about to the world at large.  That being said, I’m continually horrified by the epidemic of insecurities that plague women about their own bodies.  Clothing should be something that helps us explain who we are, not something that hides who we’re afraid you might think we are.  Yes, it’s shiny and fun, and it should make us feel beautiful or even sexy, but not because we’re covering up the fact that we don’t still feel beautiful underneath all of that overpriced silk and spandex.

That I still want to buy the things that I see in shop windows and know I don’t need is a mystery to me.  I’m aware of the ugliness of consumption, I’m not trying to compensate for insecurities, and I love the things I already have, so why do I want to cheat on them so badly with floozy dresses in the Macy’s window and one-night-stand accessories at H&M?  Who knows.  Hopefully over the course of the next six months, I’ll get closer to finding out.

What I do know is that I got a vicarious fix this evening picking up garments for my shoot tomorrow, and man did it feel good! Walking out of work, even with a bag full of my own work clothes, the gears in my head started whirring, planning outfits for imaginary outings at a rate that an entire army of me could not possibly hope to actualize.  Picking out pieces for studio rental at Buffalo Exchange was even worse.  Entire universes of possibilities sprang to life inside my shopping-starved brain, and it took all the will power I had to get what I needed and get out before temptation blurred the line between wardrobe sourcing and personal scavenging.  Picking up hosiery turned out to be less dangerous that I had feared, maybe because the styles don’t vary enough to stray beyond the confines of “vintage hipster”, “film noir ingenue”, and “goth chick”, or maybe because the shop was closing in five minutes and I had to get back to Buffalo to sign the studio agreement, but I escaped relatively unscathed.  Yes, I did technically buy something, but a) I refuse to subject my poor (already unpaid) models to second-hand hosiery, and b) who on Earth would lend a wardrobe stylist stockings?

Even picking up shoot supplies at Walgreens satisfied my cravings to an extent.  There’s nothing sexy about safety pins and eyelash glue (at least not as a part of any fetishes I’m aware of), but it’s the prospect of acquiring something new that could, combined with something I already have, become more than the sum of its parts, that really gets me going.

After an hour of collecting wardrobe elements and two hours of prepping looks, I’m sartorially satisfied.  Tomorrow night the clothes from Buffalo Exchange will return back to their rightful home, hopefully to live out their usefulness in multiple someone elses’ closets, and my conscience will be clear.  Hopefully it’ll be a couple of weeks before the cravings hit again, and when they do, I’ll be sure to hit up a swap meet, free market, or some other treasure trove of post-consumer recycled textiles.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to show up at work every morning, ready to do what they pay me to: make conspicuous consumption sexy, while my conscience hides in the fitting room and cries.

Bourbon and Branch is definitely the spot if you’ve got a pair of sweet Balenciaga spectator pumps that occasion doesn’t call for often enough.  After a couple of drinks named after a “Never Ending Story” character, I forgot all about my sad stocking, which was mostly covered by the hem of my dress anyway, until this morning.

Do I miss shopping already because I am that much of an addict, or do I miss it because I suddenly can’t have it?  My best friend has asserted the theory that it’s the latter, and I would have to agree.  We all want what we can’t have, sometimes just because we can’t have it.  Days off, even when you have only one a week, have a nasty habit of enabling your vices, and this morning I wanted to shop.  I didn’t necessarily want to buy anything, or even shop for clothing, I just missed the feeling of walking through a store, entertaining the endless possibilities (some personal favorites include: flapper Melissa, film noir Melisa, mod Melissa, and post-apocalyptic draped monochromatic layers Melissa).  Instead, I went to Trader Joe’s.  And came home with an absurd amount of food.

Talking to the check out girl about vegetable burritos and the prospect I’ve been entertaining of becoming mostly-vegetarian again, it occurred to me that I do not have to define myself as vegetarian in order to eat more sustainably.  Likewise, I do not plan on never setting foot in a Zara again, but the point of this experiment is to hopefully inspire a lifelong change in my shopping behavior.  It goes beyond clothes or meat or energy or whatever the new hip thing to conserve is, but I think it’s probably easier to quit shopping completely and ease myself back into it rather than approaching equilibrium from the other end.  Even if fast fashion isn’t your vice of choice, there are so many things that can you can do to limit your impact on resources and waste, from eating less meat to unplugging your laptops and iGizmos when they’re fully charged.

Being sustainable isn’t about buying “green”, it’s about buying less in the first place.  It’s going to take a hot research minute, but check back for a thorough disemboweling of the “green” movement and perceived vs. actual benefits of various eco-fibers.

This morning my beloved back seamed stockings finally died, and my first instinct was to run down to H&M and replace them. I put a particular amount of effort into the film-noir-meets-flapper outfit I put together today to wear to Bourbon and Branch tonight, so you can understand how tragic this is for me.

Part of me instinctively thought, “what’s wrong with replacing something that has worn out? Shouldn’t that be an unspoken ammendment to the 1G6M0S experiment? After all, isn’t the point to wear things out instead of throwing them out? And what’s more loved in my closet than my favorite pin-up stockings?” I realize, though, that in order for this experiment to have any integrity, it has to be all or nothing. And in order for anyone to be inspired to reform their own wicked shopping ways, it has to have integrity.

Hosiery-related melodrama aside, I’m especially fond of the outfit I put together today. It combines some of my favorite pieces, old and new, designer and shabby chic. Even better, I know that I will wear each piece with everything else in my closet, ensuring it won’t waste away in the back of my walk-in, which, I’m ashamed to say, is a menagerie of impulse buys and uselessly adorable vintage ephemera.

On the topic of sartorial ephemera, interested Bay Area parties should contact me to get down on a spring swap meet I’ll be putting together in the next month.

My name is Melissa, and like so many Americans, I am a clotheshorse.  With masstige apparel, quick response manufacturing, and targeted ads that sing the praises of planned obsolescence attacking consumers from all angles, it’s easy to fall into the seductive trap of modern fashion consumption.  Nearly all of us are guilty of buying more than we need and wasting what we have long before it loses its utility, and with Americans creating upwards of 11 million tons of textile waste per year1, less than 20% of which is successfully recycled2, our bad shopping habit is clearly having an impact on more than just our wallets.  For this, and many other reasons, I have made the decision not to shop for a full six months, in an effort to understand what it is about our culture that spurs us to shop until we drop, destroying the environment and perpetuating human rights issues for the sake of instant gratification.

A lovely cotton gown I fashioned out of a vintage sheet. See, kids? Sustainability CAN be fun!

When I say “no shopping”, what I mean is no contribution to the traditional retail economy.  No new clothing stores, no online shopping, no shoes, bags, or accessories.  No used clothing stores, unless I am trading in old clothes for credit towards other used ones.  No independent boutiques or eco-brands (an issue I’ll likely discuss in depth in the near future) unless the textiles themselves are post-consumer recycled, and even then, not unless utility necessitates them.  No thrift stores, street vendors, or even sewing of my own clothes unless they come from resources I already possess or come to possess through the recycling of post-consumer textile “waste”.

For the sake of full disclosure, I will be using my own wardrobe, as well as garments borrowed from stores to shoot a final project for a fashion styling class I am taking this semester.  For the sake of my grade, it may become necessary to buy clothes, shoes, or accessories in order to complete each look, but anything bought will be returned in the same condition I bought it in, tags in tact and shoes taped, released back into the retail wilderness like some kind of cute woodland creature, nursed back to health after some non-fatal accident.

Along the way, I hope to document my observations and reactions to the next six months, from the annoying highs of self righteousness (this is, after all, San Francisco), to the lows of inevitably jonsing for a fast fashion fix.  This blog will serve as a space to drop knowledge (holla back if you love statistics!), share resources (from swap meets to D.I.Y. craft porn), and, hopefully, raise awareness of alternatives to the wasteful industry that so many of us have become complicit  to.

1 The American Textile Recycling Service
2 For all you fact whores, ATRS estimated 1.9 million tons recycled (out of a total of 11.9 million pounds of waste) as of 2006 at a rate of 15.67%. The Environmental Protection Agency has a page on their website from last fall dedicated to textile waste recycling with slightly more optimistic numbers, but they also reference a fact sheet from the Council for Textile Recycling, which cites figures from the late nineties, which doesn’t inspire confidence…