No-Sew Ways to Update Your Wardrobe

by Andrea Karim on 18 July 2011 3 comments
Photo: meaduva

There are many ways to update old articles of clothing that don’t involve sewing machines. For those of us who can’t tell a bobbin from our backsides, here are some easy, cheap ideas for bringing your old clothes back to life.

First, a couple of quick notes about the methods here — you shouldn’t try any of these out on an otherwise respectable piece of clothing that you like and wear all the time, and you certainly shouldn't attempt on very expensive clothing. If you’ve never bleached or shredded a pair of jeans before, you might want to have a couple of practice rounds on a pair of jeans that are otherwise unwearable or destined for the dust bin. (See also: 25 Things to Do With Old Jeans)

Another quick note — some of the alterations in this article can make clothing harder to care for or require more delicate laundering methods. If you don’t have the patience for such things, then you probably don’t want to spend time shredding your t-shirt into a fine mesh.

Lastly, many of these DIY pieces are trendy and/or eye-catching, so if your style is more classic and conservative, they might not be up your fashion alley. It never hurts to give it a try, though.

Crop

Turning a t-shirt into a crop-top or making jeans into cutoff shorts are such easy tasks that we’ve all done them before (probably in 1985, but hey, the 80s are back in fashion). The benefit to DIY cropping is that it’s cheap and eco-friendly. Why pay for a pair of cut-off shorts when you can turn an old pair of jeans into shorts for free?

If you don’t have any jeans that you wish to sacrifice, but you really want a pair of cut-off shorts, head to your local Goodwill where you’ll find jeans for under $10 that can be cut as short as you like. If you’re lucky, you might come across a pair of high-waisted jeans, which are apparently all the rage this season among serious fashionistas.

There are tons of things you can make using various cropping methods — want some fingerless gloves? Leg warmers?

Shred/Slash

If your t-shirt already has holes in it, you might as well shred it and turn it into a punk rock item of hotness. Threadbanger offers a tutorial for creating a built-in fabric braid diagonally across a t-shirt (start the video at 3:15 to see the shredding and braiding; the first part of the video deals with re-sizing a too-big t-shirt).

Shredded t-shirts go well with undershirts, and Generation T shows you how to shred a shirt and combine with a painted undershirt for a peekaboo look that’s rocks without necessitating a nip-slip.

For a t-shirt that is finely shredded, you’ll want to view the tutorial from Salina Bear. It’s work you can do while watching TV, because it takes forever. If you are planning on attending a Poison Concert, Heavy Mental teaches you how to create a laddered t-shirt. You can even braid a totally shredded t-shirt if you are interested in showing more skin than you ever thought possible while still technically being clothed.

Bleach/Color

Bleaching is one of those fantastic DIY options that waxes and wanes with clothing trends, but it’s back now in abundance.

You can bleach portions of a garment or an entire item of clothing. I find denim rather hard to bleach evenly, and have had better luck painting bleach onto clothing in specific patterns and designs. Many people swear by washing your dyed clothing in vinegar afterward to set the dye (I’ve heard the same tip for preserving bright hair color, as well).

Ombre

If you’ve never heard of the term “ombre” before (or have, but never knew what it meant), here’s a quick definition: Ombre, French for “shadow,” also refers to a style of fabric coloration in which one color fades gradually into another. Any color gradient is possible, although ombre seems to imply a darker color seeping into (or out of) a lighter one.

Here’s a photo of Sienna Miller in ombre jeans. See? You’ve seen the style before. Here’s a gorgeous example of a dress with an ombre dip-dye effect from Etsy.

You can get the ombre look from dark clothing using bleach or dip-dye a lighter item of clothing using cloth dye, like Rit. I achieved a blue ombre t-shirt by lowering the upper half of a shirt into a bucket of Rit dye and leaving it there overnight — the color gradually seeped up another few inches on the shirt, leaving a nice gradient blue color that faded into white at the bottom of the shirt.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

All Over Color

Trends in denim color change every few years — back in 2001, no one would have dreamed of wearing acid-washed jeans, but in 2011, they are back with a vengeance. Dark denim is still popular, as are black and gray washes. If you have a pair of jeans or a jacket that you want to update, you can do so simply and cheaply with fabric dye like RIT.

If you are looking to age a pair of too-new jeans, the jeaniouses (see what I did there?) at Threadheads have a tutorial for adding a vintage, distressed look to your denim that involves using coffee grounds and a cheese grater. You could also use tea staining for a vintage fabric look — it’s a trick often used by quilters to give new material a more burnished appearance.

Tie-Dye

A favorite project for many a disillusioned teenager, tie-dye is an age old art that can be completed in any number of patterns. Watch this super-easy tie-dye bleach tutorial from Serious WTF that turns a simple black shirt into an awesome article of style.

Spray Paint

Using either regular spray paint or specialized fabric paint, you can use your clothes as a canvas for an amazing array of freehand or stenciled designs. Check out the stenciled cotton dresses from among the crafty T-shirt projects from Generation T. If you have a pattern that you can paint and press onto fabric, you can create funky, wrinkled variations of that pattern using regular spray paint, almost like screen printing, as shown in this tutorial by Fashion Enemy.

Spray paint is also a fantastic way to update metal jewelry like cheap dangly earrings or brass bangles.

Paint/Draw

Color blocking is a huge trend right now, along with ombre pieces, so it’s hard to go wrong in adding big blasts of color to pieces in your wardrobe. One of my favorite examples is the color blocking performed by the brilliant creators of Honestly WTF, who painted a pair of moccasins with pastel colors. You don’t have to stop at simple colors, of course — you can draw or paint any design on a shoe, shirt, skirt, bag, or anything with enough space to accommodate your style. One of my craftier friends bought a pair of beige canvas shoes at WalMart and added a significant cool factor by coloring the straps with markers in colorful abstract geometric shapes. I honestly thought she had bought a pair of designer shoes until she clued me in.

Fabric-ate

OK, so it does involve a needle and threat of sorts, but it’s not really “sewing” per se. To add interesting texture and dimension to a t-shirt, pair of jeans, or any article of boring clothing, buy a skein of soft-but-interesting yarn and thread it through a garment in a pattern. You can do the same with small (or even large) strips of different colored fabric by making small slices in your clothing with an X-Acto knife or scissors and threading the fabric through. Secure the ends of the fabric strips or yarn using small stitches (a needle and thread).

What kinds of DIY projects do you use to update old clothing items? Share your tips in the comments!

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Meg Favreau's picture

When I was a freshman in college, I had a pair of pants that I used a fabric marker to write favorite quotes on. While the pants looked neat, I definitely cringe thinking about what some of those quotes were.

I love those laddered and shredded shirts -- I'm definitely going to have to try that!

Guest's picture

Really, Tie dye? Thought this was out as of the seventies

Andrea Karim's picture

Well, you thought wrong! Tie dye and dip dye are big now.