Of course, our style and our clothes from the college years of our youth are not the same as what we wear in our adult, professional life, right? If they are the same, you’re probably younger than I am or are at a different place in life, I suppose. But I was thinking, especially after sewing this knit top and sweater re-fashion, perhaps they can be the same, only in a different way…
Starting from the outside in, I’ll tell you how I took a circa 1996 “Made in the USA” sweater that my husband no longer wanted and re-fashioned it into a fun cardigan for myself. Luckily, it is from the 90’s when everything tended to fit on the baggy side for men, so I had a good amount of lovely sweater knit to work with! I do love how cozy, comfy, and unpretentious this re-make turned out to be. I feel it is not really overly defined by one era, it is not fancy yet it’s still nice, it is fun without being flashy. It feels like this is me – deep down the real everyday me, someone who likes to be individually stylish yet conscious of the big picture with what I both wear and make, besides the side of me which likes to bring vintage styles into the modern day. This is one of my best refashions from a very special perspective. I mean it is my husband’s sweater after all, and I did not use a pattern!
I was inspired by several vintage sweater styles spanning a few decades when I was considering how to go about with my refashion. I LOVE the open from cardigans that emerged in the early 1920s for women, most of them striped. Also, I was inspired by the loose and casual 1950s college jacket styles, (yes, the rockabilly logo ones also known as Letterman sweaters or Varsity jackets) many of them with striping as well, especially on the sleeves. So I went for a sort of combo of both.
First, I started my refashion by cutting off the sleeves and also the neckline (parallel to the chest striping). Then, as there were no side seams (this was made in one continuous piece) I cut were there would have been side seams to the sweater. Now the bottom hem could become the vertical center back side seam to my new cardigan. What striping had been below the neckline would be the vertical front sides of my cardigan. I used the sleeves unchanged but I did have to cut new armholes for the sleeves to go back in! The neckline band was the back neckline. What was left of the back shoulder panel became two strips of navy which were used as the band facing, covering up the raw edges of the left and right fronts to the cardigan. Nothing but very tiny scraps were leftover, almost all of the original sweater were re-used and re-positioned.
See?! Just because what you make is “inspired by” something vintage doesn’t mean it has to be a past style. You can take what you see that gets those creative juices going and translate that into any era or fashion. This is a lot of what is going on in modern fashion. It cherry picks vintage features and melds it in with trends of today. Sometimes even a direct vintage inspiration can be spotted but it is re-made in such a way that it looks so timeless and up-to-date for today.
The 90’s, which are soon enough going to be technically “vintage”, sadly seems to me to be the last era with relatively easy-to-come-by quality and more “made in the USA” garments. It also was the last decade in which Vogue Pattern Company offered big name designer sewing patterns to the public. Sorry, Vogue – it’s not that I don’t generally like the designer patterns you do have to offer and the designers themselves are a decently big deal. It’s just that I wish we could still have access to Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Bill Blass, or Edith Head designs, but a modern Zac Posen, Miu Miu, or Versace design would do nicely, thank you, for only a few examples! Oh well, I must admit that even though I thought this would not happen, the era of my childhood is something I am now learning to appreciate fashion-wise…although I’ll never like 90’s velour (yuck!) which is unfortunately back in the stores to buy again!
Make your style change with you…there’s a low probability that anyone else will like those awful 80s 90s or 2000 era fashions without a re-vamp (and I’m not talking about bringing them back as a revamp option!). So why not renovate it yourself? We can only buy then ditch, buy again then ditch so many times for so long before this dead-end circle finds the true answer to sustainable fashion for the masses. This even isn’t taking into account so many other issues that need addressing – worker pay and working conditions, clothing quality, environmental impact, sheer unnecessary quantity, and customer satisfaction to name a few. This week is “Fashion Revolution Week”, now in its 5th year. This movement is in direct response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, killing over 1,000 and injuring 2,500 more in April 2013. That year was sadly global fashion’s most profitable year to date.
That being said, my top underneath is a testament to this in the way that I salvaged it and realized how my approach at self-made clothes has changed for the better. I estimate I began this project about 2002 to 2004 when I was just branching out into making dresses and tops rather than the mostly skirts I had been then sewing. As this was started at least 14 years back now, this is why I no longer know what pattern I used! The side seams and shoulder seams had been overlocked (Serging machine) together, as well as the some lovely braided neckline piping. Luckily the cut out (but not sewn) sleeves were still kept with the top when I re-discovered it. One side of the neckline as well as half of one of the shoulder seams were unpicked already, because I lamely sewed the piping (which doesn’t stretch) into a top made of a forgiving knit. Wow…is all I can say to this!
So – all the basic possibilities were there for assembly, but my quickie, still-learning approach left this difficult to save. The serged-overlocked seams gave me no room for adjustments. This top still fits my adult body pretty well, though more snug than I would like. It was sized for a teenage me when it was cut. Still, I see how I was just happy with my clothes being finished the same level as the clothes I had bought, made for the moment with no thought for what I had made lasting me any longer than the clothes from a store. Now, I only finish in French, bias bound or raw and overcast finishings, leaving me a nice cushion of adjustability for tailoring and fitting preferences, thereby promising me many years of enjoyment. This is one of the ideals of the “Fashion Revolution” – take good care and thought into what you wear and choose things made with quality that appeal to you so they will last you many years. I get rid of clothes only in small batches, and even then it’s the ones that I did not make, one’s that are still in good condition to not require someone else to do mending. My sewing is an investment in myself and if I am not happy with my creations I use my talents to change that, thus making what I have work for me for long term.
To finish off the neckline yet keep what I had, my solution was to have a shoulder button closing. This turned out rather challenging and more bulky than I wanted, but I like it in the end. It is different and unexpected, adding a little subtle splash of character to the otherwise plain front top. I just have to remember not to hang my purse from that one shoulder! Buttons there are not exactly friendly to over-the-shoulder purse straps.
The sleeves were cut wide and bell shaped, but I felt that such sleeves made the top look too retro, like something from the 1970s, and I wanted something more indistinguishably timeless. Now, the gathered sleeve cuffs that I went for are a bit odd or dated too, in my mind. They’re just better than what I started with. I might yet tone the sleeves down in the future and make them skinny…or quarter length. Whatever rocks my boat! My style and my wardrobe are a perpetual work-in-progress.
I love the satisfaction that comes from taking such articles of clothing we loved in our high school and college years and re-inventing them for a new time in our lives. It’s like keeping a part of us and letting it change with us. Re-fashioning is so smart – besides being one of the best ways to combat today’s “fast fashion” beast and the evils it generates, this type of garment creating is such a fun challenge which is good for one’s sewing skills – even if it doesn’t work out. Why refuse the perfectly good resources at our availability just because they are already made into something? Once around doesn’t have to be the end of the line for garments. Re-imaging what is already there can be difficult, and demands thinking outside the box. That’s what we need more of in fashion today. Individuals thinking creatively and seeing a bigger picture, and wanting to do their part towards it. “Who made your clothes” is one of the rallying slogans for the “Fashion Revolution”. If we can keep that in mind and feel comfortable about the answer, then we keep the ready-to-wear business accountable (by home sewing, by our purchase choices, or by voicing our opinion directly), we will be doing our part for the “Fashion Revolution”…because it should be something that carries over into more than just one week!
The skirt I am wearing is posted on my blog here…and even my necklace is me-made, too!
FABRIC: My husband’s sweater was a thick cotton-polyester blend, while the knit top of mine was made from a cotton spandex blend fabric. Some navy cotton scraps were used for the facing of the sweater’s new neckline.
PATTERNS: none for the sweater, and for the knit top…I have no idea anymore!
NOTIONS: Nothing but some thread, buttons, and scraps from on hand were used
TIME TO COMPLETE: The sweater refashion was made in one afternoon when my hubby was home so he could see his old garment transform! It was finished November 2017 after 3 hours spent on it. The top was finished up in the same month after 3 hours.
TOTAL COST: Nothing!