Cotton on to new trend for upcycling

This Is Lancashire: Tui Benjamin gets to grips with a sewing machine Tui Benjamin gets to grips with a sewing machine

I LIKE to think I know a fair bit about clothes.

Fabrics, seams, cuts — I reckon could reel off a decent list.

And with a passion for vintage clothing at cheap-as-chips prices, I’m no stranger to rummaging through charity shop stock.

But take a peek inside my wardrobe and you’d probably discover that I, like many shoppers, worship at the altar of fast fashion.

I love the quick and easy approach of the High Street — and the stores which are swift to catch on to trends and keep prices purse-friendly.

But while my borderline addiction might not be heavy on my wallet, it is anything but light on our environment.

In Greater Manchester, we buy 90,000 tonnes of clothing each year, at the same time as throwing away 60,000 tonnes of the stuff.

But this is where a new trend is beginning to become fashionable.

It’s called “upcycling” — the art of repairing, restoring and altering pre-owned clothing and fabric.

While it’s been hip with those in the know for years, really this should be a timeless enterprise — after all, it’s what our grand-parents would have done.

Determined to change perceptions last autumn, the Recycle for Greater Manch-ester group joined forces with upcycled clothes haven Junk Shop to commission more than 30 free sewing classes across the county.

The trendy Northern Quarter and Didsbury outfitters have a plethora of sewing-mad staff on hand to offer classes in the art of thrifty fixing — and have been getting busy teaching stitching newbies all they know.

I was instantly keen, not just to help a few second-hand threads avoid landfill, but to leave with some new rags for myself. What was there to lose?

A few fingers perhaps, my beginner’s brain told me as I spotted the rows of shiny Elna sewing machines lined up in a back studio of The Met in Bury.

All of us female and all of us inexperienced, class leaders Charlotte and Janine were enthusiastic about the importance of re-using the fabric we already have.

And they were the best perfect adverts for the cause — one rocking in a dress made from old curtains, the other kitted out in a frock remodelled from an oversized skirt, these girls proved upcycling is not just about feeling like a do-gooder, but about making gorgeous garments you’ll actually want to wear.

While I’m capable of re-attaching a button by hand, my only previous sewing machine experience was using one to punch chunky yarn through cardboard as part of an A-level art project.

After threading the cotton through the machine’s maze-like workings we were ready to go, beginning with learning basic techniques on scraps of muslin. I was impressed with how much of the work this surprisingly easy-to-use piece of kit did for me, and after getting to grips with feeding fabric through the path of the needle with a straight and steady hand, I was soon giving zigzag, wavy and tricky hemming stitches a try.

Then it was swiftly on to the first project to create an oversized bow — mine in on-trend tartan.

Sewing the plaid fabric into a rectangular shape before using a running stitch to get the distinctive ruched shape quickly heralded impressive results and the bow was perfect, Charlotte said, for hiding stains or holes in clothing.

Feeling confident, bows were now small-fry and I got to work rummaging through an Aladdin’s cave of unwanted garments Charlotte and Janine had brought along in overstuffed suitcases.

I picked out a quirky burgundy stamp-print shirt-dress which, while a size 18, I had high hopes for turning into a fitted cropped shirt.With the girls’ patient guidance, it was little match for my new-found skills and in no time I was inserting seams to the body, lopping off the skirt with craft scissors and stitching a new hem.

It took intense physical concentration, meaning three hours passed in the blink of an eye.

Sure, the finished product was slightly lumpy and wonky, but I was amazed at the sense of satisfaction I felt knowing I had made this with my own hands — my nana would have been proud.

Sewing is a lifelong skill and one which I imagine once you get to grips with you wonder how you ever lived without.

I highly recommend Junk Shop’s three-hour master-class — it really made me think twice about picking up another cheap and easy purchase and instead sent me scouting out charity shop goodies for the day I borrow a sewing machine and sharpen my skills.

With about 500 people taking part in Junk Shop’s classes, I reckon that’s enough of us to start an upcycling revolution. See you at the frontline.

n—The next free sewing sess-ions are at The Met in Bury on March 12, 6.30pm to 9.30pm; March 15, 1pm to 4pm; to 9.30pm and March 19, 6.30pm to 9.30pm.

See junkshop.co.uk/collections/frontpage/products/sew-recycled-class

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