Upcycle Your Clothes: 5 Ways For Beginners

Share article on...





Become a Patron

Upcycle Your Clothes: 5 Ways For Beginners


Upcycling your clothes is a fun and creative way to tackle textile waste.

Expert Chinelo Bally shares her top 5 beginner friendly upcycling tips for your wardrobe.

Francesca Brooking

Wed 30 Mar 2022

The UK is the fourth largest textile waste producer in the world, producing 206,456 tonnes of textile waste in a year, according to Circular Online.

One of the biggest ways to tackle this problem is to give our old and worn out clothes a creative new lease of life by upcycling them.

Not only does it help the planet, but it can also change how we view our clothes and saves money in the process.

woman in a black tshirt

Upcycling expert, Chinelo Bally, spoke to pebble about her easy, beginner friendly tips for revamping tired clothes and why it’s an important skill to learn and use.

Famous from the ‘Great British Sewing Bee’, her new book ‘Sew Chinelo’ which came out this year, shows you how to ditch fast fashion and create a sustainable wardrobe.

The book also reveals Chinelo’s top upcycling tips for your clothes and how to make clothes from scratch using her signature freehand cutting method.

Chinelo standing next to a dress

Upcycling our clothes is an easy way to tackle textile waste

pebble: What was the first item you upcycled?

Chinelo Bally: I can’t remember the exact thing but that’s actually how I started my sewing journey, I’d embellish store bought clothes with accessories and scraps of fabric.

pebble: Do you think you need to be 'good' at sewing to make your own clothes?

CB: No! I think you just need to start, no one is perfect and I’m also still learning. Even the best sewers out there are still learning.

You just need to start and grow as you go. You will get better with each project because you will naturally learn from your mistakes.

pebble: How important is creating a more sustainable wardrobe to you?

CB: It’s more important to me now than ever. I don’t have as much time to sew for myself anymore so when I do, I want quality.

I try to use locally produced materials as much as I can and I am really trying to be as zero-waste as possible.

I have a daughter now and I’m eager to discourage her from buying into fast fashion; I really think it’s a wasteful culture.

Dress next to a stage lamp

You don't need to be good at sewing to upcycle your clothes

pebble: What do you wish people knew about textile waste?

CB: I wish people knew how it affects the world we live in.

Fabric production utilises a lot of resources and it’s incredibly irresponsible for us to ignore the fact that these resources are not infinite.

pebble: What's the main benefit of making clothes yourself?

CB: The control you have over the entire production. From fabric choice to materials, to design, to styling. You have total control.

Style is my way of making an impression and, right now, for me, a statement.

So for me making my own clothes means having the pen in my own hands; that’s the main benefit and the great fit you can achieve is a welcomed icing on the cake.

So, if you’re interested in transforming your old clothes, here are some top tips for beginners on how to upcycle your clothes.

5 Tips To Upcycle Your Clothes For Beginners

Chinelo sitting in chair

Making your own clothes gives you complete control of what you wear

1. Start simple

Make it easy by taking on projects like old T-shirts and giving them a new lease of life. I used to add embellishments to old T-shirts, using other scraps of fabric or hair accessories.

It’s such a simple thing you can do but can really be impactful.

2. Revamp the shape of old clothes

Try changing the fit of old clothes. You can do this by resizing, changing the length, by cutting it down or adding more fabric.

You could also add, change or remove sleeves.

You’d be surprised how you could possibly get three or four dresses out of one dress by doing all these.

The black dress revamp in my new book 'Sew Chinelo' is a great example of this.

Mannekin wearing a black dress

The black dress revamp shows how you can get three or four dresses out of one

3. Observe how clothes are constructed

Try unpicking the seams of your old clothes, so you can see how it’s constructed; this is a great thing to do if you really want to take your hobby seriously.

Knowing how well-made shop bought clothes come together is a great way to improve your skills.

You can also use the unpicked pieces as pattern pieces and recreate the entire garment in another fabric.

4. Change the way you see clothes

Think of the garment as a piece of fabric.

Once I learnt how garments come together, this is how I tackle most of my upcycling projects. That way I’m less distracted by the existing design and my only limitation is the amount of fabric before me.

5. Get creative

Have fun with it, upcycling is your chance to really put your style print on an outfit so really really go for it! Why not!

Chinelo Bally profile

Have fun and let your create style shine through your upcycled designs

Chinelo Bally is the author of Sew Chinelo: How to Transform your wardrobe with style, published by Collins & Brown. Photographs by Claire Pepper. Get it here.|

If you still want more...

pebble newsletters on tablet and phone

Don't miss pebble's latest sustainable features, reviews and best new products

Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter below.

Subscribe to pebble's sustainable weekly newsletter

Take your positive impact to the next level

Join our FREE Ripples community for free in 2022.

Expect a friendly, virtual community packed with keen sustainable changemakers.

Come to free virtual events, a quarterly book club and meet 1000s of other people interested in growing your own, permaculture, soil health, regenerative agriculture, conservation and generally saving the planet!

Comment on this article

What to Do Next

Subscribe To

Stay up to date with all the latest eco news and features. We plant trees for every subscriber. Every 100th subscriber wins their own tree.

Join our Digital
Community For Free

Ripples helps you smash your sustainable goals. Share your journey, ask questions and inspire others.

Sign up To

Join our new business group in our Community. Collaborate and network with other ethical entrepreneurs.