A few days ago, I hosted a delightful event where several dozen participants brought in garments for a reimagining session. Folks brought in all sorts of things, from a 60-plus-year-old wedding dress and 1960’s prom gowns to shirts and jackets that were worn to shreds but still well loved. One of my favorite items was a saucy black lace Merry Widow made by Portland’s Jantzen Company in the 1950’s. Today, boned corsets like this one are trendy and often worn over rather than under a dress, but this one is in such good shape, our consulting panel of makers suggested it be donated to MOHI. Apparently Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry is very interested in adding vintage clothing and especially underclothing to its collection, as such items are increasingly rare. Next time you clean out that attic or storage bin, consider donating oldies to a local history museum!
Brighten Up Your Closet
There were also a number of once-glamorous outfits crusted with beadwork and sparkles, some of which were reimagined in various ways. The heavy ornamentation on an all-white mother-of-the-bride costume could be dyed or hand colored to turns its lavish braiding and beading into a vivid, joyful restatement with personality and panache. A double vested jacket in navy blue satin with sparkly buttons would look totally different with fresh buttons, no shoulder pads, and a few appliques. The shoulder pads could be recycled into bird-shaped pin cushions or soft toys, with a little embroidery or applique for wings and bright beady eyes added.
Quite a few folks brought in clothing that was so much loved it was falling apart. Layering on patches using visible mending techniques can breathe new life into these dearly beloved garments, and just like the wrinkles in our faces, the patches will tell the story of a long and useful life. Some garments were patched with appliques made from needlepoint or embroidery projects, whether gleaned from thrift stores, found in family trunks, or left over from earlier craft projects that never found a proper use. Some of the larger appliques were also turned into pockets for jackets and pants, as several people commented that women’s clothing rarely has enough usable pockets. Some people had removed jacket sleeves to make vests and used the sleeve cuffs for the top edge of deep pockets made from the upper sleeve.
Rips and tears can also be disguised or played up, whether with visible mending patches or less obviously by adding a more ornamental patch (or several, to make the problem less obvious and the outcome more decorative). Stains can be similarly covered or even drawn over using fabric marker pens; I asked my granddaughter to draw a little something over a small spot on a white shirt and she got inspired to draw the Milky Way, with planets and comets and space exploring critters galore. When she showed me, I was amazed and impressed by her spirited artwork and joyful galactic vision, but also pointed out that the little stain was still there. That earned me a little eyeroll and a giggle, but she covered it up by adding a flying fish with a space helmet full of water (perfect for a swimmer, right?).
Quite a few attendees said they were not experienced with sewing or embroidery, but the visible mending techniques are all about showing your work and letting insouciant imperfection reign. Several people were emboldened to try some of these ideas out on much loved night wear, where mistakes wouldn’t matter as much (if at all). One woman added the sleeves from a long sleeved tee shirt to a favorite nightgown, then sewed the bottom of the shirt to a too-short tunic, making a handsome color-block effect. As we mature, I’m hearing many people say they feel a lot less driven by the opinions of others and find themselves trying new things just for fun. With a world drowning in trash, it seems like the perfect time to begin experimenting with things we haven’t embraced, whether it means reclaiming the domestic arts or developing creativity in new ways to give fresh life to old things. Onward, right?