Selection of dark coloured buttons.

Our Fashion Hackathon… and how to do it yourself

Guest blogger Barley Massey from Fabrications on lessons learned from our fashion hackathon.

On Saturday 25 April I was fortunate to be involved alongside Love your Clothes in Clotho’s first Fashion Hackathon. Although I’ve been upcycling for many a year now, the concept of a fashion hackathon was new to me. The Clotho girls informed us that they had drawn inspiration from computer “hackathons” they had attended, where computer wizards gather to build programmes or apps together in 24 hours.

Their idea was to take all the clothes that Clotho were unable to list on their clothing exchange website because of damage and for participants to turn them into new and beautiful items in a sustainable sewing factory.

So I set up my machines and boxes of threads, scissors and haberdashery. We set design challenges and the teams set to work. It was a lively day and participants fully embraced the challenges, coming up with really inventive fashion hacks and working together to realise their designs.

So I thought I’d encourage you to have your own fashion hackathons at home! Re-working your old clothes is fun and personal. It’s important to tap into your own creativity and sense of style. Recognise the potential and look at your old clothes from a different perspective. Some basic sewing skills are necessary: if you are new to sewing, I offer accessible classes at my studio, Fabrications, in Hackney, East London, and there are others doing similar things around the country.

Thank you to Fabrications students for allowing me to share your creations in these photos.

Here are my tips and tricks to consider when approaching your own fashion hacks.

Make the most of existing fasteners

I love working with men’s shirts. The fabric is stable and easy to work with, and they have lots of buttoning.  Often buttons on shirts are set to similar spacing, so you can button different shirts together to make a new garment (or a bell tent if you keep going!). For this ‘cut and paste’ collaged dress I stuck to just three shirts! Cutting on this dress was minimal; the shaping is created through a belted gathered waist band and elastication halfway down the sleeves. You could add darts on the top shirt for more fitting.

Three shirts, ready to be made into something else.

A dress made out of men's shirts.

Holes and wear’n’tear are an opportunity for transformation

Appliqué (or patching) is my friend. I have a number of favourite jeans that are works in progress: as another hole appears, on goes a new patch. This can be done discreetly with similar fabric or show off, to make your patching stand out in a crowd. I enjoy making patches from other old clothes or textiles to create motifs or “cheat embroideries”.

I tend to machine on my patches using a 3-step zig zag (this is stronger than a regular zig zag) or a free motion/quilting foot so I can sketch and squiggle around and over the patch. If using a lightweight fabric as your patch, tack some other fabric on the back to reinforce it.  Take off the removable front part of the machine to give you a narrower working area. Trouser legs can get tricky and on skinny jeans you may have to open up the seam for access and then stitch back together.

Woman modelling a waistcoat with decorative patches.

A woman's top customised with decorative patches.

Jeans with decorative patches.

Mix and match: fuse different items together

Sometimes you might have two garments that just aren’t working for you or they are a bit tired and worn out. Think about combining them. Louise took an old jumper and cut it down the front, then cut off the cuffs and border from an old cardigan and over locked the components together to make a new two-tone cardigan. If you don’t have an overlocker, use the overcast or stretch stitch on your machine or slip one over the other (for a thicker cardigan).

It is possible to mix different fabric textures and weights but it does require more care and preparation such as tacking to help prevent movement.

Cardigans created by mixing and matching.

Create multifunctional garments

Garments that can be worn in different ways are likely to be used more often over a longer period of time.

My friend and colleague David Mumford, who also mentored at Clotho’s Fashion Hackathon, is a very clever garment upcyclist. He used to design with the fashion brand Junky Styling, who were well known for their clever garment reinventions. Here he is at Fabrications teaching students the marvels of sewing and upcycling, using men’s shirts.

David Mumford with sewing students.

A skirt that doubles as a top.

Play with pattern

Playing with pattern is a lot of fun. Sometimes the most unexpected combination of pattern designs harmonises and works.

Here is an idea from another friend and colleague, Tree from Stitchless TV. Take two vintage tourist scarves to make a raglan Prada-style top. Tree has a unique talent in taking high fashion ideas and simplifying them down into accessible speed stitching, free style cutting projects for beginners and other home sewers. Many of the projects on her TV channel use old clothes – well worth checking her out!

Tops made from scarves.

I hope you are feeling inspired to host your own Fashion Hackathon at home. Please share your creations with us. We’d love to see what you re-make!

Barley Massey is the founder of Fabrications, an independent gallery, shop and studio dedicated to contemporary textile practise and design, with a particular interest in upcycling and eco design.