By Claire Watson
Making custom clothes isn’t a viable option for everyone- myself included. It can require a lot of time, skill, materials, and even space. However, there’s another way to create unique, personal, and funky items while using the skills and resources you have. By taking something old and customising it to fit with your style, you too can jump on the handmade bandwagon!
I spoke to a few students about their interest in the craft and had them share a few words on their experiences. Milo is a postgrad student who sews, creating fine, detailed pieces by means of embroidery. Otto is a second-year BA English student specialising in “kinda sticking pieces of fabric onto other pieces of fabric.” Making elaborate patches by painting or sewing onto fabric scraps.
Milo explains how he learned the tricks of the trade from his family but continues to upcycle as a way of “saving money and preserving clothes.” But also, “[they] just like making fun little clothes because it makes [them] happy to have something cool that I made [himself].”
Whereas Otto and I both got into upcycling because we both find it difficult to dedicate the time and energy to building a new garment from scratch. Personally, I can’t work a sewing machine, I find the material to be an expense, and I simply don’t understand how patterns work. What I do understand, however, is paint, sewing, and embroidery. As Otto puts it, “upcycling seemed like a fun way to use those skills and make something cool, without a ton of commitment.”
Upcycling can be a great way to unwind. It can be a way to destress, listening to a podcast, as Otto does, and let yourself wander away from reality as your muscle memory does all the work. Or, it can be a cathartic way to get out all the creative juices and express yourself. Milo says that his favourite thing about upcycling is “making something your own in your own way, even if it is not perfect or flawless.”
Being friends with Otto and Milo means that I get to see their projects flourishing in the wild.
Milo’s favourite creation is a denim jacket he made for his partner, that includes an embroidered ribcage encompassing the back panel. Otto’s favourite piece is also an altered denim jacket, this one featuring Medusa’s head. He says, “I think I could probably do a lot better now but I’m still really proud of how they turned out!” As someone that’s seen these jackets IRL, they are phenomenal! Milo posts his work on Instagram @mornings.violet where you can also commission him.
I do also want to give a shoutout to Otto’s teeth vest. It’s a vest with teeth (not human) glued onto it. It’s absolutely amazing.
The favourite thing I’ve made is also a denim jacket. They’re such a great canvas to work on! I spent the summer working on a cat-themed jacket. I made stencils to paint a pattern on the back panels, and I lined the cuffs, collar, pocket, and some hems with a frilly fabric I found for a euro in Vibes and Scribes!
There’s a big environmental aspect to this as well. Not only are you contributing to the fight against fast fashion by reusing and repurposing old clothes, but you’re also reducing textile waste, a big contributor to landfills. Milo explains how they use “fabric scraps around that [they] use and reuse in appropriate projects.”
Both of my interviewees agree that there’s a lovely community surrounding upcycling here in Cork. Plenty of Upcycling workshops are run on campus by different societies so keep an eye out for those!
Finally, I asked both what their favourite part about upcycling is. Otto says, “I love the control it gives me over how I present. I’m able to make pieces that are completely unique, and tailored to my specific interests/aesthetic. I also really enjoy the making process, watching as a project slowly comes together, piece by piece.” And Milo says, “My favourite thing would have to be the creativity of upcycling. There are so many different methods and materials and creative things that can be done. It’s another way to express yourself in something perhaps a bit less permanent than tattoos.”