1 How Upcycling Helped Curb My Spending | The Billfold

How Upcycling Helped Curb My Spending

I don’t know about you, but as a girl who once utilized The Mall, and way too many pricey concerts as a way to escape the stresses of being a full-time student, plus working two part-time jobs, mama graduated college with a handful of debts to pay. My thought process at the time was, “Once I graduate, I’ll be able to pay all of this back within a few years.” And while I thought this was a perfectly reasonable idea at the time, that debt pay-off didn’t exactly happen as quickly as I’d planned.

Fast forward almost six years, and I’m now a lady who has a firm grip on her finances, has been consistently contributing to her 401(k) for the last three years, has an okay emergency savings, and is aggressively paying down her stupid credit card debt (credit card debt is so avoidable! Never again!). Money management is a lot like muscle memory. The more you practice, the easier it becomes, and over time, you’re able to do it without even putting a lot of thought into it (after a while it won’t hurt as much to walk away from that Urban Outfitters “Yard Sale” empty handed), and before you know it, you can’t remember how it was once even possible to not know how to manage your money.

There are a handful of rituals I’ve practiced over the last few years that have really helped to curb my spending, but the one I’d like to share is what I call “Upcycle Sundays”. This idea started three years ago when I was living at home for a few months to save money before moving to San Francisco, where I currently live. I made a point to stop shopping at the mall—because I really couldn’t afford it—and instead turn my shopping into a creative endeavor that I could afford. I would pick up gems from my local thrift stores for upcycle projects that I’d work on on the weekends, usually on Sundays. 

Here are some benefits of upcycling:

• Saving money (obviously)
• Supporting your local economy and helping to create jobs
• Helping the environment by reusing existing materials
• Reducing the amount of factory-produced clothing you buy
• Impressing your friends by telling them, “I made this,” when they inevitably compliment you on your super cute outfit
• Similarly, impressing your frugal friends by telling them, “This (enter article of clothing here) cost $2″
• The satisfaction of knowing that you made something awesome



So, without further ado, here’s a quick tutorial to get you started on your upcycling journey. Today we’ll be upcycling a large men’s striped cotton turtle neck that I found at Thrift Town in the Mission District of San Francisco for about $2. We’ll be transforming this forgotten article into a comfy American Apparel-esque pencil skirt that can be worn to the office or out to your favorite fancy bar, where you’ll hopefully be paying happy hour prices.

What you’ll need for this project:

• A large men’s long-sleeved shirt
• Scissors
• Matching thread
• Measuring tape
• A sewing machine (or a serger if you’re fancy)
• Your body, your roommate’s body, or a body form (which is what I’ll be using)
• About an hour of your time



Step One: First, remove the sleeves and the collar/turtle neck.



Step Two: Cut the shirt up the sides, and leave the two pieces neatly lined up. Take a measurement of your waist 1 inch below your belly button, (or 2.5 inches below your waist) and your hips. Divide each number in half (this is your flat measurement) and mark your fabric accordingly with pins (stick pins through the two pieces, which will hold them together for now).



Step Three: Now, grab those sleeves you removed earlier. We’re using these bad boys to make a waistband. Flatten out your sleeves and measure a 3-inch width, mark with pins and cut. Repeat with other sleeve. (Please note: You’re only cutting one side, the other remains folded.)




Step Four: Back to the main skirt. Sew, or serge (I used my trusty Brother serger) the skirt using your pins as your guide. Try on the skirt and make any necessary alterations. Next, pin the folded waistband to your skirt (if using striped fabric, be sure to line up those stripes!). Once pinned, serge/sew the sides of the waistband together. Then, serge/sew the waistband to the skirt using the pins as your guide. Lastly, hem the bottom of your skirt by folding the fabric about 1/4 inches twice (held by pins) and sewing a hem line.

And, voila! You should have a comfy, yet fitted, upcycled skirt!



Tatiana Jimenez is a marketing person at a credit union in San Francisco, where she has learned financial responsibility through osmosis. She also blogs about design and DIY projects on her website.


13 Comments / Post A Comment

Mike Dang (#2)

People who know how to sew: How hard is it to learn how to sew? I would love to make my own clothes.

hopelessshade (#580)

@Mike Dang It is not difficult to learn how to sew. Caveat: It is difficult to sew your own clothes.

Tatiana (#194)

@hopelessshade true. it also depends on what you’re trying to make, and the fabrics you’re working with. t-shirt jersey = probably one of the easiest fabrics to work with because it’s stretchy. but give it a whirl!

hopelessshade (#580)

@Tatiana Actually I hate fabric that stretches around on me while I’m sewing it. Stay the fuck put!

@Mike Dang It’s actually not super difficult, however the most important thing you need is patience and that’s the hard part (for me). Oh, and always, ALWAYS, make a muslin first when starting a new pattern. Then once you have the fit right, it’s really just a matter of piecing it all together.

nerd alert (#436)

@Mike Dang you just have to be comfortable with the learning curve! The first dress I ever made was pretty lackluster. So you need to be patient and practice- you can get a basic sewing machine for like a hundred bucks. Get cheap but decent fabric for the first couple of attempts, and be comfortable knowing that you’re not going to get it exactly right the first couple of times. I always recommend using a pattern when you start trying to teach yourself- they give you tracing paper pieces that you pin to the fabric, then cut out and assemble. Best tip? Find a friend that is willing to have sewing dates with you. A good friend who was very handy with a sewing machine walked me through my first couple of projects for the price of a six pack and dinner ever so often.

DrFeelGood (#401)

@Mike Dang Men’s clothing is pretty difficult, overall. The more structured/tailored a piece of clothing, the more complicated it is to sew. A skirt or a pair cotton of drawstring pants… pretty easy. So if you’re in a steel drum band and wear nothing but drawstring linen pants, you could be covered. If you need a men’s shirt… not so much. Also, sewing garments is often not cost effective (sadly). Often, just to purchase the fabric to make a garment is more expensive than going out and buying it in the store, especially when you factor in sales, and your own labor. Granted, you may get a nicer fit, and fabric, but I find its just not worth my time. Instead, I’ve saved the most money making home furnishings; curtains, bed spreads, pillow shams, and shower curtains. Curtains especially. They are very very expensive to buy and my cheap trick is to buy flat sheets (cheaper than fabric usually) and make the sheets into curtains.

sea ermine (#122)

@Mike Dang
Keep in mind that sewing isn’t always cheaper than buying the clothes, certain elements really push the cost up if you aren’t buying them in bulk (like buttons) and sometimes fabric cost will push you over the top. That said if you are making things because you have a hard time finding what you like in stores or are hard to fit or always have to take things to a tailor to get them altered sewing can save you money.

One other thing to note is that even if you know how to sew the mens patterns that are out there don’t have a lot of style and the style that are available are often ugly or dated (lots of this. So you’d either have to stick with the limited patterns available or learn to pattern draft which is hard (but fun!). Here’s the best book I’ve found (better than the pattern drafting course I took when I was a fashion major).
Try to find it at a library, especially if you leave near somewhere with a fashion program and just scan the section on menswear (you can also sometimes find it used) into a pdf.

Also, if you are buying a sewing machine I strongly recommend a pre 1960s singer. They can usually be found cheap in secondhand shops or craigslist if you look around (mine was $35) and while they are often straight stich only (a good thing if you don’t mind attachments for zigzag or whatever because the straight stitches will be straighter) they are sturdy, last forever, and of comparable quality to the thousand dollar top end machines today. They are also very easy to use. You’ll probably have to fix it up a little because even if it seems to be in good working order for electrical safety you’ll want to at least change the wires. That said, it’s fairly easy to teach yourself to fix them up and there are a lot of resources on the internet for it as long as you already know some basic wiring (you can also pay to get them repaired some places but that costs more). The total cost of my Singer 201 was $75 (this included buying parts and a soldering iron and wires) and it’s the best machine I’ve ever used.

Ways to make things sans sewing machine?

CheeseLouise (#54)

@Nina B.@twitter Hot glue, Fabri-Tac(tm), staples, hole punch and yarn, safety pins.

Tatiana (#194)

@Nina B.@twitter You could really “old school” and hand sew. :P

Tatiana (#194)

@Tatiana gah! curses. i meant: “You could go super “old school” and hand sew.” ;)

I love this. Just last night I went through my closet because half of my clothes are GOOD and look totally FINE but I don’t WEAR. I made a “Please do Something About This” pile and I intend to do exactly this–sew/stitch/glue my way into a 100% wearable wardrobe. Buying new clothes when I don’t wear half the things I own is just silly. (Also I have no money.)

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