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While it can apply to any objects or material, upcycling is commonly recognized as taking old or damaged clothes and altering them into a new article of clothing. This can consist of simply cutting the sleeves off a t-shirt to make a tank top, or completely unhemming pants and sewing them in a new style to create a shirt. It’s similar to making clothes from scratch, to a certain extent.

Upcycling has been common for centuries, but it gained most of its popularity from the second world war. In 1942, on March 8, the US War Production Board ordered that fifteen percent less textiles and fabrics should be utilized for women’s wear. Neutral colors and shorter skirts were highly advertised.

This law specifically targeted women during a time period of modesty, so they had to get creative. Women learned to sew extra material onto their store-bought skirts and blouses to cover more skin. This eventually progressed into today’s upcycling, where removing unwanted fabric is more common.

The progression wasn’t a steady slope, though. People slowly began to prefer name brand clothes over their own crafts. It wasn’t until the recent pandemic that people were hit with reality. In a sudden world of isolation and boredom, people searched for the positives.

Many households lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and couldn’t afford new clothes, so shopping at thrift stores was a smart resort. This was a difficult change for most people, since donated clothes are usually out-dated or damaged in some way. But everyone adapts to their situation, so instead of searching for nice articles, upcyclers focus on fabric. Any cute or good quality fabric can be upcycled into something fashionable. Now people could shop at a fair price before going home to work on their new, fun hobby. Personally, upcycling is a new hobby for me. I’ve been using a sewing machine my whole life, but I mostly used it to make small repairs to my clothes or I’d make new articles from patterns. The idea of upcycling wasn’t brought to my attention until I’d started thrifting too, and would be constantly disappointed by the wrong sizes. At one point I gave in and bought a shirt that was way too big for me, but when I showed it to a family member, they suggested I could take in the waist and leave the low-cut to upcycle it into a cute summer top. That was a great success for me, so for the past year or so, I’ve preferred simple upcycling over any other sewing projects. That one project opened my eyes to all the benefits this hobby provides. Obviously, it’s extremely cheaper than regular clothes shopping. At some thrift shops, you can pay by the pound, so you get plenty of pieces for only a couple dollars. This has a great effect on the environment because it reduces waste by saving materials from landfills and minimizes using natural resources. It also reduces manufacturing costs for large corporations.

The art of upcycling can be taken in by anyone. You don’t need to be an old lady who wants to cover her ankles, or a high class fashion designer, or even have experience with a sewing machine. Try starting small by using your hands to sew with a single needle and thread. Once you’ve mastered that process, you’ll be prepared to take on mostly any upcycling projects. Asking someone for guidance or watching a tutorial are useful support systems that everyone utilizes, so don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Remember this is a personal activity that most people greatly enjoy.

Upcycling is easier than most sewing projects and will produce the same satisfying results.

Plus it helps the rest of the world in its own small ways. If you’re interested, don’t be hesitant to give it a chance! You never know what you might create.