If you are anything like me, with the swift transition from summer to autumn, or whatever this non-stop rain season is called, you might have been swapping your warm-weather wardrobe for the colder months one. I did that a few weeks ago and it provided a perfect opportunity to reassess and review my clothes in light of newfound style insights, changes in my preferences and wardrobe demands in my job, for both handmade and RTW items.
This type of exercise usually comes with a massive purge. So I did a bit of thinking, a bit of research and I’d like to share my findings with you.
What to do with your self-made clothes when you no longer want them
I will say from the start that I have absolutely no qualms in parting with my handmade clothes. Sentimental, I am not! Once I am over something, I need to get it out of my wardrobe and be done with it. However, as you know me, I am also massively against waste of any sort, so I very dearly would prefer for that item to be worn in its intended purpose by someone else.
So here are some ideas on what to do with your handmade clothes when you no longer want them for various reasons. To say that these ideas can apply to RTW clothes as well, and I would add that we should treat our garments, whether handmade or ready to wear, with the same amount of love and respect, during their active life or at the end of it.
I do love me a little infographic, so I’ve distilled down all my research into a decision tree graphic. Enjoy!
SAVE THIS FOR LATER ON PINTEREST
Now let’s unpack this a bit…
The first thing to think about when deciding what to do with clothes you no longer want is: can they be worn again? I know we all have various levels of acceptable when it comes to rewear, but my test is ‘if someone gave it to me in this state, would I wear it?”.
I will add that ensuring clothes stay in active use for as long as possible is the absolute best thing you can do for the environment. So please do consider repairing, refashioning, repurposing or even dyeing before you decide to part with an item, handmade or otherwise.
What to do with clothes that cannot be worn again
If the garments you want to part with cannot be worn again, I’m always thinking if it would like to keep that fabric or notions for something else. If I do, they will go to the WIP/UFO pile, to be either scavenged for the fabric if there is enough or to be refashioned. For example, a dress can become a skirt or a blouse, a pair of trousers can become jeans, etc. If this is not possible, maybe you can reuse the fabric for pockets, bags or lining. So it would maybe be unpicked/disassembled go to the bag of scraps, ready for the next suitable project.
If you don’t like the fabric, maybe there are some notions like buttons or zippers that can still be useful. Before sending it to the recycling bin, make sure you recover them, they will come in handy sometimes. Even elastic might also be useful one day.
After everything was recovered, you can look to recycle it. Now, there are various ways to think about it. You can stuff it a puff or a draft excluder, where it will still be useful.
If not, you can pass it on to commercial textile recycling services, like textile banks offered by the councils or local administration. Also, companies like H&M offer to recycle services. My top tip would be to ensure that wherever you take them, they have a zero waste to landfill policy. H&M work with an organisation called I:CO that promise nothing will go to landfill, even if it may mean energy recovery. This is, of course, the least desirable scenario, it’s better than going to landfill.
Usually, textiles will be downcycled in mattress filling, insulation etc. If it’s 100% cotton, wool or cashmere, it may even be recycled into new textiles. Some charities have this policy as well, but, as I will talk about in a bit, sometimes this is harder to control. If you donate to a textile bank, check who are they operated by and look up their policies on their website.
Options for when clothes are wearable
Even with handmade items, you always have the option to sell them. I was reading recently about someone who adds their own labels and sells them via Facebook. I never tried to sell any of my handmade clothes, so I have no experience with those, but I would love yo hear from you if you did.
To note that I’m not speaking about sewing for other people and charging them, this is about selling items you have already made.
A few places where you could try selling your handmades:
I’m curious if anybody had any success selling handmade on big second-hand platforms like Poshmark, ThredUp or apps like Depop. Please let me know in comments.
If you can’t be bothered to try selling your clothes (I just can’t be asked to do all the photographing and listing), yet you’d still like your handmade items to be worn by someone, letting your friends and family scavenge your handmade wardrobe could be a great option. Both my best friend and my sister are very similar shapes to me, so I love passing on any items I don’t want anymore. I know they would appreciate them and how unique they are. Every time I go see my sister in Denmark, I end up leaving something behind and I don’t mind that at all.
If you have a Whatsapp group or any other group chat, you could advertise that you are willing to part with handmade items and your friends can choose what they want, provided they are similar sizes.
This is a rather new idea for me. Although I am familiar with the concept, I have never been to a swap party before. But this past weekend, I took part in my first ever swap event, as a helper. It was great to be part of the organising team that put together such a great event. A massive shout out to the fab Katie Towle for setting up these events and to Annie from The Village Haberdashery for hosting in the loveliest sewing and haberdashery shop (if you are in London, you must visit).
This was also an experiment of sorts. I had discussed with Katie, the organiser, to try to include some handmade items to test if people would be interested (or are they looking for the labels…). I took a massive haul of me-made clothes to the swap and, guess what, they all got taken by very enthusiastic people.
The other interesting thing to me was whether I would mind wearing clothes that are not new. I have always had a weird aversion towards second hand (and I wrote about it here previously). But since I don’t buy new clothes and some things I can’t make myself, I did have to buy some ski gear this spring. This made me much more disposed towards charity shop buying (online, mostly, I still can’t manage the trawling part). And on Sunday, something clicked and I ended with 4 amazing pieces that I took home from the swap. I am madly in love with them and I know I will love and wear them for many years to come. I felt even better that two of them had small damages that I could use my skills to repair right away.
So this incredibly positive experience got me thinking: would it not be great to have a similar event just for handmade clothes? How cool to be able to swap clothes with someone who is pear-shaped like you, or needs to make a swayback adjustment like you always do? And they use that amazing Liberty fabric you have been drooling over for ages?
So I’m doing a quick straw poll, what do you guys think, could this work? Would you go to such an event? Because I’m seriously thinking of organising one in London. Please answer the poll and let me know.
You might want to ensure that your clothes do something good. And there are several ways to go about this.
You could make a direct donation, like taking them to a homeless shelter or a women’s refuge. You will need to make sure that the particular organisation is actually looking for the items you have to give. I have tried in the past to pass on various regular clothes to shelters, but they were mostly looking for men’s clothes and specific items, like coats and socks. Most likely that fancy gowns won’t go down very well. Kids clothes might also be very welcome. This approach has also the benefit of ensuring that the garments will be worn by people who really need them. This always means a lot to me.
You can also support a cause indirectly, via a charity shop. In the UK, the charity shops are affiliated to various causes, like health-related (Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation etc), international development (Oxfam), children (Barnardo’s, Click Sargeant), but also hospices, animals and many many more. So people tend to donate to causes they are close to, to support that organisation.
However, much has been written about what happens to clothes passed on to charity shops. Through my work, I know a lot about textile recycling and the charity retail sectors. This is just in relation to the UK, btw.
What usually happens if you donate to a charity shop is as follows: the best items will be sold in the shop (cream). But because they need to rotate their merchandise very often (2-3 weeks), if it doesn’t sell in this period, they will need to remove it from the sale and pass on. Most charities do not have the capacity to extract further value from what is not sold, so they sell in bulk to textile processors (commercial organisations) what is called ‘charity grade stock’. The commercial sorters will then go through every single item and determine its value for resale in various countries or for recycling (usually downgrading). The charities are paid by the kilo for these textiles, so they still get some benefit from your donations. There is a small percentage that the recyclers will not take, so that will most likely end in the municipal streams (black sacks) and most likely incinerated.
That is why there is a dotted line in my infographic that goes from charity to recycling.
To add that the only charity in the UK that has its own sortation centre is Oxfam, in Batley in West Yorkshire. If you are more interested in the environmental side of things, this is probably the best option. They try to resell as much as possible in the UK, they have a zero waste to landfill policy and they resell in carefully selected countries abroad.
Of course, you should always support the cause you care most about (and also, Oxfam have had their share of problems in recent years), but all things being equal, that’s who I chose from an environmental perspective alone.
I also contacted several charities (Oxfam and the British Heart Foundation) to check if they are happy to receive handmade clothes, as I was worried that they will send them straight to be recycled if they don’t have labels. Oxfam responded that they will treat handmade clothes the same as RTW ones. Good quality ones will be sold in charity shops, and in their online shop, and listed as ‘handmade’. Others might end up abroad and some could be recycled. So I am reassured that a lovely piece of clothing might very well end up being loved again.
If none of these options will work for you, you can always put the items in a textile bank. Sometimes they are operated by charities, but many times they are run by the municipality or commercial recyclers. The municipality will most times also sell the textiles collected to commercial sorters.
I’m not saying that commercial recyclers are bad. It’s in their best interest to resell as much as possible, as they can get more revenue from clothes that can be resold than from shredding and recycling them. However, some are better than others in ensuring the ethics of their customers and where they resell especially in Africa and Asia. So I recommend looking into who runs the bank you are making donations to.
Same as with charity shops, some of the items put in the banks will end up being recycled (and hopefully very little in landfill).
Before I finish this really long post by now, I want to end on a plea! Please never put anything in the bin! No matter how damaged an item is, there will be options to deal with the textiles. In the UK, we still send 300,000t of clothes to landfill every year, which in turn cause CO2 to be released and chemicals to run into the waterways. In other countries, it’s even worse.
THANKS FOR READING ALL THE WAY TO THE END! I WOULD LOVE TO KNOW WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE HANDMADE ITEMS YOU NO LONGER WANT. ANYTHING I MISSED? LET ME KNOW AND I WILL UPDATE THE POST WITH YOUR THOUGHTS.
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Interesting article in terms of recycling unwanted garments and shoes. I usually purge my wardrobe Winter and Summer. I choose the local charity shops and favour two in particular. I wouldn’t personally sell any of my things. I’ve done a lot of soul searching in terms of what I actually wear regularly and I still have too many clothes, and general stuff, like most females. I have a huge box of scrap fabric which I’ll get around to making some fancy bunting sometime for the garden. I used to be enthusiastic about the re-using of fabric but it takes up so much time and we are all too overloaded. So when I can no longer repurpose curtains into cushions, or give things to the local village fayre it goes to charity, occasionally worn out things go to the recycling unit. I’ve stopped sewing new things for now. I look after my clothes, always have,RTW and handmade, they won’t wear out. I’m still wearing a white silk/wool fine rollneck sweater I purchased 23years ago! It’s still good and fashionable, why would I get rid of it.
Thank you, Elaine! So many good points here. The main thing is indeed sewing less, and making more consciously. The main reason for getting rid of clothes (in general, not just handmade) is that my style has changed dramatically in the last couple of years, so most of the stuff I sewed in the early years are just not me anymore. And I do know what you mean about repurposing! I think my scrap stash is as big as my fabric stash…
A few years ago I had made more than I needed, some I had outgrown, some were just experiments. As I sew from charity shop finds, I was also conscious that charity shops get more than they can handle and in so as I could be responsible for my own excess in part at least, I did a one day stall in a pop up flea market. It was really interesting and I sold a lot of stuff on. I also got to talk to people about sewing and remaking. I wish to advise though I was not selling on for much, pretty much charity shop prices!
How interesting, thank you for sharing! Can you share more about what people’s attitudes to handmade vs shop bought? Did they buy them because they were handmade, because of the good value or because they just liked them regardless?
They sold because they were different, good quality and cheap (ie I had some detatchable embroidered collars, crochet trimmed sweaters and denim patchwork skirts). the pieces would have been styles I like (which tend to be simple and classic so mix well.)
I sold pieces for between 10 – 25 euro, so I certainly was not covering labour costs! A good few were really into the idea of these being upcycled, and some just enjoyed the uniqueness of the make. The stall was at a ‘flea market’ style event so it would have attracted people who would probably consider buying alternatives to ‘fast fashion’
Adele from Button and Pip is arranging a me made swap next month – might be worth checking out….
I have bought a silk, handmade loose-fitting top in a charity shop. My favourite skirt is also home made and cost a bit more, as it came from a a second hand shop. It is made from red suede, and lined in silk satin. Both are beautifully made. Many of my clothes are from hospice shops as those sell good quality clothes. I wear my clothes many years and then cut them up for compost or stuffing if they are wool or cotton, or put them in a recycle bin. I also refashion or remake and I always remove buttons and often zippers.
I have another way to prevent textiles going to landfill. Have you heard of the global group called The Buy Nothing Project? https://buynothingproject.org/ It works as a hyper local gifting economy where you give items you no longer want or use like clothing, toys, books, furniture, crockery and jewellery. It operates on a Facebook platform where people opt-in to be involved. The ‘gifter‘ takes a photo of the item and gives a brief description. Then members from your group comment below the photo if they are interested in it. The ‘gifter’ chooses the neighbour to receive the item and they come to pick it up. Our group loves handmade anything and we have just started a sewing group for beginners through to experts. The beginners are making simple totes from gifted pillow cases. The confident ones are making reversible totes using gifted shirts and jeans/cargo pants. Not only does the sewist have fun repurposing unwanted items but the person who gifted the item/s gets to see it used in another way, and not thrown out.
Thank you so much for this information. I’ve always been baffled by the various ways to dispose of fabric although I have taken bags of scraps to H&M as I know they take anything! But this really clarifies it all and I will be much more careful regarding what I give to the charity shop in future.
As to reselling handmade: I did sell a tunic on Ebay in the summer – it was lovely fabric but the cut didn’t suit me. It wasn’t tailoring standard but I was very honest in the description & photos. One woman really loved it and ended up getting it for a couple of quid; I didn’t mind: I got rid of some clutter & it found a new home, win-win.
Do you have any tips on what to do with really little scraps, like those that are leftover from cutting out a fabric but aren’t a useful size or shape for cutting anything more out of them? Can they be recycled too for filling, etc.? Does the composition of the fabric matter?
Depends which country you are based in. Best thing to do is reuse as stuffing in cushions and draft excluders or toys. They are too small to be recycled, so I think the best option is to find a way of disposal that guarantees no landfill. In you are in the UK, Oxfam (and also Shwoping boxes in M&S stores), are good. H&M as well, as the company who run their scheme is also zero to landfill.
Thank you for this thoughtful post. I have made most of my own clothes for many years. Sometimes things wear out, are not up to my current skill level, don’t fit anymore, not good colors, etc. I don’t think selling or giving away is really option for my homemade clothes, but things made from undyed fabric, cotton thread, and self interfacing can go into my compost pile. First I cut them up and use the scraps to clean bird doo and other organic matter from my patio, outdoor chairs, vinyl siding, etc. I also use other scraps for all kinds of other household chores. I will throw “good” scraps into the washer and use them again and again. Weirdly shaped scraps can be used to clean the toilet and afterwards go into the garbage. I have bought almost no paper towels in the last 10 years. Very small scraps replace cotton balls.