Create catwalk looks from a charity shop - for just €30

TV show The Great British Sewing Bee looks set to make wardrobe revamps all the rage. In a week when designers paraded expensive labels across London catwalks, we set an ‘upstyler’ a challenge — create four catwalk looks from a charity shop, with a budget of just €30.

FIVE days before my wedding I collected my dress from the designer. On my way home in the car that evening, all the way from Dublin to Cork, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

The dress just wasn’t right. It was beautiful, without doubt. And it was what I had asked for — a very simple ivory satin gown, with a cowl back.

But it just wasn’t sitting right. Cut on the bias, it seemed to gape, just ever so slightly, around my waist and tummy. It didn’t matter I told myself. Surely no bride is a hundred percent happy with her dress?

To be fair, I hadn’t given the designer an easy task either — I was four months pregnant when I commissioned him to make it, and my baby was six-months old by the time of the wedding. In those 11 months he had seen my weight spiral to 13 stone and fall back to eight. Truly, he had worked a miracle.

I reached Cork and kept driving. Straight to a local dressmaker in Carrigaline I had known for years. I tried the dress on for her and I didn’t have to say a word. She saw what I saw. She would keep the dress overnight and see what she could do. I returned the next morning. And she had saved my wedding dress. That day I discovered the power of a dressmaker — (Ann White, I’m forever in your debt).

Since then I’ve had a size 16 jumpsuit, picked up for €35 in a sale in Coast, cut back to a perfect size 10 (for €20). Clothes that didn’t quite fit, that I couldn’t bear to part with, have been transformed. Dresses cut into tops, trousers chopped to fit just right. It’s a whole new wardrobe.

Series two of the Great British Sewing Bee began this week and I can only hope it does for sewing what the Great British Bake Off did for cakes. Stitch and bitch sessions have already brought knitting back into the limelight. And now it’s time for sewing to shine.

The increasing number of ‘upstylers’ and sewing classes proves demand is there. Jennifer Strong opened The Zipyard in Newbridge 18 months ago. And business is booming. She specialises solely in upstyling clothes.

“People don’t throw away clothes anymore,” she says. “They may come to us with maybe a 1990s oversized coat and look for it to be modernised, more tailored. Maybe they want leather sleeves to really keep it up to trend.” Transforming a coat could cost €60 to €70.

Fashion designer Jim Upton provides a similar service at Be Creative in Cork. Except he is also teaching people the skills to do it themselves too, with a range of beginners and advanced sewing classes for adults and children.

Upton is determined to show people just how easy it is to learn the basics of sewing.

“Sure, some people have a natural instinct, but anyone can do it. We show them the stitching technique and give them confidence with the machines,” says Jim, whose designs have been sold everywhere from a|wear to Brown Thomas. Today he specialises in golf wear.

He charges €125 for five two-hour adult classes (it’s €75 for kids), with a maximum of eight per class. “It’s around €12.50 to get a pair of jeans taken up. You’ll make your money back fast,” he says.

Just to show what can be done, we set Jim a challenge. In a week when the top designers showed off unaffordable, expensive labels on catwalks across London, we gave him €30 to spend in a charity shop to show just what can be done with clothing cast-offs.

The results speak for themselves. The size 16 black dress was cut back to a 12, the two striped tops combined to tap into the monochrome trend — but the grey skirt is my highlight. With a three euro price tag, it looked like nothing in the shop. But Jim and stylist Deirdre Murphy have turned it into a classic piece.

Jim estimates he would charge around €20 for an upstyle along those lines — so that would be a brand new, one of a kind skirt for €23. And with a bit of training, Jim insists, anyone could do it. Who needs designer labels anymore?

Be Creative also hosts art classes

Worth the effort

What we spent: Grey top, €3.50; Bag, €1.50; Polo neck striped top, €3; Long sleeved striped top, €7; Skirt, €3; Grey satin trimmed top, €3.50; Vest, €1.50 and black dress, €4.50 = €27.50

And what we did:

Skirt: Reshaped from long A-line into a shorter pencil skirt, with added slit and tweed decorative belt. Cut off from the hem was used to make a belt and this is trimmed with some of the decoration from the black dress.

Grey knit top: Tweed trim at neckline, decorative leather and glass bead trim from black dress used to effect on the collar and cuff.

Black dress: Reduced from a size 16 to 12. Removed the neck decoration, added sequin lace and velvet ribbon at hem.

Grey layered top: Split it in front, cut away one layer, shortened it and restyled it into a wrapover ballet top.

Stripe dress and top: Shortened the dress and replaced the sleeves with those from the stripe top. The sleeves have also been restyled using the lower section of the dress sleeve with button detail. A feature neckline was created using an exposed zip with contrast under striping, also a band of wider stripe from the roll neck top was added to the hem.

A necklace was made from some of the leather and glass bead decoration from the black dress.


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