We speak to keen upcycler Charlotte Rosevear about her passion for breathing new life into her clothes .  . .

What was the first item of clothing you upcycled?

"I think it was a pair of jeans when I was about 11. I discovered YouTube and would watch videos of people doing what is now often called ‘Thrift Flipping’, and I wanted to give it a go. So, I chopped the legs off some old jeans to turn them into shorts, and sewed Aztec embroidery patterns onto them. I don’t think I wore them very much because I was very shy, but it didn’t matter because I enjoyed it so much I kept on doing things like that."

Are some items easier to upcycle than others? 

"One of the key things to look out for is the kind of material the item you're upcycling is made of. Because if you plan on sewing it, this can determine how hard the job will be. For beginners, items that are stable (not very stretchy) relatively thin, and don't fray too quickly (this is easy to test with a small cut on the edge of the fabric) are what I would recommend. So, for example, thin denim from a pair of old jeans would be perfect.

I would also recommend starting with small alterations to clothes that are only a few sizes too big, say around the waist, to make upcycling easier. For example, adding a few darts to the waist of a skirt. That means there will be a fairly limited amount of sewing and you can eventually ease into trying more difficult things.

Often it’s the item itself that inspires what I turn it into, and therefore how difficult it is. So if it’s a plain top or sweater of some kind, I am usually drawn to painting it and then I can dictate how complicated the design I choose is, so it's relatively easy. However, during lockdown, I had an old fluffy fleece that I envisaged as a pair of sliders/slippers and attempted to achieve this by attaching the fleece to an old pair of flip flops - but that ended up being very messy and complicated!"

What are the key items you need in order to re-invent an item of clothing? And where do you find them?

"I am very lucky to have a sewing machine and tools that I collected throughout my teenage years - and given that sewing is one of my favourite ways to upcycle clothes, this is particularly handy! But even hand sewing has lots of possibilities, from being able to fix or replace buttons on second-hand clothes to giving them a new lease of life - or, for example, I once removed button loops from an old pair of white shorts and reattached them to my new jeans.

However, I am definitely someone who does not stick to one method of doing things and fortunately, the imagination involved in upcycling clothes means that you can use whatever medium you have access to. For example, I am often drawn to painting clothes to make them more unique and expressive of my personality, but in order to do this you don’t even have to have fabric paint, and you can use a special additive to normal acrylic paint. After that, all you normally need to set your painting to the fabric is an iron.

I have also been known to embroider things to upcycle them, from embroidering flowers on my Converse shoes to old hoodies. This is a more accessible way of upcycling clothes because beyond a needle and embroidery thread all you need to do is look up a tutorial online in order to learn and inspire you from there."

What inspires you most?

"One of the things that inspires me the most is compliments, which I hope doesn’t sound too vain! But genuinely, being able to tell someone the item they complimented is handmade makes it so much more encouraging for me, and to them it's very impressive and inspiring for themselves.

Another drive is the fact that upcycling clothes not only allows me to bypass fast fashion much more, but it allows me to develop a more unique style which in turn is much better for the environment due to its sustainable and recycling nature. For inspiration on what to upcycle or how I plan to upcycle garments, I usually turn to websites like Pinterest to see what other people are doing. But sometimes, it can be just as helpful to try and challenge yourself, or get your friends to challenge you."

What advice would you give to somebody who has never upcycled their own clothes before?

"Trial and error is part of the process. I have had times when I’ve tried something and ended up ruining the whole item. I’ve even gotten clothes stuck on before and had to cut them off, as embarrassing as that sounds. So I would encourage beginners to try things out and not worry if they go wrong, and remember that because it's upcycling, it doesn’t matter. The clothes I use are always either second-hand or on their way to the bin, so it doesn’t matter if things go wrong, because it’s not like you’ve wasted any money on brand-new fabric."