Guest post written by social media volunteer Melissa.
About 2 years ago I picked up embroidery. I sit behind a computer all day and wanted to create something with my hands. This craft is a great way for me to combine my love of design with crafting and playing with colors. Since then, I have fallen in love with embroidery. With this being a craft I love so much, I was thrilled to see embroidery making a comeback in modern day fashion.
Now when I say embroidery, most people think of the pillowcases and table linens their grandmas used to make, but embroidery has been revamped and revitalized by modern makers in recent years and has actually become trendy.
Where does embroidery originally come from?
Embroidery is the handcrafted art of embellishing fabric with a thread and needle. It's origins date back as far as 30,000 BC and has been used to decorate the clothing and housewares from religious figureheads to royalty. It was considered a symbol of luxury and wealth due to the fine materials (gold and silver thread) and labor intensive act of creating each decorative piece.
Free hand embroidery, as hand embroidery became known due to the rise of machine embroidery in Switzerland is the later half of the 19th century, has endured throughout the years because much like oral histories, the stitches have been passed down from generation to generation. From Vietnam to Mexico to Eastern Europe, each region has its own distinctive style of embroidery stitches and way of embellishment.
Embroidery became so popular in medieval England, that guilds and workshops known as Opus Anglicanum or "English work" were created to keep up with the demand. These embroideries featured many religious depictions and were often crafted by male embroiderers— surprising since embroidery is often referred to as a woman's domestic hand craft. In fact, most historical embroidery works featured symbol depictions inspired by religion and superstition, such as the Sphinx, Dragon and The Tree of Life, or to underline the membership to a certain aristocratic family.
Not your grandma's pillowcases and linens
The term embroidery often has people thinking royal dresses or crocheted tea towels, but embroidery has become so much more than a specialty use item or historical dress. Embroidery as a textile art has seen a rebirth thanks to textile artists who have breathed new life into this once opulent and religious art form.
From stitching on tennis rackets to car hoods, using the embroidery hoop as a frame to embroidery as a political statement, embroidery has seen a revitalization not only in art, but also in fashion.
Embroidery and embellishments have become one of the most popular trends this year. From t-shirts to denim jackets, and skirts to shoes embroidery is everywhere.
So how can you add embroidery to your wardrobe without breaking the bank?
This week we have a guest blogger, Terri Wear, who is the Secretary of the Eastside Community Aid (ECA) Thrift Shop; she has been volunteering with the organization since 2014. Among Terri’s current responsibilities is creating and sending out the ECA newsletter. She especially enjoys sewing and other crafts. In this post, she shares how she has creatively “upcycled” some of her thrift shop purchases.
Upcycling is a term I wasn’t familiar with until just recently. Sure, I know about recycling, and I put all my recyclables in the correctly marked bin, even taking my Styrofoam to Styrofest. And I know about repurposing, like when someone puts a pillow into a large wicker basket to be a dog bed. I have certainly embellished clothing, like adding embroidery or button designs to existing t-shirts. But I wasn’t sure what upcycling meant, until I heard about it and gave it a try.
According to Google, to upcycle is to “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.” The term has been around since the mid 1990s when it was used to refer to creative reuse of industrial materials. I am glad that industrial materials can be reused, but that’s not something I am likely to do. But I do like to sew, and upcycling is definitely a term used for certain sewing projects these days.
Learning by doing
I recently made a tote bag from a black leather skirt I had purchased at a thrift shop. I cut off the waistband of the skirt and sewed across the bottom to create the tote. I added handles made from the waistband, and the lining of the skirt became the lining of the tote. By utilizing a small leather miniskirt that no one seemed to want anymore, I created an item that was more valuable to me and very pleasing to me aesthetically. I use it all the time, and the pockets of the skirt are just the right size for a bottle of water, keys or whatever. I “upcycled” the skirt into a tote bag.
This kind of upcycling project can be seen on many internet crafting sites and in sewing classes. I attended the Sew Expo in Puyallup in February this year, and there were at least two classes on upcycling projects. They all emphasized shopping at thrift shops as a way to obtain inexpensive garments or items to use in your upcycling projects.
One of the presenters at Sew Expo was Michelle Paganini, whose company name is Paganoonoo. She creates instructions for one-of-a-kind upcycled garments. She likes to take men’s shirts and combine them into interesting tunics and dresses for women. The results are a very wearable garment that one can easily see was made from men’s shirts. The fact that one can still see some of the design details from the original garment in the upcycled garment is one of the distinguishing features of upcycling.
Another presenter at Sew Expo, Marsha McClintock, elaborated on this. She said that if you just utilized the fabric from an existing garment for a new garment, that was called “harvesting” fabric. This is done all the time and is a useful way to find fabric for sewing. Even Julie Andrews did it in the “Sound of Music” movie when she made clothing for the children from the drapes in her room. When upcycling an item, though, the design features are still apparent on the new item. Whether it is the pockets on a skirt turned into pockets on a tote bag, or the collar and button placket from a man’s shirt that becomes part of a woman’s dress, those details are still apparent.
At Sew Expo, Marsha showed tote bags made from leather coats and jeans, and she showed aprons and adult bibs made from men’s shirts. She also talked about her favorite thrift shop in the Portland area for finding inexpensive garments to upcycle. Well, I have a favorite thrift shop too! I was a shopper at the Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop before I became a volunteer there. I find wonderful bargains every time I visit the shop. Some items I upcycle, and some I just use as they are.
I think upcycling is fun, and it’s an admirable way to stock your closet, use your fabric stash, or inspire your creative spirit. I hope you will give upcycling a try!
Susan is a frequent volunteer at Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop, where she sorts, prices, and stocks merchandise to her heart's content. Before retirement, she owned and operated a consignment shop for women's plus size clothing in Seattle. Through trial and error and talking with customers, she learned a thing or two. An avid "thrift shopper," Susan loves to buy clothing, especially when she gets good quality and value for her money.
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