Growing up, we saved everything. My parents are children of depression-era moms who knew how to reuse. Not-so-soiled paper napkins get saved to wipe up spills off the floor. Tin foil gets washed and reused. Plastic bags get rinsed and hung to dry. One of the most-loved handmade gifts I ever gave to family members was a plastic bag drying rack made from dowels and a fence-post top! As I got older, I learned my grandmothers were ahead of the curve environmentally. Reuse is even better than recycling!
So it’s no surprise that I’m not in the habit of getting rid of past-years fashions even if I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them. I’ll hang on to something until it becomes clear it’s just gathering dust in my closet and then I’ll donate it. Of course, old, worn out garments become dust rags!
An idea came to me when I was window shopping at the mall. Crochet is everywhere this season: beautiful belts and vests at Anthropologie, edgings on skirts at Macy’s, collars and cuffs at The Gap. I was thrilled to see longer tops come into fashion because I’m short-waisted. The cropped tops that were ubiquitous until recently only accentuated that fact, but I do have a few that are in perfectly good condition. I’d hate to get rid of them. Maybe, I mused, a little crochet is all I need to avoid getting rid of my old favorites.
What about jeans that fit great but have a hole in the knee? Or the skirt you love that isn’t quite the right length? Or a child’s favorite garment that she’s outgrown? You can easily add a flattering ruffle or any length of crocheted fabric to create your own one-of-a-kind garment.
This is not exactly a pattern because everyone’s shirts, skirts and pants are different. Think of it as a guide. We’re only working with rectangles here—there’s no shaping, and just a little sewing.
First, try on the garment you want to modify. It should fit well, and you should like the way it looks. The only thing you’re changing about the fit is the length. Now, take a look in the mirror, and decide where you’d like the crochet to begin. Don’t start cutting now.
If you’re altering a shirt, you could start it right under the bust, or just have a few inches of trim at the bottom. Make a mark with dressmaker’s chalk, and measure the width of one side of the shirt at the line you’ve made.
If you’re modifying a skirt, you have a lot of flexibility. Look at skirts you like in the stores for inspiration. They’re often falling just below the knee, but longer skirts are popular as well. Add a little crochet, or a lot! Once you’ve selected your skirt, and determined the length of crochet you would like to add, measure the width of one side (front or back). Again, don’t cut the fabric yet.
If you’re transforming a pair of jeans, you need to be careful in your selection. You need to make sure you won’t be cutting into any pockets when you cut the legs. The pockets on the pants you choose need to end above the top of the inseam. Measure the width of the pants there.
You’ll want to choose a fiber that approximately matches the weight of the fabric you’ll be sewing onto. Remember that crocheting is dense. Drape is important when you’re sewing onto knits. With other fabrics, like denim, you may have more flexibility. Once you choose a yarn, make a few swatches. Switch needle size if the feel of the fabric you’re creating isn’t what you want.
There are plenty of ways to lessen your impact on the earth with your yarn choice. Look for yarns from sustainable and renewable sources. Buy yarn second hand. Use something you’ve had in your stash for years. Reclaim yarn from an old sweater. Or buy yarn directly from a local manufacturer, for instance, an alpaca farm.
Be creative! Get out a stitch dictionary, like Betty Barnden’s The Crochet Stitch Bible, and have fun swatching before you get going. Keep in mind that certain stitch patterns require a repeat of a set number of stitches so your chain may have to be multiples of that number.
Think about how lacy you’d like the garment and how much skin you’d like peeking through. Shell patterns are great, or you could use mesh (*DC, ch1, sk 1 stitch, DC, repeat from*) or a combination. The sky’s the limit.
Spend some time swatching until you come up with something you like. If you have enough yarn, you can keep your swatches for a future patchwork project or for your project journal.
Make a 5-7 inch swatch in the stitch pattern you decide to use. Measure the number of stitches, shells, or other pattern repeats over 4 inches and calculate your gauge (the number of stitches or pattern repeats per inch). Once you’ve determined your gauge, calculate the number of chains you need to fit your project, and get started. Add a few stitches for a seam allowance on either side.
Continue crocheting in your chosen stitch pattern until your piece is the length you want. Stop occasionally to check the fit against your project piece. The best way to do this is to try the garment on. Put a stitch holder in your work. Pin the crochet onto the garment at your chalk mark and try it on. When you have the length you want, fasten off and make the second piece.
Note: Skirts and pants sometimes have more fabric in the back than the front. Your pieces may need to be different widths. Measure the front and back carefully.
After some experimentation, I found it’s easiest to attach the crochet to the garment before you cut any fabric. You can sew on your crochet by hand or by machine. In order to avoid the bulk of a folded seam, topstitch the crochet directly onto the right side of the garment.
By hand: Pin the crochet onto the garment. Use a sharp tapestry or upholstery needle and the same yarn you crocheted with. You can use a straight stitch or a whipstitch – just make your stitches as inconspicuous as possible. For me, a straight stitch worked best.
Machine sewing: Use matching or transparent heavy-duty thread. Baste first by hand, and then sew. You may want to practice with your swatch on a part of the garment you’re going to cut off.
After your crochet is sewn on, sew or crochet your side seams adjusting the amount of seam allowance to make the fabric fit.
When it’s all assembled, weave in your ends. Now, fold the crocheted fabric back and cut off the excess fabric. Sew a small hem by hand or machine so your fabric doesn’t unravel.
Keeping in the spirit of environmental friendliness, I chose yarns from Southwest Trading Company. [Note: These yarns tend to slide off the skein, leading to tangles and knots. I found my work went much more smoothly after I put the skein in a quart-sized zipper bag and worked from there.]
This skirt ruffle is done with Soy Silk – a yarn with an amazing hand and drape that really does rival silk. It’s a variegated yarn, and the colors are beautiful. Soy Silk is a byproduct of the tofu manufacturing process. Not only are you using a renewable resource, you’re using up something that would have been thrown away! The yarn is “knitted” together, not spun. It’s not twisted and therefore won’t untwist. It’s a light worsted or DK weight. They also make a slightly heavier version called Phoenix.
I used a simple double crochet for most of the fabric and then started the ruffle after about 3-inches. A ruffle in crochet is simply a dramatic increase in stitches that causes the fabric to fold onto itself. You can create them in many ways depending on how “ruffly” you want your piece to be. For instance, you can work across the row making 3 or more double crochets in each stitch, then work each stitch normally for the length of the ruffle. Or, you can make a v-stitch ruffle, working *(dc, ch1, dc) in next stitch, ch1, skip 1*, repeat * to*.This gives a looser, lacier ruffle. You can also space out the ruffles so they only occur every few inches. Be sure to measure, count stitches, and place markers so you know where you want to increase.
My second project is to change an old pair of jeans belonging to my daughter, Selma, into a skort.
The skort is made with Southwest Trading Company’s Bamboo — a 100% bamboo yarn. This yarn is also knitted. It’s even finer than the soy silk, and a tiny bit stiffer, but it has a wonderful sheen and takes color beautifully.
I used a very simple V-stitch pattern, that uses a multiple of 2 sts +1. After the foundation chain and first couple of rows have been completed, I start the row with a turning chain of 3. Skip first two stitches and work *2DC in the next stitch, skip next stitch, repeat from * across, ending with a skip 1 and DC in last stitch. On the next row, chain 3, work 2 DCs in between the 2 DCs of the previous row across, ending with DC in the 2 nd ch of turning chain. Another option would be to put them in the spaces where you skipped stitches. This would create bigger holes and have a more lacy effect.
With Selma’s skort, I covered the bottom of the pocket with the crocheted fabric, so I had to take care not to sew the pocket closed while attaching the fabric.