Skip to Content

10 refashioning tips for successful sewing

One of my most popular posts is tips for thrifting to refashion, sharing pictures and pointers for what to avoid and consider when you’re in the store shopping for inspiration. I wanted to build off of that post and share my best tips for actually sewing the refashions once you get the clothes home! I love sharing refashion tutorials and I think all of these tips will make sure you are happy with the final garment.

I taught myself to sew and made many mistakes when I was first starting out so I’m writing the tips that I needed to read way back when! Hopefully these refashion sewing tips can save you some headache and help beginners get started.

You can pin this round up of refashioning tips here:

Do you want to transform old clothes into new ones but don't know where to start? Check out these 10 must read refashioning tips for how to get started and how to choose a project. Upcycle sewing is inexpensive and fun, love your finished project after reading these refashion hacks first! #sewing #refashion #upcycle #sewingtips

If you need project ideas, check out these posts:

Refashioning Tips:

Tip #1- Match the right fabric with the right projects:

Hopefully you paid attention at the store to what fibers you love (I avoid poly-anything at all costs) but now that you’re home and brainstorming, you need to make sure that what you’re working with matches with the patterns or tutorials you’re looking at.

Some sewing patterns and tutorials will only work with knit (read: stretchy) fabrics. Some sewing patterns and tutorials will only work with woven (read: not stretchy) fabrics. You can get creative and make adaptations to switch back and forth between the two sometimes (like adding darts, zippers, or elastic), but if you’re just starting, match like with like.

Tip #2- Prewash the ‘before’ just like you want to wash the ‘after’:

I always wash thrifted stuff before I sew with it and I almost always ignore the care labels. If something can’t handle being machine washed on cold and line dried, it doesn’t belong in my closet! The last thing you want to happen is to sew up your finished garment, wash it, and have it shrink or distort. If it comes out wrinkly, you definitely want to iron it nice and smooth before you start!

Tip #3- Cut carefully:

I prefer to cut all the large pieces apart before I get started, giving me an idea of how much fabric I’m working with. Cutting as close as you can to the seams will preserve the maximum amount of fabric; you can also seam rip and iron the seams out if you’re really determined or really need to squeak the absolute max out, but there may be discoloration since the interior fabric hasn’t been exposed to the sun like the rest of it.

Tip #4- Decide what details and/or hems you want to preserve:

If you want to reuse buttons, pockets, lace, or certain places of fabric, consider those first before you cut. I love reusing hems when I can; you just adjust the pattern to account for no hem fabric needed or use it as a finished edge. You can see a full tutorial with pictures for how to reuse hems in this post about upcycling adult shirts into kids shirts.

Tip #5- Preserve the fabric’s grain:

Have you ever worn a shirt or pair of jeans that always twisted funny? That means it was cut off-grain! Just like with normal fabric, you need to cut things straight so they turn out well. Most pattern pieces have an arrow showing how the pattern needs to lay following the up and down threads of the fabric. This post explains it pretty well, if you aren’t familiar.


Tip #6- Use existing clothes as patterns:

So, this a little controversial, because I frequently run into “tutorials” that show tracing around a complicated garment or something fitted. In my opinion, and I’ve never tried them, this is bunk and you would not be happy with the finished result. BUT I think there are plenty of times when tracing around something will help – for example, the refashioned joggers tutorial I have shared in the past, where you are leaving the waist/crotch curve/butt curve alone and just tracing down to slim the leg. With this method, I frequently sew a super long stitch (basting) and test it out before I actually cut and sew anything.

Tip #7- Use upcycled clothes like regular fabric and use regular patterns:

After cutting carefully and laying your fabric out, you just use regular pattern pieces like you would with fresh fabric off the bolt. Pay attention to tip #9 when using this option! This is the method I used on this men’s button down dress shirt refashion.

step 2

Tip #8-Try things on & mark them:

When you’re working with a refashion, you can’t buy more fabric if you mess up. Try things on, mark hems or waistlines before you sew anything, and double check before you cut! This shot is from where I added a peplum-ish addition, in the tutorial for how to lengthen a t-shirt.

Tip #9- Plan out your dye job:

Not every refashion involves dye, but if you plan on dyeing the finished project, be sure to match your thread to the final color instead of the original color. You can see on the right that I sewed the bright, floral fabric with dark blue thread since I knew I’d be dyeing it that color. On the right, I used a light blue thread because I knew the existing thread wouldn’t take the dye.

Tip #10- If you don’t love the final result, don’t give up:

You had an idea, you cut it up and sewed it, and it doesn’t fit. Or it doesn’t look how you wanted. I can completely empathize with how frustrating this is, but never fear! Either send it back to the thrift store in the hopes that someone else will love it or save it or save it for yourself to re-refashion it or upcycle it into something all together new.

If you prefer a tangible book to online tutorials, check out this list of books on refashioning clothing here!

What intimidates you from trying refashioning? If you’re a pro, what is your favorite tip to share with others? I’d love to add it!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Friday 22nd of July 2022

Don’t worry about the ads, most websites use them, unless huge companies. And tbh it’s some extra finance if someone buys anything. What people should focus on is your fantastic tips and well thought out ideas, Iv been sewing since I was a child (hand sewing) got my first sewing machine 3 years ago, and made face masks. Sad to see them go tbh. So I have begun making other things and have to say I love it! There is a fantastic fabric shop called spoon flower, you can design your own fabric!! And sell it and you can buy other peoples designs (sorry goes against upcycle) but thought I’d dare that incase you have an idea of how you want your fabric design to be like an idea in your head. I just found your page, and have to say you are doing a fantastic job, please do not listen to the moaning about adds, it’s the information and the ideas that people should read. Everyone has to make money and the way your information is layed out it must take sometime to type it out, you deserve that. (Though Iv not bought anything from the ads, I’m sure people will and do) found you on Pinterest and glad I did, keep up the brilliant work. Thank you for the information to.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Tuesday 4th of July 2023

thanks Carolanne!!

Saba Ansari

Wednesday 2nd of June 2021

Loved the tips and it makes me certain that I can actually make it work! So here goes nothing ;-)

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Tuesday 4th of July 2023

great attitude :D

Kathryn Dane

Monday 7th of December 2020

I am an experienced sewist and have made refashioned items from adult clothing for children. Long ago, a friend gave my husband some slacks his adult son had grown too big for. I took two coordinating pairs of slacks (one plaid and the other solid) that had typical wear patterns at the corners of the pockets and made a pair of slacks and a jacket for my toddler son. I also made him a coordinating turtleneck is the same color family from a turtleneck of my husband's that had seen better days. Also, I made a nightgown for my toddler daughter from a slip that was too short for the current fashion. Those were fun projects that made useful items for my family members. I have not been nearly as successful refashioning clothing for myself.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Thursday 10th of December 2020

Your family sounds very lucky! Hope you refashion something you love for yourself soon :)


Sunday 23rd of February 2020

Thank you - just came upon your blog - I don’t own a sewing machine.. I would consider a secondhand, but with no- experience - don’t know if I would be wasting my $$ - any suggestions ... thx

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Sunday 23rd of February 2020

Hi Dawn! I normally am all about secondhand but unless you're buying from someone who can help walk you through the machine, I prefer basic beginner machines. You can read more about my thoughts and see what machine I recommend in this post!


Tuesday 13th of August 2019

Thank you Stephanie. I always look forward to your posts. They're always so interesting and informative :-)

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Wednesday 21st of August 2019

Deb you made my day! What a kind thing to say. Glad you enjoy them :)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.