sustainable closet

Diary of a Frugalista:Stamped Denim

Diary of a Frugalista:Stamped Denim

When it is gloomy and rainy outside, it is the perfect time to stay at home and start some DIY projects!

Today I will show a sequel of my  Bleached Denim post. Let’s stamp!

My inspiration was these bleached-n-painted jeans shorts. I loved the idea of combining a bold black and white design with the subtle denim texture. The problem was… I could not do it by hand because I am so bad at drawing! What could be the solution? Stamping! Stamping is perfect for me. It is very easy to do, and gives a greater uniqueness and personal touch than what you can find in stores.

To my surprise, it was not easy to find good stamping accessories in Montreal. Some stampers were available at the art store DeSerres. Stamping kits were there too, but they were paired with a regular paint that is not suitable for fabric. Even Dollarama failed to help: I was only able to find toy stampers for kids there.

Of course, I could have bought the accessories on the Internet. But I did not want to wait – it was time to get creative!

I made a stamping inkpad out of a dish sponge that I cut through the middle. Small air-tight plastic containers from Dollarama became inkpad cases. The fabric paint was bought at DeSerres. Also, I bought a few floral and heart-shaped stampers there and got a bag of toy finger stampers at Dollarama.


At first, I did some sample tests. I diluted the pink paint with a bit of water and poured it on the sponge.  Then, I stamped the fabric and realized that- surprise, surprise! – results are better when stamping is done on a flat surface.

After stamping is done, the design needs to become permanent! The paint gets fixed by ironing for 5 minutes in cotton selection. Once fixed, the design resists machine washing and dry cleaning.

After waiting for the paint to dry, I washed the samples. Woo-hoo, it looks so cool!

Floral stamps looked pretty too.

Although I liked the resulting floral pattern, I wanted to make a geometric ornament with circles and rectangles. To do that, I bought an eraser and used its wide side as a stamper. The circle was made out of a finger stamper with the shape part removed.

The result was not perfect enough for me. The surface of the eraser side was too large, and the paint got unevenly distributed across the surface. The same happened with the circles.

After experimenting more, I decided to use the most narrow side of the eraser. It greatly improved the quality of the prints. Hurray!

I liked the brick pattern the best. Instead of the circles, I decided to use the star finger stamper.

Ok! So the pattern and the technique was all set! It was the time to prepare the shorts.

I bought a pair of jeans at a thrift store.

Then I cut and bleached them using the instructions I have recently published.

Stamping time! Making the very first prints was so exciting!

The left part was stamped with stars. Some stamps turned out to be untidy, because the circular edge of the stamper left marks. Another hint: to get a good quality print, use good tools!

On the back, I only stamped the pockets.

Before fixing the design, I waited one hour to let the paint dry.

Fixing by ironing was long and inconvenient, so I decided to use a different method! I baked the shorts in the oven for 5 minutes with the temperature at 300F.

(OMG, my oven is so dirty! Have not noticed before!)

Here comes the result! I rolled up the trouser legs and sewed them underneath in a few places. After baking, the fabric got some yellowish tint. The tint was resistant and survived washing, so I decided to pretend it was by design!

The view from the back. The flaps need to be ironed after every washing.

Stamping is cool!

A few practical tips from my experience:

  • Quality of the print depends on the quality of the stamper, so it is worth to spend money on accessories.
  • Do stamping carefully on a flat surface; to make sure the fabric was  flat, I put a magazine inside the shorts.
  • The fabric should be stretched and secured with pins.
  • Whitebright paint will probably not be visible on a light cloth; while choosing the paint, pay attention to what fabric it is designed for (darklight).
  • It is much easier to dry the paint in the oven than doing so by ironing; of course, it will work only if the garment has no plastic details or buttons.

This is it! Happy stamping!

My blog:

Behind the scenes of The SWAP Team’s Spring/Summer 2012Look Book Photoshoot

By Flora Law

At The SWAP Team we have been super super busy making preparations to bring you the most fashion-tastic swap event on July 28th and 29th at the Place des Arts Montreal! We have been cooking up some pretty amazing stuff and pulled off quite a few great looks from the various swapped items from several donors and our awesome local and eco-friendly sponsors to put together a look book for spring & summer 2012!

We’ve even come across some rare gems, like a Christian Dior blouse, Gucci sweater and other unique pieces donated by our amazing local designers. We are not pulling your designer boot leg here. See for yourself:

Dress – Quartier Mode

Jean-François Brière, our very own talented photographer has managed to capture some really glamorously gorgeous shots! We went all out and gave our bloggers the fully-packaged star treatment, including hair styling and make-up by Martine Fillion (514-889-0001) and Susannah Rupnik (514-586-2656) and wardrobe styling by Caroline Alexander from Ludique with some help from Kimberly Maturo.

Oh, what fun the fashion bloggers had going through the various assortment of outfits and trying them on! Look at these hot poses below — it’s like they were born to be standing in front of a camera lens!

We couldn’t contain ourselves, so we decided to share with you some of the amazing behind-the-scenes shots we took:

Blazer – Cokluch
Pants – Ludique (Christian Chenail)

Kim Ninkuru, @FakionIshon of

Blazer – La Gaillarde (Jones New York)
Skirt – The SWAP Team
Bracelet – Cat, The SWAP Team
Necklace – Cat, The SWAP Team
Top – Annex Vintage

Lisa Kisber, @LKiSStyle of

We hope this inspires you to clean out your closets and get excited about the things you might find at the swap! You never know what treasures you will discover while updating your wardrobe in an environmentally and fiscally responsible way!

Special thanks to our sponsors BijoutiaQuartier ModeLudiqueCréations Encore, PwarkCokluch, ChikiboomAnnex Vintage, La Gaillarde, Tomate D’Épingles, Meemoza, Jennifer Glasgow Design, 4 Elements, Éthik BGC, Atelier Tri Cycle and Créations Compulsives.

Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the look book delivered to your inbox!


Look forward to your likes, shares and comments! Sharing is GOOD 🙂

The Sustainable Closet:Thrifty Baby Finds

The Sustainable Closet:Thrifty Baby Finds

by Allison Gryski

As a new parent, I’m the target of many wily marketers, who are trying to exploit my sentimental state and get me to spend a lot of money on their fancy baby whozit-whatsits.  The reality of babies, though, is that they change so quickly that they don’t use or wear any one thing for very long.  So naturally, the best way to be eco-friendly and budget-friendly is to share items with friends and to buy secondhand.

These are some of my recent thrifty finds.  One of the nice things about buying secondhand clothes is that I can afford to buy snazzy brands.  Given the short duration of wearing, it makes no sense to spend a lot of money on baby clothes, but that doesn’t mean the cutest styles aren’t tempting.  I’ve managed to find some lovely and useful items at a very reasonable price.

Petit Louis top

This little top won’t fit for a while, but I love that it’s girly, yet not in the typical colours you find on the “girl” racks.  Buying secondhand clothes always lets you explore a wider variety of styles than what’s “in” this season.

Petit Bateau romper

This romper is much more typically girly.  It’s been great in hot weather and it’s super easy to get on and off since it opens up flat.


Like the pink romper, these green overalls un-snap and un-button extensively to make for easy changes.  Cheaper brands tend to skimp wherever they can and it often results in baby clothes that are harder to get on and off.


A silk scarf is not normally something you’d think of as a baby item, but it is for me.  It’s great for a “mom hair” day (if only I was good at tying my hair up with it, but it always slips back … I’ll need to learn the secret to keep a scarf on my head).  But I’ve also used it as a nursing cover-up.  Normally, you’d not want a silk scarf anywhere near a baby, but since I spent all of 1.50 euros on it, it made a great lightweight and stylish sun shade for my daughter when I was nursing at a picnic in the park.


Last, but not least, I found this Nijntje (you may know her as “Miffy”) stroller toy.  Until they’re 6 months old, babies are supposed to lay flat in a stroller.  When they’re really little, this isn’t such a problem as they can’t see very far and they mostly just fall asleep.  Well before six months, though, they’ll get bored if they don’t have anything interesting to look at.  With the canopy up and a wind shield zipped on, to block sun and rain, sometimes your baby can’t even see you that well, and a stroller toy makes the difference between a grumpy baby and a happy one.

If you’re shopping for a new baby, set a good example right from the start and see what lovely things are hiding at your local thrift stores and clothing swaps.  And if your kids are finished wearing something, don’t forget to bring it (and them) along to the next clothing swap.  You’re never too young to start swapping!

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.

Transforming a Thrifted Shirt

Transforming a Thrifted Shirt

by Allison Gryski

Some time ago, I posted about What to Make with Old Clothing and Fabric.  I thought I’d do an update on some of the things I’ve been creating lately, using a thrift store shirt (and some vintage sheets and vintage buttons).

I originally bought this grey men’s XL shirt from the Salvation Army to use as a painting smock.  I didn’t end up using it much, so I decided to start cutting it up and making new things.  First was the stuffed bunny, made from one sleeve.

Stuffed Bunny

You’d be surprised how much fabric is in a shirt — the sleeves are especially deceptive until you cut them apart.

Now, I’ve used the other sleeve and made a pocket purse. The outer fabric of the pocket purse is some vintage sheet material and the button is from my jar of vintage buttons.

Pocket Purse

Lining the pocket purse still left a lot of material from the sleeve, but with some awkward small areas, so I decided to try making a flower brooch that would use lots of small pieces.  I added one of my vintage buttons to the middle.

At this point, I still have the main body of the shirt leftover, which means there are some nice big pieces of fabric.  I think it will be heading back to my fabric stash for the moment, but you can perhaps get an idea how much you can make from just one thrifted piece of clothing.

Want to make one of these projects yourself?  Here are links to the tutorials:

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.

The Sustainable Closet: 10 Reasons to be Suspicious of "Eco-Friendly" Fabrics

by Allison Gryski

Part of the S.W.A.P. Team’s mission is to promote eco-friendly clothing consumption. Finding clothing produced with a lower environmental impact is not an easy task, however. Products are called “green” and “organic” and “eco-friendly” as a means of selling them, not as a means to inform the consumer. Looking to profit from the “green” trend, unscrupulous or uninformed corporations target consumers with half-truths and misleading advertising. Eco-friendly labelling often falls apart when you look at the whole system involved, rather than at just one piece of the production process. Here’s a little perspective on some frequently touted “greener” fabric choices: organic cotton and bamboo.

Organic Cotton

Conventional cotton production involves a lot of pesticides and herbicides, so organic cotton seems like a great solution.

1. Organic cotton … at least a little?

Some products labelled as organic cotton may be 100% cotton, but are only partially composed of organic cotton. Sometimes as little as 3% of the fibre used is actually organic cotton.

2. Organic cotton … says the price!

Organic cotton has lower yields than conventional cotton, which means a more expensive end product. Of course, a higher price is no guarantee in itself as companies want to profit from using the label “organic,” even if it’s not justified.

3. Organic cotton … says who?

You also have to contend with the industry standards where the organic cotton was grown. Cheap labour is still the best way to harvest organic cotton, since standard harvesting techniques involve using yet more chemicals for defoliating the plants. Handpicking cotton bolls is only an economically viable option in developing countries. Accordingly, more than half the world’s supply of organic cotton comes from India, and independent testing by a German laboratory in 2010 reportedly showed that 30% of the samples did not meet organic standards. It’s the same old story that countries offering cheap labour (leading to affordable end products) tend not to have rigorous standards.

4. Organic cotton … but what about the rest of it?

Another tricky bit is that garments made with 100% organic cotton may be dyed with non-organic dyes, compromising the organic claims.

5. Organic cotton … but it still uses a lot of water!

Even if you overcome all those marketing obstacles, you still need to look at the whole system in context. The term “organic” has become almost synonymous with environmental friendliness, without necessarily delivering on that promise. Even crops grown with no chemical assistance can have a negative environmental impact. In the case of cotton, it uses a huge amount of water.  This isn’t a problem in regions where the crop is rain-fed, but irrigation is also common.  Irrigation is obviously more reliable than rainfall and it produces higher yields.  Irrigating cotton is completely “organic”, but terribly detrimental to the local ecosystem.


So if, organic cotton isn’t the panacea it seems, what about bamboo? Bamboo has been the green darling recently because it’s a fast-growing grass that requires little in the way of pesticides and herbicides, making it an easily renewable and low impact crop.

6. Bamboo fabric … grown nicely, produced nastily!

A sustainable growing process doesn’t guarantee an earth-friendly end product. Unfortunately, the processing used to turn bamboo into a fabric is generally a chemically intensive process with toxic byproducts. If you find something labelled “bamboo linen,” then (at least in Canada), this means it was produced with a more environmentally friendly mechanical process, similar to how flax and hemp are processed into linen. However, most bamboo fabric is actually produced similar to rayon, using a chemical process.

7. Bamboo fabric … antimicrobial or not?

One frequently advertised feature of bamboo is that it has a natural antimicrobial quality, but this is destroyed by the rayon-style processing.

8. Bamboo fabric … made where and by whom?

The problem of processing is compounded because so much clothing is produced in developing countries with lower environmental standards for industry. Given lower standards, the environment isn’t the only concern.  There’s also the potential health hazards to the workers exposed to the chemicals during processing.

9. Bamboo fabric … low impact means lower profits!

While some types of bamboo fabric have lower impact, this usually goes along with a higher price, making it undesirable both to companies and consumers. Most bamboo fabric on the market is produced with the chemical process, which is cheaper than the low-impact mechanical process.

10. Bamboo fabric … no way to know!

And of course, there’s usually no way of knowing the production details when looking at the final garment.

So what is a Sustainable Choice?

Excepting “bamboo linen,” neither organic cotton, nor bamboo fabric qualify as truly sustainable choices.  This type of information can be demoralizing and make it feel like there’s no point even trying, but natural fibres are still a better choice than synthetics. Fibres like hemp, linen, and “bamboo linen” are all produced in a sustainable way. Even natural fibres that have a higher impact, such as cotton (organic or not), wool (organic or not), and chemically processed bamboo, have advantages over synthetics. For example, compared to synthetics such as acrylic, viscose, and polyester, natural fibres are more biodegradable.

Even better, there is one type of clothing that is guaranteed to have low environmental impact: second-hand clothing! Regardless of the original manufacturing process of the garment, giving it a new life in your wardrobe is infinitely better than wearable clothing going to waste in a landfill.  Using pre-loved clothing means that less new clothing needs to be manufactured.  Thrift stores, consignment shops, and clothing swaps are great places to find affordable clothing to stock your sustainable closet.


Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.

The Sustainable Closet: Accessorizing a Minimal Wardrobe

The Sustainable Closet: Accessorizing a Minimal Wardrobe

by Allison Gryski

If you’re trying to keep your wardrobe small, but don’t want to feel like you’re wearing the same thing every few days, accessories are the easiest way to modify the look of an outfit.  I came to this from the perspective of a temporary maternity wardrobe, but changing your look with accessories will work with any minimal wardrobe. Maternity clothes are a special case since you tend to have to acquire an entire set of clothes in a very short space of time. They’re also one of the most common types of clothes to have a collective ownership. You only need them for a few months at a time, and often only for a few years total. Given their limited use, most people don’t want to spend a lot of money, so hand-me-downs or loans from friends are a great way to start. But you’ll almost certainly have to buy a few things too.   Neutrals are the obvious and easy option for your basics since you can mix them with accessories of any colour.

To see what I could come up with in my wardrobe, I selected my one maternity dress and then rummaged for colourful bits and pieces to combine with it. I came up with six different looks. You don’t have to spend a lot of money for unique accessories and actually, staying out of the shopping mall will give you the most unusual items. Many of the items I used are handmade, vintage, or thrifted. (Click on the picture to see a larger version with the details annotated).

Librarian Look

The Librarian Look

Librarian Look

I tend to describe my everyday style as “cute librarian” and that’s the look I went for here. I put on a black cardigan, my green mary-jane shoes, and a flower brooch that I made (from some scraps of fabric and a vintage button).

Green Accents

Green Accents

Green Accents

I don’t have a lot of belts, but I’ve been keeping my eye out for more as they can really transform an outfit. This green one and the Fluevog boots all came from a Salvation Army (score!). I added some green tights, a hat that I knitted earlier this Fall, and some vintage bracelets that were my grandmother’s.

Dress as Tunic

Dress as Tunic

Dress as Tunic

Some grey maternity trousers worn under the dress turn it into a tunic. I added a fancy knitted scarf that my mother-in-law made for me and my felt cloche hat.

Purple Thrift

Purple Thrift

Purple Thrift

I couldn’t resist putting together a purple look with a top from a friperie in Montreal and a chunky necklace from a church bazaar. The bold colour takes most of the attention, letting the dress just be part of the background. The purple belt that came with the top can also be worn separately.

Evening Wear

Evening Wear

Evening Wear

Since I started with a dress, I definitely wanted to do an “evening” look. I switched to high heels, put my hair in a bun, and chose fancier jewellery. I added a little black purse thrifted from the Salvation Army, some embroidered gloves that I picked up at an antique fair, and a sparkly shawl.

Grey & Gold

Grey & Gold

Grey & Gold

For my last look I combined grey and gold. For the gold I have some gold hoop earrings and a vintage purse that was my grandmother’s. For the grey, I put on a cardigan, some grey tights, a scarf, and some beaded bracelets. The scarf and bracelets both came from street markets here in Amsterdam.

While it isn’t obvious from the pictures, I changed my earrings for each look.  Large-scale or boldly coloured jewellery can make a great focal point, but even small changes can lend a different feel to your outfit.  Hairstyles, hair clips, and head scarves are something else you can play with.  And for the more make-up inclined, that’s another aspect you can adjust.

So when you next feel like you have nothing to wear, think about changing your accessories instead.

Accessories to consider:

  • Belts and ribbons
  • Scarves, sunglasses, and gloves
  • Hats, and hair clips
  • Jewellery (necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, brooches)
  • Shoes and colourful socks and tights
  • Cardigans, blazers, and jackets

For a much more extensive look at what you can do with a single dress, check out The Uniform Project.

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.

The Sustainable Closet:My story of decluttering

The Sustainable Closet:My story of decluttering

by Allison Gryski

Last week, I wrote a guide to decluttering your wardrobe. This week I’m going to tell you some stories about my decluttering experiences and give you a few other techniques and resources for taming your wardrobe.

Last Fall, I did a massive review of my wardrobe in preparation for moving from Montreal to Amsterdam. I didn’t do it all in one go, that’s for sure. It took several passes to whittle things down, and even so, there was still some frenzied tossing of items that wouldn’t fit in my luggage at the last minute.

Learn what you Like

Forceful decluttering teaches you what you truly like. It becomes easier to identify common traits amongst the clothes you like (and the clothes you dislike). This concept was nicely phrased in this excellent article on A Dress A Day, which recommends sorting your clothes into “bleh” and “happy” piles. For me, 100% polyester and no pockets instantly condemn any pair of pants to the “bleh” pile. Cardigans and mary-jane shoes always end up in my “happy” pile. Learning your true preferences makes it easier to shop more wisely in the future. Forget feeling guilty about the mistakes of the past.  Instead, resolve not to compromise, so you don’t make the same ones in the future.

Toss the Guilt

I was amazed to discover how much guilt was tied up in some items I’d resisted getting rid of before. In particular, I had hung onto several pairs of cute, but uncomfortable shoes mostly because of how much they had cost. They never got worn, but I thought that by keeping them, somehow I’d maybe eventually wear them. It just didn’t happen and the constraints of moving forced me to admit that it never would. The minute I’d tossed them in the box of stuff to donate, I had this sense of lightness. I realised that every time I saw those shoes I’d get a hit of guilt for not wearing them. By letting them go, I was letting go of the guilt over the money spent on them. It was a huge, and surprising, relief.

The Reverse Declutter

If searching through all your clothes for what to remove doesn’t work for you, or if you have way too much for your limited space, try the reverse method. Given the constraint of only two suitcases, I was eventually forced into this method before moving. It’s much messier, but it might be easier for some people. Pull all your clothing out of your drawers and closets into a big pile. Then slowly select what goes back. Once your closet and drawers are full, stop. Even better, leave a little space to grow. If there’s things you love that are still in the pile, take something out before you add it. This method is extreme, and you may have to get rid of things that you like, but just don’t have space for. The advantage is that it will make you confront the actual wardrobe space available.  My husband and I currently share the dresser pictured above and a closet that’s a just 1.5 feet wide.  While I do wish we had a little more closet space, it does have its advantages.  Constraints of space will help you condense a your wardrobe into quality items over quantity of items.

The State of my Wardrobe

So is my wardrobe perfectly decluttered these days? Uh, nope. Despite my efforts, I still managed to bring items that I didn’t really need. And more recently, I’ve had to pack up a bunch of clothes to make room for a maternity wardrobe. These types of life changes are a good reminder to review your clothes again.  The stack of clothes pictured below is what I found in my most recent declutter.  Keeping your closet under control is an on-going process, and regular reviews will go a lot faster than waiting until it’s bulging.

Wardrobe Planning

Your decluttering may leave you with some gaps in your wardrobe. Choose carefully how to fill them.   One of my strategies for a small wardrobe is to have a limited colour palette so I can easily mix and match.  Most of my clothing is blue, grey, or black (though some green and purple have also started to sneak in lately).  Here’s some resources for wardrobe planning.

I included both prescriptive guides (you must have a white button-down shirt!) and guides about individual style, so hopefully there’s something helpful for everyone.  Regardless of the size, cost, or style of your wardrobe, the real secret is to have clothing that makes you happy when you get dressed each morning.

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.

The Sustainable Closet:A guide to decluttering your wardrobe

The Sustainable Closet:A guide to decluttering your wardrobe

by Allison Gryski

Is your closet bursting at the seams? Are your dresser drawers overflowing? Do you want to attend a clothing swap, but can’t bear to part with anything? The following are some strategies to help you declutter your wardrobe.

Motivation and Time

Good motivation is essential to successful decluttering. Think about having more space, less mess, only things you love, and room for the new. I moved overseas this year, and having to fit my entire wardrobe into just a couple suitcases was excellent motivation to trim down to the essentials.

I’ve found that trying to declutter in one fell swoop isn’t nearly as effective as repeating the process. It will actually get easier each time, and you won’t feel under as much pressure when making decisions. If you try to do it in just one pass, it’s easy to either cling to things unnecessarily or toss too much and then regret it. Instead, go through your entire wardrobe several times over the course of a few weeks. If you’re not sure about an item, leave it until the next pass and the decision will be clearer.

The Decluttering Process

When confronted with a Closet of Doom, where do you begin?

First, do a quick review of your wardrobe, pulling out items you can live without. This initial pass should be speedy and relatively easy: you’re just looking for all the obvious items. Some people may find quite a lot on this step and others may struggle to find anything. Don’t worry, everyone’s closet is different and the next step will help you find the hidden, dispensable items lurking in amongst your keepers.

For your next pass, set aside a good chunk of time and start with just one drawer, shelf, or rail and work your way through every single item before moving on. If you don’t have a lot of time, pick just one section (say, a single drawer) and then continue on another day. Give each item proper consideration, including accessories and shoes.

Questions to Ask Yourself

When asking these questions, be honest with yourself. Don’t evaluate pieces based on how much they cost, how much you wore them 5 years ago, how you plan to lose weight, or how you wish you dressed (but don’t). Clothing is a possession intended for use in the present, so focus on what works for you Right Now.

Does it fit and flatter? If you haven’t worn it in the past month, try it on before deciding. Don’t keep things that are too small, unless you are actively losing weight and can reasonably expect it to fit within the next six months. Clothing, even dressy clothing, can and should be comfortable to wear. Similarly, even your casual clothing should be flattering.

Does it suit your personal style? Many people keep clothing that no longer suits the job or lifestyle they lead. If you’ve had something for a long time, check that it’s still useful, age-appropriate, and projects the image you want to present.

Do you like it? Not should you like it, but do you actually like it. Remember that you’re not only getting rid of the old, you’re making room for the new. So don’t keep something you loathe just because you need it. You can find something to fill the need that you will also enjoy wearing.

Is it in good condition? If it’s worn-out beyond repair, consider re-purposing it. If it’s fixable, give yourself a time-limit within which to either repair it or take it for alterations. If it’s not a priority to make it wearable, then toss it.

Is it a useful piece? Can you wear the item in combination with lots of other things? If not, is it worth the space it takes up? Shoes and accessories are good examples of items that should always work with multiple outfits.

Do you actually wear it? Even something that otherwise passes all the previous tests might just languish at the back of your closet. Maybe you have too many similar items or just too many clothes to truly need it.

Once you’ve got a sack full of clothes to dispose of, you’re ready to attend a clothing swap or make a donation to a local shelter or thrift store. Even if you don’t need these items anymore, they’re probably perfect for someone else.

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.

What to Make with Old Clothing and Fabric

What to Make with Old Clothing and Fabric

by Allison Gryski

After de-cluttering your closet, if you have a stack of clothes in good condition that you just don’t wear, then trading them at a clothing swap is a great option. But what do you do if all your excess items are torn, stained, or falling apart? Re-purposing is the answer!

jean skirt

My old Jeans turned into a Skirt

If have access to a sewing machine, then the only limit is your imagination. Start looking at old clothes as merely oddly shaped pieces of fabric and you’re set. If you don’t have anything suitable to deconstruct, then visit your local thrift store or clothing swap with an eye just for the fabric.  Don’t forget to look at the old sheets and table cloths.

Cotton and cotton-blend fabrics are probably the easiest to reuse, but wool, fur, and leather can also be incorporated into to new items. Wool sweaters can be felted (just wash and dry on hot a few times) and then made into slippers, mittens, and cozy cushions. Fur coats can be cut up to line or trim other items and leather garments can be reconstructed into handbags. (If you’re not feeling very crafty yourself, check out Style & Conscience, an online boutique that creates stylish, limited edition purses with leftover materials from the garment industry.)


My Quilt made with Reclaimed Fabrics

One of the original ways of re-using old bits of fabric was to make a quilt. I made one recently with mostly reclaimed fabrics, including pieces of old sheets and pillowcases, some old kitchen curtains, and even a few squares from a pair of old boxers. While a quilt is an ambitious undertaking, there’s lots of quick and simple ways to up-cycle and re-purpose old fabric.

My earliest reclaimed fabric project is probably something you’ve made too: sock puppets! When I was about 8, I made a pair of pink snake sock puppets. They had googly eyes, red felt tongues, and purple felt bow-ties (they were a stylish pair). More recently, in addition to the quilt, I’ve turned a pair of jeans (worn out in a immodest location) into a jean skirt, put together a festive fabric garland from leftover fabric scraps, quilted a hot mat, sewed up a rice bag with old pyjamas, made patchwork cushions, and sewed some simple cloth bags.  Anything made with small pieces of fabric is a good project for re-purposing old fabrics.

rice bag

My Pyjamas made into a Rice Bag

Keep in mind that many projects don’t require any skills beyond googling for online tutorials, cutting some fabric, and then sewing a few straight seams. If that’s still too much, don’t forget that buttons can be salvaged from even the most disreputable outfit and no piece of fabric is too lowly to be turned into a cleaning rag.

Here’s some tutorials to get you started:

I hope you’re feeling inspired to give re-purposing or up-cycling a try. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as taking something old and useless and turning it into something new and useful.

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.

How to find “The Good Stuff”: A guide to second-hand clothes shopping

by Allison Gryski

Do you have one of those friends whose cute outfits always turn out to be some crazy bargain from a clothing swap, a Salvation Army, or Goodwill? Do you wish you were that girl (or guy)? For me, it’s my older sister: from gorgeous vintage items to Italian leather shoes, I can always count on her clothes coming with a good story (and a small price tag). Over the years, I’ve learned a trick or two, and sometimes, I even get to be that girl.   Whether I’m at a clothing swap or scouring the thrift stores, here’s how I find “The Good Stuff”.


For many of us, walking into a used clothing store seems futile. You look through the racks, and you see a bunch of dowdy things that won’t fit and are sitting in a charity shop for good reason. Here’s the secret: it’s like that for everyone most of the time. You need to go often to find those hidden gems. Don’t expect to find something every single time.


Most second-hand stores (clothing or otherwise) will not have that many great items and everyone is hoping to find them. Aside from having a little luck, you can up your chances if you go before others have picked it over. Many stores have specific days or times when they put out new stock and all you have to do is ask. If they don’t have a set schedule, think about when others will go and try to visit earlier. Visiting Saturday afternoon is much less likely to yield a treasure than Saturday morning, or even better, at lunchtime on Friday.


Let’s be honest, some cities are just more fashionable than others. The good stuff has to be given away into the second-hand market in the first place, if you’re going to find it. Larger or more wealthy cities tend to have the best selection of used clothing. Even if you’re stuck looking in just one city, see if there’s a larger headquarters store, or stores located in more fashionable or wealthy neighbourhoods. For a higher percentage of nice things, you can try the vintage or consignment stores, but for the best bargains, stick to the charity shops and local clothing swaps.


So you’ve found a great store, you’ve come at the best time, and now you’re faced with miles of racks … how do you find that one worthy item? First of all, drop any specific ideas of what you’re looking for. That hidden treasure might be a pair of shoes, an accessory like a belt or tie, or a fabulous coat. I favour the scan-and-sweep method for the clothing. Walk down each row and run your hand along the clothes as you look at them. You will quickly learn to feel the difference between cheap fabrics like polyester or acrylic and finer quality fibres like silk or wool. If you only like certain colours, scan quickly for those hues. Pull out anything that catches your eye and check for condition (underarms often show the most wear), fabric type, and size. If you think it’s a possibility, carry it as you continue and try things on in a batch.


It’s up to you whether you prefer to shop alone (more focus) or with a friend (more fun). For the latter, choose a friend who’s either a very different shape or dresses in a totally different style. That way, you can help each other watch for stuff rather than compete. Nothing is worse than seeing someone else find your ideal item just before you get to it

Over the years, I’ve found Fluevog boots, silk Liberty ties, a black Calvin Klein suit jacket, a Fairyesque skirt suit, a funky Diesel top, a variety of skirts, and some nice accessories like belts. Some items have seen more wear than others and that leads to my last bit of advice. If it’s not really your style, doesn’t fit properly, or has something wrong with it, leave it behind. It’s not a bargain if you’ll never end up wearing it.

Happy treasure hunting!
– Allison

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam.  She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker.  She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.