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Up cycle and sew with Vintage fabrics

Inspiration, tips and advice to up cycle old fabric with your Below the Kōwhai sews.

Thank you to Kylie Rickard for creating this up cycle inspiration blog for our Below The Kōwhai community.

To see more of Kylie’s amazing work you can follow her on Instagram at @kylie.ricardo or her online business at @wee.wills

Floral Pai Shorts sewing pattern

pattern: Pai Shorts

I remember the very first thing I ever bought in an op shop (or thrift/charity/second hand store).  It was a men’s tie, red knit, skinny with a squared bottom, I think from the 1960s.  I was 13 years old and I would wear it with a fitted baby pink shirt and a pair of pale blue flared pants which my Mum helped me sew.  I loved that outfit, it made me feel confident and proud, unusual feelings for an introverted kid.  Maybe the tie had magic powers.  

Now I’m 34 years old and I no longer dress like a member of the BeeGees, but I still love second hand shopping and I still love sewing.  I’ve been using second hand fabric, vintage sheets and other up cycle items in most of my sewing projects for a few years now, and I’d love to share with you some of the things I’ve learned so far.

Firstly, why up cycle second hand?

  • A unique piece of fabric or a retro floral sheet can be turned into an interesting, beautiful one of a kind garment.
  • It’s cheap!  You’ll be amazed at what treasures you can find for a fraction of the price of the brand new, full priced fabrics.
  • It’s an environmentally friendly option.  We all know it is kind to the planet to reuse and recycle!


I started off my second hand sewing journey a few years ago with pretty vintage floral sheets and pillow slips.  The first things I made were a simple patchwork quilt and reusable shopping bags, and then lots of Mānuka skirts, Pai shorts and Rawe tops!  

Also, flannelette sheets are awesome for making reusable wipes.  Just cut 2 squares, place them together right sides facing out, and serge or zigzag around all four sides.

To prepare your sheets for sewing, soak if necessary, give them a good hot wash, and sun or machine dry.

vintage sheets for up cycle sewing

Woollen Blankets

If you live in New Zealand or Australia, you’ll likely come across pure wool blankets in second hand shops.  Lucky you!  Wool is a natural fibre, it repels water, it is durable, insulating, breathable and warm.  I love making winter hats and coats from wool blankets, my favourite is the Awhi coat.  You can also use wool blankets as batting for quilts, play mats, and even oven mitts!

To prepare wool for sewing, I like to gentle machine wash on a wool cycle with wool detergent, and lay flat to dry in the sun.  Or you can use the bath tub.  

Just quarter to half fill your bath with lukewarm water, add wool detergent, then submerge your blanket.  Let it soak for up to an hour, giving it a couple of gentle swishes during this time, being careful not to agitate it too much, as this can cause uneven felting.  Drain the bath water, squeeze out the excess water, then put it in your washing machine on the slowest spin.

stack of woollen fabrics for up cycle sewing

Corduroy and Blends

Thrifted fabrics aren’t limited to checkered wool blankets and Grandma’s floral sheets.  Keep an eye on the craft section for corduroy (think of the Tui’s and Awhi’s!), cottons, linens and other blends.  

To prepare these fabrics, pre-wash and dry as you intend to wash and dry your finished garment.

up cycle fabrics


Think of clothing or items you have around the house already, too.  Skirts, wool or leather coats, shirts, scarves, sarongs, tea towels and tablecloths can all be chopped up for an up cycle and transformed into beautiful one of a kind garments!  

You can work around stains or holes with some strategic placement of your pattern pieces.  Also, don’t be afraid of incorporating existing pockets, zips, buttons or seams to make better use of your fabric.

up cycle fabrics at home


Similarly, there are lots of other crafty things you can find in second hand stores that you can incorporate into your sewing:

  • Buttons
  • Zips
  • Bias binding
  • Lace/ribbons/trims
  • Thread
  • Embroidery cotton + hoops
  • Sewing/knitting patterns
  • Sewing machines
vintage notions

My own up cycled makes

Here are some of my own up-cycles using second-hand fabrics, notions and my Below the Kōwhai patterns..

Firstly, I created this Little Pet Bag made from a thrifted cushion cover with vintage sheet lining.

Little Pet friends bag
up cycle fabric with the pet friends bag from Below the Kowhai

Last year I sewed this Awhi Coat from a thrifted wool blanket.

Awhi Coat sewing pattern with up cycle woollen blanket

Then I created this Rawe Top from a thrifted sheet and Mānuka Skirt from thrifted cotton fabric.

Rawe Top and Manuka Skirt sewing patterns by Below the Kowhai

Have a look around your home for some fabric inspiration and see what you can create to give it a new life! Have fun and get creative!

We hope you found some useful information and inspiration here and we can’t wait to see your next upcycle project.

Thank you for creating this blog post for our community Kylie!

Finally, don’t forget to show us your creations in our VIP Community on Facebook and tag us on Instagram!

Love and happy sewing,
Sophie x

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