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The one-in-one-out approach to making clothes

Making clothes is a wonderful step towards having a more sustainable wardrobe – you get to choose the fabrics, trims and notions, plus you can make adjustments so that every item fits you perfectly. Many folk are becoming more and more interested in making their own clothes as an alternative to fast fashion, but with so many brilliant patterns out there (and a pre-existing wardrobe of clothes before you even start making your own), it’s easy to fall into the trap of owning more and more clothes. So how do you balance this?

What is the 'one-in-one-out' approach?

The one-in-one-out approach is effectively a method of managing the size of your wardrobe. The basic idea is that for each new item you make, you take an older item out of your wardrobe. It’s not exclusive to making clothes – you can do this when you buy items as well – though the overall idea is simply to keep the amount of clothes you own manageable and limited to items that you actually wear.

This concept forces you to think about the clothes you own, what you wear and what you don’t. It makes you think about why you don’t wear certain things and whether you could refashion them into something you will wear.

To be clear, I’m not saying you have to throw out your wedding dress or that beautiful coat you inherited from your grandmother that you can’t bear to wear in case you damage it; that’s not the point here. Everyone has one or two super special items of clothing that hold sentimental value or special significance which they don’t wear regularly but absolutely will not part with. This concept is for our everyday wardrobes and is intended to help us get the most out of our clothes.

Choosing between items to keep and items to let go of

There’s no hard-and-fast rules with this approach; you can choose whether you replace items like-for-like (i.e. a t-shirt replacing an old t-shirt) or whether you decide to think about your wardrobe as a whole. If you’re really into making dresses but decide to let go of some old jeans, that’s okay. The point of this exercise is to make your wardrobe more manageable, and so there’s no point making clothes to replace those of the same type that you just don’t wear.

How capsule wardrobes can help

If you aren’t aware of the ‘capsule wardrobe‘ idea, in a nutshell it is the careful selection of clothes which can be mixed and matched with each other. Generally there is a limited number of garments you’re allowed to have in your capsule wardrobe, as this really makes you think about what you can wear together and when you might wear those clothes. Capsule wardrobes can be a really helpful way to identify gaps in your wardrobe as well as items you have a lot of but don’t really need or wear.

As many people have a separate wardrobe for their personal and professional lives, you may choose to create a capsule wardrobe for each of these – no one wants to spend their weekends in their work clothes if they don’t have to! You may also realise that you have completely different styles for your professional and personal lives, which may be useful when it comes to choosing patterns for making clothes.

Keeping your wardrobe manageable is hard. Making clothes can easily mean it gets out of control and you have more garments than you actually wear
Keeping your wardrobe manageable is hard. Making clothes can easily mean it gets out of control and you have more garments than you actually wear

What do you do with the clothes in the 'out' pile?

It’s really easy to get carried away and throw loads of things onto the out pile, but what do you actually do with them? Well, this generally depends on their condition.

In broad terms, the following options are all valid:

  • Refashioning clothes into something else
  • Gifting, donating or selling unwanted clothes in good condition
  • Turning clothes into rags for cleaning or repairing other clothes with

Refashioning is a great option, as you may have something which you like the fabric of but you don’t wear for some reason – this could be because your weight has changed, maybe it got stained or damaged in a small area, perhaps it’s an old make that you just aren’t happy with; the reasons you don’t wear a particular garment are endless. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use the fabric for something else, and refashioning an item into something new is a great way of looking at the whole concept of ‘one-in-one-out’ – you’ll be replacing your old item with something new made out of it! This is perhaps the most sustainable option, as it’s a circular process; you’re reusing items that already exist in order to create new items.

Another option is to let go of the clothes in your ‘out’ pile entirely. If they’re in good condition, they’ll absolutely be suitable for gifting, swapping, donating or selling – though do be sure to give them a wash first. Check them thoroughly for any little holes or rips and if you do find some, be sure to repair them. Tiny holes and rips are easy to repair invisibly, but it’s not fair to expect someone else to do it before they can wear the item. If the clothes are your own makes, be sure to sew in some labels – these could simply be little ‘handmade’ labels or you could choose something a bit more detailed. A label helps give people more confidence in the garment and if you have any with care instructions on, these can be really helpful to the garment’s new owner.

When considering simply letting go of clothing, it’s best to try and find a home for it yourself before donating to a charity shop – particularly if it is one of your own makes. Charity shops often get inundated with unwanted items and it can be difficult to sort the best quality items out from poorer examples. Some donated items may end up in landfill as a result, which is one thing we’re all trying to avoid – plus many charities rely on the brand of the clothes when trying to sell them on, so if it’s your own make they may not know what to do with it. If there’s someone you know who loves the garment, offer it to them first. If not, consider taking it to a clothing swap or selling it yourself – you can always then donate the money you earned to the charity you would have donated the garment to. 

Clothes you’ve had for a long time might not be in a fit state to let go of, in which case you may be able to turn them into rags or cut them up and repair other items of clothing with. Rags are really useful for lots of things and can be made out of most items. Cotton is generally the best material for making rags from, as it’s absorbent, breathable and yet dries quickly – but then it depends on what you want to use the rags for. 

Some fabrics are super useful to keep and make patches from for other items of clothing – denim is a perfect example. Because it’s so hardwearing, you’ll generally find that there’s only a few problem areas in jeans and the rest of the denim is fine, even if you absolutely can’t repair them to wear again. Cut out these good patches and keep them on hand for repairing other denim garments in future. You can even make beautiful patchwork garments with these scrap bits of old clothing.

Making clothes out of old scraps is a great way to create beautiful garments cheaply
Making clothes from scraps is a cheap and sustainable way to create unique new garments to wear

This dress made from scraps of denim and beaded trim was entered into a competition at the Creative Craft Show in Birmingham in March. As you can see, the sewist (Clarissa Bousfield) won the competition – and it’s really no surprise with how beautiful this dress is!

I love this idea and intend to create my own garment inspired by this dress when I get the chance, as it’s a fantastic way to use up scraps of co-ordinating garment fabric.

Giving away old me-mades

It can be particularly tough to come to terms with giving away clothes you’ve made yourself. All the time and effort you spent making the garment can feel wasted, but you can’t keep everything. At some point, you will need to let go of something you’ve made – especially if you’re making clothes a lot or have been doing it for a long time.

Don’t feel as though you have to hold onto something just because you made it. Sometimes, letting go of these items can be more cathartic than just letting go of clothes you’ve bought – if, for whatever reason, your body is different to how it was when you made that item, you could be harming your mental health by hanging onto something that you’ll likely never be able to wear again. In these cases, refashioning the item into something else you can use (or wear) or giving it to someone who loves it will be the best options. 

Making clothes that last which you wear often

As I mentioned earlier, making clothes is a great way to counter fast fashion. It’s definitely not cheaper than buying clothes, as you generally will be using better quality materials than are used to make a 99p t-shirt, but they’ll last a lot longer as a result. You might find that it takes you longer than you think to go through your wardrobe and get it to a point where you’re happy with each piece in there, but that’s okay.

Making clothes will take longer than buying them, that’s why it’s called slow fashion. The key is to make things you want to wear often and for a long time in the future – and that comes at the stage of choosing materials and patterns. Sometimes things don’t work out and they’ll end up in the ‘out’ pile, but if you keep chipping away you’ll eventually have a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes you love to wear and are proud to say you made yourself – without it taking up half of your house!