Sunday, March 10, 2019

Upcycle Sewing: Embellishing Garments With Buttons

I adore the process of transforming old clothing into new fashions.  The hunt for garments to upcycle, choosing the garment design, deconstruction and reconstruction of the starting garments, and the compliments on the finished product!  

There are times when I want to take my upcycled garments into the arty /playful side, or into the realm of art-to-wear.  Embellishing is an ideal way to achieve these goals.

I've found that one of my favorite methods of embellishment is adding button accents. Many of us have collections of odd buttons waiting to be put to good use.  Mine are sorted by color and stored in thrifted glass containers.

Recently I upcycled a Perry Ellis man's 3/4 length winter coat to a vest.  It is wonderfully warm but looked a bit dull.  I embellished it with large abalone (dark) mother-of-pearl buttons which turned it into wearable art.
Here is my artist friend Cathryn Cooper wearing the vest.
One of Cathryn's paintings is right behind her.  

Many of the buttons were too large for practical use, and they make a stunning accent on this vest. I sewed them all on by hand (yes by hand) and the wool is so thick I was able to bury the threads so no stitching shows on the inside.  

A close up of Cathryn Cooper wearing the upcycled vest
 embellished with dark mother-of-pearl buttons
See more of Cathryn's art here.

The buttons I used for closures had no shanks so I made thread shanks to give them enough clearance to fit through the thick fabric. This piece is one of my favorites and will be featured in an episode of "It's Sew Easy" due to release in fall 2019.  See my upcycle sewing video tips here.

At the Puyallup Sewing Expo one of the attendees, Leland, tried on the vest too, proving it is magical as it looks good on everyone! The vest is my most artful piece to date.

One of my most popular upcycle sewing patterns, the Patti blouse, looks fabulous with button clusters on the front placket.   
Even the dullest buttons look great when brightly colored thread is used to attach them.
White buttons on a dark background stand out.  The crow was hand drawn by Cathryn.

Buttons bridge the placket gap between the circles on this playful child's shirt.

The circle was made from scraps of fabric attached to a fabric base with free-motion stitching.  I ironed the scraps flat and layered them with overlapping raw edges.  The free-motion stitching was done in random circular motions, starting at the center of a scrap and working towards the edges.  I did enough stitching to cover all raw edges at 1/4" - 1/3" intervals, then stitched all around the edge and used pinking shears leaving the raw edges. I love the playful the color and pattern combinations!
Look for an upcoming 2019 episode of It's Sew Easy TV (syndicated on local U.S. PBS stations) where I detail this technique.  My currently released upcycle sewing videos are on the Paganoonoo YouTube channel

Three clustered buttons add interest and bring out the teal/green elements of the shirt.
Leftover flannel scraps used to make a circle scarf. Nine buttons decorate a pocket, three of them are functional.

When I am gifted or purchase used buttons I give them a sudsy bath.  The water is often surprisingly dirty.  I dry the buttons on an old kitchen towel.  This allows me to spot any that rust so I can toss them.

What will you do with your button collection?
 Happy sewing!  Happy upcycling!  Michelle

Find out more about upcycle sewing at  
Join the Paganoonoo Upcycle Sewing Group on Facebook. 
Sign up for the Paganoonoo mailing list (never sold or shared). 

Shop Paganoonoo upcycle sewing instructions on Etsy.