Many of us who were brought up by mothers who sewed remember them engaging in what they referred to as “making over” a garment. This usually meant that an adult-sized dress or coat had been taken apart and recut to a child’s proportions. A man’s black overcoat might be made over into a pair of snow pants lined with flannel. The stained bodice on a woman’s cotton dress might be cut off, the skirt taken in, cut short and made to fit a young girl.

It also might mean that a collar and cuffs were added to an old garment, old buttons replaced with new ones, a hem raised or lowered or lace sewn into a neckline.

These techniques are just as valid today and as useful. Most of our mothers’ makeovers required the use of a sewing machine and dressmaking skills. But some makeovers need only scissors and needle and thread:

. Bermuda shorts from a pair of slacks. Choose pants that fit well and aren’t too loose around the thigh. Put the pants on and place a pin where you want the new hem to be. Take off the pants and measure up from the bottom of the pants hem to the pin, say, 18 inches – or more if you want short shorts. Move the tape measure over a few inches and measure from the hem again and place another pin at the 18-inch mark. Do this around the perimeter of the pants leg. Do the same with the other leg. The pins mark the place of the new hemline.

Next, measure down 11/2 inches from each pin and mark with chalk or fabric marker. Cut along these marks.

Turn under the hem where the pins are placed. Turn the raw edge under half an inch and pin in place.

Using a needle and matching thread, slip-stitch the hem in place.

The same technique can be used on a shirt to make short or three-quarter-length sleeves. It also can be used to shorten skirts.

. Replace stretched-out elastic in skirts or pants. Rip out an inch or two of the casing stitching enclosing the elastic. Pull the elastic out a bit, cut it and pull it free of the garment. Take a piece of new elastic and fit it around your waist, add an inch and cut it. Pierce one end of the elastic with a large safety pin and use it for threading the new elastic through the garment casing. Overlap the ends an inch, hand-stitch them together as if you were sewing on a button, and tuck it up into the casing. Adjust the gathers along the elastic. Hand-stitch closed the opening in the casing. The same general technique is used to make the elastic shorter. Just cut off what isn’t needed and stitch the ends together. Or to add a few inches of elastic to the existing elastic if a garment fits too tightly. Cut the old elastic and add a few inches of new elastic stitched to the ends of the old.

. Get rid of a crew neck on a T-shirt. Cut just outside the line of stitching around the neckline ribbing. Turn the raw edge to the inside of the T-shirt and pin it in place. Slip-stitch the edge or use a simple running stitch. If you like the deconstructed look, don’t hem the raw edge, just allow it to roll of its own accord.

These days, “making over” clothing can become an exercise in wearable art when the garment produced is embellished according to the whim of its maker, making it one-of-a-kind. Making over also is a good way to recycle and reuse clothing, thus keeping it out of the waste stream. It is a practice advocated by those associated with the “green” movement, but anyone with a little imagination, a spool of thread, a needle and scissors can do it.


. Fiber artists interested in lending a hand to help Penquis raise funds for its fuel assistance program may want to donate a piece of work to the Penquis Harvest Housewarming Dinner and Auction scheduled for Oct. 25. Those interested in donating fiber art to the cause may call Maria Staples, events coordinator, at 973-3586, e-mail or visit to get more information and the necessary forms.

. Fans of applique may find inspiration in “Sew Far,” a monograph featuring artist Chris Roberts-Antieau’s handmade applique art. Roberts-Antieau, who lives in Michigan, creates her fabric paintings from linen, flannel, cotton, calico and velvet. The design and cutting aspects of her work are done freehand. She uses a sewing machine to applique the cut pieces. In Maine, her work has been shown at Abacus in Portland. For more about Roberts-Antieau and the book, visit