The Top 3 Easiest Ways To Revamp your Vintage Finds

by Camy Mortimer

In the long list of protests directed at second hand and vintage shopping that I hear all the time, the number one protest is usually “there is never anything good” or “I can never find anything I like”. Well, firstly, I hate to call you out here but that’s just a downright lie! Half the fun of vintage and second-hand shopping is the hunt. Sifting through item after item, rack after rack, really diving in, and then the glory of finding hidden treasures amongst it all.

However, I do understand that sometimes you just aren’t that lucky and there may be some ok pieces but overall, there’s just nothing that is really doing it for you.

Over the years since I started choosing to shop second hand more often, I’ve learnt a few things about the people who ALWAYS seemed to find the best pieces.

The common denominator I found is that the most successful vintage and second-hand shoppers usually have a very good understanding of what they like, are confident with their own personal style, and also tend to have a little bit of a creative streak. These people can sift through pieces that most people would see as unimpressive and essentially make it their own. They alter the pieces they find to fit, they can turn old dresses into shirts, or they simply just know how to style pieces in ways that others may never think of. What I’m trying to say is, the best way to approach vintage and second hand shopping is with a creative eye. Really if you think about it, the sky is the limit. Really ask yourself, what do I like? How could I make this my own?

There are various ways you can do this. But I understand that sometimes it can be quite daunting, especially if you aren’t the most experienced with sewing or altering your own clothes, or just aren’t really sure where to start!

That’s where I come in, I know the struggle and I want to help you out.  I present to you, my top three go to ways that I make my vintage and second hand finds into my own, Dyeing, Darts and Cutting/Cropping. These techniques don’t take that long and are relatively easy to learn. 

Dyeing

Look sometimes we find great pieces, but we just don’t love the colour or pattern. Why not just dye it! This method is probably the easiest out of everything I’ve tried when revamping my second hand and vintage finds, and honestly, I don’t know why didn’t start doing it sooner.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a set tutorial for how best to do this – it’s a little bit of trial and error until you find what works for your style and the fabric you are working with. However, here’s a couple of tips for you to help you avoid the mistakes I made in the early days:

  • Take note of the fabric of the piece you are dyeing when purchasing fabric dye. Different types of dye are needed for different fabrics.
  • The colour of the fabric. Depending on the original colour of the fabric and the colour you are wishing to dye it you may have to dye it a few times to get the shade you desire. Also, it should be noted that you should be realistic about what shade you want to dye your garment. For example, if you buy a dark green blouse, it is probably going to be quite difficult if not impossible to dye it and change it into a bright yellow, without first bleaching all of the original colour out of it first. Trust me, you have to REALLY love it to go through that process.

The two brands of dye I usually purchase are either Dylon or Ritmore (depending on the type of fabric I am dyeing).  

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They are both easily available in Australia at major grocery chains and haberdashery stores. Instructions for each come on the packet so it’s super simple. You will also need a fair amount of salt, so just keep that in mind when you are out buying ingredient items.

Darts

For those of you who don’t know, darts are folds (typically on an already existing seam) that are sewn into a garment to tailor it to better fit your shape. This technique took me a couple of goes to get truly comfortable with, but it is a very handy skill to learn. Most of the time when I am putting darts into pieces it is usually in second hand or vintage jeans that are too big. I particularly love buying men’s jeans and tailoring them to fit me, which is what I am doing in the following tutorial, however, the same technique can be used on regular pants. For this method you will need a sewing machine (you can try sewing by hand if you wish but it may take you a while and not hold together as well) some fabric glue, a quick unpick and some tape measure.

  1. First, using a quick unpick you will want to very carefully take off the back pockets and leather labelling (if the garment has it) and then set them aside for later. You will be putting your darts under/ along where these are usually placed.
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2. Now this part is where it can get a little tricky. Check the tag of the garment to figure the measurement of the waistband.  If it does not have a tag you will need to use a tape measure to measure the waistband. Next, use a tape measure to measure yourself where you would like the garment to sit on your frame (for example around your waist).  Then figure out the difference between these two measurements, which will give you the amount that you need to take the pants in by. For example, these pants were 34inch and I needed to take them into 26inches.

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3. Next turn the garment inside out so we can start pinning. From the middle seam of the jeans measure out a couple inches on each side. Then measure out the amount you need to take in and pin it. You want your darts placed in the midway point between each side of the jeans (as shown below). For example, with these jeans I needed to take them in about 8 inches, so I measured approximately 2-3 inches from the middle seam of the pant then measured out an extra 4 inches on each side and pinned it between the two points.

 If it is easier, you can always just pin the garment whilst trying it on to save measuring out exact sizes. This is the part of the process that usually takes the longest to get the hang of and can take a bit of trial and error before you get it right. If you aren’t feeling confident, I would recommend testing this on a couple of older garments first just to get the hang of it. 

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4. Next you will need to follow the line of the darts that you started at the waistband, down the length of the leg of the pants to shape the pants down the legs. For example, for these jeans I wanted to taper them in to about where my knees were, to give them a straight leg style. You will want to fold the fabric in a triangular shape so when sewn together it naturally blends into the rest of the fall of the fabric of the jeans. Once you have found where you want the garment to be tailored, you will need to pin down this fold, this is where you will sew the fabric together. If you are sewing denim like I am here, I recommend you use a strong needle, strong thread and a secure stitch setting on your sewing machine to make the job a little easier and ensure that the dart holds.

5. Once you’ve completed sewing the darts, I recommend trying the garment on again before cutting off the excess fabric just to be sure all of your measurements and pinning was correct, and it has your desired fit. If not use your quick unpick to take out the stitching and adjust the garment as you see fit.

6. Once you are happy with the fit, trim the excess fabric and then turn the garment back out the right way. Then, grab the pockets and leather label we set aside earlier. To reattach you can either place, pin and sew these parts back on, or you can use fabric glue. I find fabric glue is an easy and quick alternative but if you want to ensure to truly secure the pockets and branding then feel free to sew them back on.

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And you’re done! I’ve done this with about 4 pairs of my vintage jeans now and it has become an essential skill for my wardrobe management and second-hand shopping habits. As mentioned, it does take a bit of trial and error so be patient with yourself while trying to get the hang of it. If you’re a bit more of a visual learner, I filmed a short tutorial for our TikTok page that you can watch here.

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Cutting and Cropping

Ahhh cutting and cropping…. This is the bread and butter of altering your clothes. There are so many possibilities whether it be just cropping a t shirt or creating a super cool and unique style in a fitted shirt. Here I have put two super easy and basic ways you can revamp some old vintage t shirts, using this method that will hopefully inspire you.

Basic Cropping:

  1. Firstly, you will want to lay your garment down on a flat surface and make sure there is no creases, and all the hems are lined up.
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2. Next you will want to mark with a pen, pencil or chalk where you are looking to crop being careful not to smudge the ink over the fabric

3. Now that you have marked where you wish to cut the shirt, simply take your fabric scissors and very carefully cut along the marked area. If you are like me and do not wish to hem the bottom, you want to be careful to cut straight along the fabric, so you don’t get any jagged lines. If you wish to hem the garment, simply once you are finished cutting, turn the garment inside out and fold the bottom up about 2-3cm and pin it all the way around. Once you have done this just sew along where you have pinned.

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There you go! The quickest way to revamp a second hand or vintage T-shirt!

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If you are feeling up to it and want to try something a little more challenging, then you can also cut and sew your T-shirts into a funky singlet.

The process is similar; however, you will need your sewing machine again and some pins. Let me walk you through it.

  1. Just as we did with the other t-shirt you will want to lay your shirt on a flat surface making sure there is no creases and that all of the seams are lined up.
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2. Next mark and draw out the shape/ style of shirt you would like to cut out of the t-shirt, but to make things easier I recommend finding a shirt from your wardrobe you like and laying it flat on the t-shirt to use as a template, as pictured below.

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3. Now using your fabric scissors you will want to carefully cut around the top, cutting close in line with the sleeves but leaving a couple of centimetres room on the sides.

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4. Once you have cut out your top turn the fabric inside out, lay it back down on your flat surface, making sure the bottom hem is lined up correctly, and then pin the sides.

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5. Using your sewing machine, sew the pinned area to pull together the sides of your top.

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There you go! Super quick and easy. As mentioned before, if you wish to sew the bottom hem you may but it’s completely up to you, that is the beauty of it, just make it your own!

I use each of these methods religiously! If you don’t wish to use them for your second hand and vintage finds, they are also just really great skills to have to revamp your wardrobe.  

Make sure to follow us on our Social pages for more inspiration and tips and check out the Populace Threads wardrobe for more great bargains to complement or build your  own personal style.