Upcycling Soft Furnishings

I have noticed a trend lately in the type of work I am being asked to do, and that is upcycling.

Out of my last five customers, four of them wanted me to make soft furnishings from items they already had. This is more than just altering the length of ready made curtains – which is something I try to avoid, but basically using the fabric contained within the item to create something new and different. I admit two of the four customers had purchased ready made soft furnishings with the intention that they be used for a different purpose, but the other two were using curtains that fitted windows in a previous house and wanted to change them to fit new surroundings.


What is upcycling?

Upcycled Aluminum Can Jewelry Dr Pepper

An example of upcycling by Absolute Jewelry, turning an old can into a beautiful necklace

Wikipedia ‘s definition of upcycling is :

“Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value”

Upcycling differs from recycling by keeping the fundamental elements of the item. When something is recycled, such as a glass bottle, it is mixed with other glass products, broken down into small pieces and reformed into a new glass bottle. The new bottle has nothing in common with the original bottle except that it is made of glass.

An item that has been upcycled may still have the same colour or texture as the original but it is enhanced and considered of a higher value.

According to Wikipedia the term upcycling was first used in 1994, but I consider the past’s “make do and mend” culture that was especially important during war time a form of upcycling. Darning a hole a sock so that it could be worn again added value to the un-wearable holey sock, even if it wasn’t a pretty sight!


What is involved in upcycling soft furnishings

From New

My customers who purchased ready made items with the intention of having them made into something else did so because they wanted a specific fabric.

One customer was changing her bedroom and wanted a matching valance. Unfortunately the collection she chose didn’t include a valance, so she purchased a second duvet cover just to have it made into a valance.

Another customer wanted two blinds made for her refurbished bathroom. She found an exact match to the colour of the tiles in a pair of ready made curtains so she purchased them.

Both of these customers purchased the ready made items before contacting me so I couldn’t advise them about any alternatives, but I was able to make the valance and blinds to their requirements without too many problems.

From Old

My other two customers were in a similar situation. They had moved into a new home and brought curtains from their old house with them which unfortunately didn’t fit any windows.

One customer had two pairs of hand pleated interlined curtains made for her lounge but unfortunately had to move soon afterwards. She felt it would be a waste to not use the curtains and actually needed curtains for her new spare room. However the old curtains were the wrong size, one pair was long and wide the other was short and narrow – the window needed short and wide.

Initially she contacted me to shorted the long pair. Instead, I suggested re-making the pleats on the shorter pair so that they were wide enough to fit the window. She was then able to give the long pair to her father-in-law for his lounge window. No wastage of fabric and both pairs of curtains are being used.

The other customer had eight panels from her house in France which she wanted made into a pair of dress curtains and a triple pleat valance for her lounge. After a great deal of washing and ironing on her part and cutting and sewing on mine, she now has a soft frame for her large picture window.


Top tips when upcycling soft furnishings

From experience I have the following top tips that may be useful if you are thinking of upcycling.

  • Ideally curtains that have been hanging should be laundered before upcycling. Hanging curtains make very good dust catchers and it goes everywhere if you are not careful.
  • Check the fabric of the original piece for wear and tear before starting.
  • Don’t assume the edge of ready made curtains is straight. More often that not the edge will be overlocked when it was made in the factory and any reference to the straight grain long gone.
  • Measure twice and cut once, you may not be able to replace the fabric if you make a mistake so cut carefully.


My own experience of upcycling

A few years ago we had an extension to our house and my son had a new bedroom. He didn’t want new curtains but the ones from his old room. Unfortunately the new window was slightly bigger than the old, so I added a contrast band to the top and used an eyelet heading to increase the width and length.

Eyelet curtains

Eyelet curtains upcycled from another pair by adding a contrast band to fit a new window.

Amazingly the old curtains have now been hanging in a south facing window for 14 years and showed little signs of fading which considering how dark the design is quite an achievement. If you plan to upcycle old curtains check for fading as this can be a problem.


Upcycling Soft Furnishings — 3 Comments

  1. I am decorating my son’s bedroom and have bought ready made curtains to match the duvet. When i opened the curtain pack I was disappointed to find the curtains are made of the same weight fabric as the duvet. I have taken them to pieces with the intention of interlining to give the curtains ‘depth’ , but was wondering if I could stiffen the fabric – I was thinking of starching it. Any recommendations to improve the disappointing thin fabric.

    • I have made curtains from duvet covers in the past so I know the problem. I don’t think stiffening the fabric would help, it would just change the drape of the curtains. Interlining would probably be the best way to go. An alternative, if you didn’t want to use interlining would be a brushed cotton lining. A thicker heavy weight one can add quite a bit of depth to the fabric.

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