My Mum -The Rebel Upcycler.

My mum, Irene, didn’t want to take sewing class at school. She wanted to do woodwork, but this was the early 70s and girls didn’t do woodwork. Girls went to sewing class and so, reluctantly, my mum became acquainted with her first sewing machine, and her first (and only) sewing teacher.

It didn’t take long for them to fall out. Once my mum had (finally) cut out the fabric for a particularly unfashionable orange office dress, the teacher pointed out that my mum hadn’t used tailor’s tacks to mark where the bust dart should be. “I don’t need to do tailor’s tacks. I can do a bust dart without them” my mum replied. Needless to say, the teacher disagreed and promptly kicked my mum out of the class with a retort of “You will never, ever make a garment!”

Mrs Sewing Teacher clearly didn’t know that my mum had been hand sewing clothes for her dolls since she was a kid. And she certainly didn’t know that my mum had recently taken a pair of old, white, dungaree shorts and hand sewn a pair of massive flares to them – massive flares made from red and yellow flowery curtains. Unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence of said dungaree flares, because they sound bloody fantastic! When flares went out of fashion she chopped the flares off, flipped them upside down and turned them into pencil skirts. My mum – the upcycler. It must be in the genes.

Mum gun

When my mum moved into her bedsit, around the same time as she was wearing below-the-knee dresses, wedge sandals, and firing guns over fences (see evidence above), she managed to secure herself several weeks of free rent by making curtains for all of the landlords other properties. She’d seen a second hand sewing machine in the paper for £25, much more than she could afford. Her grandma offered to buy it for her, and she began paying her back a little each week – not a bad deal if you’re not paying rent!

So getting kicked out of sewing class didn’t put my mum off sewing at all. She just wanted to do it in her way – without tailor’s tacks. And definitely not anything orange.

It’s a shame that Mrs Sewing Teacher couldn’t have been there on the sunny afternoon of August 25th, 1980, when my mum walked down the aisle in the wedding dress she made. Sewn in embossed white satin, with lace sleeves and neckline, and a whirlpool train, she’d put the design together from 3 different patterns. She looked beautiful. Heading back to her upcycling roots, she also covered a hat for her mum using a shirt that matched her outfit.


Once I came along (after big brother) my mum took this as the perfect opportunity to start sewing for me. I remember a purple velvet affair with gold scalloped stitching, various creations from old curtains, and numerous fancy dress outfits including a cow outfit for a nativity play that involved tea staining a bed sheet for some reason or other – she’s always been inventive. Here are a few outfits immortalised in photograph form…


As soon as my mum trusted me with her sewing machine I began customising whatever clothes I could. She taught me how to put flares into my straight jeans using fabric from old shirts, she let me cut up my best t-shirts and sew them back together with bits of others, she taught me how to bleach my jeans in the bath and dug out the sandpaper to show me how to make authentic looking ripped knees.

Almost 15 years later she bought me my first sewing machine, like her gran did for her (only I didn’t have to pay her back – thank you mum!). And now I have BrawHem, I have this upcycling challenge, and if I’m ever stuck for ideas I know who to call – my mum, the sewing class rebel, the upcycler, the wedding dress maker, the costume maker, the woman who never has and never will use a bloody tailor’s tack in her life.

So mum, the next part of the Upcycling My Year challenge is for you, in honour of your 1970s dungaree/curtain flares combo. I have one pair of dungarees, and one 1970s curtain. You can see what I come up with in the next blog (heads up: it won’t be massive flares, sorry).




14 thoughts on “My Mum -The Rebel Upcycler.

  1. lovely article! I like that your mum has done things her own way, I often get put off certain crafts when they become overly rigid in their methods of doing things and make up my own, it’s a lot more fun! Although sadly, not a lot has changed in the woodwork department – I was the only girl in my woodwork class when I was at school in 2004!


    1. I sometimes follow the rules (my mum would be ashamed, I use tailor’s tacks!) but I’m often heard saying “Meh, I’ll just make it up as I go along!”
      That’s crap about the woodwork, although I can’t say I’m surprised unfortunately. Things really do need to change. For example, my mum does sewing classes at the primary school she works at, and the boys absolutely love it. Yet as they grow older they’ll realise that the world has gendered certain activities, and be put off because “sewing is for girls”.


  2. How blessed you are to have a beautiful and talented mum & gran like yours. Such an endearing post. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to see what you do with those fun curtains!~cheers


  3. Loved every word of your post! (made me a bit emotional too…) I see you are part of a long line of upcyclers ! 😉 Can’t wait to see the dungarees/curtain upcycling!


    1. Thank you Leni! I got quite emotional searching through old albums looking for the photos, as well as realising how much I look like my mum did at my age(!). Since I’ve started sewing properly I’ve been learning more about my mum through the conversations we have, and that’s where this post came from 🙂


    1. I know! I don’t see her often as I live in Scotland and she lives in England, but we speak regularly (often to share sewing successes and dilemmas). And I had the honour of making her a top for Christmas!
      Thanks for reading.


  4. Very interesting post. I think a lot of girls were put off by sewing classes at school. I made a huge mess of my first dress – unwearable!


    1. Any photos? Haha 🙂 I really wanted to take sewing classes at school, although it was called ‘Textiles’ when I was there (perhaps a re-brand to try make it sound more appealing?). Unfortunately there were no spaces left and I ended up doing Design Technology…I wasn’t happy!


  5. I hate sewing classes, spent most of the time under the table picking up pins, or waiting to use the iron as yet agian my – I thought – neatly folded item had turned into a mass of wrinkles….my mum was a sewer, everything was home made, and nan knitted or crocheted the rest. I really really wanted a shop bought dress when I was a kid ( oh your mum makes your clothes – always said with a sneer…I was the skinny, small kid, teased for my dark skin, glasses, and home made clothes. Kids can be cruel, and will always find something to pick on), instead I had dresses in lurid, orange, yellow, greens, with yards and yards of lace or decorating them . If you don’t know ric-rac https://www.ricketyrose.co.uk/polka-dot-ric-rac
    those flares sounded like Bay City Rollers ones of the 70’s. everyone then was into flares, tie dye, platform soles, glitter and sequins from the bowie/glam rock groups. as a Bowie fan I’ve never really outgrown the glitter and sparkle addiction 😉


    1. Never been a major glitter and sequin fan, but flares and tie the yes! Oh and I imagine my mum’s flares were very much inspired by the likes of the Bay City Rollers, they were one of her favourite bands 🙂
      Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy sewing classes, or wearing handmade clothes. Kids are cruel. I was a tall, lanky, ginger kid with glasses so I know ALL about that!


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