Tag Archives: Fur

Thrift to Fashion – Leather Edition

Written by Laura Ulak

Think you don’t have anything to wear in your closet to a costume event?  Are you SURE?  Because that old leather jacket from High School might be just what you need.

Reclaiming leather from old jackets in your closet or the thrift store is not just eco-friendly (and nice to cows!) it also gives you nice quality leather at a fraction of the cost of new.  And that wear on the jacket that gives it character?  That can do the same thing for your costume.

Leather jackets or pants or skirts (look in all 3 areas at the thrift store) can run as low as $4.00 if you find one on sale.  They come in various colors and shades, and in all different sizes.  I prefer to look for ones that are either in fairly large pieces with few seams, or just in large pieces period.  Leather trenches, plus size jackets and prairie skirts (yes, I found a ruched leather prairie skirt once!) can be a treasure trove of material to work with.

You have to be more creative in your cutting with pre-sewn leather.  Often you can use the back of a jacket as the back of a bodice – if you are willing to have a seam there.  You can open up sleeves and find big chunks of unseamed leather.  Collars can be removed and put on a new outfit.  I save all my old scraps that are at least as large as my hand for use in appliqué.

Here are some examples of leather outfits that started out as thrift store (or closet!) finds:

This bodice was made using the leather from an old black jacket, and the sleeve of a red leather jacket.  It was lined in cotton, and the rampant lion was appliquéd on top of the black leather before construction.

That prairie skirt I was talking about?  That became a leather Victorian style corset with D-ring lacing in the back.  It has been used as a pirate bodice:

And as a corset for an Asian style Steampunk outfit:

A small leather pair of pants was turned into a belly dancing bodice:

Two different leather jackets were used to make similar style bodices that have been used as pirate wear and wench wear and the leather scraps were used to make gauntlets:

Another leather coat was used to make this pirate bodice:

But you don’t have to cut up your leather to repurpose it.  There always seems to be a leather vest or two sitting around the thrift store.  Add embroidery or gears to it and you have a Steampunk vest:

Another vest was modified into a wench bodice:

Or you could just remove the sleeves on a faux leather jacket, add some elastic to the back to bring in the waist and you have another Steampunk vest:

But leather isn’t just for bodices.  Got an old white leather jacket sitting around from your Whitesnake groupie days?  Cut off the sleeves, remove the zippers from the cuffs (oh yeah!), and sew on buttons all along the edge and when attached to a pair of garters, they make an excellent pair of Steampunk spats.  (and ok, the leather bodice was made from a leather skirt and a left over piece of white leather):

When working with leather it is best to use either a roller foot or non-stick foot for your machine.  If you don’t have either, use tissue paper or printer paper sandwiched between the foot and the leather to help move the leather along.  Don’t ever pin leather – use weights for cutting, and double stick tape or large paperclips or clothespins to hold it together.  There is a rubber cement for leather that works well for holding seams open.  And remember to lengthen your stitch when sewing on leather – wider is better.

How To Sew Leather, Suede, Fur is a great book for learning how to sew on leather, suede or fur.  It was published in the 70’s, but the info is just as good now as it was then.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  Please post in the comments with any additional tips and tricks!

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A Q&A with Treasured Garment Restoration


Treasured Garment Restoration is a specialty branch of St. Croix and White Way Cleaners located in Stillwater, MN.  We recently spoke with Polly Nemec, the Owner and Sr. VP of TGR and she was kind enough to answer some questions for us. 

MNSOC:  How long have you been restoring/cleaning costumes?

POLLY:  Treasured Garment Restoration (“TGR”) was formed in January 2008. At that time Duane, our specialty production manager, was brought on board since he had over 12 years of specialty cleaning experience before he joined us.

MNSOC:  What kind of costume pieces do you clean? Fabric only, or would you do, say, a Stormtrooper outfit? Or a leather Dragon suit?

POLLY:  TGR cleans pretty much anything that can be cleaned– Including: all fabrics, leathers, vinyls, fur, feathers, foam–we also clean mascot costumes.

MNSOC:  What are the general costs of cleaning costumes?

POLLY:  Costs can vary a lot–depending upon the fabrics, design, and stain patterns of the costumes. Sometimes, we are able to clean in machines (either dry cleaning or wet cleaning), sometimes we need to hand-clean really delicate or really bulky items. If we need to hand-clean items, we charge $75/hour. Many costumes/mascots can be cleaned in an hour or less. Once we see the costume, we can give you a no-obligation cost quote to clean that piece.

MNSOC:  How long is the turn-around?

POLLY:  We usually ask for 2 weeks, but if needed, we can sometimes do it in less time.

MNSOC:  What sort of process do you use to clean the costumes to make sure they don’t loose beadwork, bleed, etc.?

POLLY:  We test the fabrics, beads, etc to determine the safest and best method for cleaning each piece. As mentioned above, we can either dry-clean or wet-clean by machine or hand, depending upon each costumes’ needs.

MNSOC:  What other cleaning options are there? (I am thinking in particular here about how Duane cleaned a Santa coat for a client of mine where the red from the velvet was bleeding into the fur – he was able to remove the dye from the fur).

POLLY:  We have had a lot of successes in controlling color bleeds in costumes with contrasting colors (i.e. red with white). Once again, we have to test the fabrics to determine the types of dyes and whether or not they have been properly pre-washed/set before we proceed with a specific method.

MNSOC:  Is there anything you DON’T clean in regards to costumes?

POLLY:   Not that we have found yet…???

MNSOC:  Can you give a couple of examples of costumes you have cleaned for others?

POLLY:  We clean costumes for the Guthrie Theater, Children’s Theatre Company, Costume Rentals, the Minnesota Opera, the MN Historical Society, we just cleaned all the costumes for the current-running show “Cavalia”. We also help test-clean some of the costumes for these theater companies–so that they can build them to withstand multiple cleanings.

MNSOC:  Do you clean accessories such as shoes? Hats?

POLLY:  Yes, Yes!

MNSOC:  Do you have advice or suggestions on prepping costumes for cleaning?

POLLY:  Please do not try “home remedies” on stains–they usually complicate the removal process–and sometimes pull color. Let us know (if you know) what the stain is, so we can efficiently take care of it.

MNSOC:  Do you have suggestions for storing costumes and their accessory pieces?

POLLY:  The safest and best method for storing costumes (and fabric of any kind) is to fold them into an acid free box after they are cleaned. Hanging costumes for extended periods of time (even using the “stress loops”) can cause distortions and distress on the fabrics. Although, the 2nd best method for storage (to folding in acid-free boxes) would be to hang in a 100% cotton muslin garment bag. Please avoid plastic tubs or plastic bags. Plastics, in addition to “sealing in” any moisture in the fabric content, also emit “off-gases” that cause oxidation (yellowing, discoloration) and deteriorization (crumbling effects) of the fabrics.

MNSOC:  What is the most amazing costume you have ever cleaned?

POLLY:  We have cleaned many dynamic and interesting things! One of our best challenges was a costume wardrobe that came in from the London Opera– a previous drycleaner had melted many beads and they had smeared all over the dresses. We were able to clean off the smearing and polish the remaining beads. The people in London couldn’t believe that their costumes looked better than they had for many years!

Contact Polly and Duane at Treasured Garment Restoration for all of your cleaning needs.

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