When an item nears the end of its life in someone's home or closet, it's just the beginning for Karina Nathan. Someone's Dukes of Hazzard bed sheets become drawstring-waist pantaloons, an old wool sweater becomes trendy leg warmers, and a dad's tie collection becomes a paneled skirt. For Miss Karina — as she's known around town and on her Etsy.com Web page (www.misskarinas.com), where she sells everything from skirts to furry headpieces — recycled design is her little protest against big clothing manufacturers. "The truth about 'eco-friendly' is that nothing you buy is eco-friendly," she says. "It's possible to make better choices when purchasing, but nothing manufactured, packaged, shipped and sold was any favor to Mother Nature."
Nathan, a mostly self-taught designer who cut her teeth making Carnival costumes after moving to New Orleans from Boston, promotes "trashion," a term she uses for her repurposed designs, as equally ethical and easy to master with her series of Sew What? classes at the Green Project. So far the classes have covered mending clothes and recycling old clothes into new items. A final class on Saturday, April 24, guides participants in creating a body-accurate dress form out of trash bags and tape. (A typical form, which Nathan says is not always accurate to one's body, can cost as much as $250.) She shared with Gambit some tips on how to inject trashion into wardrobes.
• Know where to shop. Thrift stores and clothing exchanges are filled with potential creations. "In general," she says, "any article of clothing can become a totally different article if it provides enough fabric yardage to do so." Nathan's favorites stores to find "pre-loved" fabrics to repurpose are Red, White and Blue (5728 Jefferson Hwy.), Buffalo Exchange (3312 Magazine St.), and Glue Clothing Exchange (8206 Oak St.), where Nathan also sells her wares. When shopping in used clothing and thrift stores, carefully inspect any purchases for defects such as rips or holes that might affect the finished design, she says. In addition, Nathan says Etsy, a social commerce Web site, provides eco-conscious shoppers with many options, including places to find sewing and crafting supplies, as well as opportunities to purchase items from people in Louisiana or any other place they would like to support with their shopping dollars.
• Find quick fixes for old clothes. There are many easy ways to spruce up old clothing items. "Adding a little trim can totally change a piece," Nathan says. "A T-shirt can easily be transformed into skirts. Gently used neckties can make great belts. Jeans can become a purse. An old tent can become a yoga mat bag. A dress can become a visor. Pillowcases can become backpacks. It's really endless." Mending is another way to breathe life into old, damaged garments. Basic sewing that involves just a needle, thread and scissors includes replacing a button, patching holes and hemming. Some fixes, however, call for a seamstress. "Alterations are a bit harder," she says. "If you are trying to change the shape of a garment, not just shorten it, leave it to the professionals. (Repairing) zippers can be tricky, but (it takes) just a couple of minutes for a seasoned seamstress."
• Invest in some basic tools. "You can do a lot with a little," Nathan says, recommending a basic tool kit for repurposing clothes: a decent pair of scissors for cutting thread and fabric, a razor blade or seam ripper for cutting out old stitches, a regular iron, a pack of sewing needles, and dark and light threads. She also says sewing machines often can be acquired cheaply or even for free on Craigslist or at stores that sell used items. Nathan uses a 1980s Kenmore sewing machine she bought at a thrift store for $20. An old sewing machine usually just needs to be dusted or oiled to be revived, she says.
• Develop a passion for trashion. Nathan says besides being a way to promote independent designers, a greener planet and more humane working environments, trashion also is an inexpensive way to ensure you have a wardrobe of unique and high-quality clothes. The prints and quality of many vintage pieces can contribute to a one-of-a-kind item, and she says it removes a lot of the guesswork that comes with buying new clothes. "Recycled fabrics often have been washed many times and are therefore unlikely to shrink or fade, since they probably already did," she says. The best part: it's unlikely anyone else will own the exact same Dukes of Hazzard skirt as you do. "Trashion pieces are fashion art that could truly never be replicated." she says.
Sew What?: Dress Form Making is 10 a.m. Saturday at the Green Project (2831 Marais St., 945-0240; www.thegreenproject.org). Admission is $5, free for members.