I used to be much more of a seamstress than I am now, but I’m getting back into it as I can’t find clothes I like (modern women’s pants all want to fall off my butt) and I am sewing my own gear to save money. This article will focus on repurposing fabric items that are worn out or that you don’t want anymore, into other fabric items that are more useful for a SHTF situation.
Don’t throw out old clothes, even if they’re stained or otherwise unwearable. Even clean old underwear can be repurposed into rags or stuffing for pillows. You can take the hook and eye parts of old bras, and use them in other underwear projects or for mending. You can remove the zippers, elastic, buttons, etc. of old clothes, and keep them for future projects. You can even save good strong thread if you are careful deconstructing something.
If you want to dye something that is a natural fiber a different color, you can learn about plant dyes, or there is a kind of dye called procion dye. The mordant (fixer) for that kind of dye is washing soda, which you can buy at the grocery store in the laundry soap aisle. This dye is the kind that people who make tie-dyes use, it comes in all different colors including earth tones – you can make your own camo if need be that way, out of your existing clothes. I used to get mine at Dharma Trading Co. which is online, but there may be other sellers. To conserve dye, it is much more economical to squirt or spray the dye onto your garment than to vat-dye it, unless you are doing a really big batch all the same color.
If you find elastic eventually wears out and becomes unavailable, you can make drawstrings instead out of strips of fabric and modify your clothes to accept drawstrings.
You can make socks out of old sweaters or sweatshirts. You don’t even need to know how to knit, if you can cut and sew it so it doesn’t unravel. (I recommend zigzag stitch). Or in a pinch you can wrap a rag around your foot and stuff it in a shoe like that, but why not have something that is shaped like a sock?
Old pants legs with minimal sewing can make good bags, pouches, aprons, pillows, book covers, gaiters, or panels for bodices. They could even be made into hammocks or cots if you have enough of them, which if bedbugs take over the world or if you end up being nomadic, you’ll be getting rid of your mattresses eventually anyway. One thing I haven’t seen yet is a denim plate carrier. One might fasten a 550 steel target to the inside of the bib of a pair of overalls, as an improvised rifle plate. (but pad the inside of the steel too).
You can make tactical gear or smaller bags out of old luggage you cut apart. Many suitcases are made from Cordura. You can save the straps from knapsacks to use for webbing or slings. Even outdoor upholstery fabric remnants would work, but to get Cordura, the “real thing”, without ordering it, look to the luggage at the thrift store.
You can also hide clothes or gear by making them into cushions. How about a “bolster-holster” for your rifle? How about a piece of web gear that is reversible? One minute it’s a purse or satchel or pillow, the next it’s your vest. How many sets of clothes can you stuff into a seat cushion?
Back to quilts for a second, the Army poncho liner is nothing more than a thin quilt with a head hole in the middle. It’s camo lightweight nylon with thin polyfil for batting, a few strings at the corners, and bound on the edges. You could make something similar. If you didn’t mind the extra weight, you could use some thin wool, maybe in two layers, and sandwich that between nylon to make it ride smoother. It would probably be a lot warmer than polyfil, although if you were running around it might get too hot.
If you don’t have a pattern, you can make your own shirt and dress patterns by draping cheap fabric on a dress dummy or a person and pinning it, drawing on it, adding to it, cutting it, etc. You can sew a mock-up and then take it apart and there’s your pattern, only made of fabric instead of tissue paper. And of course, once you are done with the pattern you can reuse the fabric.
You can make yourself a custom dress dummy by wearing an old T-shirt and wrapping your torso with duct tape, cutting your way out of it and taping the cut back together, then stuffing it. I suppose if you stuff it with heavy enough stuff, you could also chain it to a door frame and use it as a punching bag when you get frustrated trying to drape cheap fabric on it (just make sure the pins are all out).
Last but not least, it might be slow, but you can always hand sew clothes if you don’t have a machine. Sometimes I find my machine can’t handle real thick things, and all at the same time I had 3 or 4 projects that would have required a walking foot machine, which is an industrial sewing machine designed for thick fabric, where the presser foot goes up and down with every stitch. Instead of looking for a walking foot machine, which is expensive, I hand sewed what I needed to, and made due. You can also hand baste things like quilts, to hold them together before you quilt them for real. It keeps the layers from migrating too much. - Penny Pincher