(Originally published in SCHMETZ Inspired to SEW #47, November 2017. Written by Rita Farro.)
For generations, women who sew have been recycling. They start with one thing and, with their sewing skills and imagination — a transformation results into a completely different thing. Patchwork quilting began because frugal women couldn’t afford to waste any bit of usable fabric. They needed to save money and had to “make do” with materials on hand. In the process, they created something useful and beautiful that would be handed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter.
Over the next month you will meet four women who are as different as the things they choose to recycle . . . but what they share is the desire to give new life . . . transforming the ordinary and familiar into something extraordinary. There are as many names for it as there are different ways to do it. Whether you call it recycling, upcycling, refashion, or restyling — the desire to create something new from something old has always existed in the soul of women and men who love to sew. And it is truly the perfect way for the past to touch the present and the future. The added benefit is that when you start with something like a sweater that your mother loved, or a shirt your Dad wore to work, or a doily your favorite Aunt embroidered — the project takes on a special meaning. It becomes a labor of love and a treasured memory gift.
Michelle Paganini always wanted to be an artist. After 30+ years working in the medical device field, she decided to pursue her dream. When her children went off to college, she did, too. She studied fashion design and also joined a local wearable art guild, PenWAG, Peninsula Wearable Arts Guild. These venues opened up a whole new world of creativity.
When Michelle learned that fashion is the second-largest polluting industry on the planet, she was shocked and decided she would no longer buy new retail clothing. She started to refashion thrift store finds. Michelle says, “Women stopped me asking about my clothing, and that is how I knew I had a business. I thought if I could write instructions to help others upcycle successfully, we sewers could use our magical skills to help green fashion.”
In 2013, I took a class from Susan Khalje at the Sewing Workshop in San Francisco. I wore my own upcycled designs. Susan, a contributing editor at Threads magazine, said she thought an article on upcycling might be a good topic and encouraged me to submit a proposal. I did and it was accepted!! Knowing that my article would be published in early 2014 started a fire under my efforts to start Paganoonoo.”
The challenge was how to write the upcycling instructions for the Paganoonoo patterns. This was not something taught in school. Using “pattern” is actually a misnomer as there are no pattern pieces to cut out and pin.
What Michelle does is define disassembly and reassembly instructions. The Paganoonoo motto is “Upcycle Sewing Made Simple.”
Paganoonoo’s focus started with restyling men’s dress shirts, taking advantage of the high-quality fabric and beautifully finished details. Michelle starts with garments from thrift stores, sometimes eBay. The trick is to save those intricate tailoring details and use them in the restyled design: the collars, plackets, buttonholes. The other point of focus is designing for baby boomer women, creating green fashions with plenty of hip and belly room that are both stylish and flattering.