Clothing swap offers a fresh take on fashion

Arlette Moody and her daughter, Louisa, display some of Arlette’s creations, made from cast-off clothes. - Amelia Heagerty/staff photo
Arlette Moody and her daughter, Louisa, display some of Arlette’s creations, made from cast-off clothes.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

Arlette Moody’s closets are full of one-of-a-kind items — multi-colored capri pants for her daughter, a Mad Hatter’s jacket she’s sewn for her theatrical husband and creative costumes she sometimes dons in her work as a performer.

She didn’t use yards of new fabric or Butterick patterns, however, to make these creations.

Moody makes many of her clothes from what others cast off — items culled from thrift stores and second-hand shops that she reinvents at her sewing machine.

This weekend Islanders can join Moody in her spirit of thriftiness and eco-creativity at a clothing swap and sewing extravaganza, called Swap-O-Rama-Rama.

The event — many of which have been held around the country but is a first on Vashon — will include unlimited clothing for swapping and revamping, a dozen sewing machines (eight flown in by Singer, which helps sponsor the events), several sewing tutors, books to inspire and jog memories, an embroidery station and a variety of sewing workshops throughout the day.

“You could get a nice addition to your wardrobe,” said Islander Jenni Wilke, the force behind the event. “I am hoping people will feel inspired.”

Swap-O-Rama-Rama is a nonprofit organization based in New York, with roots in the relatively new Slow Clothing movement, Wilke said. Like the Slow Food movement, which has inspired many to consider the impacts of the food they eat, the budding Slow Clothing movement encourages people to learn more about the clothes they wear — where they might have come from and who might have made them and under what conditions. The movement also seeks to reduce the considerable waste in the textile industry and return creativity to people who wear the clothes.

Organizers of the event have been stockpiling castoffs, and more will arrive with participants throughout the day, so there will be clothes aplenty, according to Wilke. In the center of the room, there will be tables with clothes arranged according to type — pants, shirt, sweaters — with the sizes all mixed together, because at a Swap-O-Rama-Rama, size does not matter, Wilke said. The focus is on people transforming garments to make them fully their own.

Moody, a master of the art of clothing reinvention who says she does not so much as measure when she works, believes starting from existing clothes is easier than starting from scratch. Indeed, her closet tells the story about how far imagination, needle and thread can take a wardrobe.

A pair of plain brown pants that had become too tight now have a black velvet strip down each leg and a black velvet ruffle at the bottom, making them both comfortable and striking.

Too-short shirts were amended by cutting them off under the breast and sewing the bottoms of other shirts below, giving them panache and making them longer and more functional.

An elegant black shirt was originally a black slip and two or three other black shirts.

The list can be endless, Moody said. A slinky robe can be made into genie pants for a child’s costume. Take a maternity shirt, cut off the sleeves and neck and create an elastic waist, and voila — a new skirt. Moody, a performer, made a Queen of Hearts costume a few years back, complete with a hoop skirt, from two shirts, two skirts, wire and piping. It always draws attention, she said, and children are in awe when she tells them she made it herself.

The loss of sewing know-how in today’s culture is unfortunate, Moody said, because creating clothes is both empowering and fun.

“I think it is great to see what you like and know you can make it,” Moody said.

Julea Gardener, who will lead a workshop on making tunics from dresses, agrees. She said she took to sewing to find her “unique best look,” which doesn’t always mesh with what she can find on the clothing racks in stores. Though she calls herself a poor sewer, she said she knows some tricks to overcome her less-than-perfect skills, and she is pleased with the results.

“We’re all finding ways to save money, be green and be creative at the same time,” she said.

For Rain Sherman, the green approach to clothes is vital. She and her brother Remy Sherman have created The Global Revolutionary Fashion Design Company on Vashon, with a mission to create ready-to-wear clothing from castoffs. They will offer a workshop on re-imagining the sweatshirt. If a sweatshirt has an unwanted logo or stain on it, no problem, according to Rain, who will show people how to make an appliqué from another fabric they like and create a new piece of clothing.

“It’s very straightforward to show people who aren’t advanced. Even without a lot of skills, you can also do this. … You do not have to throw all your clothes away,” she said.

While the Swap-O-Rama-Rama will include a lot of new ideas, Wilke wants it to be a multi-generational event, with older sewers in the community lending their expertise to people who are starting out.

She hopes this group includes Island teens. Wilke intentionally scheduled the event at this time of year, when the back-to-school calendars start arriving.

“I hope it will give youth on the Island pause before they go to the mall and spend $200 on fast fashion,” she said.


10 a.m. to 6 p.m Saturday, Aug. 1, at the Open Space for Arts and Community, located at 18870 103rd Ave. S.W.

The entry fee is $10 and a bag of unwanted clothes per family. Bring items that are too small, too big, too stained, fashion disasters, unwanted gifts and more.

People who wish to donate clothes before the event can drop them off at Books by the Way during business hours. They can also call Wilke there at 463-2696.

Swap-O-Rama-Rama is sponsored in part by a grant from Sustainable Vashon.


11 a.m. Turning dresses into tunics by Julea Gardener

Noon Sewing totes by Sarah Laine

1 p.m. Making accessories by Jolene McCauley

2 p.m. Re-imagining/debranding the sweatshirt by Rain and Remy Sherman

3 p.m. Creating evening wear by Annalisa Lafayette

4 p.m. Transforming T-shirts by Jenni Wilke

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