Photo by Natalie Johnson
This wool jacket is one of numerous pieces waiting to be transformed.
Long before upcycling became trendy, Teresa Mitchell, unimpressed with fabrics available in retail stores, used the satin and brocade from her mother’s circa 1961 wedding dress to design her own.
Thirty years later, she’s still passionate about reusing old garments to create new products, sold under her new business’s name — upfashioned.
“I am a self-proclaimed clothes horse, always have been,” she said. “I’ve been combating that passion for clothes and design and great fabrics and all of that with this other piece of me which is really conscious of over-consumption.”
With upfashioned, Mitchell takes quality clothing purchased at thrift stores to make new products — including pillows, hats, purses and pouches, stuffed animals and puffer vests for dogs, among other items.
You might expect that she just unpicks seams to salvage fabric from the vintage leather jackets or Pendleton wool shirts, but she makes a point to reuse elements of the original garment as well. A recently finished leather tote bag includes the leather coat’s original decorative stitching on the outside, and the liner, made from a thick cotton button-up shirt, keeps the shirt’s front pocket as a pouch, along with its buttons.
The rest of the full-length brown leather jacket is already cut up to make three small leather purses — all from the same custom pattern, but all three will still be unique in their own ways.
“My goal is to end up with scraps like this that I then use to stuff — I make stuffed animals,” Mitchell said. “The idea is I’m using everything.”
Another purse is the front of a men’s suit jacket including the original pocket. The inside breast pocket is still a functional pocket inside the purse and the strap and liner incorporate pieces from silk ties. Puffer jackets sized down become great dog vests — hood included.
“It’s deconstructing and then it’s reconstructing. It’s super satisfying,” she said.
Mitchell began sewing in her early teen years, under the tutelage of her grandmother. Her parents bought her first sewing machine, a Singer, in 1971.
“My grandmother was an amazing seamstress and she was a seamstress out of necessity,” Mitchell said. “She sewed everything — all of her four children’s clothing, my grandfather’s clothing, suit coats, underwear. She made everything.”
Mitchell used that first sewing machine for decades to do everything from upholstering furniture to making her costumes for her kids. She’s still got it, but today uses a heavier-duty machine for many of her projects.
In her adult life, Mitchell has prioritized thrift shopping first, and buying quality clothing new when it’s needed. She started taking her two children thrift shopping with her when they were young.
“What I was trying to do was normalize that,” Mitchell said. “Our kids now are in their early 20s and are very keen on looking at second-hand first, which makes me very proud as a mama.”
When searching thrift store racks — many of them local — Mitchell looks for natural fabrics like wool, leather or even mohair. She gives everything a deep clean before organizing it in her studio and finding inspiration for the individual pieces. Each tag on her finished products has pictures of the original garments it’s made out of.
“I also try to focus on beautifully made things, things that have a story, garments that you wouldn’t find any more,” she said. “There’s a reverence that I feel when I’m cutting into something, knowing that somebody else’s hands were on this and they probably didn’t make very much money and it was probably a woman.”
Reusing high-quality fabric is an economic concern as well as an ethical one. Some of the material Mitchell is able to salvage for a few dollars could cost $50 per yard or more through a specialty fabric retailer.
Some of it would be simply impossible to get. And if a wool jacket has a torn hem or a stain, Mitchell just has to cut around it.
Items waiting for their next life include a navy blue cashmere I. Magnin coat — a name not well known today but once was top-of-the-line, Mitchell said.
“You can see the fabric is wearing in certain places,” she said. “It’s not first-rung quality anymore but it started out as something really magnificent.”
Other items on her rack include another full-length leather jacket, vintage wool suit jackets and overcoats, a 100% wool circa-1960s yellow twin set dress and a fuchsia suede jacket. Polyester is quickly given the boot if it sneaks its way into Mitchell’s studio.
“My work is kind of anti-fast fashion,” she said.
Previously, Mitchell and her husband, Steve, owned Rocking Horse Bakery for several years, and also operated a food and kitchenware shop called Methow Masala.
Mitchell’s products are on display at Methow Valley Goods at TwispWorks.