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HOW TO: spruce up your wardrobe

by Christy Petterson

Haven't felt it yet, but I know within the next couple of weeks I'll feel that first almost undetectable wind that signifies the coming of fall. Even though I haven't gone "back-to-school" in seven years, the beginning of September always makes me feel like I want to buy new clothes. When I was little, my sister and I tried to score entirely new wardrobes each fall and after days of the hunt, we would show off our very economic new threads in our annual fashion show for our parents.

I won't get an all new wardrobe this year but I do plan on sprucing up my current selection. The threads I like to spend my money on come in the spool and yards o� fabric varieties so I try to find deals when shopping for clothes. Of course there is the sale rack at the mall, Target, Ross and TJ Maxx. These are all great places to find basic pieces like black pants, solid skirts and versatile tops. As a crafty girl, however, I feel like there must be something I can do with all those clothes at the thrift store. I'm a life-long thrifter. I learned the art of patience, diligence and perseverance at a very early age at the enormous thrift stores near my house. My sister, eight years my senior, could find gold and I wasn't about to get left behind. So I honed my skills as well. Thrifting does take skill. You may not have ever thought about it if all your girlfriends love to thrift as well, but most people would go nuts digging through aisle after aisle of old clothing looking for the few gems.

While you're on the hunt keep a few things in mind. First, when you find that crazy one-of-a-kind shirt that screams individuality take two steps back and have a look at it. Are you really going to wear it? I've bought pieces that were so unique and spectacular that they hung in my closet for years. Sometimes you can�t resist, but keep these purchases to a minimum if you are serious about working on your wardrobe. If you feel like you'd have to really get your nerve up to wear something out in public, chances are you might not ever get around to it. There are enough things in life that you have to get your nerve up for--clothes should be fun and relaxing!

Once an item has passed the "i'm-gonna-wear-it" test, give it a really careful look over. Are there stains? With some of the super duper stain removers on the market these days this may not be a problem, but you always run the risk that it won't come out. Are there any rips? If the rip is part of a seam you can easily sew it up but if the rip is just out in the middle, it may not be such a fabulous idea. Does the zipper work? This can be one big headache if you don�t know how to replace a zipper.

So now for the fun part. The clothes you find in the thrift store may not be the exact clothes you end up wearing. As a crafty girl you're going to give these clothes new life! You're going to do some fancy-schmancy embellishing. As you shop you�re going to be on the lookout for some good items that can be switched up for hot one-of-a-kind pieces.

Perhaps one of the best sprucer-uppers is dyeing. This can be the foundation for a whole new garment. Shannon of Revamp Designs is quite the pro and she says most of what you need can be found at the thrift store: a huge two gallon pot, a big spoon and of course the clothes. Once you find a good pot and spoon, make sure you only use them for dyeing--don�t use them for food! Shannon has had luck with synthetic fabrics and cottons and recommends Rit dye or Dylon brand dyes, though she prefers Dylon.

Now to get started. Pour two boxes of dye and a 1/4 cup of salt into the pot. Feel free to experiment by mixing colors together to create your own colors. Fill the pot with water and put it on the stove to heat. The salt helps loosen the fiber so that it absorbs the dye better. Put your clothes in the water, but make sure you don�t overstuff the pot. Just dye 2 or 3 items at a time. Submerge the clothes in the water and let them �cook� for about 30 minutes. The longer you let them soak the darker they�ll end up. You can also tea stain by bringing your pot of water and 1/4 cup of salt to a boil and then adding 6 or 7 teabags before submerging the clothing.

Once your clothes have soaked long enough pour out the dye and rinse your clothes until you get rid of any excess dye. Make sure you hand wash and line dry the items at least the first time you wash them. Once all the excess dye is gone you should be able to use the machine, but if you�re of the better-safe-than-sorry persuasion hand washing works too!

Now that you have a new vibrant color think of other ways to embellish. Button downs and even blazers can be easily livened up just by changing the buttons. Pick a cute shape or unusual color for your new buttons. You can find cool ones in antique stores. And, at the thrift store you might find a shirt you hate, but that has cool buttons--buy the shirt just for the buttons! Lace, ribbon, rickrack and simple applique can add fun color and texture to boring old shirts and skirts.

Embroidery is also a great way to make old clothes new. Grab a couple of Sublime Stitching patterns and have at it. You can spruce up a plain ordinary button down by embroidering a cute tattoo, dachshund or Chinese lantern onto a boring old button down with Sublime Stitching�s plethora of super cool patterns. Business casual may be the name of the game but no one is going to slight you for having bowling pins on your shirt where everyone else has a man playing polo. In fact you�ll be known as the cool, eclectic girl in the office.

With a little creative energy, you�re going to have the coolest �back-to-school� wardrobe ever�even if you aren�t reentering academia this September. Then with all the money you're saving, you can buy a few extra special pieces from some other craftistas at Renegade or Art vs. Craft or any other fun fall festivals. Get goin�!

Christy Petterson lives in Atlanta where she writes, sews, works in PR, organizes crafty events, roadies for her drummer-of-a-husband, eats the yummy food he cooks her, drinks coffee, goes for walks and occassionally watches dumb tv and sleeps.