Refashion Old Clothes: My Life Started as a Sari

The sustainably minded shopper is increasingly searching for socially conscious clothing.  That includes looking at ways to refashion old clothes. When searching for products that can be upcycled or reused, a few designers and brands have started to refashion saris. From beautiful jackets, to wrap around skirts, shoes and accessories, you will find many possibilities here of products whose life started as a sari.

What is a Sari?

A Sari is a traditional, female outer garment that is worn in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. SarisIt is basically a long strip of unstitched fabric that varies in length from four meters to nine meters. The width is normally between sixty centimeters and a hundred and twenty centimeters.

Traditionally the fiber for a Sari is cotton or silk and frequently embroidered, but in recent years synthetic fibers have been used as well.

It is worn in different styles, but the most common way is to wrap the Sari around your waist. The one end is then draped over the head or shoulder. A portion of the midriff is left bare. A sari is normally worn over a fitted bodice and a petticoat.

Each area in India has their own unique style, so a large variety of saris are available. Different regions also have different ways of draping a sari.

A sari is very much considered to be a cultural icon.

Why do you want to Refashion old Clothes?

The concept of upcycling or refashioning is encapsulated in the Indian culture. In India old saris are often handed down in the family, but it can also be traded for household goods. There is a community called Vagri, who works on the barter systems. They go from door to door and exchange kitchenware for clothes, and some of them would specialize in saris.

All the different kinds of saris, cotton, silk, vintage and embroidered, are then taken to the sari traders, who would sell it to be upcycled. Many of the bazaars in India are also a hub for finding saris. Some pre loved saris are stained or damaged, so each one must be meticulously checked to avoid the unused sections.

Pre loved saris or new ones can be given a new life by turning them into a useful article.

  • It makes ecological sense to upcycle, whereby waste is turned into something useful.
  • Something that might have ended up in landfill is given a new life.
  • Every pre loved piece has a story to tell and a history behind it.
  • A raw material that is readily available can be obtained at a much more effective cost than virgin material.

Using a sari as the raw material, beautiful and unique products can be created.

What is a Sari also used for?

  • Household items like pillowcases, duvet covers, throws and curtains. I was a sari shoes
  • Table linen like table runners, place mats and tablecloths
  • Garments from wrap around skirts, to blouses, dresses, beach cover-ups.
  • Long and short jackets, palazzo pants and trousers.
  • Accessories like scarves, bags, headbands and even necklaces.
  • Shoes and slipons.
  • Other household items like covers for storage boxes, book and journal covers.
  • All the small scraps can be sewn together and used for patchwork quilts or patchwork clothing.
  • Small scraps can also be used to make jewellery pouches or little bags to ship orders in.

Darn Good Yarn

Darn Good Yarn is an online store that supports the economic empowerment of women. Darn Good Yarn upcycled sari skirtApart from yarns and craft materials, Darn Good Yarn has wrap around skirts made from saris. When you order your sari skirt from Darn Good Yarn, you tell them which colors you like, and also which colors you don’t like.

They then make up the skirt according to your color preferences. So no two skirts are the same, each one is individually hand crafted to be a one-of-a-kind skirt.

Using recycled saris, the skirts are hand made by their co-ops in India. Artisans upcycle the saris to make up the wrap skirts. It provides year round employment for the artisans and at the same time you get an original garment made from reclaimed materials.

The skirts are available in four sizes, including kids, and in two lengths: either a mini (which is just sort of above the knee) or an ankle length.

For every skirt that they sell, they donate a skirt to a survivor of domestic violence.

I Was a Sari

I was a Sari is another brand that refashion old clothes and is making beautiful garments from recycled saris. Stefano Funari, the founder of the brand, was in Mumbai working on a livelihood program for women. I was a sari garmentsHe then had the idea that the beautiful saris that he saw in the market in Mumbai, could be used to make clothes and accessories.

Contemporary fashion is created from the saris, turning a pre loved sari into something new, that is also unique. The range includes dresses, coats, nightwear, skirts, kimonos and caftans, and also accessories, shoes and bags.

They work with underprivileged women in India to give them social and economical upliftment. They provide them with the opportunity to generate sustainable income. Where many people would see unemployed and uneducated women, I was a Sari sees talented artisans who learn to design their future.

They have an eco ethical approach to fashion and are always analyzing the environmental, social and financial impact that they have. I was a Sari is a zero dividend initiative and they invest all the profits back to advance women empowerment and into developing the brand.

They work with two non government organizations (NGO’s), Community Outreach Program (CORP) and Animedh Charitable Trust (ACT) in 6 production centers which are distributed all over Greater Mumbai. In October 2019 there were 107 artisans that were involved in working with I was a sari. Stefano Funari has really taken slum empowerment fashion to the next level with I was a sari.

Sari Connection

The Sari Connection was initiated by a Japanese NGO, PARCIC, in 2013, Sari Connection beach cover upto empower and improve the livelihood of women in marginalized areas of northern Sri Lanka, Mullaitivu and Jaffna.

They ask for saris to be donated to them and will collect from you if you let them know that you want to make a donation.

Donated saris are refashioned and each piece is handcrafted and has a unique blend of colors and textures. The range includes dresses, skirts, blouses, pants, designer wear, beach cover up and also has kids sizes. They also do bags and accessories.

Today around 75 women from 6 villages, are working for Sari Connection. They have varying sewing skills and work at their own pace in the own homes. The skirts are paid immediately when the finished products are collected. This allows them to earn a stable income and be independent.

Sari Connection is now owned by Kais Trading Private Limited in Joffna, Sri Lanka, and is a great example that it is possible to enrich social and environmental responsibilities through fashion.

Refashion Old Clothes including your own Sari

Now that you have seen what is a sari also good for, and all the many ideas of what you can do with an old or pre loved sari, you might want to try it yourself. If you have a sari and you would like to re purpose it, then a very simple project would be to turn it into a skirt.Refashion old clothes Here I will walk you through the steps to achieve that.

Ideally you will need a sewing machine for this project, although you could sew it by hand, specially seeing that it is silk. If you need a sewing machine, you can have a look at my review on best sewing machines for beginners, or other Singer sewing machine options.

Making a Skirt with Elasticated Waist 

The first step is to establish the approximate width that you require for your skirt. When you measure the width of your skirt, you would need approximately three times the width of your waist for a gathered skirt with elastic. If you want a fuller skirt, then increase the measurement, or if you want less fullness, then decrease the amount of fabric. Ideally you want to have a minimum of double your waistline.

The next step is to decide on the approximate length of your skirt. Before you cut the length of the skirt, you need to decide if you want to keep the border of the sari as a feature at the bottom of the skirt. Personally I think that is beautiful and you retain much of the unique design of the sari that way.

To form the skirt, simply sew the two ends together to form a very big tube or circular piece. You need to put a small hem in the bottom of the unfinished sari fabric. Remember that you will need to finish off all the raw edges of the sari.

At the top of the fabric, fold over approximately 2.5 cm or 1 inch of the fabric to form a “tube” at the top to hold the elastic. Sew that in position. Measure the elastic that would be comfortable for your waist, thread it through, secure it, and voila! You have your unique skirt refashioned from a sari.

Making Wrap Around Skirts Refashion old clothes and make wrap around skirts

If you have more advanced sewing skills, it is very easy to make wrap around skirts with old saris. Here you will also need approximately three times your waistline, once for the back and then twice the front to wrap over.

So basically take your waist measurement and then add the amount that you would like to cross over at the front. This would normally be about three quarters of the front to ensure that the two fronts wrap over one another.

To make the skirt wider at the bottom than at the top, you need to cut the back and the two fronts as separate pieces and at an angle. You can see that in the wrap around skirts from Darn Good Yarn.

You then need the fabric for the waistband and the extensions that are the straps to wrap it around and tie it. To make a reasonable bow, you need at least fifty centimeters for each strap. Making a double layer adds more color and variety to your project as well.

You can also find wrap around skirts made from silk on Amazon. This is the link here if you are in the UK or EU.

Now that you know what is a sari, and you have seen that you can refashion old clothes, I hope you will also try it and support those, like Darn Good Yarn, that are keeping products out of landfill. If you have any comments, suggestions of questions, please post them below and I will get back to you.


40 thoughts on “Refashion Old Clothes: My Life Started as a Sari”

  1. Hi, Liné!
    That’s a fabulous idea! Refashioning old clothes seems to be the path nowadays as people tend to be more careful about sustainability, reusing and recycling. My girlfriend is always on the look for such excellent ways to give her clothes a new life. She will be in love with your posts for sure!
    Thanks a lot for sharing and keep safe!

  2. What a terrific site! I love the idea or reusing sari’s to reduce the clothing trash. My daughter is very much into recycled clothing and I think that she would love this site. I’m going to share it with her. I also like the fact that you are helping women both socially and economically in villages from India, Sri Lanka and other places. What a fantastic idea. I’ll mark this site so that  when I’m ready to purchase a new outfit I’ll look at yours first. Thanks for the post.

    • Thank you Nina, and yes, to be able to keep garments out of landfill by refashioning them, is a great idea. I love the way in which a sari can be used to make a different outfit. Darn Good Yarn has wrap around skirts made from saris, which are unique and gives employment to women in areas where they need it.

  3. I’m excited about reusing clothes and other things that we no longer wear and use, and bringing them back to life through recycling.
    I have participated in a few projects and creative workshops in the past, where this was the common thread.
    That is why I really like the presentation in this article. Sari is great because there is a lot of fabric available, and you can make a lot of things from them, as you have already presented some ideas. I also like that certain companies help women in poorer areas to get empowerment and employment. It’s really admirable, and they deserve our support to buy any of their product.
    Friendly greeting,

    • I fully agree with you Nina, companies that empower women all deserve our support. And even better if repurposing of garments and materials are done.

  4. This is a fantastic way to allow those beautiful saris to extend their life! Some of the most beautiful and intricate designs are found on saris. However, it’s a shame that there are so few occasions that feel like the right time to wear one. I love that the beautiful and colorful garments get to live on in other forms, and maybe even be worn more often in their new form!

    • I also think that it is great that there are alternative ways for what is a Sari used for, thereby giving it a longer and new life.

  5. Wow! This is so interesting, I have never thought of this before and it totally make sense. My girlfriend has recently keep talking about refashioning her old clothes, reusing them for a different purpose. She has lots of Sari which is normal for a Chinese Malaysian as we have friends from both the Malay community and the Indian community. She has outgrown a lot of them and I’m excited to show her your short and easy tutorial on making them into the skirts! It is also so exciting that there are communities that make such awesome clothing from preloved saris! Both Sari Connection and I Was a Sari seems to have great clothing design that can easily match an everyday look anywhere! 

    Thank you so much for this awesome article! It is great to see that you are promoting something so useful which can really help our earth. Let’s all recycle, reuse and reduce!

  6. Personally, this is the first time I’ve heard of this type of recycling. Of course, I’m thrilled with the way this works. The refashion of old clothes is a great thing for all those who appreciate true values. At the same time, we protect our planet and bring a new, fresher look to our old wardrobe. Great post and very helpful.

    • It is indeed awesome to see what is a sari used for and the lovely range of garments that can be refashioned from old clothes. 

  7. Hi Line,

    I truly enjoyed reading your post. Being an Indian I do know the significance of sari in the Indian culture and that how upcycling or refashioning of Saris is an integral part of the Indian culture. 

    However, I never knew about online stores like Darn Good Yarn or brands like I was a Sari. I have high regard for these two brands as they are into refashioning and work for a social cause.

    It can’t get any better than this, Can it?

    Thanks for this amazing post.

    • Hi Nick, thank you for your kind comments. The brand I was a Sari is fairly new and Darn Good Yarn have been doing the wrap around skirts for a number of years, but it is awesome to see what is a sari also used for and how easy it actually is to refashion old clothes. Liné 

  8. This is a great business idea as well as being good to the planet. I know that refashioning clothes has really started to come into its own so the solutions available from Sari’s is a great idea. Some of the clothing ideas are super fashionable and something that I would certainly wear. The other added advantage is that these materials are usually good in the heat so would make perfect summer clothes for some of us who live in the western world. 

    These clothes are bright and colorful and look perfect in the many designs especially the two piece options.

    Really lovely opportunity and perfectly eco friendly.

    Thank you 

    • Hi Imelda, It is great to find out the alternatives of what is a sari used for. It is actually easier to refashion old clothes, than many people realise, and making wrap around skirts are most probably the easiest. I do like the the two piece suits and summer trousers as well. Liné 

  9. Hey nice article you have there, your thoughts are indeed invaluable. Refashioning old clothes is indeed an awesome initiative in the fashion world. With this initiative, the rate at which materials are wasted will be reduced to its barest minimum thereby taking an optimal advantage of its reused to fashioned out other designs. Warm Regards 

    • Hi, It is awesome that products, including clothes, can be upcycled and to see what is a sari also used for. All the best, Liné

  10. Hello, I want say thank you for sharing this great review here for us to understand more how sari is made and used. Have been seen different photos of this materials in India but never knew it can be use for other stuff such as duvet, pillows etc. The information provided was informative and educative. Surly will refer to a friend 

    • Hi there, It is indeed interesting to see what is a sari also used for and I love the fact that it is turned into useful articles, Liné

  11. hellooo dear, i was actually doing some research online when i saw your post on, i must say its really  amazing seeing such post, love it and am planing to save it so as to come back for future reference,What a great site this,I am looking forward to sharing your link with like-minded people as I know they will be interested in joining you here to interact and share stories about these unique post, and I am sure you will offer some really interesting articles along the way so thank you

  12. hello dear, thanks for sharing such a great and beautiful article  this interesting and insightful post on the topic titled “refashion old clothes, my life started as a sari”. I never really knew sari could be used for so many things. Anyways I believe  your steps are nice I will froward this article to my uncle he’s a fashion designer I really think he will find this helpful  I already save this website for recommendation and future reference thanks 

    • Hi there, It is great to see what is a sari also used for, from clothing to accessories and household products, old clothes can be refashioned, Liné

  13. This a very interesting article I love the idea of recreating new clothes from old sari. It’s interesting to know that sari can be used to make various clothing item other than what it was initially intended to be used for. I would definitely order one from DO GOOD YARN I’d love to try it out. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  14. Hi,

    A big thanks to you for sharing this interesting and insightful post on the topic titled “refashion old clothes, my life started as a sari”. I never really knew sari could be used for so many things. Anyways I really love the project of turning the sari into a skirt, your steps are cool. I will froward this article to my sister, she’s a fashion designer I really think she will find this interesting.

    • Hi there, It is interesting to see what is a sari also used for and making a simple wrap around skirt is really easy. I hope your sister will enjoy reading how one can refashion old clothes. Liné

  15. helllooo dear, thanks alot for sharing such amazing content with us all i  was actually doing some research online when i saw your post, i must say youve really highlighted all important things we need to know here, looking at various photos on your article, ,your website is plain and simple easy to navigate and understand, i really do fancy these post alot thanks i already saved these post so as much as to come back for future reference

    • Hi there, Thank you for your kind coments and I am pleased to hear that you like the posts. All the best, Liné

  16. Refashioning old clothes is a brilliant idea of recycling. Anything recycled is almost like a small blessing for the Earth because of the massive pollution we humans cause. What a brilliant idea to recycle old saris and make new fashion items. This is such an innovative idea and I think everyone should try it. The options are given here that can be made out of old saris are so impressive. And the best part is that the Sari Connection is not just doing great eco-friendly work but is also providing livelihood to so many women. This whole concept is so incredible!. Thank you for sharing

    • Hi Samantha, I totally agree with your comments. When you refashion old clothes you help the planet, but it is great to see what is a sari used for when it needs a new life. All the best, Liné

  17. Your re-use of existing fabrics was very interesting.  I am a re-use-aholic. I love to be able to reuse garments in particular.  I think that we tend to have too many clothes that are not favorites. 

    Finding a company that is helping people be independent as well as recycle fabric, then helping through charity work.  A well thought out plan.  The saris are so beautiful, and to see them remade into such attractive garments helps justify the carbon footprint of creating the fabric.  Thank you for sharing your concern for the welfare of our world.  Being ever watchful we can all do our part for a better world. 

  18. Hi Line! Thanks for the blog. It is such a powerful communication and indeed more than meets the eye! I noted that each area in India has their own unique style of the Sari, and so a large variety of them are available. But Darn Good Yarn and I was a Sari bring their diversity under one powerful objective, to support the economic empowerment of women and survivors of domestic violence. Thank you so much. I think I will be buying something from Darn Good Yarn for my wife.

    • Hi Allan, It is very good to see companies like Darn Good Yarn and the others supporting the economic and social upliftment of underpriviledge women, while at the same time they refashion old clothes. Liné


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