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Kids clothes: How to make the most of hand-me-downs

©iStockphoto.com/Miodrag GAJIC Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Miodrag GAJIC

Family

Kids clothes: How to make the most of hand-me-downs

Nancy Avery, a Toronto-based stylist and wardrobe consultant (who also designs reclaimed-wood furniture), is a mom who knows first-hand how to reap the rewards of second-hand fashion -- and get your little ones to dig it, too. She still takes her 12-year-old daughter, Maddie, on shopping sprees to Value Village. "We make everything more funky," says Nancy, "and Maddie hasn't put her nose up to hand-me-downs yet."

Make sure your hand-me-downs are in good condition
Stylist Lynda Felton is cocreator of the online magazine covetgarden.com, but her role as aunt to 16-year-old Sydney and "auntie" to her 3-year-old neighbour, Maggie, has let her hone her artistic skills and designer eye creating custom looks from previously loved finds. Felton reminds us that when it comes to hand-me-downs, we want to make sure the things we pass down to our kids are in good shape, and that they match our kids' personality. "Just because your older son loved Spider-Man, you shouldn't force your younger son to wear that superhero sweater if he's more into fairies," she says.

The trick is to personalize each hand-me-down item and give it a new twist that makes your young model proud and excited to wear it. If you're good at sewing, that makes it easier -- but you don't have to be a seamstress to revamp hand-me-downs. Felton and Avery have some ideas to get your creativity flowing.

"No kid wants to feel like 'This is barely hanging on, but here you go -- it's for you,'" says Felton. These simple modifications to items that would otherwise be tossed will make your little one feel special.

Let them draw on their shoes
Use permanent markers in various colours and have kids draw on their shoes.

"This isn't just for fabric shoes," says Avery. "Little pumps and flats often come in boring colours, so let your kid draw what she wants on them. Yes it will smudge, but kids grow out of shoes in a few months, so you'll still get a few wears out of them at least."

Another trick: "Let the kids glue sequins and beads on the shoes to make them their own," says Avery.

Use the "letterman jacket" effect
"Cut out letters and shapes from one shirt if your kid likes the fabric, and sew them onto another," says Felton.

Swap out the details
"Change the buttons on shirts," says Avery. Replace zippers on cardigans and jackets with more colourful versions. "Add fun buttons even if it's a pullover -- you can make it look like a faux cardigan," she says.

"Sometimes kids are really particular about some of their clothes, like pajamas," says Felton. "If so, you shouldn't give those clothes as hand-me-downs -- PJs should be a new treat. But fabrics that last -- denim, sweaters -- they're easy to have fun with and patch up."

Patch properly
But don't be afraid of hand-me-down clothes that need patching.

"A basic rule is 'woven with woven' and 'knit with knit,'" says Avery. So if you're patching jeans, use a woven fabric. "If you use a knit at the knee, it will start to buckle," she explains. If you're patching a sweater, use a knit fabric. "It could be a T-shirt," says Avery. It doesn't have to be another sweater. And remember that patches are another way to customize things: "Use scrap fabric that's fun," she suggests.

Turn two things into one thing
"Ever notice how sweaters sometimes shrink in length and grow in width?" asks Avery. "And then you have this stupid little cropped sweater?" She has a solution to get the length back and to use it for an older child: "Just add extra fabric all along the bottom." (Remember: Match knit with knit.)

"Don't be afraid to take something apart," says Felton. Last summer, Maggie outgrew her favourite short-sleeved T-shirt and inherited a long-sleeved one with Lifesaver stripes all over it. "We took the Lifesaver sleeves off and sewed them to the short sleeved T-shirt so she had the skateboarder look [looks like two shirts]," says Felton. She used the Lifesaver fabric to extend the length of it, too. "So Maggie had a custom top and didn't feel like she was in someone else's stuff."

Use your printer
For solid-colour tops and pants (woven, not knit) have your kid choose a favourite picture (from a family album, from a website about their favourite animals or from a TV show), and print it out at home using iron-on transfer paper (available at any large office supply store). Then use an iron to press the transfer onto the inherited T-shirt. "Now it's something really personal for them," says Felton.

Try a few simple alterations
Avery designs and sews tailored suits and shirts, but "if you're not skilled that way, you can take clothes to a dry cleaner. Many do simple alterations -- like button changes, hemming and patching -- that can make all the difference to a secondhand piece of clothing," she says.

Turn a dress into a shirt
"When my niece outgrew her favourite dress, we cut the sleeves off and attached spaghetti straps instead," says Felton, "That dress became a top she wore for another two years." Remember this tip if you're offered a cute dress your kid is clearly too big for, but you wish she could wear.

Make other things with your hand-me-downs
"You can use hand-me-down clothes to make anything -- a pillow cover, a bean bag or a toy," says Felton.

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Kids clothes: How to make the most of hand-me-downs

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