stains stains Sometimes, disguising a stain is better than getting rid of it. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss / From the Grapevine)

DIY: How to turn a clothing stain into art

Never throw out a stained piece of clothing again.

Just a slip of a coffee mug can be apocalyptic to a dress.

Disaster struck recently to one of my favorite dresses and skirts, and neither snow nor rain nor Tide could get out the coffee smudges. But I didn't want to throw away these precious pillars of my wardrobe, so I devised a new plan: draw over the stains.

To begin said adventure, I bought some fabric markers at Michael's, although you can use pretty much any fabric paint (which you can easily find in craft stores and on Amazon).

fabric markersI used markers, but any kind of fabric paint could work. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

First, my yellow skirt. This skirt makes me feel like a 1950s Parisian. I wanted to cover up the stains that were making my skirt look less antique fantasy Paris and more actual Paris.

stain skirtAdorable, right? (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

stains on skirtFor a while, I hoped nobody would notice. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

I decided that simple yellow flowers would blend in well with the fabric. For inspiration, I looked at some photos of flowers at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens. I then turned each coffee dot into a center point for a flower and added petals.

flower market skirtI'm going to say it's a daffodil. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

I drew more and more flowers, and I eventually ended up with this:

skirtMaybe I should have added some beetles for realism. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

skirtI sort of feel like I should be wearing a petticoat or something. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

Next, my dress. This comfy vintage garment was indeed looking pretty old, as a tan stain (Water damage? Can that happen to dresses?) covered a good chunk of the back.

dress stainGreat for 20s-themed parties. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

A brown stain on a black and white dress is pretty noticeable. But you know what's even more noticeable? An owl. In a cowboy hat. The idea was originally a joke, but I went with it.

A cowboy owl would be amazing at catching prey.A cowboy owl would be amazing at catching prey. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

I tried to use the stain itself to my advantage. Instead of totally drawing over it, I turned a lot of the tan into the owl's stomach. I also used the polka dots in the dress to measure the bird's dimensions and add to its features (the owl's eye pupils were originally polka dots).

dressNot sure what I was thinking about as I stared into the Manhattan skyline. Probably philosophy or pizza or something. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with the results. The vintage dress now looks even more hipstery than it did before, meaning I will continue to look like I belong in my Brooklyn neighborhood. And I think the flowers add something to the skirt, or at least detract from the stains.

There's a Japanese concept called wabi-sabi that celebrates the beauty of imperfection – of cracks and stains. By appreciating broken and decaying things, the philosophy goes, we can make peace with the imperfect world we live in.

This project reminded me a lot of wabi-sabi. Instead of trying to get rid of the stains (well, after trying to get rid of them, anyway) I found myself using them. A coffee dot on a skirt became the center of a flower. A stain on a dress that looked vaguely like an animal inspired an owl. In a way, I ended up drawing attention to the imperfections.

Stains don't have to be a death sentence for your favorite clothes. Instead, maybe they're are an opportunity to get creative. And if the experiment fails, the trash can is always there.

dressOn a scale of 1 to 10, how Brooklyn do I look right now? (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss/From the Grapevine)


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