6 Ways To Upcycle Your Old T-Shirts

Upcycle that sh*t!

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You attend an event, maybe it was running a 5k or your work’s fundraiser or even a party. Some way somehow, whether you were expecting it or not, you were given a free t shirt. Awesome! Who doesn’t love free stuff? Except this is now your 8th free t-shirt you neither wanted nor have a purpose for but ended up with anyway. You know that thrift stores have more t-shirts than they can handle which isn’t a good thing and you definitely don’t want to throw it in the trash. Well learning how to upcycle your old t-shirt is easier than you think.

Call it a “first world problem” – what to do with this shirt?

If you’ve ever googled “what to do with an old t-shirt”, you know there’s a plethora of crafts, activities, and ideas just for upcycling t-shirts (somewhere there’s a planet where everything is made of shirts). I’ve compiled a list of my favorite uses for them, whether it’s a new shirt or one you’ve worn and loved. Just know there’s an excessive number of things you can do that I didn’t include.

Use it as a rag or towel

Paper towels are so last year. Save yourself money and save the waste by using your old t-shirt as a rag or turning it into a kitchen towel. Cut it into squares and use it as a kitchen towel for wiping the counters or leave it whole and use it as a rag the next time you spill something or when your pet has an accident inside. This is my personal favorite because ever since I got rid of paper towels, I never seem to have enough rags and towels. My roommate and I keep a box in our laundry room where we put the used rags and kitchen towels to be washed whenever one of us does laundry next. If it’s a cute shirt, hem the edges and use it as a table napkin. Fancy!

Transform your t-shirt into a bag

Old t-shirts can easily be turned into a cute tote bag, or you can turn it into a produce bag to take with to when grocery shopping. If you don’t know how to sew, no problem. The instructions for making a tote bag are no-sew! See the steps below. For the produce bags, the steps are the same, you’ll just cut holes in the bag after to allow the bag to stretch and hold more. Be careful not to make the holes too big!

Totebag Directions Here

Make a throw pillow cover (no sewing needed)

no sew throw pillow covers - upcycle a t-shirt

This one’s for the shirt you’re attached to or just find the design appealing. If you’re having trouble parting with the shirt for aesthetic reasons, you don’t need to! Make it a part of your home by re-working it into a throw pillow cover. See below steps for easy instructions. This also makes a great gift (especially if someone gave you the shirt or there’s any symbolic meaning behind it) – Mother’s Day, birthdays, etc etc.

No Sew Throw Pillow Directions

Blanket Bonding

This is for all you t-shirt hoarders out there: if you have a whole bunch of t shirts, sew them all together and create a unique, one-of-a-kind blanket. This is also a great on-going project/craft and is an excellent bonding activity. I remember making one with my mom while we watched movies, for example. There are a couple ways to do this, and you can opt to not sew for this activity.

Blanket Directions

upcycle a t-shirt into shoelaces

Shoelaces from your old t-shirt

Like I said, there’s about a million other things you can do with an old t-shirt, including headbands, scrunchies, and bracelets. Shoelaces, however, is one of those things you never have when you need it. You can also just spice up a pair of old shoes by making laces with a pop of color. A great way to upcycle an old t-shirt.

Shoelace Directions

Furoshiki –Elegant gift wrapping

from @canopyplanet

A tradition originating from Japan, Furoshiki are squares of fabric used for carrying, storing, or wrapping things. They range in sizes from a square as small as a napkin to the size of a blanket. Japanese culture is incredible at taking simple everyday items & creatively giving them a new purpose. There are endless possibilities for what these can be used for: wrapping gifts, protecting items during travel, or packing lunches. Just cut your shirt so it’s square & you’re done! (Option to hem if desired).


How-To Directions

A Tote Bag

  1. Cut the sleeves off (fold the shirt in half to identically cut both sleeves at once)
  2. Cut the neckline out (along the collar)
  3. Turn the t-shirt inside out and determine where you want the bottom of the bag to be (how far up from the shirt hem?) and draw a line
  4. Cut slits from the bottom of the shirt up to make fringe. You’ll want to cut the front and back at the same time, so the slits are identical – make them about ¾ to 1 inch apart
  5. With the shirt still inside out, tie the fringe. Tie three at a time and once you have a set of three, you will take one of the two from the middle strand and tie It in a knot with one of the strands on the set to the left of the middle set.
  6. Then take the other strand from the middle set and tie it in a knot with one of the strands from the right set
  7. Then take the remaining strand on the right set and tie it to the next set of strands, and so on and so forth until all are tied
  8.  Turn the shirt right side out and tada!

Pillow Cover –No Sew

  1. Place the pillow in the center of the t-shirt, where your middle section would be, and cut around the pillow. Make sure to leave a few inches of fabric on all sides.
  2. Cut strips about an inch apart and 2-3 inches long around the two pieces of cut fabric. IMPORTANT: make sure you have the same number of strips on each side of both pieces
  3. Put one piece of t-shirt fabric under the pillow and one on top
  4. Tie the strips from the top and bottom fabrics all the way around.

Blanket from upcycling several t-shirts

PREPARATION & CUTTING

  1. Gather materials: t-shirts (28 panels), scissors, 12×12 in piece of cardboard, 1.5 yards of plush material, permanent marker
  2. lay the shirt flat & place the cardboard over the graphic design (or desired area)
  3. trace the cardboard with a permanent marker, remove the cardboard, & cut along the line
  4. repeat for all shirts
  5. lay cut panels in desired pattern

ASSEMBLE BLANKET

  1. Take 2 adjacent panels from you pattern. (I would suggest starting with the upper left panel, and the panel to it’s right.)
  2. Lay one panel on top of the other, with the designs touching on the inside. Make sure the are aligned properly.
  3. Cut small strips in both shirts on the right hand side.
  4. Tie the stacked strips in a knot all along the side, leaving the first and last pairs untied.
  5. Take the next panel in the pattern, and do the same thing. Put it on top of the right panel.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 for all of the rows.

Note: As you tie the knots, your panels will seem to shrivel up. Gently pull the edges of the knotted side to stretch it back out. You will hear a ripping sound, this is normal.

  1. Cut and tie the rows together
  2. This is where you tie the first and last of every panel.
  3. Cross the ties, so that you are tying the corners together.

This is the same process as assembling the rows, except you are cutting the tops and bottoms of the panels instead of the sides.

Note: Since you are finishing the front part of the blanket, you would be working with a lot of material. Try your best to match of the material as best as possible.

ADD THE PLUSH

  1. Lay out plush material on a flat surface, plush side down.
  2. Line up the t-shirt part on top of the backside material. (Plush should be down, t-shirt logos should be up)
  3. Cut off the excess plush material at the bottom
  4. Cut the t-shirt perimeter and the plush material into strips. (This part gets very messy with plush, don’t worry.)
  5. Tie the knots all the way around, just like a tie blanket.
  6. Optional: throw blanket into the dryer for 10 minutes to get the plush fuzzies off.

Shoelaces

  1. you’ll need:
    1. 3/16″ heat shrink
    2. heat gun or hair dryer
    3. stick pins
  2. Use the old shoelaces to measure out the length of your ‘new’ shoelaces. Cut the tshirt to that same length using the scissors. They fit each end with about an inch of heat shrink. Stick pins are used to keep the heat shrink in place.
  3. Next, fire up your heat gun or dryer and blast each end for a few seconds. The hair dryer is a little slower but still gets the job done. When dry it cools off, you can snip a bit of each end. Don’t forget you can mix and match different colors, by combining yarn from 2 or 3 t-shirts.

–Julia Hardie