25 Ways to Upcycle Old T-Shirts
Have you caught the cleaning bug? If getting organized in the new year is on your to-do list, chances are you have – or are planning to – tackled your closet and dresser drawers, pulling out clothes that you no longer wear. If your “to donate” and “trash” piles include some old t-shirts, you might want to move them over the keeps instead!
Related Reading: 24 Ways to Reuse Old Sweaters
Old t-shirts are great for crafting, even ones that are beyond wearability. That Def Leppard tee with a stain and a hole in it might not be wearable, but there’s lots of fabric that you can harvest from it, rather than tossing it in the trash.
Image Credit above: Remixed Creative Commons photo by Dano
Sewing with T-Shirt Fabric
T-shirts are made from jersey fabric – a stretchy, knit material. The knit can be a combination of cotton, polyester, lycra, or a myriad of other fabrics, but the results are all pretty similar.
Jersey’s stretch and knit give it some unique properties. Because it’s knit, rather than woven, it won’t unravel over time, even if you skip the hemming. What will happen with un-hemmed jersey is a bit of curling. How much your unhemmed edges will curl depends on the makeup of the fabric and how much you use it.
That curl can work to your advantage, too! You’ll see how in a couple of the tutorial ideas on the next page.
You also use different tools to sew jersey. Don’t worry – you don’t need a whole new sewing machine, but you would be best off swapping out your needle for one for a ballpoint needle. A standard sewing needle can snag the fabric, causing it to jam your machine or even to develop a run, and that blunter ballpoint helps avoid those problems.
The stretchiness of jersey is great in a final product, but while you’re sewing it can be tricky. There are a couple of solutions here. You can try using your machine’s walking foot, which helps feed the top and bottom fabric at the same time so you get an even stitch. Sometimes it can help to put a piece of very thin paper, like tissue paper, under the farbic while you sew to help it feed evenly through your machine.
When sewing jersey, you want to use a zig zag stitch, because the stitch will allow the fabric a little give, where if you pull on the fabric with a straight stitch, your stitching might break. There’s also the “stretch while you sew” method, where you can use a regular straight stitch, but you stretch the fabric as you feed it through the machine, so the stitches won’t break. This takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s great!
Don’t let all of this scare you off! The best way to get better at working with jersey fabric is to….work with jersey fabric! And what better opportunity to practice than with some old t-shirts that you weren’t planning to keep anyway!
We also have plenty of no-sew projects on this list, so you can start with those, if you want, to get a feel for how the fabric behaves.
Ready to do some t-shirt crafts? Check out these fun ways to reuse old t-shirts!
1. DIY Maternity Skirt – The bottom of a snug-fitting t-shirt is the perfect over-the-bump waistband for a maternity skirt! Check out how to make a maternity skirt from an old t-shirt and vintage fabric.
2. Make Yoga Pants – No, for real! You can use old t-shirts to make super comfy, cropped yota pants!
3. Make Your Own Undies – A slave to Victoria’s Secret, no more! Check out how to make your own, cute undies from an old tee.
4. No-Sew Vest – Grab those scissors and transform an old tee into a trendy vest.
5. Make a Baby Hat – This quickie tutorial shows you how to use the sleeve from an old tee to tie and sew a hat for your baby.
6. Grocery Tote – Another no-sew project! Turn an old t-shirt into a functional grocery bag.
7. Fringe Beach Tote – Take that tee to tote thing a step further by adding some sassy fringe.
8. Flutter Tee – This would be great for covering a stain on the front or shoulder of your shirt. This tutorial says you need two tees in the same color, but I think contrasting colors would look really cute, too!
photo by Becky Striepe
9. Sassy Scarf – T-shirt scarves are nothing new, but this project is a more modern take on the old favorite.
10. Rosette Pillow – An old t-shirt is perfect for making a super stylish throw pillow!
11. No-Sew T-Shirt Bracelet – Remember finger-weaving from when you were a kid? Use that same technique to make a cute t-shirt bracelet.
12. Make a Headband – This no-sew project uses a similar technique to the bracelet to create a sweet headband from an old tee.
13. T-Shirt to Strapless Shirt – You could follow these same instructions to turn an old t-shirt into a skirt! You might want to use 1″ no-roll elastic, if you’re going the skirt route.
14. Lace Back Tank – Combine an old t-shirt and some doilies from your stash or the thrift store to make a really cute tank top!
15. Print It – Grab some fabric paint and wood blocks or stamps to cute up an old t-shirt. You could strategically place your printing to cover up a stain!
16. Rose Embellishments – Get your glue on! There’s no sewing required to make these cute, t-shirt roses.
17. Freezer Paper Stencil – If you don’t have any stamp supplies handy, you can also use fabric paint and freezer paper to create custom stencils to cover up a stain on that old t-shirt.
photo by Becky Striepe
18. No-Sew T-Shirt Scarf – Want to make a t-shirt scarf but you’re not ready to whip out the sewing machine? Check out the no-sew, classic version!
19. Petal Tee – Got a hole or stain near your shirt’s neckline? Cover it up with beautiful, layered petals!
20. Bow Headband – Another no-sew headband! This one features a really cute bow detail.
21. Scribble Flower Shirt – Get the kids involved! Let them do the painting, and you do the sewing to create this pretty floral-embellished t-shirt.
22. Sass Up a Baggy Tee – No sewing required! Get ready to cut and tie your way to cuteness.
23. T-Shirt to Tunic – Grab an oversized tee and give it a girlie makeover! Check out how to make a ruffled tunic from a gigantic t-shirt.
24. Take in a Tee – Here’s an alternative way to take in a too-big t-shirt.
25. Fancy Up Your Shoes – Use an old t-shirt to make flower embellishments for a plain pair of slip-ons.
Have you done any fun crafts with old t-shirts? Keep the ideas going in the comments!