The t-shirt is probably one of the most ubiquitous articles of clothing in American society. People like them because they are comfortable, easily customizable in terms of graphic design and color, and inexpensive to manufacture. Ninety percent of my husband’s wardrobe consists of t-shirts given to him by his old employer. As such, they tend to accumulate, as I discovered a few years ago when we were moving house. Why did we have so many? How many t-shirts does one human being need, for crying out loud?
T-shirts do wear out, but more often than not, we just get tired of wearing them. But what if a given shirt represents a cherished family event, or a favorite vacation, or some other treasured memory? You wouldn’t want to throw it away or give it away, but if if it’s no longer the right size, you can’t exactly wear it any more. The only recourse is to stash all these old articles of clothing in a box in the attic for some unspecified future date, mouldering and forgotten.
I invite you to consider another option: re-purpose the fabric to make a whole host of useful items. Scads and scads of ideas are at our fingertips, thanks to the Internet. It would be impossible to make a truly exhaustive list, but here are some of my favorites:
I can’t think of many situations where an extra quilt would be a bad thing. (Consider, for example, reasons to stockpile blankets.) I’ve made several, both for myself and for my kids, and they love them. Quilts made from t-shirt fabric are warm, cozy, and have a really nice weight to them that makes you want to snuggle under the covers with a good book.
It takes me about 7-10 shirts (depending on the size) to make a twin-size quilt. If you’re using smaller blocks, like what is shown in the picture, you won’t be limited to full-sized t-shirts; any knit fabric will do. I have been known to use old baby onesies for these. I like to use t-shirt sheets sourced from second-hand stores for the backing. The t-shirt quilts that I have made are hand-tied, but it’s also possible to use traditional quilting methods as well. For more ideas on t-shirt quilts, check out this tutorial.
If you like the idea but don’t have the time or know-how to make your own quilt, you could outsource the job to a company like this one.
Other Clothing from T-Shirts
The possibilities for this category alone are truly endless. (I’m serious – check out this wedding dress someone made out of Hanes shirts!)
In 2004 I bought a commemorative shirt as a gift for a family member while I was touring a foreign country. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit him. Or anyone else, for that matter, until I cut down the fancy foreign tee shirt to fit my son, who was one year old at the time. It turned out so well, I made several more, mostly out of those free shirts my husband got from work. These were a huge hit with his co-workers. I happened to have a pattern for a child’s tee, but if you don’t have one lying around the house, you can check out this tutorial, which includes a pdf for a pattern. As another option, you could trace a shirt that you already have on hand.
Mine are made from a size XL t-shirt of my husband’s. The elastic waistline is such that I was able to comfortably wear it as pajamas whether I was pregnant or not.
A little girl’s nightgown or kid’s nightshirt
I did this for my daughter, and it was a hit.
What if I don’t have a serger?
This is a question I hear a lot when I tell people about all the crazy things I’ve sewn from old t-shirts. Sergers are great for making really nice, professional-looking, finished seams, but owning a serger is not a prerequisite for sewing with knits. I, myself, do not own one and have had zero problems putting together anything I wanted to make. Some helpful tips for sewing with knits can be found here and here.
If sewing of any kind is not really for you, consider some t-shirt projects that do not require – at all – the use of a sewing machine.
FREE: Download The Survival Mom’s mini-guide to handicrafts: sewing, knitting, crochet, and quilting with many, many more ideas and links to projects!
Re-Purpose Old T-Shirts into Rag Rugs
Ok, I admit it – this option is not really a good way to memorialize a treasured article of clothing. I mean, it’s a rug. It’s going to get stepped on and if you’re lucky, your kids will only ever spill chocolate milk on it. I include it anyway because a) it’s something you can do with scraps of fabric (any kind – doesn’t have to be from t-shirts!) and b) rugs made from t-shirt fabric feel really nice on your bare feet.
The traditional method of rag-rug making involves braiding strips of fabric for about a mile or so, and then sewing them up in a spiral. I’ve tried this several times and it never works out well for me; the edges curl up and I end up with a braided fabric bowl.
I prefer this no-sew version, which involves braiding the next row into the previous one as you work in the round. This method also has the added benefit of allowing you to see in real time the exact size of your finished product. I’ve made two rugs in the last year and a half and they are holding up quite well. When they get dirty, I can toss them in the wash and they come out fine.
Shag rugs are another possibility, whether you are thinking of making a hooked rug out of a burlap sack, or this other version that uses a sewing machine.
If it’s good enough for Martha Stewart, it’s probably ok for you, too. Alternately, see this tutorial here. This project is simple enough for a child to do, and would make a good group activity.
I’m not talking about a small mountain lake (thank you, Internet dictionary). I’m referring to
yarn made from t-shirts. This can then be used to knit or crochet items of your choice. Dishcloths are a popular option. Check out this pinterest board for additional inspiration.
Have any of you explored the many things that can be done with old t-shirts? We’ve love to hear about it in the comments!
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9 thoughts on “7 Ways to Re-Purpose Old T-Shirts”
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Good to read another Beth Buck article. Cleaning cloths, I guess, are for T-shirts you don’t like.
They make good toilet clothes and baby wipes.
Thanks for sharing these ideas! As t-shirts get older and damaged, some of them are more difficult to let go of than others. By repurposing them to be mini shirts for children, or even tote bags, you get a little more use out of the shirts that mean so much. That, and it’s great to see others find value in something that brought so much to your life over the years.it’s
it is also possible to take your “tarn” and wrap strips around cotton clothesline, overlapping about half. sew the strip into an oval with your sewing machine set on a wide zigzag. use a large sharp machine needle and strong thread. this is surprisingly easy and looks rather like a braided rug–but it is easier to make it lie flat.
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We make cloth baby wipes :). Or rags for kitchen wiping up instead of paper towels.
One use for old t-shirts is…family cloths…you know, for when the toilet paper runs out! Also, diapers and real cloth baby wipes…and cloths to use in place of paper towels or paper napkins. The uses are endless.
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