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10 Ways to Upcycle T-shirts

Posted By Kate Degen

We all have that drawer. You know, the one that’s overflowing with t-shirts from all different stages of life. There’s the holes-in-it high school graduation tee, the beloved college club shirt, maybe even that free shirt you won at a contest when you were broke in your 20s. But eventually, the time comes when you need to Marie Kondo that drawer to keep only your favorites and toss the rest. Luckily that doesn’t mean throwing those tees away–there are lots of great ways that you can upcycle old t-shirts to give them new life. Did you know that more than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States, and the amount has doubled over the last 20 years?

Upcycling is a great way to combat unnecessary waste by instead creating new ways to hold on to the great memories that were made in those tees. Below are Custom Ink’s 10 favorite ways to upcycle a t-shirt.

10 Ways to Upcycle T-shirts

  1. Sew a quilt
  2. Source: Instructables

    We love the idea of sewing old t-shirts into a quilt because old tees have so much sentimental value. Instead of getting rid of them, put them together as a quilt to honor those memories. First, choose a fabric for your backing–visit your local fabric store and find something super soft or that speaks to your unique style. Then cut the shirts to showcase the great designs, arrange them as you like, and sew them into a blanket. Get started with these detailed instructions.

  3. Craft a dog toy
  4. This t-shirt upcycling idea is for those tees you’re definitely ready to part with. Fido will appreciate a little t-shirt upcycling if you transform your old threads into a dog toy! Grab those old worn-out tees, scissors, and a tape measure. Cut the shirt into equal strips and then braid them and knot them at the ends–so simple! Imagine how many of these you could make for your pets or neighborhood pooches. If you’re really ready to part with your tees, consider donating the new toys to a local animal shelter. Check out the full tutorial here.

  5. Tie dye it
  6. Source: Parents

    Tie dye is back, baby–so take that old t-shirt and give it a new life. You probably tie dyed a shirt as a kid but in case you need a refresher, it’s easy to add a pop of color to your boring old tee. You’ll need a bucket, dye, rubber bands, and some supplies like measuring spoons and gloves. You can go for a starburst look, or even tye dye a heart into your shirt. If you ask us, there’s no wrong way to tie dye–just let your creativity flow. If you want a little help, we like this article for a guide.

  7. Transform it into a tote bag
  8. Reusable bags are becoming the only bag nowadays (lots of states have outlawed plastic bags and even charge for paper). Don’t stress about the bags you can get at the store, create your own with an old t-shirt! If you’re really crafty and know how to sew, you can easily use the fabric from old shirts to stitch together some amazing tote bags. But you can also achieve a custom tee tote with just some scissors, too. We’d use this tutorial because it’s so easy. Cut your tee, turn it inside out, tie it together and voila! A t-shirt turned tote in no time.

  9. Make it into a pillow
  10. Ok, we swoon for this one. Pillows and decor aren’t cheap, so turning your old t-shirts into pillowcases for your home are such a fun way to show off your passions and repurpose a shirt you love. And the best part? It’s really simple. Dust off those techniques you learned in Home Ec to sew this pillowcase. We’d choose 3-4 old favorite tees (band t-shirts anyone?) and sew them into a few different sized pillows to match pillow inserts. Better yet—if you’re looking to breathe new life into old pillows, just sew these new cases to size! New pillows, no additional cost. Arrange them on your dorm bed or couch and everyone will be wondering where you got such awesome decor. For some help getting started, read this DIY guide.

  11. Donate to an animal shelter
  12. If you’re an animal lover then you can put all of those old t-shirts to use. Animal shelters need all kinds of blankets and supplies to keep their homeless animals comfortable during their stay. Some shelters might take t-shirts as donations to use as cleaning rags or to fold into beds for pet enclosures. Or, you could use one of the ideas above and turn your t-shirts into quilts or pillows before you donate them to the pets in need. Check with your local shelters to see how you can help with tees you already have!

  13. Create framed art
  14. Source: Sometimes Homemade

    If your walls are bare and you’re not sure where to look for art–make your own out of t-shirts! Whether you have an old sports shirt from high school with your mascot or a colorful t-shirt with an inspirational quote on it, it’s easy to transform them into a piece for your home. Figure out how large of a space the front of your tee takes up and find a frame to fit it. There are even frames out there MADE for framing t-shirts. We love the way this blogger upcycled old shirts by framing them. Framed tees could be a super thoughtful gift to remind an old friend or family member of a special memory.

  15. Compost it
  16. Did you know you can compost cotton t-shirts? Well, now you do! It’s not much different than if you compost food from your kitchen. Just shred your t-shirt, set up your compost, and let nature do its thing. For a great guide to fabrics, composting them, and tips to help it go smoothly, we like this one from 1 Million Women.

  17. Donate to a nonprofit
  18. Sometimes the best way to upcycle is to donate. It’s simple and can really help someone in need. Check around your town for local homeless shelters or nonprofits that might be able to use your t-shirts. Make sure they can actually use them but narrowing it down to include only gently-used shirts that are in great shape. You could also donate to your local GoodWill, Salvation Army, crisis assistance group, or church.

  19. Sell it online
  20. Not sure upcycling is what you’re looking for? The resale market for clothes is booming, so there are plenty of options for selling off your old favorite shirts online. If you’ve got some nostalgic or great vintage tees, consider selling them on sites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, ThredUp, and more. This way, your once favorite t-shirt can get a second life with someone who really loves it—and you can make room for something new in your closet!

ways to upcycle t shirts

How are you going to upcycle your old t-shirts? We’d love to hear your plans for upcycling your tees in the comments below.

Kate wants her work to impact the little but important moments in people’s lives—like birthdays, anniversaries, and family celebrations. She loves coming up with witty copy that might inspire someone to create an awesome t-shirt!

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