4 Fun Ways to Upcycle Your Old T-Shirts

Upcycled T-Shirt Projects

Don't toss out those old t-shirts just yet! Upcycle your closet full of old soccer and concert tees into fast and fun t-shirt projects. The jersey fabric provides a clean cut edge that doesn't fray and the stretch of the fabric provides a functional curl to make cording. Whether you use the whole shirt or a small section, these easy crafts will have you digging through your kids closets, too.

Drawstring Sleeve Bag

Most t-shirt projects use the body of the shirt leaving your sleeves with no place to go. Tiny drawstring bags and pouches are the perfect project for this surplus. Each pair of bags will vary in size and shape depending on the shirt's style and size, but they will give you an abundance of possibilities for storage, organizing your purse, party favor pouches or wrapping small gifts.

Drawstring Sleeve Bag
Drawstring Sleeve Bag

Things You Will Need:

  • Old t-shirt
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Safety pin
  • Ruler

What To Do:

  1. Turn your old t-shirt wrong side out and lay it on your work surface. Align the hemmed edges of one sleeve. The hemmed edge will be the top of your bag. Cutting through both layers, remove the sleeve from the shirt just outside the seam line.
    Remove sleeve from shirt.
    Remove sleeve from shirt.
  2. Trim the seamed side of the sleeve and the uneven, curved edge to resemble a square or rectangle. These edges are one side of the bag and the bottom. Do not cut the folded side edge of the shirt.
    Cut your bag shape.
    Cut your bag shape.
  3. Pin the cut side edges and the bottom. Turn the bag with the hem at the top. Using a 1/4" seam allowance, begin sewing the side edge below the hem seam. Back stitch to prevent the seam from coming loose. Continue along the pinned side and bottom edges.
    Sew the cut edges.
    Sew the cut edges.
  4. Cut a 1" x 22" strip from the t-shirt. Stretch the strip to form a cord. Re-cut to 22" long.
  5. Turn your bag right side out. The hem has formed a casing at the top of the bag. Since you did not sew across the ends of the hem, they will be open. Attach a large safety pin to one end of the t-shirt cord. Insert the pin in one opening of the casing. Feed the cord through the casing and out the other opening. Remove the safety pin. Line up the ends of the cord and tie an overhand knot 1" from the ends. Pull the cord to draw the bag closed.

Baby T-Shirt Hat

With the brim folded up, this baby hat will fit a newborn. And because the jersey fabric has incredible stretch as your newborn grows simply stop folding the brim so your baby can continue wearing it until about 9 months.

Baby T-Shirt Hat
Baby T-Shirt Hat

Things You Will Need:

  • Old t-shirt
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing machine

What To Do:

  1. Turn your t-shirt wrong side out and lay it on your work surface. Align the hemmed bottom edge of the shirt. The hemmed edge will be the open edge of the hat. Cut a 7" square through both layers of the shirt, with one edge of the square along the shirt's hem. Pin the cut edges.
    Cut the hat shape.
    Cut the hat shape.
  2. Sew the pinned edges using a 1/4" seam allowance. Back stitch at the beginning and end to prevent the seam from coming undone.
    Sew the side and top edges.
    Sew the side and top edges.
  3. Cut a 1" x 12" strip from the t-shirt. Stretch the strip to form a cord. Cut the cord in half.
  4. Turn the hat right side out. With your hands, gather 2" in and 2" down from one top corner. Tie one cord length around the gathers. Repeat on the other top corner. Trim the ends of the tied cord to 1".
    Tie the corners.
    Tie the corners.

Upcycled T-Shirt Scarf-Necklace

Made from humble beginnings, this scarf-necklace can easily jazz up a plain shirt and jeans as well as add an elegance to fancier duds. Thanks to this super quick project, it's easy to add the finishing touch to an outfit at the eleventh hour, or even provide you with a fast option for last-minute gift-giving.

Upcycled T-Shirt Scarf-Necklace
Upcycled T-Shirt Scarf-Necklace

Things You Will Need:

  • Old t-shirt, adult-size, no side seams
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Ruler
  • Crochet hook

What To Do:

  1. Lay your t-shirt on your work surface. Align the hemmed bottom edge. Cutting through both layers, remove the hem. Note: To shorten the cutting area if using a rotary cutter you may want to fold your shirt in half, matching the side edges.
  2. Cut 1" wide strips through both layers across the width of the shirt. Continue cutting strips to just below the sleeves. Note: If your shirt has a transfer on it you will want to stop before the printing begins. On average, you will want approximately 12 strips. More or less can be used. If you don't have enough, add strips from another shirt.
    Cut the loops.
    Cut the loops.
  3. Unfold each strip. You will notice they are actually loops. Insert your thumbs in the ends of each loop and stretch. This will curl the edges into a round cord.
    Stretch into cord loops.
    Stretch into cord loops.
  4. Cut an additional 1" x 20" strip from the shirt. This strip is not a loop. Stretch to curl into a cord.
  5. Hold all of your loops together on one side. Allow the excess of the loops to hang down. Tie one end of the cord around the bundle of loops you are holding, leaving a 2" end on one end of the tie. Hold the 2" end on the bundle. Using the long end of the cord, wrap around the bundle, covering the 2" end. Make your wrapped section about 2" wide.
  6. Insert a crochet hook under the wrapping, on the beginning side of the wrap, to the side that has the end of the wrap. Grab the excess cord from the wrap with the hook. Pull the cord under the wrap and back out the beginning side. Trim off the cord ends.
    Wrap the loops together.
    Wrap the loops together.
  7. Place your scarf necklace over your head. Wear as is, or twist once and place over your head again for a fuller necklace.

T-Shirt Wrapped Bangle Bracelet

Use all those bits and scraps from previous t-shirt projects to add a few accessories to your jewelry box. This bangle bracelet project can be completed in less than 15 minutes and is a fantastic project for a sleepover or group party.

T-Shirt Wrapped Bangle Bracelet
T-Shirt Wrapped Bangle Bracelet

Things You Will Need:

  • 1/4" or 6mm air tubing
  • Scissors
  • Wood skewer
  • Pruning shears
  • Craft glue
  • T-shirt scraps
  • Ruler
  • Embroidery floss
  • Old bead or charm

What To Do:

  1. Cut a 9" length of 1/4" air pump tubing using scissors. Cut a 1/2" to 3/4" length from a wood skewer using pruning shears.
  2. Apply craft glue to one opening of the tubing. Insert half of the skewer into the opening. Apply craft glue to the other opening and insert the other end of the skewer. Push the tube ends together. This forms the bangle bracelet base.
    Form the bracelet base.
    Form the bracelet base.
  3. Cut a 1" x 24" strip from an old t-shirt or use scraps from a t-shirt left over from a previous project. Stretch the strip. This will turn the strip into a cord, but most importantly for this project, it will stretch the long cut edges to give them a slight lift.
  4. Apply a dab of craft glue over the seam of your bangle base. Open one end of the curled t-shirt cord and place it over the glue with the right side of the shirt facing up. Note: After stretching, the inside of the cord is the right side of the t-shirt. Continue to wrap the strip around the bracelet, opening the cord as you go. Each round of the wrap should overlap the previous round. Apply a dab of craft glue to the bracelet every couple of inches. End with a glued overlap to the beginning.
    Wrap the bracelet.
    Wrap the bracelet.
  5. Cut a 36" length of embroidery floss that coordinates with the color of your t-shirt strip. Thread a bead on the floss, knotting it in the center of the strand.
  6. Position the bead on the outside of the bangle. Tie the bead to the bangle to secure. Separate the ends of the floss. Bring one floss end up on the left side of the wrapped tube and one on the right. Crisscross on top of the bracelet. Take the ends to the back of the bracelet and crisscross in the same way. Continue to crisscross on top and on the back, all the way around the bracelet. End by tying the ends in a knot below the bead. Clip off the ends of the floss. Apply a dot of glue over the knot to secure it.
    Crisscross with embroidery floss.
    Crisscross with embroidery floss.

More Variations and Tips

Upcycling ideas have many interpretations as each recycled item is different. T-shirt color, fabric weight and shirt design let you vary projects to fit your personal preferences. Try a few of these tweaks to customize your upcycled t-shirt creations.

  • Personalize or label your drawstring sleeve bags by stenciling words or shapes on the outside. Be sure to insert a small piece of cardboard into the bag to prevent paint from bleeding through to the other side.
  • For larger t-shirt hats use an old stocking cap as your pattern. Lay the cap on the shirt and align the open edge of the cap with the hem of your shirt. Cut around the hat 1/4" larger than the shape and sew using a 1/4" seam allowance.
  • For a necklace with thinner cords, simply cut thinner t-shirt strips before stretching.
  • Make a fuller scarf/necklace with more loops cut from additional t-shirts.
  • If one color seems like a boring necklace, cut your loops from multiple shirts of different colors.
  • Dig out all that broken jewelry you can't bring yourself to throw away and give it new life as bracelet bling. Omit the embroidery floss and wind broken chains or bead strands around the bracelet instead. Stitch or glue the ends to hold.
  • Add even more "charm" to your bracelet by attaching additional beads or charms around the bangle.
  • Using strips with parts of printed transfer will give your bangle a hip, bohemian flair.
  • Place two or more tube bangles together and wrap them as one for a wider bracelet.
  • Fish tank, pump and oxygen tubing can all be used for making bangle bracelets.

More Closet Upcycling

Before you donate the rest of your old clothes, you may want to give them a closer look. Short-sleeve blouses can also be turned into drawstring bags, old sweaters make warm and cozy stocking caps and ripped strips from old jeans or flannel shirts will create a more western-style bangle.

4 Fun Ways to Upcycle Your Old T-Shirts