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How to Recycle Old T-Shirts Into New Clothes

You’re staring at that stack of old t-shirts, and the memories flood back: that summer concert, the beach vacation, or perhaps that first marathon. Yet, no matter how attached we are to these fabric mementos, it’s undeniable that they’ve seen better days.

So, what’s next? Toss them away? Oh no, not when there’s a world of re-imagination to get into.

tl;dr: Recycle old t-shirts by transforming them into fashionable and functional pieces like bags, scarves, or even braided rugs. The process not only boosts your creativity but also contributes to sustainable fashion, minimizing waste. With some simple DIY techniques and a sprinkle of imagination, your worn-out tees can find a second life.

The Green Side of Fashion

Before we jump into the how-to, let’s take a moment to appreciate the environmental benefits of recycling our old clothes. The fashion industry, as it turns out, is one of the largest polluters in the world.

A study from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reveals that clothing production has approximately doubled in the past 15 years. With consumers discarding their clothes more frequently, a staggering amount ends up in landfills.

By recycling our old t-shirts into new items, we’re taking a stand against wasteful consumerism. It’s a small step, but every effort counts.

Tools of the Trade

Before embarking on this recycling journey, gather some essential tools:

  • Scissors (sharp ones!)
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread
  • Fabric markers or chalk
  • Pins

Note: Ensure that your t-shirts are clean. Even if you’re planning to turn them into rags, a fresh start always helps.

From T-Shirt to Tote Bag

One of the easiest and most practical transformations! Here’s how:

  1. Cut Out the Base: Lay the t-shirt flat and cut off the sleeves and neckline.
  2. Design the Opening: The part where you’ve cut off the neckline will be the bag’s opening. You can make it as wide or as narrow as you like.
  3. Sew the Bottom: Turn the t-shirt inside out and sew the bottom part closed. This will be the base of your bag.
  4. Handles: The sleeve holes now become the handles of your tote.

And voilà! You now have a tote bag. I recommend customizing it further with fabric paints or patches for added flair.

Scarf It Up

With winters around the corner, why not transform those tees into cozy scarves?

  1. Cut Horizontal Strips: Depending on how thick you want the scarf, cut horizontal strips from the t-shirt.
  2. Stretch Them Out: Take each strip and stretch it. They will naturally roll into a noodle-like shape.
  3. Join the Strips: Knot them together to achieve the desired length.

I recommend braiding different colored t-shirt strips for a multi-hued, textured look.

Braided Rugs

These make for vibrant, soft additions to your home decor.

  1. Cut the T-shirt into Strips: The wider the strip, the thicker the braid.
  2. Braid Them Together: As you would braid hair.
  3. Form the Rug: Start coiling the braid in a circular or oval shape, sewing them together as you go along.

I recommend using t-shirts of various colors to make your rug pop.

Advanced Recycling Techniques for Old T-Shirts

Alright, fashionistas and DIY enthusiasts! By now, you’ve probably embraced the fact that your old tees have so much potential. But let’s push the envelope further.

T-Shirt Yarn for Crafting

Did you know you can make yarn from t-shirts? This yarn can be used for knitting, crocheting, and many other crafts.

  1. Lay Out the T-shirt: Spread out your tee on a flat surface, ensuring it’s free from wrinkles.
  2. Cut Off the Top & Bottom: Remove the hem and the top portion (right below the sleeves).
  3. Slice Into Strips: Depending on the desired thickness of your yarn, cut the remaining rectangle into horizontal strips, but don’t cut all the way through. Leave an inch uncut at the top.
  4. Unfold & Slit Transitions: Open up the t-shirt, and you’ll see the uncut portions create a sort of fringe. Starting from one end, make a diagonal cut from the first strip to the edge. Continue cutting from strip to strip. This will give you one continuous yarn strand.
  5. Stretch the Yarn: Pull the yarn to make it roll on itself.

Note: T-shirt yarn is excellent for creating sturdy and stretchy items like baskets or rugs.

Revamp with Appliqué Designs

Appliqué is a technique where you sew a piece of fabric (often in a decorative design) onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern.

  1. Design Selection: Choose a design – this could be a silhouette, a logo, or any shape.
  2. Cut the Design: Using a different colored t-shirt or fabric, cut out your chosen design.
  3. Position & Pin: Lay it onto your old t-shirt where you’d like the design to appear, and pin it in place.
  4. Sew It On: Using a sewing machine or hand-sewing, stitch along the edges of your design.

I recommend using contrasting threads for a pop of color or a decorative stitch for added flair.

Reworked Sleeves and Necklines

Changing the sleeves or neckline can dramatically alter the look of a tee.

  1. Sleeve Transformation: Cut the sleeves to make it sleeveless, or create a cold shoulder look by cutting out a portion of the upper sleeve.
  2. Rethink the Neck: Turn a round neck into a V-neck, or enlarge the neckline for an off-the-shoulder look.

Note: Always finish off raw edges with a simple hem or decorative stitch to avoid fraying and to give a polished look.

Layered T-Shirt Dress

Got more than one old tee? Combine them to create a unique layered t-shirt dress.

  1. Choose Your Base: Decide which t-shirt will act as the top of the dress.
  2. Add Length: Take another t-shirt, cut off the upper part, and attach it to the base t-shirt, adding more layers as needed.
  3. Sew Together: Ensure the seams are smooth, and the transition between shirts is seamless.

I recommend playing with colors and patterns. A striped tee over a plain one or vice versa can create a chic look.

T-Shirt Quilts and Blankets

For those who have a treasure trove of old tees, a t-shirt quilt is a beautiful way to showcase and preserve memories.

  1. Square It Up: Cut squares or rectangles from your t-shirts, ensuring they are of uniform size.
  2. Design Your Quilt: Lay out the cut pieces to decide the order and pattern.
  3. Stitch Together: Sew the pieces together, row by row, and then sew the rows together.
  4. Add Backing: Attach a fabric of your choice to the back for added comfort.

These quilts become not just functional pieces but sentimental heirlooms, reminding you of various phases and memories from your life.

To truly realize the potential of an old t-shirt, all you need is a bit of creativity and some patience. Whether you’re a DIY newbie or a seasoned pro, there’s always something new to learn and create. So, pick up those scissors, thread that needle, and let your imagination take flight!


When it comes to the question of how to recycle old t-shirts into new clothes, the possibilities are boundless. Not only are you saving the environment, one tee at a time, but you’re also giving room to your creativity. As I’ve often found, there’s no greater joy than wearing or using something you’ve created yourself from a piece that once held memories. In essence, the memories live on, just in a different form.


Can I combine different fabrics when recycling t-shirts?

Absolutely! Mixing fabrics can provide varied textures and aesthetics. However, do consider the care instructions for each fabric type.

How do I care for my recycled creations?

Treat them as you would your other clothes. However, since these are DIY creations, hand washing might prolong their life.

Do I need advanced sewing skills?

Not at all. While some creations might require intricate sewing, many can be made with basic sewing or even no-sew techniques.


  • Chris Chamberlan

    Chris Chamberlan, passionate animal welfare activist and USC graduate, conducted undercover RSPCA missions exposing slaughterhouse malpractices. A vegan and advocate for humane treatment, Chris has spoken at international conferences, been involved in vegan outreach, and founded Solarpunk Solutions for sustainability. His blending of animal welfare with eco-living principles for a compassionate future.

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