Ideas for Reusing Material from Old T-Shirts

Balls of homemade t-shirt yarn

Have a stack of worn-out holey old t-shirts?  Don’t throw them out just yet. There are lots of clever and crafty ways of reusing t-shirt material. You can get all sorts of extra use out of your worn our wearables before anything makes it into the rubbish bin. Here are our ideas for repurposing your old t-shirts and for reusing t-shirt materials and offcuts, right down to the small scraps and hems.

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Getting Crafty with Friends

This post is a special collaboration with our partner blog Dalmatian DIY.  We’ll be sharing how to turn your old t-shirts into a cosy quilt. Dalmatian DIY will show you how to make dog toys from the leftovers, and we’re sharing ideas for making use of the extra bits and pieces. But first, for maximum cuteness, here is a peek at the finished patchwork t-shirt quilt. Spotty snuggles? For sure!

Dalmatian dog snuggled in homemade recycled t-shirt quilt

A Second Chance Before Scrapping Old T-Shirts

Donate Them to Charity

If your shirts are still in great shape, but no longer suit your shape, size, or style, donate them to charity if possible. Let them fulfil their life as clothing before being scrapped or recycled.

Converted T-Shirts

Part of the t-shirt toast, but not all? T-shirts that have localised damage like small holes or spot staining can get a whole new life before being relegated to recycling. Convert an old shirt into a fresh new(ish) workout top, crop top, tank top, or beach cover-up. If cutting isn’t your thing, you can hide your woes with dye, fabric paint, iron-ons, or appliques.

Keep a Few for Messy DIY and Craft Projects

If your shirts aren’t suitable for wear, don’t scrap them just yet! If you regularly do craft projects, home DIYs, or extra dirty garden work, hang onto some old clothes. They may not be suitable for wearing in public, but they could be a-ok for renovating or crafting instead of wrecking nicer clothes.

Wait! Are T-Shirts Recyclable?

If they’re made of a 100% single textile type, they might be if there is a textile recycling program operating in your area.  Blends are more difficult to recycle, at least for now, since materials are sorted by type for processing which makes recycling tricky (and unprofitable) although smart minds are working on technologies to improve options. Garment recycling programs also operate in some locations, and their activities may include reuse and/or scrapping for rags, not just textile processing.

Sewing Projects and Crafts with Old T-Shirts

Sorted for Crafting

If you’ve sorted out any shirts that are suitable for charity, kept a few unworthy specimens for sacrificial dirty work wear, then the rest are fair game for crafting projects and other reuse. T-shirts are usually made with a soft knitted fabric. It’s low fray, which means it can be used in no-sew projects without shedding threads (although it may shed some fluff). It can also be used in sewing projects using the same knit fabric sewing techniques as purchased fabrics. Here are a few fun ideas!

T-Shirt Yarn Crafts

T-shirt yarn is easy to make (see the instructions below). It can be used for any type of chunky knitting, weaving, knotting, or macrame project. From headbands, to baskets and bowls, to full sized area rugs! And the little bits make handy ties for small use, including in the garden as shown below.

Let the Design Live On

Have a sentimental attachment to t-shirts gathered from events, sports, schools, travel, and other special moments? They can be hard to give up. Luckily there are craft projects that let the shirt design continue to shine while you recycle the rest of the materials. Our DIY t-shirt quilt is one way to do this on a big scale, but there are lots of other project ideas. Throw pillows, tote bags, and even wall art!

Stretchy Knits Are Perfect For…

The stretchy knit fabrics in t-shirts are perfect for stretchy crafts, like market tote bags, headbands, beanies, and infinity scarves.  If you can find a project that you like that calls for a knit and you can salvage a large enough piece of t-shirt fabric (or make one by piecing), anything goes!

Cutting squares for sewing a recycled t-shirt quilt

Making T-Shirt Yarn from Old Shirts

T-shirt yarn is easy to make using the bottom (from just below any design/pattern to the hem) of any t-shirt without side seams.  Hubby is a hulk , so the section below the designs (which I used in the quilt) still included plenty of material for yarn.
To make your own t-shirt yarn: 
  • Remove the bottom hem (and top design, if any, just below the arms).  
  • Fold almost in half, side to side, leaving a gap roughly the size of your planned strip thickness between the edges.
  • Cut from the fold just past the inside edge. Do not cut all the way through.
  • Starting with the bottom, cut across the remaining section of intact edge on a diagonal. Repeat this diagonally from cut to cut with your strips, releasing one long spiral strip of fabric. 
  • Pull the strip through your hands, stretching gently to curl the fabric and turn the strip into yarn.  Be careful not to do this too quickly or too forcefully, the friction can hurt your hands.
Making t-shirt-yard from old shirts

Clever Ideas for Reusing "Unusable" T-Shirt Scraps

T-Shirt Hem Dog Toys

Hems are trick to reuse in most crafts; however, I’ve found a solution that I love! Personally, I find t-shirt material too flimsy to make good toys for my big beasts; however, the hems are much sturdier and make great materials for knotted and woven toys – check out the details at Dalmatian DIY on how to make recycled t-shirt hem dog toys.

T-Shirt Rags and Cleaning Wipes

Sections that are unsuitable for yarn but still large enough to be of use can be cut into rags.  Don’t be shy to do this in different sizes including smaller than you might typically buy/make a cleaning rag. Little cloths can come in very handy for small jobs and are perfect for a quick polish.  And on the subject of cleaning, little scraps can be cut to make soft reusable face clothes as well, including mini wipes for make-up. Since t-shirt fabric doesn’t fray, you don’t even need to sew the edges. Easy!

Garden Ties

Garden ties are also a good use for scraps. Our local garden suppliers sell rolls of what is effectively t-shirt yarn – soft, slightly stretchy, easy to use, and gentle on plants. You can use yarn made as above, or just cut small strips from your scrappy odds and ends. I popped mine into a washed out food container for a double dose of recycling and have them in my garden shed for ready use.

Making garden ties from scraps of old t-shirt material

Composting Scraps

Composting fabric is an option of last resort if you’ve exhausted the uses, but is only possible for clean natural fabrics. If you know that the fabric is 100% natural, it can be chopped and composted in small quantities. You can put small quantities in your worm farm as well, if you have one. Make sure it’s all natural, clean of any residues that may harm your worm friends, and shredded small as it’s fairly resistant in larger pieces.

Cutting up old t-shirts to reuse the material

Reusing T-Shirt Material in Our DIY Projects

From our latest reuse activity, in addition to two great patchwork quilts and a cat cushion, leftovers from the quilt project yielded six big balls of yarn, a bounty of rags and polishing cloths, a huge supply of garden ties, plus two dog toys from the hems, giving all of this scrap a second useful life. Yeah!

Ideas for Reusing Material from Old T-Shirts

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