We can upcycle just about any type of clothing as long as we’ve got a vision, a bit of imagination, and some crafting skills.
Clothing is one of the simplest things to upcycle. Old jeans can be transformed into shorts, household items, and tote bags. T-shirts can be made into reusable produce bags, hanging planters, and doormats or rag rugs. Socks can even be upcycled into things like dust rags, whiteboard erasers, and bean bags for games and outdoor activities. Honestly, the possibilities are endless.
Some clothing items that can easily be upcycled include (but aren’t limited to):
- Sweaters and Sweatshirts
What to Look for in Clothes for Upcycling
While just about any article of clothing can be upcycled, some fabrics and materials are easier to work with than others. The easiest materials to work with are any type of cotton T-shirt and denim. However, you can also find various ways to work with blouses, sweaters, and anything hanging around your closet. You only need to get creative.
That said, you may not want to upcycle clothing that’s more valuable. Instead, you could sell them through secondhand marketplaces like Mercari and ThredUp. Of course, the clothes can be upcycled, but there could be more value in reselling or donating them.
On that note, there is quite the market for upcycled designer clothes and accessories.
Are There Clothes You Can’t Upcycle?
There are a few restrictions in regard to upcycling clothes. Things that are trickier to upcycle or recycle are items with embellishments like metallics, sequins, and anything containing a lot of embroidery or beading. However, if you put your creative mind to work, pretty much any article of clothing can be transformed into something else.
Different Ways to Upcycle Clothes
Here’s where we can have fun and get creative. If you’re not very crafty, no worries. These ideas don’t require a bunch of know-how in the sewing department. What matters most is that you have fun, and in the end, you might have a few new products.
Stained clothing is often tossed into the landfill because we don’t want to sell or donate something that’s damaged. Instead, why not dye the items to give them a new lease on life? Using colors darker than the stain leaves no visible trace, and you end up with something that feels brand new. You could use fabric-safe dye or natural things like avocado pits and pokeberries. You could also use bleach to recolor or reverse dye clothing.
Patch Up Holes
Patching holes or rips doesn’t require a sewing machine; a needle and thread will do. You could even use fabric glue if you want. You could also opt for iron-on patches (I used them back in middle school), but if you have the skills, creating patches using a similar fabric can make the outcome look intentional — instead of like you’re trying to cover a mistake.
Everything from jeans to T-shirts can be embroidered. You only need a needle, thread, and time. You can add a new style to old clothes, and also mend holes with the art of embroidery.
Transform Pants Into Shorts
I’m always running around in the woods and working the land, so I’m rough on clothes. I’ve turned many hole-y pairs of pants into decent-looking shorts. If you are trying to avoid the frayed look at the bottoms, use a needle and thread to hem them. That said, consider measuring before cutting them, so you don’t go too short.
A quilt-making project requires about 15 shirts for small, lap-sized blankets and more for a larger quilt. You could use any sort of fabric, but old shirts seem to be the go-to material. Quilts are made with love, and if you’re good at it, they could sell for decent money.
Turn Old Clothes Into Totes
You can use old shirts and sweaters to make reusable tote bags. They’re multipurpose and are an excellent way to reduce the amount of single-use plastic bags. I’ve seen some incredible tote ideas, not to mention show holders, toy bags, and more.
Make Rag Rugs
Rag rugs are relatively easy to make. Old T-shirts are some of the best materials to use. All you have to do is cut the shirts into strips of the desired size, put holes in each end, and crochet them together. However, there are multiple ways to make a rag rug, and fantastic instructions on the internet. You have the freedom to make rugs any size, and it saves you money in the long run.
Make Things for Your Pets
Sweatshirts, T-shirts, and jeans can all be upcycled to make pet beds, blankets, pillows, toys, and even pet clothing. The best part will be that it smells like their favorite human. Old pillowcases can be stuffed into comfortable beds, and you could use strips of old clothes to fill them with. There are numerous possibilities.
Make Cleaning Rags
If your old clothes are too worn out to be upcycled into something useful, you don’t have to throw them out yet. You could cut squares to create reusable cleaning cloths and rags. Once they’re used and dirty, toss them in the laundry, and reuse
Personal Gift Wrap
Avoid wasting money on pretty wrapping paper that ends up in the trash. Instead, make gift wrap using fabric. You can wrap and combine the materials to create unique patterns. Knot the fabric tails, and boom! You’ve got a meaningful gift wrap for any present.
My mom used to take old sheets and make curtains and tablecloths. When larger towels would get torn, I would watch her transform them into towel dolls or hand towels. Before I go and leave you to your creations, I’ve decided to toss out a few more bonus ideas.
- You can make Halloween costumes or clothes for the little ones to play dress up.
- Speaking of Halloween, save your old ripped or stained clothing for making scarecrows. If you have a family with little ones, you could make one for each member.
- Make door draft stoppers to keep the cold out during winter.
- Take old clothes and make cute wreaths for the holidays or four seasons. Kids love them, especially if they have their favorite characters on them.
- Make bean bags for a game of cornhole.
- If you have printed clothing or items with patterns, you may be able to make some sort of wall tapestry.
There are so many possibilities and creations that can be made using old clothes you don’t want or need. I always suggest donating items that aren’t worn or stained because it’s a meaningful act of kindness. The choice is yours, of course, but before tossing your old clothes, consider these crafty ideas. Have fun!