Something from Nothing: Recycling Old T-Shirts

Last week, putting away laundry and tired of stuffing t-shirts into already-full drawers, Phil told the boys that one of their weekend projects was to weed out their t-shirts and sort the ones they wear and the ones they don’t. Usually any task involving getting rid of anything is met with a lot of groans and procrastination, but they got down to business this weekend.

Tommy’s method of determining whether a t-shirt was too small, by the way, involved putting on the t-shirt and jumping as high as he could in front of me. If I could see his bellybutton on the jump, it went into the Donate pile. You might want to adopt his method if you have to do similar weeding. Tommy’s an innovator.

Anyhoo, back to the t’s. The boys had a pretty large pile, we’d weeded a good deal from Sylvia’s drawers, and because my t-shirt drawer was also out of control, I sorted mine, as well, getting rid of ones that were getting old or that I never wore. (I love the idea of the bright-red, size-Large, R Crumb “Devil Girl” t-shirt Phil bought me years ago, but I’ve probably worn it twice in a decade.)

Usually we just donate clothes to Goodwill, but this pile included some favorites, as well as some that really weren’t appropriate for donating. If we gave shirts with tiny holes or worn fabric, they’d just end up in a landfill anyway. So on Sunday we did a little recycling with the sentimental favorites or too-worn-to-donate shirts.

First, I sorted the super-sentimental shirts to save for making quilts. My sister gave my nephew a graduation quilt with all the shirts from sports teams he’d played on over the years, and I’ve always had it in my head I’d like to do the same for the kids.

The Red Key Tavern t-shirt that never fit right becomes a knitting bag.

After that, we made some bags using this ridiculously quick method from Instructables. Total, I made eight bags, and it probably took no more than half an hour. This let Tommy keep some belly-baring special shirts like a couple of his Lego Star Wars shirts. Sylvia was a little honked off because she’d had her eye on the one with Darth Maul, but it turned into a bag. Sometimes life is harsh. He even had me make one for his best buddy down the street. After four bags, I realized I wanted them to have a little more shape, so I boxed the bottom corners. Still, this was super-quick.

Then Sylvie and I made some t-shirt yarn using this tutorial. My plan is to knit or crochet a back-up kitchen rug, as our cream-colored rug is always in the wash and, frankly, has seen better days.

We also, though, made some cool finger-woven bracelets using this tutorial. If you’re a girl and of a certain age, you probably spent some recesses with friends finger-weaving long strands to no purpose. I know I did. After I looked at the first few pictures, my muscle memory took over on these bracelets. An old Old Navy fitted t-shirt that wasn’t fit to donate made two four-strand and one two-strand bracelet. The two-strand was for Sylvia’s best buddy. The kids were in a giving mood on Sunday.

Red-carpet ready.

Thanks to the creativity of bloggers and the accessibility of Pinterest (I love you so much, Pinterest), you can find a ton of smart ideas for upcycling old t-shirts. Here are a few I’ve got my eye on:

According to, in one year, the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing. More than 3/4 of the discarded clothing goes into landfills. It makes sense to try to slow that flow into landfills.

Happy upcycling!


4 thoughts on “Something from Nothing: Recycling Old T-Shirts

  1. Just stumbled upon your blog a couple of days ago. Love it! I just made a t-shirt bag after seeing this post. Thanks for the idea. I’m thinking that some of my kids old t-shirts would work great to make into bags, hang on hangers, and use as hanging storage in their closets.

  2. Pingback: Something from Nothing: Super-Quick T-Shirt Shrug | The Christmas Plan

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