15 Ways to Recycle and Reuse Old T-shirts
Everybody has that one T-shirt that they just can’t part with.
Mine is somebody’s used blue soccer tee that I picked up at a thrift shop about 10 years ago. When I bought it, it was already broken in; after a decade in my possession, it’s literally falling apart at the seams. Even though it’s so tattered and torn that my armpits and midsection show when I wear it (never out of this house, FYI), I can’t bear the thought of tossing it out.
The other T-shirts in my collection, however, I’m not so attached to. Twice a year, I go through and donate the ones that I no longer want. But getting rid of them all together seems like a waste. There are plenty of other ways to make the most of old tees. From dust rags to quilts to headbands, here are a few ideas that will turn your would-be trash into a brand-new treasure. (See also: 25 Things to Do With Old Jeans)
1. Around-the-House Rags
When I asked my Facebook friends what they do with old T-shirts, this was the most common, albeit uninspired, answer the gave; the former, not the latter, is why I’m including it on this list. Instead of buying towels — how we accumulated three drawers worth of hand towels in my home, I don’t know (but I think it has something to do with my husband “accidentally” taking them from the gym) — cut the shirts into pieces so you can dust the TV, sanitize your counters, and wash the car without causing scratches.
I was flipping through one of my favorite catalogs, Uncommon Goods, one day when I came across this brilliant way of recycling printed tees. The T-shirt memory quilt from Ticche & Bea allows you to choose 16 of your destined-for-donation shirts to turn into “patches” to create a fleece blanket that pops with color and nostalgia. When my husband and I had ours made we each chose eight shirts to make a quilt that was equal parts my memories and his. Ticche & Bea can make the quilt for you (though the price is steep), or you can opt for a DIY kit that cuts the cost in half. If you’re particularly handy, you can try your hand at making the quilt without Ticche & Bea’s assistance with these memory quilt instructions on Straw.com.
An athlete friend of mine says that she likes to cut the sleeves off her unwanted tees to turn into headbands for when she’s playing rec sports like kickball. I imagine that it’s easy enough to do — just cut the shirt into strips and tie it around your head (it’s not rocket science) — but if you’re gunning for style over simplicity, maybe you’d like to tackle this flower headband found at CraftSnob.com.
Like Ticche & Bea with its quilts, I’m sure there are companies out there that will turn your T-shirt into a tote or handbag for a fee, but with these easy T-shirt bag instructions from Craftbits.com, there’s no reason to pay for something you can accomplish on your own. This is an item so simple to make (unlike the quilt, which I was happy to pay for due to its level of difficulty) that you might want to think about making many and putting them up on Etsy to earn extra cash.
As with most of these ideas so far, turning tees into pillows requires some measure of sewing skill, like in these instructions for repurposed pillows. But you don’t have to master a thread and needle to make a one-of-a-kind head respite that your friends will envy. This video shows the less craftily inclined how to tie their way to stuffed success in a few no-fuss steps.
6. Dog Toys
Recycle several T-shirts with these Dog Tugga Toy instructions that also require no gluing or sewing. When you’re finished, your furry friend will have a colorful new braided “bone” that he’ll beg you to battle for.
7. Baby Diapers
The only babies I have are four-legged (and by that I mean dogs, not mutants), but when my husband and I start adding to our family, I will be constructing these adorable rock-star-quality cloth diapers. After I make them, I wonder if I can convince hubby that he has to clean them.
8. Wall Art
Another great, inexpensive idea from a friend — cut out the main image of your used shirt and frame it or stretch it over a small canvas for personalized wall art. I’ve seen people do this with album covers and the like, which are much less personal than designs that define your fashion sense.
9. Art Smocks
No need for a quilt, handbag, or dog toy? Donate your old tees to a local school for the art teacher to use as smocks.
10. Book Covers
This book cover idea sure beats the book covers I made in school made from brown bags or the funny pages. It takes some precision — remember to measure twice and cut once — but the finished product is a soft, durable cover that will last much longer than paper.
There are many ways to turn an old tee into a scarf, but this T-shirt scarf from Generation T is whimsical and fun. Perhaps the best part — besides that it’s no-sew — is that you can use the scraps from the T-shirts that you’ve already turned into other fabulous things to create this ready-for-fall neck wrap.
12. Pocket Squares
A good portion of this list is female oriented, so here’s one for the fellas. Get rid of that old white tee that has yellowed at the pits and transform it into a poem to stuff into your pockets. This poetic pocket square project calls for painting on a quote or poem with stencils that will decidedly brand you a hipster whether you have a mustache or not.
13. Place Mats
I’m not sure how I feel about this project that turns T-shirts into place mats, but I suppose it depends on what color tee you use and how much of a mess you make when you eat. At least they’re washable.
14. Doggy Bed
These T-shirt doggy bed instructions from The Eco Chic blog are so awesome that when my babies come back from vacation, they might just have a comfy new cushions to rest their paws. Maybe it’ll break that pesky always-in-the-bed habit.
15. Dinner Napkins
Cloth napkins impress dinner guests much more than paper towels, but these T-shirt napkins will totally blow them away. All that’s required is stitching around T-shirt squares to give the edges a more finished, refined look. Great conversation pieces and even better for the environment.
Have you turned old T-shirts into something new and fantastic? Let me know in the comments below.