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The fate of most donated clothing is to end up in the trash, eventually making its way to a landfill somewhere. When you donate piles of t-shirts to your local thrift store, 85% of them are headed for the landfill, making up to 21 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) per year.
The good news is that within the last decade, several companies and start-ups have decided that their mission is to reduce PCTW — and they’re now focusing on turning old t-shirts into new shirts. With innovative fabric recycling methods, these fashion brands are diverting old t-shirts from landfills and turning them into labels.
30% of these old, used t-shirts are made into rags for use in the cleaning industry.
20% are further broken down and made into products like carpets, insulation, or stuffing for cars.
5% ends up as waste
Instead, you can repurpose old t-shirts into brand new items. Many of the clothes we wear end up as forgotten or are thrown out much too early when they likely have plenty of life in them yet. They may not be the right fit for you anymore or they may be too faded but they’ll work just fine when you snip, cut, and weave your way through a few DIY projects.
For the home DIYer who also wants to make a difference, this trend is good news. Now more than ever, there are tons of ways for you to decrease your PCTW footprint and upcycle all those old shirts in your closet.
You’ll end up with a completely customized, quirky, and colorful finished product. Ready to learn how?
Old t-shirts don’t need to sit forever in the back of your closet or drawers. Even if they’re ragged and you’ve squeezed out every last drop of use, your old t-shirts are waiting to be repurposed and upcycled into new and innovative household items.
All you need is a bit of ingenuity, creativity, time, and elbow grease to make any of these t-shirt upcycling projects a reality.
Your t-shirt already has sleeves and an opening at the bottom. Depending on the length of the shirt and the size of your pup’s head, you only need to make a few adjustments to make your old t-shirt pet-ready.
You can also opt to cut and tailor a large t-shirt so it fits your pooch. Add in little holes at the back for your pet’s back legs and make the t-shirt’s opening for the head and neck larger if you need.
Creating tote bags is one of the easiest projects for your old t-shirts. This idea works so well because t-shirts with graphics and prints don’t need a complicated stitching pattern to be interesting. Even beginners will be able to stitch a simple tote bag from an old t-shirt.
If you’re a strictly no-sew sort of person, you can opt to create a bag without any stitching. It takes 10 minutes, and all you need is a pair of scissors.
Cushion or pillow covers and old t-shirts are a match made in craft heaven because you can use the graphics to create your unique couch cushions or pillow cover. Here, you have a choice: You can either choose to create a pillow from scratch with fresh stuffing, or you can choose to stitch pillowcases for your pre-existing throw cushions. If you have old t-shirts with sayings or quotes on them, this is even better.
If you’re creating cases, you’ll need to make sure that the print or graphic on the front of your t-shirt is still crisp and not peeling. You’ll also need to make sure that there’s enough of the t-shirt material left, once you’re done cutting and measuring your case for your pillow’s size.
T-shirt quilt squares are like the pillowcase project: They encourage you to get creative and choose t-shirts with special meanings and memories around them.
You can start collecting your favorite t-shirts and storing them for this “someday” project. Once you have them, it’s simple enough to start a quilt — all you need are your t-shirts and some extra patterned fabric for the space between the squares.
Baby bibs and rompers are a little more pattern-intensive than some of the previous projects, but the result is well worth your effort. Even if you don’t have a little one to spoil with these one-off projects, you can give baby bibs and rompers from old t-shirts as gifts for expecting moms.
With minimal effort, you can expertly string together a set of “cords” for a multi-colored braid or woven belt. For this project, it’s better to use plain t-shirts with no graphics or prints. The best part is that you can make them any thickness and design that you want.
Shirt rugs and crochet t-shirt rugs are a nifty way to reuse several t-shirts in one project. If you have a bunch of old t-shirts lying around, make use of them all in one go.
Like the braided belt or bracelet, the shirt rug is a “no-sew” project that only needs your ingenuity and patience with weaving several cords of t-shirts together. This is one project where you can and should use graphic and printed t-shirts for a more funky, patterned weave.
The great thing about repurposing old t-shirts for crafty projects is that it doesn’t matter how worn out your t-shirts get. Even if the graphics or colors are fading, your t-shirts will look great when they’re reused in these creative projects. You can also get your kids involved for some of the no-sew ideas.
These seven creative projects prove that when t-shirt materials wear out, they’re not entirely useless. If you’ve ordered t-shirts in bulk from Shirtspace, for example, you can now make use of your favorite colors to craft something new. Since 90% of our clothing is thrown out before they should be, these upcycling ideas will help keep t-shirts out of landfills.