Top 5 Uses for Your Scraps of Old Fabric

Old wooden rocker, draped with a cozy handmade quilt. Backlighting from a sunny window.
Fabric from old clothes can be repurposed into a treasured family heirloom -- a quilt.
iStockphoto/Carol Gering

Everyone has at least one T-shirt that's too sentimental to throw out with the trash, and yet it's too old to be worn in public. Your family and friends beg you to throw those out-of-style, well-loved Ts away, but sometimes a cotton crewneck can hold a few memories in its stitches.

So you carefully fold those nostalgia-wielding shirts and store them for safekeeping. They lurk at the bottom of the dresser drawers, or in the darkest corners of the closets, where you will most likely never see them again.


Hoarding clothes can be wasteful. If you insist on holding onto your old clothes instead of selling or donating them, don't let good fabric go unused. Pull your old shirts out of their hiding places and get ready to do some crafting. This article will show you five of the most creative and useful ways to transform a worn-out piece of clothing into an everyday, household accessory or a funky new piece for your wardrobe.

Out of your old clothing or other fabric scraps, you can create a handy cleaning tool, a trendy new bag, a soft rug, a comfy pillow or a warm blanket for your bed. Most of these projects require only basic knowledge of sewing, and none of them require the use of a sewing machine (although it does make the work go much more quickly).

We'll begin at the bottom of the list with idea number five. So the next time you get an un-fixable hole in your favorite shirt or pants, don't be so quick to trash them. Instead, read on to find out the first of the top five ways you can turn your scraps of old fabric into something new.

5. Rags

Pile of various multicolor microfibre cloths
There’s no need to buy new cleaning cloths when you can make them from old clothes.
iStockphoto/Danila Krylov

Why buy expensive cleaning rags at the store when you can make them free of charge at home? Think about it -- those nice store-bought rags will lose their color after a few rounds in the kitchen sink anyway. Cutting worn out clothing into cleaning rags is a simple, eco-friendly way to save a bit of green and improve the way you clean.

To begin, lay the clothing flat and cut off any extremities such as straps or sleeves so that you have a large rectangle or square of fabric. Then, mark every 12 inches (30 cm) down the length of the fabric with a sewing crayon or permanent marker. Fabric squares measuring 12 by 12 inches (30 by 30 cm) will work well for most household cleaning projects. Snip the fabric in the marked places. Then, pinching on either side of the snip with your forefinger and thumb, tear in straight lines by pulling the fabric [source: Heida].


For absorbent rags that won't leave a trail of fuzz when you clean, choose clothing made from thick flannel, cotton or other lint-free materials [source: Jane].

Not all rags need the power of absorbency, though. Sometimes, a nice lightweight rag is necessary for dusting. This is where a threadbare T-shirt will come in handy. Thinner materials also work well for polishing furniture or buffing metal [source: Heida].

To make your rags more durable, hem the edges to keep them from fraying. Simply fold each edge over twice and iron it flat so that the fold stays in place. Then, use a sewing machine to sew down the center of each fold.

But let's say you have plenty of rags. You want a craft project that's a bit more challenging -- or maybe you just have a lot of old scraps to use. Read on.

4. Rugs

Collection of different traditional rugs.
If a new wool rug is beyond your purchasing power, turn your old fabric scraps into a pretty braided rug.
iStockphoto/George Clerk

Cleaning rags are certainly useful, but a more fun approach to recycling your fabric scraps is braiding them into a soft rug. Braided rugs have a unique texture, and as with the cleaning rag project, you can choose to use fabrics that are thick or lightweight, which will modify the rug's softness to your preference.

To make this rug you will need to know how to do a simple braid with three pieces of fabric. Start out by taking three long pieces of fabric and braiding them together. If you run out of fabric, you can always make multiple braids and sew the ends together. Using more than one type of fabric gives your rug a splash of color and that trendy shabby chic look.


When you are finished with the braid, you can begin forming it into a coil and sewing it together. The longer the center piece is, the more oblong-shaped your rug will be when it is complete. For example, if you want a rug measuring 6 ft by 9 ft (1.8 m by 2.7 m), the center coil should be about 3 ft (91 cm) long [source: Rug]. If you don't want an oval or round rug, you can make a rectangle or square shape by placing two braided strips side by side and sewing them together. Keep adding a strip until you reach the desired width for your rug.

Braiding is not the only way to make a rug from scraps. Rugs are also crocheted, sewn, hooked and more. For a crocheted rug, you need scissors, a large piece of fabric, a ruler and a size 11.5 crochet hook. Cut your fabric into strips measuring 1.5 inches (3.78 cm) wide. As you cut the first strip, stop 1 inch (2.52 cm) before you reach the bottom edge. For the next strip, begin cutting at the bottom of the fabric, and leave the 1-inch margin at the top. Continue alternating your 1-inch (2.52 cm) margin as you cut more strips. When you are finished, the fabric should be in one long strip, which you can crochet into a rug [source: San Pedro].

A rug is a fun accessory for your home, but sometimes you just want to show off all of your talents. Check out the next page to learn how to make a tote.

3. Bags

Pretty pink and green Asian bags
Fabric scraps can be used to make creative bags.
iStockphoto/Gina Smith

If rags and rugs were one step too close to demolishing your beloved Ts, turn them into a tote you can wear over your shoulder. Your shirts already coordinate well with other clothes in your closet, making it easy to match your new bag with any outfit.

To make a scrap bag you will need fabric scraps, two 12 by 16 inch (30 by 40 cm) pieces of fabric for the lining and two long pieces of fabric to use as handles. To make the handles, take two pieces of fabric of equal size and fold them in half lengthwise. Sew a seam along the open edges of each handle and then turn them right side out and iron them flat. Then, set the handles aside to work on the bag.


Sew your scraps into two large rectangles measuring 12 by 16 inches (30 by 40 cm). Then match one of the sewn-scrap rectangles with one of the lining pieces. Before you start sewing, be sure that the sides of each piece of fabric you want to see outside and inside your bag are facing out, not toward each other. Where the top of the tote will be, slip the ends of one of the handles between the two pieces of fabric so that the handle ends are sandwiched between the fabric pieces. Pin the pieces together to hold everything in place and sew the tote's top seam to secure the handle. Repeat this process for the other half of the tote. Then, take the two halves of the tote, and pin them together with the lining facing out. Sew the bottom and side seams and turn your finished bag right side out [source: Scrap].

If you'd rather stay away from the sewing machine, there are plenty of other options to make your favorite bag. The book "Simply Sublime Bags" contains instructions for making 30 bags that require little or no sewing. Many of the book's projects require only a roll of duct tape, some fabric and a stapler. If you can't afford to purchase the book, directions for some creative crafts, like a beach bag or a no-sew tote are available free online [source: Kahn].

If your bedroom needs an upgrade, the perfect crafts are waiting for you. Grab a few more shirts and keep reading.

2. Pillows

Group of 3 home made pillows on a bench.
Repurpose your favorite team T-shirt into a decorative pillow.
iStockphoto/Jill Chen

Do you need to perk up the look of your couch or your bed? Throw pillows are a great, inexpensive solution -- especially when you make them yourself. Here's an easy pillow project that will put fabric from your old clothes to good use.

This pillow is made in three basic steps: Sew two rectangular panels into a pocket, fill with stuffing and sew the top shut. The pillowcase's front and back can be made from piecing together scraps of fabric or, for a different look, use one large piece of fabric, such as a block of T-shirt, for the back panel [source: Recycle].


First, gather a pile of fabric scraps, stuffing, a needle and some thread. Arrange the scraps into a rectangle. The simplest way to achieve a symmetrical shape is to begin with groups of scraps of equal size. For example, cut all "large" scraps the same size and all "small" scraps the same size. Also, remember to leave a seam allowance of about 1/8 of an inch (.32 cm) when cutting, as this will ensure the final product is the size you want [source: Using Scrap].

When you have an arrangement you like, sew all of the scraps together. This is the pillow's front panel. Repeat this process for the back panel, unless using a single block of fabric for that side.

Then, lay the panels flat with the outsides facing inward and use pins to hold them together. Now, sew a seam around three sides of the pillow. When you reach the fourth side, continue sewing, but do not go all the way. Leave a hole large enough for your hand to pass through for stuffing.

Turn the pillow right side out and begin stuffing. When the pillow is plump, sew the remaining hole closed. For a clean seam, fold the remaining edges of the fabric over - toward the hole - and pin in place. Then, sew the hole shut [source: Using Scrap].

Stuffing can be lumpy and messy, but there are other options, like taking an old pillow and re-covering it. To determine the size of the panels you will need, measure the pillow you are covering and add 1 inch (2.52 cm) to the width and 1 inch (2.52cm) to the height [source: Recycle]. Then, follow the same procedure as with the stuffed pillow. Keep in mind that, unlike stuffing, using a pillow will require a hole larger than the size of your hand in order to fit inside the pillowcase. Therefore, you may want to consider a zipper.

You have made it through the first four projects, and now you're practically a pro. If you love your pillow but your bed still seems a little bare, the perfect craft is waiting on the next page.

1. Quilts

A collection of hand-made quilts lie atop an antique trunk.
What’s the most popular and practical thing to do with your old scraps of fabric? Create a quilt.
iStockphoto/Cindy England

Now that you have a few nice throw pillows, a matching quilt is a must-have. Quilting may look difficult, but if you start with a simple block pattern, quilting is simpler than it appears.

A child's rag quilt is an easy first project because it requires less sewing than other patterns and you won't need to add a back panel. A regular rag quilt is made by sewing squares of fabric together with a layer of batting in between.


To make your own rag quilt you will need 144 6-inch (15-cm) squares of fabric, 72 5-inch (12.5-cm) squares of batting, and a spool of matching thread [source: Quilting].

For your first quilt -- especially if sewing with a machine -- choose a low-loft batting. A higher loft means thicker batting, and a thinner material will be easier to work with. Just because a batting is low-loft doesn't mean your quilt won't keep you warm. For a warmer quilt, reach for polyester batting, which is lightweight like cotton but less breathable [source: Massard].

For each block, you will need two squares of fabric and one square of batting. Begin by sandwiching each piece of batting between two fabric squares, with the inner sides of the fabric touching the batting. Then, sew a seam around all four sides and two diagonal lines in an "X" across each square -- you now have a block [source: Quilting]. When finished, your quilt will have 72 blocks (or squares of fabric) arranged in six 12-square rows.

After the blocks are finished, sew them together in rows of 12. Start by joining two blocks by one side -- allow about a 1-inch (2.52-cm) seam allowance. Continue this process until you have six rows of 12 blocks each. Then, sew the rows together, again with a 1-inch (2.52 cm) seam allowance. When all of the rows are sewn together, use scissors to trim the excess fabric at the seams [source: Quilting].

To add a little pizzazz to your rag quilt, tie bits of yarn in every other block. To do this, sew a piece of yarn through all three layers of fabric at the center of the block. Then, tie each piece of yarn in a square knot [source: Qualheim]. For a fancier look, use ribbon instead of yarn.

For more information on creative crafting projects, check out the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Links

  • Craft Town. "Rug Braiding Instructions." (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • Heida, C. Jeanne. "How to Make Great Cleaning Rags." Associated Content: Home Improvement. March 7, 2008. (Accessed 4/13/09).
  • Idea Queen. "Using Scrap Fabric: Scrap Pillows." (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • Jane, Hester. "Cleaning Rags Made from Old Clothes." Fun In The Making. January 21, 2009. (Accessed 4/13/09).
  • Kahn, Jodi. "No-Sew Tote Bags: How-To." Martha Stewart. 2008. (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • Kahn, Jodi. "Place Mat Tote." myLifetime. July 8, 2008. (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • Kahn, Jodi. Simply Sublime Jodi Kahn's Blog. October 6, 2008. (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • Love to Know Crafts. "Quilting for Beginners." July 9, 2007. (Accessed 4/15/09).
  • Massard, Gloria. "Quilt Batting." Sew a Quilt. (Accessed 4/15/09).
  • Morely, Cat. "Fabric Ball Necklace." Cut Out + Keep. May 30, 2007. (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • Patterns That Fit You. "Scrap Tote Bag." (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • Qualheim, Beverly A. "How to Make an Easy Tied Quilt." Bev's Country Cottage. April 2008. (Accessed 4/15/09).
  • Savvy Seams. "Recycle Your Favorite T-Shirt Throw Pillow." (Accessed 4/14/09).
  • San Pedro, Eren. "Rag Rug Tutorial." This Vintage Chica. October 30, 2006. (Accessed 4/14/09).