Ultimate Guide to Recycled T-Shirt Crafts

With a little crafting, these colorful T-shirts could decorate your bed, couch or floor.
With a little crafting, these colorful T-shirts could decorate your bed, couch or floor.
iStockphoto.com/Carla Lisinski

You probably have a favorite T-shirt. You know the one you've worn until it's holey and ragged. Maybe it's from your first concert or your favorite vacation spot. Maybe it's your team's old logo, or a college favorite from decades ago. Either way, you can't bear to part with it. Unfortunately, your family also can't bear to be seen with you when you're wearing it.

The flip side is that you probably also have a drawer full of T-shirts that you never wear. You know the ones -- they have some corporate logo on them, so you never really wear them out. You got them free at some event or contest, and while they never see the light of day, they're brand new so you don't want to throw them away.

A great compromise for all those T-shirts is to recycle them. For your favorites, a pillow can have a great new design of your favorite band displayed proudly across the front. For the T-shirts you never wear, chances are the company logo is at the top and you can leave it out of your pattern. You can even accent your designs with buttons, lace or paint, or just curl up with that super soft vintage T.

This article will show you just a few of the many crafts you can create from your recycled T-shirts, from pillows to rags to rugs. Your entire bedding set could be constructed from all your old sports Ts, as you'll learn how to make T-shirt pillows and a T-shirt quilt.

So before you sneak off and throw away your family's aging T-shirts, consider the crafting potential. The design possibilities are limited only by your wardrobe, so raid your closet, grab your T-shirts, and read on.

Recycled T-Shirt Pillows

One of the best uses for a funky old T-shirt is to recycle it into a T-shirt pillow, and it only requires a few materials to make.

To construct your own recycled T-shirt pillow, you'll need:

  • A T-shirt
  • Stuffing (fiber fill, beans, old rags or an old pillow without a cover)
  • Thread and needle (or a sewing machine or some craft glue)
  • Scissors
  • A measuring tape
  • A chalk pencil
  • A zipper (optional) [sources: Savvy Seams, Craft Bits]

First, mark the dimensions of your T-shirt with the chalk pencil. If you're using stuffing, you can make the dimensions to your liking. If you're covering in old pillow, however, you'll have to measure it to be sure you cut the fabric correctly. Leave about a half-inch (1.27 cm) all around for the seams [source: Mahoney]. Flip your pieces inside out -- so the seams will be on the inside of your pillow -- and sew three and a half sides. A sewing machine will look the cleanest, but you can always do it by hand. Flip it right side out, fill the pillow with stuffing, and then sew the final portion. If you are using an old pillow as your filling, you'll most likely want to use a zipper for one side, so follow the directions that come with the zipper you purchased.

If you want to make this project simple, many people actually make their T-shirt pillows with the neck and sleeves still attached so that it looks a like a T-shirt-shaped pillow. In this case, you don't need to cut or measure anything, and you can even try to use craft glue to close the open holes instead of a needle and thread [source: Craft Bits].

What if that shirt's in really poor condition? Or maybe your couch is overflowing with throw pillows. Read on to discover another recycled T-shirt craft.

Recycled T-Shirt Rags

One could easily argue that you can never have too many rags around the house. The multipurpose wiping instrument is much more eco-friendly than its paper counterpart, and in some cases, a much better choice. Soft rags -- like one you can make from your old T-shirt -- are less likely to scratch certain surfaces like a paper towel might. And have you ever tried to scrub a stain on your clothes with a damp paper towel, only to have the paper disintegrate all over you? It doesn't help to remove a stain if you're adding papery bits instead.

There are many ways to make a T-shirt rag. The easiest? Simply throw that old T-shirt into your rag bin and be done. At the very least, however, you should cut it at the seams and remove the hems of the neck, arms and waist. You may also want to consider sewing two layers -- or more -- together to get a thicker, more absorbent rag.

A fancier version of the T-shirt rag is to crochet a woven rag together. Start by cutting your T-shirt into strips -- they will be your "thread." If the shirt is long, be sure to cut the strips vertically. The longer the strips, the less work it is for you later to tie them all together. Be sure to cut the strips the same width, as your final product will end up lopsided if the strips aren't similar.

Alternately, you can also cut your shirt vertically with the seams still in, creating a loop. Link them together with a snug slip knot, and keep looping them together until you have enough to start crocheting [source: Crazy Mom Quilts]. You can also create one big string by starting at the bottom and cutting around in a continuous circle, stretching your strip all the way to the arm holes, giving you one of the longest strips possible [source: Drieu]. Once you have your strips, you're ready to crochet.

You've mastered the rag and you want something bigger. Read on to learn how to make a recycled T-shirt rug.

Recycled T-Shirt Rugs

Do you love your old T-shirts, or do you hate them? Answer that question first before you think about making a recycled T-shirt rug, because if you love them, there's one way to do it, and if you hate them, there's another.

If you love your T-shirts, you'll want to keep them intact. To make this kind of rug, you'll need:

  • T-shirts
  • Pins
  • Needle
  • Thread

Begin the project by arranging your T-shirts on the floor in any pattern you wish. Start with a couple shirts and build the "pattern" until you have a size and design you like. Once you've settled on a design, pin all of the shirts together to hold them in place until you start sewing. Then, begin sewing each of the shirts together. You should then go back and sew all of the armholes and neck holes shut to ensure that no one trips over them.

This kind of rug can get pretty busy, so it's best used in a simple room. Otherwise, it can look like you just left all of your clothes on the ground. You may also want to consider putting a backing on it to help ensure it keeps its shape.

If you really hate your old T-shirts, you don't want to flaunt the designs everywhere. Instead, you can destroy them and then reuse them in a nicely crocheted T-shirt rug.

To make this kind of rug, you'll need:

  • T-shirts
  • Scissors
  • A crochet hook

This process follows much of the same idea detailed on the previous page of making T-shirt rags. You should cut the shirts into strips and crochet them together just like you would any yarn or fabric. If you plan on making a simple doormat, you can get by with about three large shirts [source: Craft Stylish]. An area rug, however, could take 20 shirts or more, so start collecting [source: Crazy Mom Quilts].

If you're looking for something to match your new T-shirt pillow and T-shirt rug, you might want to consider a recycled T-shirt quilt. Keep reading to discover how to make one.

Recycled T-Shirt Quilts

One of the best ways to show off your many old T-shirts is by turning them into a super soft T-shirt quilt. Many people even choose to make "theme" quilts, using all their old vacation shirts, sorority wear or child's sports jerseys.

To make a recycled T-shirt quilt, you'll need:

  • T-shirts
  • Interfacing
  • Backing
  • Fabric for sashing and borders (optional)
  • Batting (optional)

First, decide on the layout of your T-shirts. Lay them out and view them together. Consider the colors and designs as you create your arrangement. Fuse the interfacing to your T-shirts per the manufacturer's instructions. Cut all of your T-shirts to the same size blocks. It's a good idea to use a piece of cardboard to create a template so you don't have to measure every time. If you're including sashing, make sure to leave some extra room so the sashing doesn't cover up the T-shirt designs.

You can begin sewing at one corner, and then go in either rows or columns along your quilt. Once you have finished, you may want to layer with batting and then the backing. If you're using a heavier backing, like flannel, you can skip the batting.

Now you have a bunch of great projects that will help you recycle some old clothes and free up some drawer space. Grab your favorite shirts and start sewing. To learn more, visit the links on the following page.

Related HowStuffWorks Links

Sources

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  • Campus Quilt Company. "T-Shirt Pillow." (Accessed 4/10/09)http://www.campusquilt.com/order/t-shirt-pillow.html
  • Craft Bits. "T-shirt Pillow." (Accessed 4/10/09) http://www.craftbits.com/viewProject.do?projectID=568
  • Craft Stylish. "How to Crochet a Rug out of T-Shirts." January 13, 2009. (Accessed 4/10/09) http://www.craftstylish.com/item/39345/how-to-crochet-a-rug-out-of-t-shirts
  • Crazy Mom Quilts. "Rag Rug Tutorial." February 21, 2008. (Accessed 4/10/09) http://crazymomquilts.blogspot.com/2008/02/rag-rug-tutorial.html
  • Doctorow, Cory. "How to Make a T-shirt rug." Boing Boing. April 19, 2008. (Accessed 4/10/09) http://www.boingboing.net/2008/04/19/howto-make-a-tshirt.html
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  • Drieu, Natalie Zee. "Crochet T-Shirt Rag Rug." Craftzine. May 30, 2007. (Accessed 4/10/09) http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2007/05/crochet_tshirt_rag_rug.html
  • Mahoney, Kelli. "T-Shirt Pillow." Thrifty Fun. (Accessed 4/10/09) http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf538049.tip.html
  • PBS Kids. "T-shirt Pillow." (Accessed 4/10/09) http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/do/tshirtpillow.html
  • Savvy Seams. "Recycle Your Favorite T-Shirt Throw Pillow." (Accessed 4/10/09) http://www.savvyseams.com/apt/tpillow.php
  • Sipper, R. Ann. "Recycled Craft Project: Free T-Shirt Pillow Covers Anyone Can Make." Associated Content. January 31, 2007. (Accessed 4/10/09) http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/132143/recycled_craft_project_free_tshirt.html?cat=24
  • Straw. "Tee Shirt Quilt - How to." (Accessed 4/10/09) http://www.straw.com/quilting/articles/teequilts_how.html
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