Janome General-Leaderboard right

Facebook Twitter Sew4Home RSS Feed Follow Me on Pinterest Instagram


Honor Earth Day by Reusing Old Clothing

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Click to Enlarge

Spring is the best time to empty our closets of clothing we'll never (or shouldn't) wear again. Some of it can be donated or even sold, but what about the pieces that are flawed or frayed? Don't be too quick to toss these items into the trash. Instead salvage usable fabric, buttons, and zippers. Even thrift stores cut the buttons off of unusable clothing and sell them. Read on for some reuse ideas and how we took four men's shirts with various resale deal-breaker flaws and made a simple sweet baby quilt.

No one wants a shirt with a worn collar, a sweatshirt with a spaghetti sauce stain, or a sweater with a moth hole. So into the garbage they go. Not so fast. While you can't save every piece, most still have usable parts and pieces that can avoid the landfill and save you dollars in the future.

Divide and Conquer

  • Go through your closets and pull out everything you don't want to wear again for whatever reason: size, style or damage.
  • Make a stack to donate (or take to a resale shop).
  • What remains is your opportunity pile.
    TIP: Keep a basket in your closet to store clothing that is no longer something you'll wear. Don't put it back in the drawer or re-hang. When the basket is full, deal with it. It will free up space and you won't have to rethink your discard decision.

Sort Your Opportunity Pile

  • Sweatshirts and sweatpants make great cleaning and polishing rags. All-cotton is best. Cut up into usable sections, removing seams. These soft rags will also help you reduce your reliance on paper towels for cleanup. Save working zippers – long heavy-duty zippers are expensive to buy and can be sized down as needed for future projects.
  • Blankets and sheets, while not clothing, are included because they are the other other big source of reusable household fabric. Blankets with holes or worn edges can be made into smaller blankets or used as backing for small quilts. Simply bind the edges with pretty cotton prints. Cut blankets into the largest pieces you can for storage. Sheets can be turned into clothing, or made into soft pillowcases or quilt backs.
  • Jeans that are beyond a desirable 'destroyed' look, can be cut to make shorts. If the top part is usable, it can also be turned into a trendy skirt by adding a simple gathered length of soft cotton or chiffon. At the very least, save the heavy duty zippers! They can be reused in future sewing or repair projects and also be rolled into zipper flowers you can use to embellish a little clutch or used as a brooch. Jean jackets can be turned into pillows, or cut short for a cropped fit – let the edges fray in the wash.
  • Woven shirts wear unevenly. Most have perfectly good, and often beautiful fabric that can be reused in many ways. They are lovely for making quilts. Small pieces are perfect for doll clothes or fabric for children to use in sewing. Be sure to save the buttons. Buttons come in handy if you need to replace one that is lost, but they also can be used as embellishment as we did on our table topper.  
    TIP: before you cut off the fabric content tag, separate into cotton, cotton-poly blend, silk, rayon, etc.
  • T-Shirts can be turned into soft quilts and pillows. If they have a graphic, it makes it that much more interesting and can become a memory quilt of sorts. Knits make great clothing for children; you can salvage a lot of fabric from an adult tee. The softest cleaning cloths come from old t-shirts. There are companies that turn old white tees into cleaning rags and sell by the box; check your recycling center for options.
  • Sweaters with moth holes can be repaired if you really love the sweater. If not, many people are searching for old wool sweaters for felting. Felting in a hot washer/dryer process causes most holes disappear. So, don't be too sure you can't donate these.
  • Socks can achieve that second life too. When traveling, slide your shoes or flip flops into old socks. Old cotton socks slip over your hand to make quick dust cloths. As known escape artists, socks often become loners and the really cute ones can become sock puppets, storage bags and jar cozies.
  • Belts made of webbing and leather have many uses in future bags as shoulder straps, or to roll up a stadium blanket. Cut down to make children's belts. If the belt is shot, keep the hardware and use it to remake a simple belt from new webbing.

Men's Shirt Baby Quilt

During the Great Depression, people didn't throw anything away. My own grandmother learned lifelong habits from those days. She made many truly gorgeous quilts from old clothing, rarely bought a new button, and made use of every inch of the embroidery floss she so prolifically used. For years, I had a quilt on my bed that she'd made from discards. I used to look at it and try to guess what the little patches had been. Pillows, table runners, napkins – most had a past life. After years of being a throw-away society, it's time to get some of the old reuse mentality back into our everyday thinking.

Click to Enlarge

In honor of Earth Day, we took four men's shirts in shades of blue (three long-sleeve and one short sleeve) and cut them into 7" x 7" squares. The backing fabric is a section of an old flannel sheet.

Click to Enlarge

Save the buttons for future projects.

Click to Enlarge

Each of these shirts had problems, worn cuffs and/or collars, torn seam, ink stains, etc. Yet, there was plenty of like-new fabric to make a sweet baby quilt. In fact, these four shirts produced enough fabric to make two baby quilts.

This is a simple patchwork using an old flannel sheet for backing. Cut thirty-six 7" x 7" squares. Patchwork together using a ½" seam allowance, following our pattern or one of your choice. This will make a 36-inch square quilt. You can, however, make it as large or small as you'd like by changing the number of rows.


Click to Enlarge

With right sides facing, pin patchwork and flannel together. Sew around the edges using a ½" seam allowance, leaving a gap of about 4" for turning. Turn and press, slipstitch opening closed.

Add a tie at each patchwork intersection, using embroidery floss. Double-knot and clip excess floss to about ½" from the knot.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

You can also follow the instructions in our baby blanket tutorials.

Add Your Reuse Ideas

What clever ideas do you have for reusing old clothing? Add your ideas to the comments section below and help us find more ways to reduce consumption and add unnecessarily to landfills.



Project Design and Sample Creation: Alicia Thommas


Comments (29)

bejou60954 said:
bejou60954's picture

So glad to see you are promoting "reusing" and "recycling."  As I read this page, I remembered the quilt my grandmother made for me--all scraps from our used clothing as well as the sewing scraps left from the many items of clothing she made for us.  I am a quilter, but many times when I buy fabric to make a quilt, I am reminded that our grandmothers made beautiful quilts, but without frequenting the fabric stores.

brentprim said:
brentprim's picture

Would love ideas on how to re-cycle NFL sweatshirts (our fav. team).

31888vicky said:
31888vicky's picture

just looking into this as want to try and make one for my baby niece. I don't understand how they get no seams on both sides.... help??

alicia.thommas said:

@31888vicky: I'm not certain I understand your question, but perhaps you missed this key step:

With right sides facing, pin patchwork and flannel together. Sew around the edges using a ½" seam allowance, leaving a gap of about 4" for turning. Turn and press, slipstitch opening closed.

31888vicky said:
31888vicky's picture

so it doesn't matter what the underside looks like then? can you add wool felt in it to add padding ?

alicia.thommas said:

@31888vicky: The back of the quilt uses a soft flannel and all of the edges are finished, so I'm not sure what you mean when you say "it doesn't matter what the underside looks like." This is the standard way to make a tied quilt where you see neat little stitches at even intervals on the backside. It's lightweight and soft and the flannel adds some warmth without bulk, however, you could certainly add a layer of thin batting inside if you choose. Too much loft is not recommended for babies.

cindynvb said:
cindynvb's picture

Check out Bonnie Hunter's site.


Scroll down about halfway down the page and watch the demo on how to "de-bone" a shirt to reuse it for quilting fabric.  She has a couple of books featuring patterns using old shirts. Check out her blog:  quiltville.blogspot.com Great site!!

RebeccaNC said:
RebeccaNC's picture
I have been going through and using old shirts, pajamas, sheets, jeans and blankets along with various scraps to make my pets some beds. They are all patchworked in no set pattern but my cats and dog don't care.
I've also turned the flat sheets that my kids never use from the sheet sets into fitted sheets. Saves me money and everyone here is happy to have extra sheets.

I also un-knitted 9is that a real term) a favorite sweater that had become too moth eaten and will re-knit into other items like a scarf and hat set.

And this has me looking at all those wedding and prom dresses in the goodwill stores - I see many ways of reusing all that gorgeous material for pillows, skirts, etc.
alaskagrl said:
alaskagrl's picture
Just came across this post - what a great idea! My Grandpa recently passed away. He was always dressed in a nice button down shirt - I think these would make great memory quilts for each of his grandkids. :-)
Hilary Marshall said:
Hilary Marshall's picture
I love this idea, have made my daughter a bag from denim jeans before and used 30 pure silk ties of my husbands to make a beautiful patchwork tote bag for me.
Natty said:
Natty's picture
Funnily enough I did a similar thing after my dad passed away. My mum had a bunch of shirts that she couldn't bear to part with so I made her a memory pillow from them. I also made small hanging hearts and various other bits and pieces so that his things were still in the family. The Quilt is a lovely idea, I adore anything that makes you wonder where each piece came from smilies/smiley.gif
jenniffer said:
jenniffer's picture
I love this idea. I just recently started saving tshirts and sheets to make projects out of. it's great!
Sindy said:
Sindy's picture
I saved my daughters fathers shirts from when she was little (when we were married). When she had her first Child I made a quilt out of them similar to your quilt. Though we weren't married any longer my caughter and her dad were blown away by the quilt.
seaside45 said:
seaside45's picture
JUST cleaned out my closet yesterday! Have piles of unwanted, unwearable stuff. I'm so glad I checked in with Sew4Home this a.m. And now I want to get at my husband's shirts!
dragicap...made by me ... said:
dragicap...made by me ...'s picture
I like this job.Excellent idea and good way to meke somthing new for old.Super!
Allison E. (allycat79225) said:
Allison E. (allycat79225)'s picture
This is a great idea. I just love coming to this site every morning to find out whats new. I find myself making more time for sewing.
Elnora said:
Elnora's picture
Lovely tutorial! I've been using discarded jeans and jean skirts to make totes and cell phone purses. I also recently found an embroidered denim women's jacket at a sale for $1. I made a wonderful purse out of it, lined with soft chambray from a thrift store dress.

I always incorporate the patch pockets into my designs. Sometimes I cut them out and applique them onto the lining or exterior fabric.

Recycle, re-use. It's fun!
Muriel said:
Muriel's picture
I saw a tutorial on how to use old t-shirt to make a baby bib. Very clever. Being an Army wife, I think that it is the perfect gift for those moms to be whose husbands are deployed.
diana phipps said:
diana phipps's picture
I love it- often the fabric is hardly worn and stained areas are easily avoided as you said.

I use the legs of old jeans to turn into the yoga bags. It works best with mens straight or comfort cut style. Just check your yoga bag will fit into the leg.

Snip off legabout an inch below the crotch. cut circle the diameter of the leg cuff and insert. Cut co-ordinating pocket and strap out and attach. At the open top make a casting adn insert cording ribbon, lacing or shreeded jeans to pull top clsed.
This is an easey project that is great to use up old jeans. They can also be heavily glammed up with embroidery, crystals, buttons etc.
Luz Mizhquiri said:
Luz Mizhquiri's picture
I actually Made a small Quilt from some t-shirts many years ago,and didn't finish it,but the funny thing is that today I deside to finish it and as soon i turn my FB i saw this,hahahaha another little message that i must finish it!!! and this was my first quilt!!! thanks smilies/smiley.gif
lizziejohns said:
lizziejohns's picture
My mother used to make us cut off buttons and rip out zippers. We also made quilts with good pieces of otherwise worn out clothing. I swore I would never do it again, but looks like I will now. This is what people used to do during the depression, and with today's economy it's more important than ever to look for ways to save a bit of money. Thanks for all the reminders.
BethannM said:
BethannM's picture
Never mind! I see on your home page that it says it's a baby quilt.
Dulcepatchwork said:
Dulcepatchwork's picture
It's beautiful, i am delighted with the idea!!..
I will make it. Hugs..