Not sure what to do with that old T-shirt in your drawer? Consider upcycling it – the most stylish way to makeover your old clothes.
What is upcycling? In short, it’s when you modify something and turn it into something new. As a result, these products or materials have a longer lifespan. But, why is it important to upcycle clothes, in particular?
One big reason: fashion production comprises 10-percent of global carbon emission each year. This figure is equivalent to the carbon emission produced yearly by the entire European Union. So, instead of heading down to the next sale, why not give your wallet (and the planet!) a break – and learn how to upcycle your old clothes.
If you’re not sure where to start, not to worry. We’ve got you covered with lots of clothes upcycling ideas you can do today. Some of these don’t even require any sewing!
Click to jump to upcycling projects for…
1. Tie-dye that old tee
Got an old T-shirt you can’t bear to throw away? Try tie-dyeing it for a fun, casual top that’ll be an instant statement piece. All you need is a bucket of water, some dye and elastic bands plus your favourite white or light-coloured T-shirt. (In the spirit of keeping things eco-friendly, try using natural dyes!)
Follow the instructions outlined here and experiment by tying your shirts into creative designs. After 45 minutes or so, remove the garment and be amazed by the kaleidoscope-esque patterns that have emerged. (Psst! This works with darker coloured shirts as well. Just substitute bleach for dye.)
Materials available here.
2. Refashion an off-the-shoulder top
Off-the-shoulder tops are a great way to change up the go-to T-shirt and denim shorts combo. Instead of splurging on designer wear or indulging in fast fashion, raid your own closet to upcycle clothes for a new style! All you need is a button-down shirt of your choice.
Then, to upcycle it, simply do up the two buttons that cover your bust, pull the shirt down your shoulders and tie the loose ends into a bow. (Read more detailed instructions here.) Alternatively, you could also tuck the loose ends into your bottoms. Finish the outfit with a pair of sandals and denim cutoff shorts.
3. Make your own “choker” T-shirt
If you feel like real chokers are, well, choking you, here’s a better idea: Elevate a basic scoop-neck tee into a top with built-in choker.
Best of all? When you upcycle your own clothes, you have the option to customise them to your personal liking. This means that you can vary the width and depth of the opening and make the top bespoke to your measurements. Grab a pair of scissors and follow the easy instructions listed here.
4. Rework an old polo into a boat neck top
Not sure what to do with that old polo shirt that no longer fits right? Give it a second life and follow this tutorial to convert it into a classy boat neck blouse.
Essentially, the project centres around removing the polo’s collar and changing the neckline into a boat neck. Full disclosure: This upcycling tutorial does require quite a bit of sewing, so we recommend you proceed only if you know your way around needle and thread.
5. Transform that old tee into a cardi
For this clothes upcycling project: Just grab a cosy long-sleeve tee (or even a sweatshirt) and get snipping away. All you need to do is lay down the shirt and draw a line down its center. Use a good pair of fabric scissors to avoid frayed edges and cut along the line. Then, take a button of your choice and sew it along the sides of the cardigan and voila!
6. Make a bow-back tank top
Here’s an clothes upcycling project that’s the definition of “no sew, no hassle”. You can use either an old T-shirt or tank top, just make sure that it fits well so that the peek-a-boo holes don’t sag. Place the shirt facing down on a flat surface and follow the instructions explained here. We love wearing this during workouts to show off that stylish sports bra or as a bikini cover-up.
7. Add some studs to your shorts
Adding clothing studs to your garments is a stylish and edgy way of spicing up that basic pair of denim cutoffs (and way cheaper than buying them new at the mall). Purchase a pack of studs for less than $5 from your local craft store or various online stores. Simply mark your desired pattern on your shorts, and use a butter knife to help seal the studs.
Materials available here.
8. Transform old jeans into shorts
Turning your old jeans into cutoff shorts may seem like a no-brainer way to upcycle old clothes, but the process involved can actually be a tad more complicated than just snipping off excess denim.
Our tip? Less is more! You can always cut away more fabric if your shorts are short enough. But it’s much harder to make amends once you go too short. In addition, a good pair of fabric scissors will help reduce jagged edges. Alternatively, you could also cuff up or distress the raw pants edge for a different look.
9. Rework an old shirt into a tote bag
Functional and fashionable, the tote bag is the ideal carrier for a busy mom, on-the-go college student or even as a eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags at the grocery store. You can turn your favourite old T-shirt into a fun new bag — with just a pair of scissors! This project is so easy, even the kids can get involved. Follow the simple instructions outlined here and give your old shirt a second life.
10. Make some DIY schrunchies
Bring the ’90s back into your wardrobe by making your own scrunchie collection! This project is especially good for upcycling clothes that have been stretch out or shrunk over the years — not to mention being a fashionable throwback. If you know your way around a needle and thread, try following this tutorial. For those that have no idea what a blanket stitch is (don’t worry, we didn’t either), fret not! There’s a no-sew tutorial that uses hot glue instead.
11. Add iron-on patches to existing garments
Talk about a fast way to add some flair to an old jacket, pair of jeans or even a purse! But, fair warning: This idea so easy, it might just make you want to personalise everything you own.
All you need to do is place the patch on your garment, add a thin cloth over it for protection (something like a pillowcase or damp towel works great) and iron away. We find that iron-on patches work the best on cotton and polyester, so do check the labels on your items before you start.
Materials available here.
12. Turn your old necklaces into embellishments
Don’t know what to do with that string of faux pearls that have now gone out of style? With a few adjustments, you can turn it into a fashionable additional for your favourite shirt or cardigan. Simply unstring the beads and get creative! You could use them as a classy additional to a plain sweater, or use them as substitutes for clothing buttons.
13. Rework all that scrap fabric
Now that you’ve upcycled your closet, you’ve got a new problem: What are you doing to do with all that excess fabric? The possibilities are endless! Got some fabric with a pretty patterns? Try turning them into shoelaces and elevate your sneaker game. For those garments with sentimental value, make them over into meaningful gifts like a fabric bookmark for a one-of-a-kind present your loved one will treasure.
By Sabrina Ng, August 2021
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