Thrifty Uses for Old T-Shirts

In 2010, the average US household spent, on average, $1700 on clothing and footwear. This is a considerable 3.5% of average annual expenditure. It’s a lot of money, and perhaps it would be fine, if we were wearing it.

A recent UK survey found that around 30% of clothing in wardrobes in the UK has not been worn in over a year, and that the cost of this unused clothing is around £30 billion.

Now, assuming that we’re as bad as the Brits, a quick calculation tells me that means in the US we have – wait for it – over $704 billion worth of clothing just left hanging in our collective wardrobes.

Seems sensationalist, I’ll admit, but it’s enough to make any cash-conscious individual start to squirm uncomfortably.

It’s a huge waste, and extremely bad value. So what should you do with all of those unwanted outfits? Well, to try and regain some value from clothing that’s unworn, old, or just doesn’t fit, you could try upcycling it to turn it into something of worth. Not only will it put to good use the clothes that you’re wasting, it might actually save you money by making something you otherwise would have paid for.

So with that in mind, here are three thrifty uses for old t-shirts and clothing that will help you squeeze every cent out of your hard earned dollars.

T-shirt Shag Rug

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T-shirt shag rugs are extremely easy to make and look great. This version uses rug canvas for a professional finish, but to save even more cash you could also use a large old t-shirt as the base of your rug.

You will need:

  • Rug Canvas (available at most craft stores)

  • Old t-shirts
  • Scissors
  1. Cut your rug canvas to the size that you want.

  2. Cut old t-shirts (monochrome, multi colored, whatever you like!) into 1″ by 4″ strips.
  3. Starting in the corner of your rug canvas, tie strips to form shag using a lark’s head knot (fold strip in half to make loop, insert one end of loop down through a square in your rug canvas, then up again through the next square along, insert loose ends into loop and pull tightly).
  4. Continue along the row until complete, and then move on to the next row, working methodically until you have covered the entire canvas.

There are a variety of different ways to make rugs using old clothing, some with quite effective results, but the above method is simple and, in my opinion, particularly charming.

T-shirt Tote

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We all know how bad plastic bags are for the environment, so this next item is great for saving money and the planet. You can cut your slits vertically or horizontally to make a beautiful, breathable bag, perfect for fresh produce.

You will need:

  • An old t-shirt

  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • A sewing machine
  1. Lay your t-shirt on a flat surface and cut the sleeves off. Make sure to do this on the sleeve side of the seam to keep your handles strong.

  2. Cut out the neck of your t-shirt (you can draw around a dinner plate if you want a perfectly round shape).
  3. Turn the t-shirt inside out and sew the bottom closed using a narrow zigzag stitch.
  4. Turn your bag the right way and lay it flat, then fold over the bottom of your bag so you have a 2″ fold.
  5. Starting about 2″ from the side, cut 1/2″ slits into your fold, about 1″ apart, until you reach 2″ from the other side.
  6. Fold the bottom of your bag up a further two inches, and repeat step 5, but this time cutting in between your previous slits.
  7. Continue until you are about 4″ from your neckline, again to ensure your bags handles stay strong.

This is just one of several ways to make a handy t-shirt tote, there are even some no-sew varieties out there for those who are a little needle-phobic. But however you make it, your tote will be useful and stylish, as well as pocket and eco-friendly.

Patchwork Pet Bed

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Pet accessories can be extremely expensive, especially when your pet is more likely to want to snuggle up on your sofa rather than on a dog/cat bed. So why not turn your old sweaters into a patchwork pet bed and save your pennies for something special?

You Will Need:

  • Some old sweaters

  • An old pillow
  • Scrap paper and tape
  • A ruler
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • A sewing machine
  1. Start by ‘felting’ any of your sweaters that are made from a natural fiber. This is done by placing them in a hot wash and then tumble drying, leaving you with a sturdy material perfect for quilting.

  2. Make a pattern for your cover by taping together the scrap paper to make a rectangle just larger than your pillow.
  3. Cut your sweaters into strips, squares and rectangles, and arrange on top of your pattern paper to create a patchwork effect.
  4. Once you’ve created your desired effect, you need to sew your pieces together. Take pieces that are side by side and place them right side together, pinning along the edge that you need to sew. Then, sew along the pinned edge, and continue sewing the straight edges of all your pieces together in this manner until you have completed the top of the pillow cover. Straighten up the edges with a ruler and scissors.
  5. The bottom of your pet bed can be a much simpler design. Cut two panels of material that, when laid side by side, are about 5″ wider than your pattern paper. Overlap the two pieces in the middle by the extra 5″ to create an envelope effect that will allow you to insert your pillow when the case is complete.
  6. Place the top of the case right-side up, then place the two panels right-side down on top, taking care that the center is still overlapping.
  7. Pin your case about 1″ in from the edge, all the way round, and sew around the entire rectangle, backstitching the corners for extra strength.
  8. Turn your case the right way around, and insert pillow.

This tutorial comes with pictures to help out, if you find the process a little difficult. But stick with it! The effort of patchworking really does pay off when you see the fantastic final effect.

So that’s it, three effective ways to make the most out of the clothes getting neglected at the back of your closet. And even if this doesn’t sound like you, and you wear all your clothes to death, why not get creative and extend the life of your tees when they become a bit tattered? Your bank balance will most certainly thank you for it.

Leann Farmer is a social media and customer experience manager at BlueCotton, a custom t-shirt design company. When not thinking up memorable and witty sayings to print on apparel, you can find her pinning away on Pinterest and thinking about creative uses for all the old t-shirts she’s accumulated.

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