Upcycling T-Shirts


I missed the dress-up gene somewhere along the line. I go to conferences, I go to amusement parks, and I see people in business casual attire or dresses, going around in heels or other dress shoes, and all I can think of is, “How can they do that?” My work shoes are a dressy version of athletic shoes and if I could get away with jeans at work every day I would. As you can imagine, I have a ton of T-shirts and at some point they wear out. So what do you do with worn out T-shirts?


My tweens and teens often have t-shirts that have seen better days, or someone in their family has a t-shirt that can be sacrificed to the maker muses. When I have a t-shirt maker program, I make sure to point out that:

  • the program is free
  • everyone who wants to participate in the craft will need to bring X amount of shirts (some have taken two)
  • the shirts need to be old, worn, and won’t be missed
  • the shirts will never come back to their original state

T-shirt recreation programs often are a really easy program to run. I print out instructions so that everyone can have a set in front of them and make sure there are enough hard surfaces to go around as these programs often need a lot of space. More often than not I’ll have a movie running at the same time, especially as it’s always a struggle to find music that everyone will agree on. They love to have media going on in the background, and it just adds to the fun atmosphere.

The basic supplies that I’ve found as my go-to’s for t-shirt programs include:

  • scissors
  • chalk in a variety of colors
  • cross-stitch needles
  • embroidery thread
  • thimbles
  • sewing thread
  • buttons
  • puffy paint
  • fabric paint



Over on Hello Glowthey have step-by-step instructions on how to turn t-shirts into bracelets. They use paracord to create the contrasting colors within the bracelet; however teens could easily trade out t-shirt colors and replace the paracord.  Turn your tweens and teens loose on the internet and they can find a variety of different patterns for the braid and the clasp.


On Personal Creations there are over 30 upcycle ideas for old t-shirts. My favorite to do in the library has to be the no-sew pillow. It takes the best part of the t-shirt and turns it into something new that can be used over and over again. It’s also a favorite program to do with teens that are close to graduation as they can take a childhood favorite with them to a new place.


I talked about this the other day but you can definitely sharpie tie-dye older shirts. Lighter ones work better just so that the colors show up better. If you want to give the shirt new life there are plenty of options:

Have you done t-shirt upcycle programs? What have you done?

What do you think?

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