Upcycle Style: crafty hacks that breathe new life into old clothes

I don’t know about you but I have a lot of clothes — too many really. I’m not always sure where they came from. I don’t even buy that much — except exercise gear, because hot yoga — but between semi-regular swap hauls, thrifting, unexpected gifts, and my inability to let go it seems my closet’s always bulging at the seams. It’s almost like the sweater from the consignment shop got it on with my vintage Lee’s and now there’s a whole litter of t-shirts and day dresses that need attention. Except that doesn’t happen. Right? Right.

In any case, I have a lot of clothes. Whether secondhand or not, too much is still too much. So whenever my wardrobe gets out of hand I have a few tried and true solutions to help curb the insanity. I’ve always been a big fan of donating, swapping, or reselling excess stuff but my favourite, FAVOURITE way to lighten my load is to repurpose the old, tired bits into new and useful things. It makes me feel pretty great knowing I can breathe new life into something old, keep it out of the landfill and save the need for another new thing. I mean, I know it’s important for communities and countries to take collective action to protect the environment but on days when the enormity of it all becomes overwhelming I find solace knowing the little things we all do individually — like making new pillows from old sweaters, or using less energy — make a real difference when you add them all up. And on those days I remember — and you should too — that however insignificant we feel our efforts, if you’re making one at all — you’re doing pretty alright.

But since I find myself — once again — approaching another closet-cull I’ve been on the hunt for new recycling projects to try. And, since you might want to try your hand at crafty clothes hacks of your own I thought I’d share a few upcoming projects I’ve planned, below. Be sure to let me know how it goes if you give them a try!

Reusable Produce Bag

T-shirt produce bag. Photo: inhabitat.com

With nothing more than an old t-shirt, scissors, and basic sewing supplies (or sewing machine if you have one) you can make produce bags that double as a perfect solution for carrying sandals and sunscreen to the beach. I found a great tutorial on the craft blog, Delia Creates. I have a feeling once I make one it’ll be followed by more because C-U-T-E.

Recycled Denim Coasters

Denim coasters. Photo: My Recycled Bags

This simple project repurposes the inside hem of an old pair of jeans into a coaster for your favourite mug — or if you go big with a second, or third, pair — to create a potholder instead. In either case, you’ll just need jeans to cut the hems off of, sharp scissors, a strong needle, sturdy thread, and some fabric glue. Green craft blog My Recycled Bags has a fantastic step-by-step tutorial that‘s easy to follow. I’m pumped to try this one — I love the texture of the finished piece, and I’m enamoured with how each coaster is uniquely coloured according to the wash of the donor jeans.

Remade Toddler Dress

Toddler dress. Photo: Refab Diaries

A lot of my family and a few friends are in that stage of life where they keep having babies. No joke. There’s at least 6 on the way — not imminently — as I type this how-to piece. As every mom knows, babies tend to go through clothes, especially things like onesies, faster than we can even keep up. I’m planning to try this upcycle out to make 1st birthday gifts for their dress-wearing babies — using a favourite retired (wide) onesie and an old (adult) tee. Refab Diaries, a refashioning blog, has an easy to follow post that shows how to turn the onesie and the tee into an adorable toddler dress. If it works like I think it should, next I’ll try making a dress out of an old tank top and skirt for me.


Robyn McNeil is a Nova Scotia-based freelance writer, bartender, and editor of the Whole Family Happiness Project. She lives in Halifax, with her son and a penchant for really strong tea, yoga, hammocks, and hoppy beer.

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