Clothes Upcycling 101

by Rachel Smyth

Around the world, an enormous amount of clothing and textiles are wasted every day. As a result, more and more people are choosing to buy less and donate or swap unwanted clothes. But what about those pieces that have gone beyond wearable? 

Good news: there are plenty of ways that you can upcycle and jazz up your preloved pieces to create useful items you’ll love even more. In the last edition of Evergreen Magazine, I shared my own journey into sustainable sewing. This time, I’ve compiled some easy projects to help you get started too. Take inspiration from the DIY ideas below to transform your old clothes into zero waste essentials (and save some money at the same time!). 

Don’t want to repurpose your clothes completely? Here are some quick ideas before you start:

  1. Try some visible mending: There are countless creative ideas online for adding flair to your favourite garments while fixing holes and tears. 
  2. Add a pop of colour: Brighten up greyish whites with a natural dye- you’d be surprised how many everyday ingredients can be used to make a lasting dye. I’d recommend turmeric for yellow and avocado stones for light pink (yes, really). 
  3. Crop, chop and bedazzle: Channel your inner Project Runway and become the fashion designer of your dreams. Just try to avoid a wardrobe malfunction by getting too enthusiastic with the scissors…

Reusable Makeup Remover Pads

Reusable makeup pads are a great way to move away from disposable cotton ones, and I find them even better at removing that stubborn mascara! For this quick project, all you’ll need is an old towel or face cloth for one side and some soft cotton or flannel for the other side:  pyjamas or a flannel shirt would be ideal. For all these projects, a simple sewing kit will work perfectly fine, but a sewing machine will speed up the process if you have it.

1. First, cut out a square of flannel and a square of towel material, 1cm bigger than you want the pad to be. 

2. Next, put your squares right side together and do a running stitch or backstitch all around, 1cm from the edge. Leave a small gap to turn them the right way around. 

3.Clip your corners to reduce bulk and turn them inside out, before ironing and stitching closed the opening. 

It’s great to keep a stack of these on hand for when you need them. Just rinse and pop them in a delicates bag in the washing machine when they’re dirty. 

Furoshiki Gift Wrap

This project is super versatile and simple to make. It is based on the Japanese tradition of furoshiki, a pretty square of fabric that can be used to wrap gifts of all shapes and sizes. They can also be transformed into a variety of forms- from bags to scarves to bandanas. Check out the Spoonflower YouTube channel for tutorials on how to wrap gifts with furoshiki. 

  1. Find a garment with a surface area large enough for the wrap you want to make. This could be a gathered skirt, large t- shirt or silky scarf. 
  2. Cut out a square as big as you need. 
  3. If you want to finish the edges (not necessary for stretchy fabric) either use zig-zag scissors or turn down the edge and stitch all the way around.

 A furoshiki wrap prevents the waste of non-recyclable wrapping paper and is much easier to use for those awkward shapes. They are also a great addition to gifts as the recipient can reuse them for whatever they like. So why not make a few in preparation for this holiday season? 

T-Shirt Tote Bag

This one is no-sew! All you need is an old t-shirt and a pair of scissors. 

  1. Lay the t-shirt flat and carefully cut off the sleeves and neckline, along the curves. 
  2. Cut even slits about an inch apart all along the bottom of the tee. Longer strips will produce longer tassels and a shorter bag, while shorter strips will do the opposite.
  3. Finally, tie each strip to the corresponding strip on the other side and then each of these sets to the set beside. 

This will close up the bottom, with the remainders of the strips hanging off like tassels.

Now go forth and buy your groceries, no plastic bags in sight! Hopefully some of the ideas above will help you to see your unwanted clothes in a new way! Finally, for any fabric scraps or failed projects that won’t be used (it happens to the best of us), check your area for textile recycling banks that will take them ( has a full list). Let’s keep those textiles out of landfill once and for all and create a sustainable, circular system.

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