The biggest obstacle I’ve encountered while trying to upcycle is finding a balance between time spent making a project with how much it’s worth. There are plenty of things I can do with old clothes, for instance, but I found many of the projects to be time-consuming, expensive, or just plain trashy-looking. I don’t say this to be discouraging, but to face the reality of the upcycling industry. There’s a reason you’ve never heard of a rich upcycler.
How can I upcycle old clothes in a way that’s not only worth the time and effort, but will ultimately pay off? Can it be done? I’m determined to find that out. Now, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from pursuing a fun upcycling project using old clothes. There are many things you can do and countless resources on the Internet. However, I want my projects to be useful, time efficient, and affordable. Fortunately, upcycling is the last step of processing clothing since many clothes that are discarded are still in good enough condition to sell or donate.
Whenever I’m tasked with discarding old clothes the first thing I do is try to sell it. There are several resale shops in my hometown, and every once in a while I get lucky and make some money. I could also sell many items online or through a yard sale. Once I get some products made, I’d like to open a flea market booth and see if I have any luck there.
Whatever I can’t sell, I will try to donate. There are numerous organizations eager to take gently used clothing. I’d like to be a part of my community and help out where I can. However, I don’t want to dump a bunch of junk on them that they’re unable to use which is why I always call before bringing in bags of clothing.
Finally, for the clothes that can’t be sold or donated, I want to find clever ways to repurpose them. There are tons of projects that involve upcycling old clothes from turning outdated garments into fashionable ones to stripping it into fabric and making rag rugs. I want my projects to be useful, practical, and affordable. These are some of the ideas I would like to attempt:
Mop Heads and Rags
One of the most obvious reuses for old clothes is to use them as cleaning supplies. I might not make money on this project, but it will prevent me from having to go out and buy new rags and mop heads.
Once I get a business up and running and make a name for myself, I’d like to make swag: t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other merch. With so many T-shirts out there from other businesses, why reinvent the wheel by starting new? I’d like to put my brand on T-shirts previously used for other companies. Old clothes can also be embellished and dyed to give them new life.
One of the most useful ways to upcycle shirts is to turn them into tote bags. Plastic bags at grocery stores are incredibly wasteful and opting for reusable ones can help keep our landfills clear. I want my tote bags to be durable and washable, too. I can’t wait to try this project.
Have you heard of hillbilly heat pads? At least that’s what we call them. They’re super easy to make and come in very handy if you’ve got pain or just want to be toasty. All you need is some rice and some fabric. The tutorial above lists all the steps.
After doing a little research about this awesome company called FABSCRAP, I became interested in their method for turning clothes into shoddy, which is basically a stuffing used in pillows. Why spend anymore money on cotton when I can make my own stuffing for pillows and other projects? Whether or not I can find the tools necessary to make it is yet to be determined, but I think it’s a process of cutting into bits and then shredding the material.
After my grandfather passed in the fall of 2021, one of his caretakers made us all a very sentimental gift out of his old shirts. It was such a sweet gesture. How hard could it be to make a pillow out of old clothes? This project can also be done with a variety of fabric and in different styles.
This might be one of the more complicated projects I would like to try. These rag rugs are so cool. I’ve already got a pile of old sheets that can’t be donated that would be perfect for a project like this. I’m worried it might be a little time-consuming though.
Everybody needs potholders and oven mitts. I’m sure I could make my own using old clothing. Some could be sewn simply enough, but I’d also like to learn how to crotchet. Fortunately, my mom is an expert. There are also no-sew options like the tutorial listed above.
There are many other projects that can be done with old clothing with varying degrees of tailoring skills. I’ve chosen these because they seemed like the most practical and the easiest. Here are more resources with upcycling ideas for your old clothes. Enjoy!