6 Easy Ways to Upcycle Old Clothes

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written by:  Michelle Gunawan

editor's note:

Quarantine boredom led me to delve into many upcycling crafts that I wanted to share! I hope this article inspires you to explore the intersection between creative endeavors and environmental awareness.

Upcycling―the creative transformation of a used-up product into something that can be of value again. If you’re looking to upcycle your old clothing, you probably already know that it’s an excellent way to combat something called fast fashion.

If you are wondering, “but what is fast fashion really?”, here’s a quick breakdown: fast fashion manufactures and retails clothing at quick rates and low prices, making it widely accessible and affordable. 

However, fast fashion comes with huge costs―it has an extremely degrading impact on the environment and often violates its workers’ human rights. The fashion industry is notorious for exploiting both precious natural resources and millions of predominantly female POC garment workers. The environmental effects are disastrous. Not only does fast fashion promote overproduction and consumption―both dangerously unsustainable―but it also contributes to enormous amounts of waste. Annually, the average person throws away 81 lbs of clothing, and 11 million tons of clothing end up in landfills in the US alone! This doesn’t even cover water waste, plastic packaging, chemical pollutants, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Luckily, there’s a great alternative to buying into fast fashion: upcycling your old clothing! Refraining from contributing to the fashion industry can notably reduce your carbon footprint. Increasing the lifespan of your current wardrobe and buying second hand is great for the environment. There are tons of creative ways you can enhance and repurpose your old clothes, take advantage of these fabrics’ versatility, and make the most of what you have!

1. Cutting and Sewing

A pair of scissors, a needle, and a thread can easily transform a piece of clothing into something new entirely. Perhaps you’ve thrifted a t-shirt several sizes too large, or you own a pair of jeans that have always been too long on you. Simply cropping your clothing can suddenly make them fit better―and look trendier!

Similarly, cutting up the fabric of old clothes and sewing them together can create brand new pieces. Though sewing fabrics can be a little bit complicated, it is relatively easy to learn! You can also follow online guides that provide simple instructions and patterns that can be used to fix up an old shirt into a new tank top, sun hat, and much more.

2. Embroidery

The art of embroidery is easy to pick up and a great creative outlet. With just a needle, thread, and embroidery hoop, you can embroider any design you’d like onto your old clothing―a flower on a pair of jeans, the name of your hometown on a hoodie, the silhouette of your cat on an old bucket hat. Adding embroidery to your clothes will give them a personal touch of originality―transforming an unworn piece into something that you’ll be excited to begin incorporating into your outfits again!

3. Painting

This one’s pretty self-explanatory! Bring out your artistic side by painting graphics and designs of your choice onto old clothes. Just like embroidery, this allows you to personalize your clothes and give it a brand new look. Painting is a great way to cover up old spills and stains, or simply to brighten things up by adding a pop of color to your wardrobe. This works best when using acrylic paint on clothing of a thicker material, such as denim and canvas.

4. DIY Hair Materials: Scrunchies and More!

Do you have leftover fabric from cutting up an old t-shirt? Instead of letting them go to waste, turn them into a matching hairpiece. These pieces of fabric can easily be used to create a new scrunchie―with the help of an elastic and some sewing―or can even be turned into a headband. If you’re looking for a simpler means of creating a hair accessory, you can always just use these excess fabrics as a bow or ribbon extensions to a hair tie you already own.

5. DIY: Reusable Towels

If you have clothes that you don’t want to wear and simply cannot fix, a great alternative is to turn them into a reusable kitchen towel. Cut your clothing into square or rectangular pieces―based on your preference―and fold them up for storage in the kitchen. The kitchen is likely where a large waste of single-use tissues and towels take place. Use these reusable towels in place of unsustainable paper ones to clean up spills and wipe things clean. If you’re willing to take an extra step, you can easily sew a trim on the raw edges of the cloth―giving the towel a more store-bought appearance!

Beeswax Paper

6. DIY: Reusable Food Wraps

Similarly to making reusable towels, you can also turn your old clothes into reusable food wraps―specifically, beeswax food wraps! To make them, simply iron shreds of beeswax onto your desired fabric, wait for it to dry, and then they’re ready for use. These wraps are relatively easy to make and will save you from using single-use plastic food wraps every time you store your food. Over time, using these food wraps will save lots of plastic waste―both reducing your carbon footprint and giving your old clothes a new purpose.

written by:  Michelle Gunawan

editor's note:

Quarantine boredom led me to delve into many upcycling crafts that I wanted to share! I hope this article inspires you to explore the intersection between creative endeavors and environmental awareness.

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