upcycle before: tee shirts

upcycle before: t-shirts

Good morning everyone! I’m Holly from Hamster and the Bee and I’m so excited to be contributing to this season of Kids Clothes Week! I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in KCW for a few years now, and an enthusiastic stalker for far longer. I absolutely love seeing all the wonderful clothes, and the warm, friendly community, that everyone creates. I can’t wait until February! For now, I’m here to share some information about t-shirts as a material for upcycling. Hopefully by the end of the week, you’ll be ready to get out there and gather up everything you might need to sew some clothes for the kiddos in your life!

T-shirts are seriously awesome upcycling candidates. They’re generally a jersey knit in 100% cotton, or a cotton-poly blend, which means that they are perfect for kids clothes – soft and washable. And bonus! They’re super easy to get your hands on! You probably have half a dozen or so in your closet right now that you haven’t worn in ages, just dying to be turned into something swanky for your kid. If you don’t have any in your own house, ask others. (I offered to take a few old t-shirts from my in-laws once, and they just keep coming and coming now!) And if you do have to leave the house and visit a thrift store, they’re cheap.

Just as Sarah said in her post about men’s shirts, when sourcing t’s, bigger is better! Small may be ok if you’re making something for a baby, but you’ll need more fabric the larger your kid is. Since t-shirts are so ubiquitous, you’ll have no trouble finding lots of great colors and patterns. And lots of them have a fun screen-printed graphic front-and-center, which can be utilized creatively when you cut out your pattern pieces. You could also choose to work with solid white t’s and overdye them, or solid colors and embellish. Just in case you don’t find the perfect color or pattern, I’ve included a round-up of embellishments on t-shirts that can be applied to lots of projects. There are so many ways to make your garment unique!


1.  kid painted tee, ailsa clarke 2. sharpie art shirts, delia creates
3. raised by wolves stencil, girl like the sea  4. car pajamas appliqué, skirt as top

One thing to keep in mind when working with t-shirts is that they are made from a knit fabric. This means that they will be stretchier than most woven fabrics, and you’ll need to sew them slightly differently than you would a woven fabric. There are so many amazing resources out there that explain sewing with knits incredibly well that I won’t take the time here, except to say, very briefly, that you should sew with a tiny zig-zag stitch. Don’t be intimidated – it really is that easy! And what better way to get acquainted with the humble material that makes up the majority of the garments in our closets than to practice on some inexpensive, upcycled t-shirts? That is exactly how I got started sewing with knits and now I am completely hooked!

Below is a list of great sites that give in-depth directions and tutorials for sewing with knits:
stretch yourself and the kniterviews, made by rae
a big list of tips for sewing knits, sewaholic
sewing with knits, very shannon

It’s probably pretty obvious that you could make a smaller t-shirt from a larger one by now. Any of the items above could be made using an upcycled t. The flashback skinny tee or recess raglan are both great, basic t-shirt patterns. But what about dresses and pants, you ask? Oh yes.. you can make both dresses AND pants! Here are just a few fabulous patterns and tutorials that would be perfect for upcycling t-shirts!


1. mini hudson pants, our family four 2. trapeze leggings tutorial, my poppet
3. playdate dress tutorial, craftiness is not optional 4. t-shirt to toddler dress, sugar tart crafts

One last note… I’ve been going on and on about t-shirts, but sweatshirts and sweaters are also great clothes for upcycling, and they can be treated in much the same ways as a t-shirt. Plus, they’re generally thicker and warmer than t’s, which is great for those of us in the depths of winter right now! Think cashmere…mmmm…

I hope you’re all starting to get some ideas… I’m off to my closet for upcycling inspiration and fabric shopping!

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  • Reply kristin January 14, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks for the feature!  I love upcycling old shirts/sweaters.  Cute stuff up there, everyone.

  • Reply Gretchen Miura January 14, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I love the girl like the sea`s wolf stencil!

  • Reply Renee //nearestthepin January 15, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Great inspiration Holly! The knit fabric offering where I live is a bit dire so if I want interesting prints, up cycling is a must 🙂

  • Reply Lightning McStitch January 15, 2015 at 6:20 am

    Oh I’ve had an idea for a multi-tiered skirt out of old T-shirts for so long now. You’ve inspired me to get onto it one day soon. lovely post

  • Reply Erin Keith January 18, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Excellent list, and I was so excited to see my kids in their Hudson pants on this post!! So fun. Actually, Hannah is wearing a Bimaa in that picture that was made by upcycling a sweater of mine. It was a Christmas gift that was too small, but the fabric was great! And really you CAN NOT BEAT making a kid’s shirt out of an adult shirt b/c the already hemmed sleeves and bottom are just so fantastic!!

    Such a great roundup, thanks again!

  • Reply funny name quotes on t shirts January 19, 2015 at 4:14 am

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  • Reply Natasha Dennis October 1, 2015 at 8:55 am

    Lovely, lovely ideas! I have too many t-shirts at home and need to get rid of them. Up-cycling them into fun kids clothes is a good opportunity. Thanks for the inspiration!

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