Saturday, 4 June 2011

How to: Make an Upcycled T-Shirt Bag

Learn how to recycled boring old t shirts that you never wear anymore into a funky new bag you won't be able to put down!

Materials required


Three T-Shirts
Calico Interfacing
Sewing Machine
Overlocker/Serger (optional)

Step 1. Prepare Your Pieces


Find three t-shirts that you never wear anymore and don't mind cutting up. I find that the less-stretchy, not-too-slinky variety work best. Wash and iron them.

One t-shirt will be the bag outer, the second t-shirt will be the lining and the third will be for the handles. Decide which t-shirt you're going to use for what and then put aside the 'handles' t-shirt for the time being.

Now you need to cut four rectangles of fabric, 2 outer and 2 lining, according to the size you want your bag to be (I try to make the rectangle as big as the t-shirts will allow me, making use of as much fabric as possible and minimising waste. For this project, my t-shirts were on the smaller size and my rectangles ended up being 30cm x 38cm). Bear in mind that the finished bag will be slightly smaller than the rectangles you cut because of seam allowances when sewing.

You will also need to cut 2 pieces of interfacing the same size as your other rectangles. This is going to add shape, strength and structural integrity to your bag. I used calico but you could use fusible interfacing, wadding or any reasonably heavy weight woven fabric to serve the same purpose.

I wanted a pocket on my bag so I cut a 28cm x 21 cm piece from one of the discarded t-shirt sleeves, but you could make it any size you want or leave it out completely, up to you...


Step 2. Make the Handles

So you have all your pieces prepped, now it's time to make the handles. I did this by first making some recycled t-shirt yarn from the 3rd t-shirt. For maximum length and best results this t-shirt should be as large as possible and without side seams. 

You can watch my YouTube video tutorial on how to make recycled t-shirt yarn here:

Once you've made your yarn, fold the entire length of it in half and then in half again, and then in half once more giving you eight strands running parrallel to one another. Separate this bunch into two lots of four strands. Fishtail plait both 'lots' of four strands to give you two plaited handles. Make sure the plaits are even lengths and sew all the loose ends to keep everyhting in place. Put aside for now.

Step 3. Assemble and Sew!


If you're including a pocket:

Secure the raw edges to prevent fraying by using your overlocker (serger) or your sewing machine's zig zag stitch setting. Fold a 1cm hem on both sides and bottom but make the top edge hem a little wider - about 2cm. Iron flat. Sew a straight stitch across top edge only.

Place pocket with hemmed edges facing inward onto the right side of one bag outer piece, making sure it's centred. Sew in place.

Pin the calico interfacing pieces to the wrong side of the bag outer pieces and sew using a narrow 3/8" seam allowance (use the side of your presser foot as a guide).


Lay one piece of outer on a surface, good side up and position one strap  in a 'U' shape where you want it, ensuring the two ends are placed equal distances from edges.


Then place one piece of lining good side down, sanwiching the strap between the good sides of the outer and lining (this is sometimes referred to as 'right sides together').  


Pin along this upper edge and sew a straight stitch, taking care at the bulky handle bits - you may have to manually turn the handwheel or at least go very slowly, this is definite needle-breaking territory! Overlock or zig zag stitch raw edges. 



Repeat this whole process on the other bag side. Open bag sides out and iron seams flat.


Sandwich bag front and back together and pin, making sure are seams aligned. Leave an opening at the bottom end of the lining to turn your bag right side out. Straight stitch around and then, again, either overlock or zig zag stitch raw edges.

Step 4. Finishing Touches


Turn your bag right side out and gasp in amazement. Iron seams to make sure everything looks really crisp and neat. Sew a straight stitch around top edge of bag. 

Hand sew the opening in the lining with a whip stitch.

You've finished hurrah!

Like the bag but can't be bothered making one? It's available to purchase in my Folksy shop:

Stay tuned for more 'How To' Tutorials coming soon...xx


  1. good idea....:))

  2. I love your stuff! I am very much an upcycled crafter myself. Thank you for sharing!

  3. So impressive! Excited to try this one of my favorite Boise State Bronco's t-shirts! xoxo michele

  4. Thanks so much everyone :o)
    Ooooh, Michele, I'd love to see a pic when you're finished! xx

  5. I've got a few shirts in mind for this, but the braiding of the handles is just not clicking for me. Once you separate into the two "lots" of four stips do you cut them apart so that they are truly separate?

  6. Thanks so much everyone! xx

    yes sorry, just re-read that bit about the straps and it is a little unclear.

    Take the whole length of yarn and fold in half and cut at the bend to make two long strands. Fold these two strands into half again and cut at the bend giving you four separate strands. Divide these four into two lots of two. I then took one group of two and folded in half again, draping the bent bit over a door hook to anchor. With the four strands dangling down you can now commence braiding. Repeat for other strap.

    Hope this helps xx

  7. So cute...and thank you for the tutorial! Great job. I found your blog from Ucreate! So glad I did.

  8. @chichidee

    Awesome - I can definitely visualize it now!

  9. Good tutorial and funny bag, congrats!
    I'll follow you! Bye from Italy...

  10. This is so great! I would love to feature this on Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle. Feel free to stop by and grab a featured button. Thanks!

  11. Thanks for a fantastic tutorial! I ran across this project at THE PERFEC TIME! Our sweet neighbor gives all her outgrown clothes and toys to my little girls. A few weeks ago, she brought over a Mickey Mouse shirt (no lie) that she was heartbroken about no longer fitting into. I had just seen this tutorial earlier THAT EXACT SAME DAY. I've never sewn with knits before, but I just had to try to repurpose her beloved shirt. In just a few hours this morning, I made it. It's not perfect, but I'm still pretty proud of it. Today is her 9th birthday, and my girls and I are going to fill it with some fun treasures and take it to her tonight. Thanks again for sharing your talent and inspiring me to make her a special gift! :)

  12. Thanks for all the lovely comments everyone :o)

    Rhonda, what a great story! I'm so pleased! Sorry, could you give me the link for site where you found my tutorial please? I can't find it by googling... thanks! Hope she liked the bag, well done you! :o)


  13. really fun!
    heel leuk!
    Thanks for sharing

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. I'm loving this bag because its totally for all ages! Great idea and thanks for sharing the tutorial! :)

  16. I don't seem to have any tees without the side seams to do braiding. How will this affect it? Is it still possible to do?

    1. Yes! It's still possible to do, simply follow the directions as normal. It just means you'll have little seam bumps every now and again throughout your braid but it won't be all that noticeable from afar anyway so I'm sure your finished bag will still look great. Good luck with it! Leanne xx

  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  19. wow, unbelievable, the bad is just made from tshirt!! what a great job.

  20. Just tried this -- turned out great! Thank you!!

    1. Wow! Great Adele, you are most welcome. Feel free to share any pics on my Facebook page, would love to see :o) Best wishes, Leanne xx

  21. Very cool it looks, the same I have also done so. At the moment I tried the simplest but much less nice see how this will come out again.

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

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