Raise your hand if you also have “champagne tastes on a beer budget” when it comes to shopping for clothes.
As a teacher who loves to shop, I am quite familiar with that particular predicament. And I’m not alone: American families spend around $1,700 a year on “apparel and services,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s around $140 per month on clothes! What’s a budget-minded fashionista to do?
When the budget gets tight, we fashion-forward penny pinchers learn to get creative, tweaking and mending items to give them new life. And thanks to eco-fashion revolutionaries like Jillian Owens, better known as the ReFashionista, upcycling clothes has become a trendy new way to save money.
Even if you’re not handy with a needle, you can still manage to refashion your wardrobe. Feel good about your sewing skills? I’ve got you covered with all sorts of fun projects. What’s in your closet?
Don’t worry if you aren’t a savvy seamstress, because sites like Pinterest are full of links to no-sew project ideas like scarves, cardigans and skirts out of men’s dress shirts (my best friend’s personal favorite).
My favorite no-sew project is a wrap that takes only minutes to make with about a yard and a half of fabric, a pair of scissors and a measuring tape. Add some layers, tall boots and these super simple no-sew boot cuffs, and you’ve got a great outfit for fall and winter.
Looking for something for warmer weather? Grab your hot glue gun and try your hand at making a swimsuit coverup for less than $10.
Once you start digging in your closet for buried treasures, you’ll likely find all sorts of potential options. Found a few old accessories? Try upcycling shoes with mod podge, lace, glitter, fabric scraps, markers and more. Another trendy upcyling project involves refashioning neckties.
You could also try making your own accessories, like these sweater bracelets. But what will you do with all the leftover sweater material? Decorate your house, of course! The Internet is full of ideas for using sweaters to make wreaths, chair covers and even cute fall pumpkins. You can also use strips of old shirts to make no-sew fabric flowers for decorating.
Ways to Upcycle Your T-Shirts
If you’re anything like me, you can tell your life story through a mile-high stack of T-shirts collected from trips, concerts, games and organizations. While I have recently tamed the urge to buy a shirt to commemorate almost every place I visit, I’m still not ready to part with my collection of pre-shrunk cotton memories.
That’s one reason why T-shirt upcycles are my favorite refashioning projects. What better way to get a little more life out of a trusty, super-soft tee?
If you’re willing to try your hand at a little sewing, one quick option is to turn your tee into a more gym-friendly workout shirt. Check out the 30 Days of DIY Workout Wear series at Grosgrain Fabulous for ideas.
Do you have kids who play sports? Then you’ve probably got an even bigger stack of T-shirts, uniforms and jerseys. A quick and easy way to upcycle a favorite team jersey is to cover a canvas with the shirt and hang it as wall art — on the wall, you’ll be able to enjoy it more often than you would if it was sitting in a drawer.
If you already have the decorations handled, or you simply have more shirts than you need for workout wear, consider other ways to hang on to your memories.
One “wearable” way to hang on to all those shirts is to make a memory scarf. Or consider creating a T-shirt quilt: use the printed fronts of the shirts as the quilt blocks, and turn unused clothing items into a timeless functional blanket. Learn how to DIY a T-shirt quilt for $30 to $40 instead of paying $300 to $800 to have one made.
Feeling entrepreneurial and have a knack with needles? You might even consider making T-shirt quilts or memory scarves as a new crafty side business.
If these ideas aren’t enough to get you motivated to tackle your tees, there’s even a tutorial on how to make a cat tent out of a T-shirt! If you’ve got a shirt, some cardboard, two wire hangers and about five minutes, you can make Fluffy her very own “T-pee.” (Maybe she could use it on the catio?)
Ready for More Advanced Refashioning Projects?
Once you’ve cleaned out your T-shirt drawer and sharpened your skills (and your needles), you might be ready to move on to a few more complicated projects. Applique projects are one budget-friendly way to upcycle an otherwise boring clothing item into a more eye-catching piece.
Refashioning can also help you get more life out of clothes that are now too big or too small. Easily add a size to a shirt or dress by adding lace panels to its sides or back. If one of your favorite tanks looks more like a crop top every time you pull it out of the dryer, think about adding a lace ruffle to the bottom to give it a little more length. If you find yourself with a wardrobe of too-big items, consider creating trendy skinny jeans from your old pair.
Check out your extra linens as well: You can even upcycle pillowcases into dresses, skirts, shopping bags and more. Then, take your upcycling adventure full circle by turning a sweater into a cozy pillowcase.
For more upcycling ideas, check out the projects on Refashionista. What will you create with your old clothing?
Your Turn: Have you tried a refashioning project? How did it go?
Leah Thayer is a Nashville-based writer and teacher. An avid pinner, she enjoys crafting, shopping and fashion.