by Allison Gryski

After de-cluttering your closet, if you have a stack of clothes in good condition that you just don’t wear, then trading them at a clothing swap is a great option. But what do you do if all your excess items are torn, stained, or falling apart? Re-purposing is the answer!

jean skirt

My old Jeans turned into a Skirt

If have access to a sewing machine, then the only limit is your imagination. Start looking at old clothes as merely oddly shaped pieces of fabric and you’re set. If you don’t have anything suitable to deconstruct, then visit your local thrift store or clothing swap with an eye just for the fabric.  Don’t forget to look at the old sheets and table cloths.

Cotton and cotton-blend fabrics are probably the easiest to reuse, but wool, fur, and leather can also be incorporated into to new items. Wool sweaters can be felted (just wash and dry on hot a few times) and then made into slippers, mittens, and cozy cushions. Fur coats can be cut up to line or trim other items and leather garments can be reconstructed into handbags. (If you’re not feeling very crafty yourself, check out Style & Conscience, an online boutique that creates stylish, limited edition purses with leftover materials from the garment industry.)


My Quilt made with Reclaimed Fabrics

One of the original ways of re-using old bits of fabric was to make a quilt. I made one recently with mostly reclaimed fabrics, including pieces of old sheets and pillowcases, some old kitchen curtains, and even a few squares from a pair of old boxers. While a quilt is an ambitious undertaking, there’s lots of quick and simple ways to up-cycle and re-purpose old fabric.

My earliest reclaimed fabric project is probably something you’ve made too: sock puppets! When I was about 8, I made a pair of pink snake sock puppets. They had googly eyes, red felt tongues, and purple felt bow-ties (they were a stylish pair). More recently, in addition to the quilt, I’ve turned a pair of jeans (worn out in a immodest location) into a jean skirt, put together a festive fabric garland from leftover fabric scraps, quilted a hot mat, sewed up a rice bag with old pyjamas, made patchwork cushions, and sewed some simple cloth bags.  Anything made with small pieces of fabric is a good project for re-purposing old fabrics.

rice bag

My Pyjamas made into a Rice Bag

Keep in mind that many projects don’t require any skills beyond googling for online tutorials, cutting some fabric, and then sewing a few straight seams. If that’s still too much, don’t forget that buttons can be salvaged from even the most disreputable outfit and no piece of fabric is too lowly to be turned into a cleaning rag.

Here’s some tutorials to get you started:

I hope you’re feeling inspired to give re-purposing or up-cycling a try. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as taking something old and useless and turning it into something new and useful.

Allison Gryski is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She describes herself as a bookish artist, exuberant baker, usability snob, discerning gourmandise, and occasional freelance dragon seeker. She’s also passionate about thrift store bargains, bicycles, and afternoon naps.