by Brooke Bowlin

Are you wondering what to do with those worn out, unused clothes in your closet? Wonder no more because we’ve gathered all kinds of resources, ideas, and inspiration on how to reuse old clothing!

Unfortunately, getting rid of old clothes, especially damaged and worn clothing, isn’t straightforward. Our clothing disposal systems are deeply flawed with most pathways leading to landfill. Only 10-20% of our donated items get resold with the remainder getting shipped to overseas markets where they will burden economies and eventually landfills in the Global South. While a majority of clothing has the potential to be recycled, only a small portion of it actually is. And these systems only capture the portion of the population that didn’t just toss their clothes right into the trash to begin with. For a deeper dive into these broken systems, see this post.

This is why finding ways to breathe new life into old pieces and repurpose them is a foundational sustainable practice. When we can directly ensure that we extend the life of an item, we reduce our demand for more new production and limit the environmental impact of waste.

How to Reuse Old Clothing: Upcycling Ideas!

Now that we’ve established the value and benefits to getting creative with what we have, let’s explore some ways to upcycle those old clothes. To get started on your first upcycling project, here are some tools that may come in handy:

  • Sewing kit (thread, seam ripper, needles, sewing machine)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Embroidery floss and hoop
  • Fabric paint or dye
  • Pins
  • Tape measure
  • Tailor’s chalk

For further insight on the usefulness of these tools to reuse old clothing, check out this video.

Upcycling doesn’t have to be a dramatic garment “flip.” Sometimes, upcycling just means modifying an item in a way that refreshes it and makes you want to wear it again. For those pieces that need a bit of life, here are some ways to reimagine your clothing pieces into stylish new creations:

1. Crop

One of the most straightforward ways to change up a garment is to crop it! Take those scissors to your pant legs or blouses. Jeans can be shorts, a maxi dress can become a mini dress, and tops can be shortened to give pieces new life. Always be cautious to try the piece on, measure, and cut conservatively. You can always keep cropping, so do your diligence not to be too aggressive on the first snip. Try your hand at hemming the garment or leave the edge raw if you want. Just be sure to save the scraps for a future upcycle project.

2. Dye

Changing the color of an item is a great way to refresh an item as your palette preferences may change. Food and plants can provide some really interesting ways to dye your clothes naturally. Take stock of your produce and explore how onions, berries, or spinach can transform the color of your pieces. If you are looking for a more straightforward way to change the color of your clothes, try ready-made dyes or bleach. Or if you have some artistic skill, try painting on your clothes to make some wearable art.

3. Embroider

Adding creative stitching is a fun way to add personal touches to your pieces. It can also be a resourceful way to cover up damage. Mend holes and cover stains by strategically stitching designs into your clothes.

4. Patch – Visible Mending

Patching is another great way to creatively address damaged pieces. Use your cropping scraps or fun thrifted fabrics to add personality to an old piece.

5. Reconstruct

This one is for the bold! If your sewing skills are a bit more advanced, try your hand at reconstructing a garment into a new one. Dresses and long tops can be converted into skirt and shirt sets. Maxi skirts can be cut apart and styled into dresses. Turn an old blouse into a bustier. The possibilities are endless when you can combine imagination with a bit of sewing skills! If sewing isn’t your strong suit, some tailors or specialists can work with you to reimagine old pieces for you!

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