Upcycle T-shirts Into Handy Bags

bags made out of camp t-shirts

T-shirts do not look good on me, so I am not a t-shirt-wearing kind of person. I do like the idea of having a memento of an event, though, and especially the t-shirts from my favorite weekend nature camp, Audubon Mountain Workshop. Every May, I get a new t-shirt for being an instructor, and every year I stuff it in a drawer with the others, never to be seen or worn. Until this year, that is.

A friend of mine recently suggested that I make bags out of his old rock concert t-shirts from back in the day, but as I opened an e-mail addressed to camp instructors about what size t-shirt we might want this year, I decided to make bags out of my own stash of camp t-shirts instead. I’ve seen plenty of t-shirt bags before, and you can find a variety of images on the web, but I wanted something a little different. So I embellished them with bright-colored quilting fabrics for pizazz and zigzag stitching for strength. I used the bags to carry my bedding and towels up to camp, and then to bring my dirty laundry back home.


Step 1

 Open Galleryt-shirtsPick your t-shirts. Maybe you’ll want to start with one or two. You can always make more later.

Step 2

 Open GalleryCut the arms and the neck out of each of the shirts.

Step 3

 Open GalleryMatch up some scrap fabrics to the t-shirts. Color coordinate or choose a contrasting color or pattern. Maybe you have an old dress shirt you no longer wear but can’t seem to get rid of? This project is the perfect use for it.

Step 4

 Open GalleryCut the embellishment fabric on the bias and in 1/2-inch strips. (Bias means diagonal to the grain of the fabric.) Bias cuts are important here to allow for stretching and turning around the curved handles of the bags. If you were to use straight-cut pieces (which would be with the grain), the fabric would bunch and fold as you applied the strips around the curves.

Step 5

 Open GallerySew on the strips using a zigzag stitch (with bright contrasting thread) along the edge of the t-shirt openings. There is no need to pin—just line up the strip up as you go. Make sure you sew each side of the strips and across the strips’ ends as you join them to complete the opening’s edges. Repeat this step on all neck and arm openings.

Step 6

 Open GalleryTurn the embellished edges inward and sew strips onto the outside of the turned-over edge. Don’t worry about your stitches matching the other side. This will give a uniquely finished and embellished edge on the inside as well as on the outside. Continue to finish each edge with a double-sided embellishment.

Step 7

 Open GalleryDecide how long you want each bag and cut accordingly. I went with varying lengths and kept one long, cut one with a rounded edge, and another with a short and straight edge. Turn the bag inside out, pin, and sew across bottom to close.

Step 8

 Open GalleryIf you want to add a depth to the width of the bag, then line up the closure seam to the edge of the bag to make a triangular fold. Tip: Line the point up with a piece of tape or a mark on your machine to make the depth consistent on each side (I used the oil hole on the deck of my machine). Sew a line perpendicular to the closure seam to complete a triangle. Repeat on the other corner.

Step 9

 Open GalleryTurn the bag right side out and get to packing!


  • T-shirts
  • Fabric scraps
  • Bright thread


  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine
About Michelle Reynolds 


I’m a slipcover maker who refuses to fill the trash with the cutaway bits of designer fabrics, so I strive to make use of every scrap. I live with my ...

More About Michelle Reynolds

One Response

  1. Carol Lovell-Saas says:

    I love the way you think, Michelle! I had a T-shirt with a beautiful frog on it that looked horrible on me so I made a giftbag out of it. Your designs are an order of magnitude better than what I made! Thank you so much!!

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