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One thing I love about upcycling and refashioning is the challenge of figuring out what to do with, well… trash. I mean, just look at this horrifyingly ugly mesh shirt I found in a pile of used clothing at a market last year. But that awful thing just lit me up because as soon as I saw it, I had a vision:
At the pool I went to at the time, everyone would bring their fins, kickboards, pull buoys and other swimming equipment in drawstring mesh bags, while I would just carry them loose (and inevitably drop them).
So I grabbed that shirt up for a whopping 50 cents and made a total of three DIY mesh drawstring bags out of it! There is the mamma-sized one for swimming gear…
…and two kid-sized ones for collecting all the things that my kids love to pick up wherever they go. They’re perfect for taking sidewalk chalk and other things outside to use.
But these bags get used the most at the beach, because they’re perfect for holding shells, rocks, floaty kiwis (as we call those things you can see here) and letting the sand filter out the holes.
And now that I go to a different pool where they don’t give us the easy way out for leg exercises using fins, we use the larger bag for bringing swim gear to the beach and carrying back home wet bathing suits and towels. Do you want to make one of these super convenient mesh bags for your kids or yourself? Well, then let’s get started!
First cut off the collar and button placket. Put it aside because, if you’re lucky, you can use it to make the drawstrings.
Turn the shirt inside out and cut off the sleeves. Put the sleeves aside for the small bags. I suggest you cut straight down to the bottom of the shirt and not cut off just the sleeves because that point looks very weird on the finished bag. You’ll soon see that I cut off the extra side fabric later on.
Sew straight down the cut sides, making sure that they are perfectly aligned. I suggest a tight-ish zig-zag stitch for all the stitches in this project.
Open up your shirt (you can see how wonky it looks without having trimmed off the sides under the sleeves)…
…and fold it in half, right sides facing. Sew straight down from the top to the bottom and trim off excess fabric. (You can see that this time I cut a nice straight line.)
This was when I realized that I should trim off the extra fabric under the sleeves, so if you haven’t done it yet, do it now. Sew and trim the cut edges.
Once you have your sides evened out, close up the bottom of the bag with a zig zag stitch and trim the edges.
A drawstring bag needs a casing. A good trick is to use the pre-existing hem of the shirt, however I’d sewn through it when trimming down the sides, thereby closing up the hem, so that wasn’t going to work in this case. So I just folded the shirt’s hem inwards…
…and sewed it down with a zig zag stitch. Because of the holes in the mesh, you can sew all the way around without leaving an opening like you normally would when sewing a casing.
Let’s prepare the little bags before working on the drawstrings. Each sleeve will become a bag, however they would have a strange and inconvenient shape if I left them as they were. So I cut out two scraps from the sides of the shirt under the sleeves to fill in the sleeves. Folding them in half (with the fold lining up with the bottom seam of the sleeves) I trimmed the ends so make them sloped.
To attach the extra scraps, I opened up the sleeves so that the bottom seams were in the center and lined up the center of the scraps along the part where the sleeve used to attach to the shirt. They should be right sides together, so the sleeve will be right side out and the scrap upside down. I forgot to take a picture of how I attached them, but I just pinned them first in the center and worked my way to each side, maneuvering the fabric while holding it in my hand. (It won’t lay straight because of the curves.)
Then sew along where you pinned (which will result in a seam like you see in #1 above). Then close up the bottom by sewing across (#2 above). Trim excess fabric.
I always prefer boxing corners to avoid having weird corners sticking out of bags. With the bag inside out, stick your finger into one corner and flatten it so that it makes a point with the side seam running down the center.
Hold it flat (above). Then sew straight across the point and trim off the excess fabric (bottom). Do the same thing on the other bottom corner.
This is what it looks like when you turn it right side out again. I have a lot of bizarre extra seams because of adding on the excess fabric scrap, which already had a seam in it, too. But it quite honestly doesn’t bother me at all.
Let’s make the drawstrings. I first removed the collar from the button placket. I used the collar to make the drawstrings for the small bags.
Cut straight down the center of the collar. The side with the seam will stay together, but the other side will fall apart a bit. You can see the lightweight interfacing between the two front and back layers of fabric.
Here you can decide how to proceed. I decided to close up the short drawstrings with a simple wide zig zag stitch, which works fine for keeping the layers together, however it tends to fray this way.
Because we didn’t trim down the sides of the sleeves, the original hem is intact and can be used as a casing, taking advantage of the holes. Attach a safety pin in the end of one drawstring and slip it through a hole near the armpit seam from the right side. Pull it all the way through the hem-casing until you get back to the other side of the armpit seam. Then pull it back out through a hole and knot the two ends together. And you’re done!
I decided to do things a little better for my own big bag. I cut the two button plackets in half the long way and attached them together by serging them (that very short seam you can see in the image above).
Then I serged both long sides of the strip which was more convenient because I didn’t have to trim excess fabric and there was virtually no fraying. It also just looks a whole lot better.
Like we did before with the smaller bags, insert one end of the drawstring with a safety pin inside the sewn casing from a hole on the outside. Pull it all the way around and back out from a hole near the first one. I had one of these fancy drawstring cord locks so I inserted the two drawstring ends into it before tying the knot. But it’s really not necessary and I hardly ever use it.
And that’s it!
My kids were so happy when I gave them to them. (And you can see how perfectly they matched my son’s shoes…)
They are so perfect for collecting all those wonderful goodies on the beach and wherever else we go. (The action shots in this post are all from the amazing beach at Is Arutas in Sardinia.) The only problem is that we only have two of them!
Such useful items made from such an ugly unwanted shirt with virtually no scraps left over and costing me just 50 cents. All in all, I’d call this an upcycling success!
Interested in other useful homemade beach items? Then don’t forget to check out my beach umbrella carry bag tutorial, too! Happy beaching, all!