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My name’s Lisa and I’m a T-shirt hoarder.
Seriously, I have a problem. Come to my home, and you’ll find numerous containers full of t-shirts. I love them because they’re so easy to embellish or repurpose into other clothing and objects. But another wonderful thing about t-shirts is that the jersey fabric doesn’t fray and frequently it’s nice and stretchy, meaning you can cut it and stretch it out to get all sorts of cool effects, often without even sewing.
This past summer I was brainstorming different ways to reuse the classic tee for the “Reborn T-shirts” stand at the Kreativ fair, and I couldn’t leave out the ever-beloved t-shirt bag. There are so many ways to make a bag from a t shirt, but I wanted to propose something that ANYBODY can do, even without any sewing knowledge.
And just to prove my point, I also did this project with my 9-year-old daughter’s class while making upcycled crafts to sell at the school’s annual charity Christmas market. All the kids brought in at least one t-shirt and turned them into bags. And they LOVED it! They were so bummed out when we ran out of shirts to make bags from! (We also made these egg carton poinsettia ornaments, which are another eco-friendly and kid-friendly craft.)
Do you need one or two extra shopping bags, but don’t want to buy one? Or maybe you have a special t-shirt that brings back dear memories that you can’t bear to get rid of, even if it doesn’t fit you anymore? Or you want a fun activity to do with your kids? Then grab your scissors, and let’s get to work!
First, choose your T shirt. Some tees are stretchier than others, and either type is fine. My family finds the stretchy ones to feel more comfortable on the shoulder and they expand wonderfully to fit quite a bit inside. But non-elastic jersey shirts also work fine.
Lay the shirt out on a flat surface, lining up the sleeve seams and the bottom hem on the front and back. Use your sharp fabric shears to cut off both sleeves and the neckline. Make the cut at the neck a little bit deeper so that you can easily slip the handles over your shoulder. If you have a tank top, you can leave the armholes as they are without cutting them.
Next, cut off the bottom hem, and discard it along with the sleeves (or use the sleeves to make a funky no-sew necklace!)
Then make a series of cuts perpendicular to the bottom hem. The cuts should be about 1/2″ (1 – 1.5 cm) apart and about 3″ (8 – 10 cm) long. If you want lots of fringe at the bottom of your bag or you want to make the inside smaller, make longer cuts. The important thing is to make sure that you are cutting through both the front and the back of the shirt.
Make another cut along each of the side folds to turn the first and last strip into a front and back strip.
Now all you have to do is tie two knots in each pair of strips (front and back), pulling tightly. I always knot on the outside of the bag so as to create a funky decorative fringe at the bottom of the bag, but a few weeks ago (that is, months after I did this project) my sister sent me a link to this video showing that you could also turn the shirt inside out so that the knots and fringe stay on the inside. Choose whichever you like more. It really makes no difference, although I personally wouldn’t want little fringies on the inside of my bag to get tangled up with whatever stuff I toss inside it.
If you trust your kids with super sharp scissors, they can do this whole project on their own. If not, you can do all the cutting and leave the knotting to them, which is what I did when we did this in my daughter’s school.
You can see that the knots gather the shirt’s bottom together, making it smaller than the top, but don’t worry, it will stretch out when you fill it up.
It always shocks me just how sturdy the knots holding these bags together are! You can fill them up, even with heavy items, and those knots don’t budge a bit. They’re actually sturdier than a sewn bottom is!
While preparing for the fair, I wanted to try out another type of t-shirt bag that I’d seen years earlier on the blog Between the lines: a mesh bag.
It’s a pretty similar process to start with. You cut off the sleeves and neck, then you sew across the bottom of the shirt to create the bag bottom.
Then fold one edge of the shirt over a little bit and make some snips with your fabric scissors. Refold the fabric so that more is folded over, and make more snips between the ones you’ve just made. Continue like this until you’ve worked all the way across the t shirt.
The tutorial at Between the lines has vertical cuts, but I made my cuts horizontal like I’ve seen in other bags of this type.
I’ll be honest, though; I’m not crazy about this type of bag. The slits are meant to add stretch to non-elastic materials, like you see in some plastic food packaging, for example. But t-shirts are already stretchy, so the many cuts just make it stretch even more and make the fabric less sturdy.
You can see here how much it stretches out with heavier items (lemons), but even with lighter items (some skeins of yarn from my recent raid at a yarn shop’s liquidation sale) it gets badly stretched out. Plus I really don’t like showing off whatever’s in my bag to the rest of the world. So this ended up being the only t-shirt bag I made like this.
But we constantly use our knotted t-shirt bags! I love how lightweight they are and how you can squash them up inside your bag when you go out. Their flexible, stretchy nature means that they are really comfortable and easily model to whatever you need to carry in them. My kids love that the handles don’t dig into their shoulders like most other shopping totes.
And how awesome is it that you can make these bags in about five minutes with shirts that you don’t use anymore? Instead of adding to the landfill, you create something useful that helps avoid creating yet more waste in the form of disposable shopping bags.
Making these bags with kids is a wonderful way to teach them about environmental awareness while developing their manual skills. And children are so happy when they see that they’ve created something with their own hands!
Did you like this no-sew tutorial on how to make a bag from a t shirt, but you want to sew something a little more advanced? Try out another super eco-friendly shopping bag made from a surprising material: reclaimed umbrellas! Sign up for the Cucicucicoo newsletter and get the FREE downloadable sewing pattern!