How to Upcycle Clothes: Creative Ways to Transform Your Wardrobe

Could upcycling help curb the sustainability nightmare of fast fashion?
February 10, 2022

Reading Time:

By Branded Joy Editorial Staff

Do you have a bunch of clothes in your closet that you never wear? Well, don’t throw them away! There are many creative ways to upcycle clothes and give them a new life.

In this blog post, we’re gonna go over our favorite ways to upcycle clothes using various methods such as dyeing, cutting, and stitching. We will also provide some inspiration for how to transform your wardrobe using these techniques!

First Things First, What is Upcycling?

Originally called creative reuse, this term refers to recycling old objects, but with a twist. Upcycling does not only reuse things it tweaks them for improvement.

Often repurposed garments do not resemble their original condition. Take for instance a T-shirt made into a new grocery bag.

Another example could be a dress made of men’s blazers. The only limit is your creativity, and you’ll often find that upcycled clothes don’t just help you save money, but you get to feel good about creating something for yourself!

Upcycling is one way we can extend the life of our clothes and divert them from landfills while also creating something new and unique in the process! In that way, you’re also contributing to making fashion more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Now that you know what upcycling is, let’s take a look at how to do it! There are many different ways to upcycle clothes, but we’re going to focus on five of our favorites.

Embroidering Old Clothes

Don’t discard those frayed old jeans just yet. There’s still a lot of life in those threads if you use your creative powers to bring it out.

And if you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at embroidery, this is a great project! It’s easy enough for beginners and fun even if it doesn’t come out perfect.

person holding upcycled green jacket with embroidery

Basically, all you need are some clothes (preferably with cotton fabric) that haven’t been worn in a while or maybe don’t fit anymore but still look good otherwise; an embroidery hoop size appropriate for whatever garment will be transformed by stitching patterns onto its surface using colored thread as decorative accents on both sides of the fabric; and a basic embroidery stitch guide.

While embroidery can be entirely decorative, it’s often also used to cover up small holes or tears in fabrics. It’s the perfect way of transforming that old t-shirt into a creative work of art that you’ll be proud to wear.

If you’re a beginner, a fun project would be adding some color to old jeans! All it takes is choosing a few colors of thread that go well together and then getting started stitching.

With this method, there’s no need for any real planning or preparation. Just get started and see where your creativity leads you.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, here are a few easy patterns to get you started: the French knot, lazy daisy, embroidered chain, herringbone, and fly. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, feel free to experiment with your own designs!

Hand-Painting Old Clothes

If your embroidery skills aren’t quite where you’d like them to be, don’t sweat it.

Sometimes, all old clothes really need is a splash of color to bring them back to life. And you can give it to them by simply painting on the designs you want.

upcycled t-shirt with dog portrait done in fabric paint

If you’re not sure how to get started with hand-painting clothes, don’t worry. It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. All you need is some fabric paint and an image of your choice (or even just words) that fit the garment.

Using tracing paper or carbon paper can help you get the design just right before you commit to it.

Just make sure you’re using fabric paint. Regular acrylic paint is fine if you just want to get a few uses out of it, but will start to flake off relatively quickly.

From Thrift Stores To Upcycled Clothing Gems

Digging through your own closet is just the beginning. Finding source material for your projects at your local thrift store is another highly effective approach.

Thrift stores are great places to find inspiration.

You’re likely to come across all kinds of different items and styles, which can be incredibly inspiring!

The key is to look for clothes that fit your style and you’ll be off to the races.

people looking for clothes to upcycle in a thrift store

If you want to add a little something extra for yourself or someone else special in your life, then upcycling clothes from these thrift shops might just do the trick by giving them a new purpose through creativity and ingenuity.

You’ll often find that your loved ones appreciate a thrift store find that you personally upcycled more than a new garment from a store.

And don’t just stop at brick-and-mortar thrift stores. There are plenty of online outlets where you can find vintage clothing for your DIY projects as well as gently worn garments at excellent prices.

Thrift store finds are also an excellent proving ground to learn how to upcycle clothing if you’re getting started.

You’ll often find clothes with a lot of potential and won’t have to spend much.

So, you won’t break the bank even if they don’t turn out exactly how you hoped.

It’s also worth noting that crafting with secondhand materials not only reduces textile waste but also helps combat fast fashion—a major contributor towards environmental degradation due to its unsustainable practices.

Break Out The Sewing Machine

If you have any sewing experience, you’re well on your way to becoming an upcycling maven. And nothing says slow fashion like making your own clothes.

Sewing machine clothes upcycling can be as simple or complex as you’d like it to be.

There are many different ways how sewing machines can help you turn your old clothes into something new and exciting! You could add a few embellishments here, take out some stitches there… the possibilities really are endless!

The idea behind how to upcycle clothes with a sewing machine is pretty straightforward.

It consists of taking an old garment that no longer fits/looks good on its own, cutting it down so that only parts remain which will then become part of another piece of clothing (or several smaller ones). For example, dresses made from skirts or shirts cut off at their sleeves for use as shorts.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could even try making entirely new clothes from scratch with the help of your sewing machine. This is how to upcycle clothes in a more complex way, but it’s definitely doable with a little bit of practice and patience!

When In Doubt, Rag It

The simplest and fastest way to upcycle clothes that you don’t wear anymore is to simply make dishrags out of them.

You can even make dishrags out of old t-shirts that have been torn or stained beyond repair. They’re an easy way how to upcycle clothes, and they’ll look great in your kitchen too!

And if you want some extra fun? Get the kids involved in upcycling projects.

They can help you pick out fabrics for their new dishrags, cutting them into squares with scissors (if needed) before tying fringe onto each side using a crochet hook or knitting needle until there are no more raw edges left hanging on either end.


Upcycling is the raw and easy way to recycle clothes.

It’s not only a great way to reduce your environmental footprint, but also helps you save money and create an outfit that suits your style.

You don’t have to be Martha Stewart or even know how to sew! There are plenty of ways that everyone – from beginner crafters on up – can give their old clothes a second life with just a little creativity.

What will you upcycle next?

29 AMAZING California clothing brands to find the perfect gift

29 AMAZING California clothing brands to find the perfect gift

If you've been looking for a place to renew your wardrobe, or you've been seeking a perfect gift for your fashionista friend, we got you.From the sunny shores of California, we bring you a curated listicle featuring 29 diverse and stylish brands that cater to various...

How to Style Leather Pants: 5 Tips & 7 Looks to Rock Them

How to Style Leather Pants: 5 Tips & 7 Looks to Rock Them

If you're hesitant about styling leather pants, you're not alone. They are versatile, edgy, and sophisticated but can be challenging to style.  In this article, we'll share 5 crucial tips on how to style leather pants and make a statement with your outfit. ...