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Ways To Upcycle Old Clothes

What is Upcycling vs Recycling 

The three Rs - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are hot topics here at Bexley Eco Festival.  But what about Upcycling?

Recycling involves breaking something down to be made into something else, generally not resembling the original item.  

Upcycling is where you repurpose materials that would otherwise go to landfill (e.g fabrics, scraps or garments).

Upcycling gives items a fresh lease of life in a sustainable way.  You don’t need a sewing machine or lots of money to upcycle your clothes, just a little imagination and you’ll soon find you can create some amazing items from things you no longer wear.

Why Upcycle Clothing?

So, why is upcycling so good? Essentially, you create something new whilst reducing the amounts of virgin materials used, create less textile waste and reduce your impact on potentially harmful social business practices such as the poor working conditions of many in fast fashion factories across the world.  

On top of this, you get a one-of-a-kind garment and an affordable wardrobe refresh. You may even be supporting local or independent businesses that specialise in upcycling, such as Vintage Recovery who joined us at our Festival and are now launching a monthly market.

Ideas for Upcycling

Add Patches

Adding patches to garments can be an innovative way to upcycle more than one garment.  Patches can be used purely for decorative purposes, to cover worn or frayed areas or even to expand something which is now too small. 

There are lots of ideas showcasing different ways patching can help here and you may not even need to get out a needle if you don’t want to sew.

Get Sewing or Embroidering

If you fancy getting creative with sewing, the possibilities are endless!  You can change the shape, size or even purpose of old clothes, such as transforming an old shirt into a tank top or scraps of material into a quilt.  

You can also decorate in a truly individual style by adding trimming or embroidery to items.  Not only will you come out with something uniquely yours, but you may even discover a mindful and relaxing hobby.

Creative Colours - Dyeing and Painting

Items of clothing can change completely with a different splash of colour!  Maybe you could paint a pattern on an old pair of jeans, or create a new design on a t-shirt with fabric paints or pens.  

Alternatively, tie-dyed items are a creative way to add either a burst of bold colour that entirely changes how something looks, or you could simply dip the edges for more subtle, truly one-off items!  


Similar to upcycling, downcycling involves repurposing garments you no longer wear or need.  But instead of creating something ‘bigger and better’ you save items going into landfill by finding a new purpose entirely.  

Maybe you can cut up old worn-out t-shirts into rags or use cloth nappies and cloth wipes for cleaning.  More and more people are turning away from throwaway tissues and kitchen rolls and instead use these cut-up textiles for spills and wipes, thereby saving money and landfill from single-use items.

More Ideas if You Can’t Upcycle

If you can’t upcycle but still want to dispose of unwanted clothes sustainably, there are lots of options available. There are an increasing number of businesses upcycling clothes now, and Vintage Recovery’s first market on November 12th will be a great place to find inspiration.  

Alternatively, there are additional ideas of ways to upcycle, repurpose or dispose of your old clothes here.

Do you upcycle? Share your ideas with us on Facebook or Instagram!

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