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Upcycling Ideas: DIY Crafts For Clothing, Sheets and Paper Products

Updated on January 9, 2016

For a number of years now, I’ve been doing my best to minimize how much I throw away or send to the recycling center. This is primarily because I’d like to lessen resources used to process what my household discards and because I’ve discovered it’s a great way to save money on a number of things. These ideas might help you gradually ease into the world of upcycling and reusing old objects in new ways.

These pillows are all made out of my husband's discarded jeans.
These pillows are all made out of my husband's discarded jeans. | Source

Upcycled Clothing

I’m a huge fan of thrift stores, and we usually make a couple of runs each year. Some clothing, however, isn’t in any shape to be donated. It’s a shame to throw it out, because almost any article of clothing can be remade into something else. For instance, you can make bags out of jeans and little dolls out of your kids’ outgrown socks.

If you happen to have any old wool sweaters lying around, you can make them into felted mittens, jewelry or purses relatively easily. There are several patterns available on the internet, but felting a sweater is pretty universal. The easiest way to do it is by following these steps:

1. Place wool sweater in either a mesh back with a drawstring or pillowcase. This will keep your washer from getting clogged with discarded fibers.

2. Put the package in the washing machine and run it on hot.

3. Once the cycle is done, take the sweater from its bag and put it in the dryer.

4. Once the dryer finishes, check the sweater. If it hasn’t shrunk and if you can still differentiate the stitches, go through steps one through three one or two more times.

5. Remove buttons, zippers and ribbed cuffs. Also cut along the shoulders and sides to create two different pieces of felted fabric, so you can move on with your craft.

If you want to do this, make sure the sweater is at least 80% animal fiber. It won’t work with synthetic or plant fibers.

Hilarious and Useful Fleeced Mitten Tutorial

This shredded sheet can be used as stuffing for a handmade toy, cushioning for a package or bedding for critters.
This shredded sheet can be used as stuffing for a handmade toy, cushioning for a package or bedding for critters. | Source

New Uses for Old Sheets

Stained or torn bed sheets are another great upcycling resource. When it comes right down to it, sheets are just soft fabric. They can be used for any sort of lining, even for the mittens I’d mentioned above, or for projects like purses and clothing. You can also turn them into curtains, if you don’t mind doing a little bit of sewing and window measuring. There’s also the possibility of reusing them as couch covers, chair covers or decorative pillow cases.

This week, I’d actually shredded a couple of old bed sheets to use as reusable bedding for our rats. I’d put some black and white newspaper on the bottom of their cage, added the fabric and watched to see how our girls would react. They seemed a little puzzled at first, as they usually are when I clean their cage, but they settled in pretty quickly. I think they enjoyed ripping the newspaper up more than shuffling the fabric strips around.

If you’d like to give it a try, make sure to wash the sheets before cutting them up and removing any long strings that show up. There aren’t really any hard and fast measurements to go by. I just eyeballed it, but most of my strips ended up being about one to two inches wide and five to six inches long. The drawback is that you’ll need to clean the cage more often and launder the fabric before using it again.

If it ends up being too much work, the clean strips could be used as stuffing for home made crafts, scrap fabric or as packing material.

Who knew junk mail could be so pretty? The hat, boat and butterfly were all made out of either junk mail or scrap paper.
Who knew junk mail could be so pretty? The hat, boat and butterfly were all made out of either junk mail or scrap paper. | Source

DIY Art From Junk Mail

Something we’re never short on is junk mail, and we’re not alone in that. Regardless of how many stops you request, it seems like something still shows up in your mailbox, whether it’s a political flyer, an ad for some store or a plea for money from someplace. There’s nothing wrong with recycling the stuff, but there are other things that you can do for it.

If you look at it in general terms, junk mail is really just printed paper. I plan on using some of ours to experiment with papermaking, and hopefully creating journals in the long run. You can also use a tutorial to make paper beads out of it for jewelry making, and even create novelty gift containers by rolling strips of glossy paper into tiny tubes and then gluing them in patterns to a plain box or bottle. I’ve met people who have used shredded mail as bedding for their small animals, but I tend to avoid that unless I know the ink is nontoxic. We have, however, used it as kindling for fires when we go camping.

One of my favorite things to do with it, however, is to use it for paper folding experiments. For years, I’ve loved origami, although I only know how to make a handful of things by heart. When I need something to do with my hands, sometimes I’ll just grab some sheets of paper from our recycling area in the kitchen and fold away. Why not, right? As much fun as using dedicated origami paper is, why not use something that was sent to you for free? Depending on how the paper is printed, you can get some pretty unique pieces out of it.

You can also cut it into smaller squares for little pieces and incorporate it into other crafts, or use it as padding for shipping packages. A word of caution, if you get a lot of credit card offers with your information filled out, make sure you either black out or remove those sections before you make anything other people might see.

Great Ideas For Upcycling Paper Towel Rolls

Different Uses for Paper Towel and Toilet Paper Rolls

At first, these rolls might seem pretty useless when you first take the last sheet off of it, but they’re actually surprisingly versatile. If you slice down one side of a toilet paper roll, you can then use it to hold the mess of cables by your computer desk or entertainment station together. That makes them easier to access when you need them or to tuck out of sight when you don’t.

There are countless kids’ crafts that can be done with them, as well. A fun and very simple one is making characters out of the rolls.

The most you’d need in addition to the rolls are:

  • Multicolored construction paper
  • Markers or crayons
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Googly eyes

If you’re using paper towel rolls, you’ll want to cut them into thirds so you have some short pieces, but if you’re using toilet paper rolls, you can leave them as is.

1. Have your kids select their preferred colors and cut the construction paper down to match the length of the roll.

2. Wrap the paper around the roll and fasten with either the glue or tape in the back.

3. Draw on the face and add the googly eyes.

The beauty of this simple craft is that you can incorporate all sorts of other materials into it. You can make clothing out of scraps of bed sheets and scenery out of junk mail, for example.

When you apply a little creative thinking and some elbow grease, you can probably find a use for just about anything you’d otherwise throw out.

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