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How to Repurpose Kids Clothing for Fresh Back to School Style

Person working at a sewing machine.

By Alison (Alley) Pezanoski-Browne

Getting ready for a new school year isn't cheap, but these back to school style tips for repurposing kids clothing can help. The cost of school supplies adds up quickly, and new clothes can seem like an unimportant luxury. But for kids who don't wear uniforms to school, it can be an anxiety-filled part of starting off the new year. With simple sewing techniques and some creative ideas, you can transform last year's clothes into trendy new threads. You’re helping the environment when you reuse instead of buying new, it’s a fun activity to do with your kids and the clothes look unique and cool! Check out these creative ways to repurpose kids clothing, so they can start the year in style:

Old Jeans Into A New Skirt

Pair of jeans, thread, seam ripper, pins, scissors


  1. Use a seam ripper (or scissors) to open the inner leg seam from bottom to the center (crotch) seam. Open the center front seam to the end of the fly. Open the center back seam to within 5” of waistband.
  2. Laying the jeans flat on a table, layer one front over the other so that the lower end of the fly lies flat without a lump. Pin the center seam in place. Layer the back sections in the same way. You’ll see that the jeans have formed an A-line shape. Don’t try to make the inner leg edges meet.
  3. Try it on to decide how long you want the skirt to be or how flared. Stitch the center seams in place 5/8” from the edge, starting at the upper end of the openings and stopping 5/8” from the inner leg edges. Back-stitch to reinforce it. Make sure not to catch the other side of the garment into the stitching. Stitch again 1/4” from the first stitch.
  4. Cut off the bottom of the jeans under the layered front sections. Insert jeans leg under the layered flap. Stitch each inner leg edge in place 5/8” from the edge, connecting to the center seam stitching. Stitch again 1/4” from the first stitch. Back-stitch to reinforce. On the inside, trim away the extra fabric from the seams to within 5/8” of the stitch. Stitch the jeans leg to the skirt back in the same manner.
  5. Trim the lower edge of the skirt evenly. Stitch the lower edge of the skirt in order to stop the edge from fraying more.
  6. For a skirt with a finished look, make sure you hem the lower edges. You can also embellish your skirt with lace, ribbon, or a braid. 
Another option: Sew the front leg seams together. Add a panel of a different fabric to the back. Reuse the legs to make shirt or bag.

Plain T-Shirt Jazzed-Up With Iron-On Designs

Plain t-shirt, image printed on iron-on transfer paper, an iron


  1. If you have access to a printer and transfer paper, or can find these supplies at a local craft or fabric store, this is an extremely easy project to take on. Simply print out an image you like and iron it onto the front of a solid color t-shirt. There are many sites on the web with dinosaurs, animals, cartoons and other cool images. Find printable iron-on t-shirt transfers.
  2. Another option is to let your kids go free-style with their own designs using fabric paints or puffy paints.

T-shirts Into Pants Or Shorts
(Idea from Instructables)

A stack of old t-shirts


  1. Cut out all of the t-shirt logos. Try to cut them in a standard size and put them together in a patchwork design.
  2. Sew your logos together.
  3. Use another pair of shorts or pants as a template for your new pair. Cut them to the same length and shape of your existing pair. If you haven’t made a pair of pants before, you can also use a pattern.
  4. Stitch the patchwork pants together.
  5. Cut off the bottom of one of the leftover t-shirts. Keep it about 5 inches wide. Fold it in half and sew it to the top of the pants/shorts as a waistband.
  6. Thread a drawstring (perhaps an old laundry bag string) through a hole in the waistband.
  7. Hem the legs or put a lining in for a more finished look.

Make shorts out of outgrown pants
Plain looking clothes are not easily remembered or recognized by other kids after this simple transformation. If your child’s jeans or other plain looking, forgettable --such as khakis-- pants are too short but not too tight, you can cut the legs and transform them into shorts.

Button-Down Shirt Into A Cute Dress

(Idea from Instructables)

A big button-down shirt, 4 or 5 buttons, needle and thread, pins, scissors, someone to assist you


  1. Get a big, old button-down shirt. Hold the collar under your arms to make sure the shirt is long enough to be comfortable as a dress. Short sleeves also work, but they need to reach around your chest and overlap in the back.
  2. The dress is structured so that the collar goes over your chest and sleeves wrap around the back. The buttons will button up your back. With the help of your child (or whoever will be wearing the dress), make adjustments to your dress. Pin the sleeves together in the back and fasten the buttons so that the dress stays up. Fuss around until you get the right fit for your dress.
  3. You can either keep the collar on the front or you can cut it off. It’s up to you.
  4. Stretch the sleeves around your child’s back. Cut the sleeves so that they overlap a few inches.
  5. Trim the end of the sleeves so that they’re straight. Fold the edge of the fabric down and pin it.  Sew the hem.
  6. Pick out about 4-5 cool, funky buttons. Lay them on the edge of the sleeve and draw lines marking the positions and sizes of the buttonholes.
  7. Sew your buttons on the sleeve.
  8. Make sure to have your child try the dress on again at this point to make sure the buttons are in the right place.
  9. Then cut a slit on the other sleeve along the line long enough for the button to squeeze through.
  10. Tuck and tug the fabric into place and add stitches to tack down folds.
  11. Now check out the other 5 Things You Can Do With An Old Shirt.

Make sure to put a cardigan on over your dress to make it work appropriate.

Recycled Materials Into Funky Jewelry


Almost anything can be made into fun, funky jewelry that your kids will love. Pick up some earring backs and necklace clasps at your nearest craft or discount store. Then create your jewelry with zippers, bottle caps, puzzle pieces, film negatives, shells, acorns or other things you find lying around.

T-Shirts Into Tote Bags

Heavy-weight cotton t-shirts, 3-5 pins, pencil or pen, dinner plate, scissors, sewing machine or needle and thread


  1. Smooth your t-shirt flat on the table. With scissors, cut and remove the sleeves. Make sure to leave the seam in place in order to keep your tote strong.
  2. Position your plate about halfway over the neck opening of the shirt. Trace the plate with a pen or pencil. Cut along the traced line.
  3. Flip the shirt inside out and pin the bottom closed along the hem.
  4. Using a sewing machine or a needle and thread, sew the bottom of the t-shirt hem closed. Make sure to reinforce your bag by sewing over the seam several times. Turn the shirt right side out and now you have a recycled tote bag!

Photo credit tsuacctnt 

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