Sinead O’Carroll

April 23, 2020

DIY: Use a sewing machine to give new life to old fabrics

DIY: Use a sewing machine to give new life to old fabrics

Sinead O’Carroll

April 23, 2020

Have a sewing machine that’s gathering cobwebs at home? Here are some really easy and ways to bring it back to its former glory again, with minimal exertion and maximum return. 

These mini-projects are ideal to get into sewing, producing results you’ll actually want and teaching you basic machine skills.



.T-shirts to Tote Bags 

Tote bags. Who doesn’t love a tote? Incredibly lightweight and environmentally friendly, they allow you to avoid single-use plastic when out and about without weighing you down. The only issue is their relative light weight makes them easy to lose… If you want to source a new tote in teh most sustainably way possible, consider transforming an old tshirt into one;

  • Turn the shirt inside-out and sew a line to close the bottom of it
  • Fold lengthways to evenly cut off the sleeves and deepen the neckline for handles. Hem these.
  • Turn everything right side out!

Honestly, making a tote bag from a t-shirt is really easy and is a great way to kick-start your machine sewing as it uses simple stitches (that, plus you can use the scraps from the sleeves to add a tote pocket)!

tote bag


Coasters and placemats

If you find yourself with old towels or blankets that you’re thinking of discarding, STOP RIGHT THERE. Don’t you know you can cut-and-sew them into coasters or table mats? It’s fairly effortless and the process can be applied to different fabrics to produce varying products!

  • Cut two circles of fabric. 
  • Put the sides you want facing out facing in and pin them together
  • Using a zigzag stitch (a setting available on the majority of machines), sew in a circle until you have just a small opening. Tie and cut the threads.
  • Turn it back right-way-out and then fold in the remaining open gap and stitch all the way around on the outside to finish it off.

These are handy if you only have small amounts of fabric. Using the same process, you can make cotton face pads, which you can wash and reuse.


Reusable tea bags

Sewing tea bags is pretty similar to above, with the addition of a draw string. It’s a sustainable alternative to buying regular, disposable tea bags.

  • Cut a square of cotton fabric (t-shirts, shirts) about 10x8cm. Lay a 24cm piece of string along the top of the longer side and fold a piece of fabric over it and sew it closed, being careful not to sew the string, allowing the string to move within the fold.
  • Fold in half with the folded over string facing out and sew up the bottom and sides up until you reach the string. Turn the bag right side out.
  • You can now fill up the tea bag with loose leaf tea (which is actually way better quality!) and steep it in hot water.

Producing these is simple and you can wash and reuse them, and meanwhile you’ve learned to add a drawstring!



Trousers extenders/ fabric cuffs 

If you’re a charity shop fiend and have bought a pair of jeans or trousers that aren’t *quite* long enough, you may be tempted to write them off – don’t! Adding a few inches to a pair of trousers couldn’t be easier as you can sew an additional cuff onto the hem with whatever fabric you have, from old curtain fabric to patterned bedsheets… Floral flannel flares, anyone?

  • Measure the width of the trouser leg and multiply by two. Add 1.5cm for seams. Decide how much you want to extend by and multiply by 2 (for each leg).
  • Cut two pieces of fabric using those measurements
  • Repeat the following on each; 
    • With the side you want facing outwards in, fold lengthways and sew together to form a tube
    • Place this inside out tube over the end of the trouser leg. Stitch to attach the tube to the pants. Turn it back right side in so you have an end double the length you want.
    • Fold the fabric into itself so that it is the desired length and the pattern faces outwards everywhere. Sew to close.