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Too Many Political T-Shirts? 6 Ways to Repurpose Them

The messages may be eternal, but T-shirts aren't forever. These DIY projects can give them new life.
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Illustration by Jem Sullivan

Is your closet stuffed with a collection of T-shirts that proclaim your passions, from saving the whales to supporting your local farmers market? Customize and repurpose your favorite old tees to give those messages the airing they deserve.

1. Occupy Scissorhands

Protest when the heat is on by transforming a bulky T-shirt into a cool racer-back tank top. Cut out the sleeves and neckline of the T-shirt to create tank top straps. Use a strip of excess fabric to tie the tank straps together at the back. Cut thin strips up from the bottom of your shirt to create fringe. Braid or bead—free style.

Illustration by Jem Sullivan

2. Get comfy with it

Make your tee into a cushion cover and cuddle up. Measure the cushion you want to cover and cut a piece of newspaper to the same size. Pin the newspaper to the front of your shirt, centering the logo. Allowing an extra inch around the perimeter of the newspaper, cut two pieces of fabric—one from the front and one from the back of the T-shirt. Arrange the pieces with the design facing the inside and sew a seam along three sides, a half-inch from the edge of the fabric. Cut a slit at each corner, two centimeters away from the new seam, to make sharper corners. Turn the cover right side out and insert your cushion. Fold over the raw edges of the fourth side of the cover, pin in place, and stitch the seam by hand or on the machine.

3. Warhol would have

Fold your T-shirt around an appropriately sized wooden frame—the sort of canvas stretcher used by artists is ideal—with the logo or design in the center. Pull the fabric taut as you staple the shirt along the back of the frame with a staple gun. Trim the excess fabric at the back. Your tee is now wall art, and ready to hang.

Illustration by Jem Sullivan

4. Give the dog a voice

Adorn your dog with a small protest tee cut to size. First, slip the tee over your dog’s head so that the design is displayed on the dog’s back and the dog’s legs slip comfortably into the sleeves. Mark the shirt three-quarters of the way down your dog’s back. Once the shirt is off the dog, cut off the sleeves, the excess length along the bottom, and a narrow “V” shape where the shirt will fit across your dog’s belly to allow room for comfort and doggy business as usual.

5. Tote your message

Recycle your old T-shirt into a handy tote bag. This works best with a large shirt. Cut off the sleeves, and cut the neckline wider and deeper like a tank top. (You can use a plate to trace a smooth curve for a cutting guide.) The tank top straps will become the handles of the bag. Turn the shirt inside out, pin it closed at the bottom, and sew a seam straight across the bottom about an inch from the edge. Reinforce by sewing over the seam one more time. Turn the shirt right side out, and you’re ready to go.

6. Add your comment

One easy method for making your own “logo” tee is to create or download a design on your computer. Check out designs provided for sharing on the Internet—subverted logos are one type that make a strong point.

Print the design directly onto heat transfer paper. Place the image face down on the front of a clean and ironed T-shirt. Iron the back of the paper to transfer the image to your T-shirt—follow the instructions for the heat transfer paper you’re using. Allow the image to cool and set before gently removing the paper. Wash your shirt in cool water before wearing.


Christine St. Pierre and Kali Swenson wrote this article for The Power of Story, the Summer 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Christine and Kali are YES! editorial interns.

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