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How to Salvage and Repurpose Old Band T-Shirts

On October 6, 2016

By Libby Cudmore


We all know the heartbreak. Your favorite concert tee gets saggier and saggier every time you wear it, translucent, moth-eaten. Or, maybe you dripped taco sauce down the front and no amount of washing will save it. Tore it in a game of Frisbee. Sweat until the armpits turned banana yellow. Or maybe you've finally found that perfect vintage Tragically Hip shirt at the Salvation Army, and it's just one size too small or three sizes too big.

Never fear. These great shirts don't have to go in the pajama/gym/laundry day pile. They can be saved—or even made better—with a few simple stitches. (you can use a sewing machine, of course, but I prefer to hand-sew in front of the TV.)

NEW SHIRT: Your favorite shirt. You wear it at least once a week and then sleep in it that night in hopes of dreaming of that great show one more time. It's easy to transfer it to a new shirt, and if you match the colors right, no one will notice. I'm a big fan of H&M tee-shirts and Target tank tops for my projects, but go wild with your design-—contrasting colors, ringer tees, even long-sleeve shirts.

For a square design, use pinking shears to evenly cut out the design, leaving a quarter-inch allowance all around. Pin to the new shirt and sew in matching thread with a tight whipstitch.

If the design isn't a square, use sharp, small scissors to carefully follow the design. If the shirt has someone's face on it (I salvaged a great vintage Morrissey tee that was WAY too big for me), cut around their image and use that for a dramatic presentation. Embellish with studs, trim, or rhinestones if you feel fancy.

For those of you in colder climates, use the same stitches to sew a piece onto the back of a basic hoodie, along the bottom hem. You can also sew/iron-on on the front, above your heart, where music truly lives. Put on your headphones, put up the hood and everyone will know not to interrupt you unless they've got front-row tickets they want to give you, free of charge.


And for the gals, a basic blah dress can become a concert showpiece. I bought my Siouxsie and the Banshees shirt from Tower Records just before they closed and you will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. The graphic has been sewn and resewn onto two different tank tops, a t-shirt and finally, a black cap-sleeve dress from H&M that I basically live in.


Home Economics: You live a rock & roll life, so there's no reason that you should come home to anything but.

Let everyone at the grocery store know how cool you are, even if you're buying toilet paper. This is great for too-big shirts that might otherwise get distorted. Most craft stores sell a range of tote bag sizes in their Fabric Craft aisle, so get a matching color (you can always dye them too) cut out the image with pinking shears, pin and sew the shirt image with a whip stitch. If you want to go crazy, replace the handles with wild fabric, add studs and fringe, or use it as a way to show off your band pin collection too!





Snuggle up with Steely Dan! Get cozy with The Cure! Take tea with Tori Amos or read a book with Robert Plant. I'm of the belief that throw pillows should always be made, not purchased, because they're THAT easy and they're GREAT for tour shirts where you want to preserve the front image and back tour dates.

Measure and cut out both sides and place the sides so that they're facing each other. Stitch together, leaving about 2" open on one side. Turn right side out and stuff that sucker with as much polyfill as you can cram in there, then add just a little more in case it shifts around. (Alternately, you can buy a pillow form and sew to fit around that.) Fold the opening down and sew up.

Nothing on the back? Pick a cool fabric and use that instead!


This one takes a lot of shirts, so you may want to hit up eBay or Salvation Army to help fill it out, or write your favorite song quotes on blank squares using fabric markers or paint. This is definitely a sewing machine project, so get that motor running.

Cut squares 12"x12" (from an medium tee-shirt; adjust accordingly) and place with the images facing together. Sew along one side, open, and repeat in a line until the desired length is achieved. When you have enough "strips," sew them together the same way. Make sure your stitches are tight!

Buy a length of cool printed fleece (mine has sugar skulls!) the same size as the completed front. Put the right side of the fleece against the right side of the patchwork and sew around the edges, leaving enough room to turn back out. Sew the remaining edge closed.


Thread a large needle with yarn and sew down through each piece at the 4 corners, leaving a "tail" poking up. Tie off and trim to an even size.

You can make it as large or small as you want, depending on the number of shirts you have. This is a great present for a concert-going bestie, or a new-house project for the rock & roll couple. Combine it with a set of throw pillows—heck, make some band shirt pajamas, too—to create a bed set that's way cooler than anything you'll find at Bed, Bath & Beyond.



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