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Recycled T-Shirt Journal - with Donkey Kong, Harry Potter, and other Nerdy Things

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My husband loves to wear witty, ironic, awesome t-shirts, but he tends to go through them pretty quickly. Once the armpits get all weird and crunchy the thrift store won't take the shirts, so the clothing is destined for the trash.

There are hundreds of ways to reuse t-shirts all over the interent, but if you are a never-ending DIY-er like me, you have a vast collection of refashioned t-shirts dresses, t-shirt quilts, and t-shirt shopping bags.

I wanted to figure out another way to reuse the cool graphics of the shirts that could be replicated quickly and would appeal to the masses. 

I also kept seeing Star Wars and Nintendo shirts at the thrift shop that were fifty cents and size XXL, so I grabbed as many nerdy shirts as I could and started selling the finished journals at a local coffee shop. Maybe you can do the same.

We all have piles of shirts that we don't wear anymore, but for sentimental or hoarder reasons we are unable to get rid of a single tee. I'll show you how to use an old shirt to make a cool fabric-covered journal, and BONUS! These make great presents!
 
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Step 1: Tools and Materials

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TOOLS:
- rotary cutter
- foam brush (or regular-type brush)
- cutting mat
- heavy book
- hammer
- four bitty nails
- needle
- ruler


MATERIALS:
- an incredible t-shirt (I guess it could be a lame boring shirt, but hey, that's on YOU)
- two sheets of 8.5x11 cardstock, preferably in a color complementary to your shirt
- 20-30 sheets 8.5x11 paper. I used recycled printer paper for this instructable. Lately have been making them with paper from graph paper notebooks I found in the trash.
- Mod Podge
- newspaper
- thread. I use waxed linen thread, but any sort of thread or embroidery floss will do.
- scrap wood
- sharpie (optional for prep-step)
- 8.5" x 11" transparency (optional for prep-step)

Step 2: Optional Prep-Step: Make a Template

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Note: If you are going to be making more than a few t-shirt journals, or you care deeply about the exact placement of the shirt's graphic elements on the cover of your journal, I would recommend doing this step. If you are making one journal or have a more lackadaisical spirit about where the designs wind up, you can skip this and use a regular sheet of paper instead of the template.

Lay a sheet of 8.5" x 11" transparency onto a white sheet of paper. Using a ruler and a sharpie, draw a line down the center of the transparency (on the 11" side). Run the sharpie along each edge of the transparency so that two equal rectangles are easily visible when you lay the transparency on a surface.

Step 3: Cut up your shirt!

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Lay your shirt out on a cutting mat. Use your transparency template to pick the best possible cover for your journal, keeping in mind that the rectangle on the left will be the back cover, and the rectangle on the right will be the front cover.

Depending on the size of the graphic, you may be able to make two journals from one shirt. If you do this, a sparrow will sing a song outside of your window to thank you for reusing your t-shirt twice as effectively as everyone else.

Use a straight-edge and a rotary cutter to cut the shirt about 1/4" away from the transparency.

Step 4: Make your Outside Cover

Pour some Mod Podge onto a plate and slather a layer onto one side of a full sheet of cardstock. Make sure to cover the entire surface and pay extra attention to cover the edges!

Lay your t-shirt piece face-down. If it is super wrinkly you may want to iron it, but I never take the time to do that and it turns out just fine. Carefully position your cardstock Podge-side down on the shirt so that there is about a 1/4" border of t-shirt sticking out on all sides of the cardstock. Put a heavy book on top of the cardstock and leave until the Mod Podge dries.

Once the cover is dry, use scissors to nip in the corners of the t-shirt. You want to cut them at an obtuse angle right at the corners of the cardstock. This is so the sides will form a clean overlap when you fold the shirt down over the cardstock.

Apply Mod Podge on an egde of the cardstock and fold the t-shirt border down onto the cardstock. Repeat on all sides, overlapping the t-shirt at the corners. Don't worry about making things super beautiful--all the extra glue and raggedy lines will be covered up with crips, clean cardstock. Put the cover back underneath your heavy book until dry.

Don't worry if the edges of the fabric look kind of messy--they will get covered up in the next step.

Once dry, fold the cover in half. Marvel at how cool your journal looks so far.

Step 5: Inside Cover (also known as "Cover up the Ugly Edges")

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Cut your second piece of cardstock in half and trim about 1/8" off of each side (you can just cut 1/4" off of the top and one side for the same outcome). Use Mod Podge to glue the cardstock on the insides of the journal cover, leaving a gap in the fold of the journal. Stick the cover under a heavy book until dry.

Step 6: Add the Pages

Make a stack of 20-30 sheets of 8.5x11 paper. Fold the stack in half. Keep the sides straight! Put your stack on pages inside the journal cover. Make sure the top and bottom of the pages and cover are aligned.

Postion the journal so that the binding edge sits on some scrap wood. Open the journal to the middle page.

Pound in your four tiny nails along the center crease to make holes for your binding thread. Make sure to go all the way through the pages and the cover. Be careful to nail straight down through the center of the pages and the cover.

Rather than space the holes evenly apart, stagger the holes so that the nails on the top and on the bottom of the pages are much closer to each other. You can measure if you like--I just eyeball it and hope for the best.

Pull out all the nails. You can use a scrap piece of paper underneath the hammer to protect your journal pages. Snip a foot of thread and tie a big fat knot in one end. Make sure the knot is large enough that it won't pull through your nail holes.

Step 7: Binding

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Using a needle, pull the thread down through hole number one until your big knot is pulled tight inside the pages of the journal.

Pull the thread back up through hole number two and pull tight.

Pull the needle down through hole number three and pull tight.

Lastly, pull the needle up through hole number four. Make sure each stitch is pulled tight! Tie a big knot in your thread so that it lays tight against hole four.

Step 8: Trim Pages

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Yikes! The pages go past the journal cover, so we need to trim them down. Using a pencil, mark where the front cover overlaps the first page.

Fold the cover back on itself so that the pages are all by their lonesome.

Using your pencil mark as your guide, trim the pages using a straight edge and a rotary cutter.

Step 9: Fill your Journal with Secrets and Sketches

Your journal is finished! Keep an eye out for more incredible t-shirts, because once your friends see your new journal they will probably all want you to make some for them.

Here are a few more examples of these t-shirt journals--I hope you feel inspired!
Darthorso10 months ago

This is really great! :D

I wish I had a rotary cutter or a paper Guillotine. This looks like a funload of butts to make.
You don't really need them, craft knives work just as well, that's what I used and it turned out pretty good.
ttunçman2 years ago
I want those T-shirts more than I want those notebooks.
Kjata10132 years ago
Love this! But oh god, I can't get the thought of "crunchy armpits" out of my head...(>_<)
emilygraceking (author)  Kjata10132 years ago
Haha, I just meant they get yellowed or stained with deodorant build-up! It is pretty gross though.
I know the crunchy armpit comment will haunt me for weeks, but its a really cool idea and your right i do have a bunch of tshirts I for some reason cant throw away, and would make great covers, thankfully my shirts are "crunch free" so i think I will make a few of those and try to donate the rest
lej6192 years ago
What a great idea!! thanks
Shanderson2 years ago
And here I thought it was just a bleached tshirt design - but behold! It is actually a DK shirt that you dice to make a journal.

I can dig it.
emilygraceking (author)  Shanderson2 years ago
Thanks! You could bleach a design, but it would be a lot more work--it's so much easier to upcycle cool old shirts instead.
shaddoty2 years ago
This is brilliant.
BrittLiv2 years ago
oh, these look great, good job!
emilygraceking (author)  BrittLiv2 years ago
Thank you! I love how creative your projects are--as soon as I come across an old Nintendo zapper that Duck Hunt lamp will be mine, muahaha!
twokool2 years ago
Awsome thx
Cool!