Shag Bag From Recycled T-Shirts




About: I've been posting Instructables since the site's inception, and now build other things at Autodesk. Follow me for food and more!

I made this shaggy shoulder bag for Very Interesting in the summer 2010 gift exchange

She requested something made from reused old clothes.  I don't know her size (and since I was a last-minute fill-in for someone who had to drop out, I didn't have time to find out) so fitted clothing was out.  I got inspired by this shag rug Instructable, hit up my stash of old t-shirts, and then watched as what started out as a simple project (a rug!) spiraled out of control.

Several t-shirts, many hours of cutting and sewing, and some blood, cyanoacrylate, a splint, and some bandaging later, I finally had a pretty funky looking shaggy shoulder bag!  (Then, of course, I mailed it off.  Such is life.)

Read on for all the gory details, and the other things I considered turning it into along the way.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

4 XL t-shirts (to shred) (use more if they're smaller)
1 M t-shirt (for backing, and a bit of shredding)
~1/2 yard of cotton fabric (for base/liner)
velcro or buttons (for closure)
fleece/felt/flannel (optional, for padded shoulder strap)

measuring tape
rotary cutter
cutting mat
sewing machine (I used a Singer Curvy)
serger (optional, but handy; I used the lab's Singer)
needle & thimble (optional, for attaching velcro or buttons)

Step 2: Pick and Strip T-shirts

Pick some clean, washed old t-shirts with matching or compatible colors. 

Lay out your t-shirt on the mat, and cut into ~1.25" strips with your rotary cutter.  Convert as much of each shirt into strips as possible - it's better to have leftovers than to run out.

You'll notice I don't have a picture of this step - you'll have to use your imagination, and extrapolate from the other picture of rotary-cutter use below.

Why no picture?  Well, this is a bit repetitive, and rotary cutters can be SHARP!  I forgot to take a timely lunch break, and set the cutter down on the back of my hand with the guard pulled up - it cut all the way down to the bone, with virtually no pressure applied.  Thankfully it missed all the important stuff (tendons, etc.) so I grabbed some tissue glue (cyanoacrylate) and superglued the cut back together.  A quick popsicle-stick splint and some protective padding, and I was back to cutting.

Long story short, bleeding all over means you forget to take pictures.  Remember, kids, safety first! I've used sharp rotary cutters for decades, and finally got a stupid injury. I don't recommend it.

Edited to add:
I found a couple of pictures!  Turns out this step WAS documented, I just forgot where I put them.  I'm still using the same excuse, though.

Step 3: Stretch Strips

Grab both ends of your strips, and stretch around a stationary object like your foot (long strips) or knee (short strips).  The strip will curl up nicely.

Running your hand along the strip to stretch it mostly results in rugurn; I got a much more efficient stretch using my foot, too.

Step 4: Cut Stretched Strips

Gather your stretched strips so they're all even at one end, and cut them to 4.5" lengths.  They won't have stretched quite evenly, so throw out the sub-4" random bits you're left with at the end.  

Step 5: Prep Base

Find a neat piece of fabric.  This will act as the base for your rug, and the inside lining for your bag. 

I was originally going to make a basic rug, but since I didn't know how far these strips would get me I just cut a nice big 16" strip the full 30" width of my fabric and hemmed the sides. 

Again, I forgot to take pictures (I'm blaming everything on the blood loss!) so here's a picture of the hemmed rectangle.  Pretend it's not already covered in fuzzy t-shirt bits.

Step 6: Sew on T-shirt Strips

Start at one end of the hemmed backing fabric, and sew on your t-shirt strips. Check out the rug Instructable for better pictures. (Blood, remember? Right!)

I didn't use the tape suggestion, but instead grabbed strips by 2's and 3's and shoved them under my sewing machine's presser foot - it worked quite well, so I didn't have any incentive to plan farther ahead.  (I'd made nice tidy bundles of each color t-shirt strips, which was more than enough preparation in my book.)

Keep sewing in your pre-arranged order until you've made your way half-way down the backing fabric.

Step 7: Backing, Gaps, and (optional) Pockets

Fold your base fabric in half, good sides together, with the furry t-shirt bits down.  (This is how your bag will be arranged when it's done.)

Measure the back side, and cut your backing t-shirt to fit. 

(Make sure you leave a bit of extra fabric for the hem - about 1/4 - 1/2". I serged my edges because i could, but if you don't have a serger a zigzag stitch will prevent the edges from raveling, or you can just be extra-careful about folding before you hem.)

Pin it onto the base fabric.  Pin the center as well as the edges - you don't want a bunch of puckers in the center.  Think of this as basting, as if you're quilting, and give the shirt a few runs across the center with your sewing machine to really get it situated properly.

Fill in the gap between your previous t-shirt strips and the backing t-shirt with more strips. I cut them from my backing t-shirt to help it blend in a bit better, but you can certainly continue with your original color(s).

Now is also the time to add internal pockets, as the order of operations (sewing on pockets or backing t-shirt first) will vary depending on the size and location of both your pockets and your t-shirt's design.  I did the (probably too-big) big internal pocket first, then had to wrestle with sewing down the shirt without making the pocket unusable.  To top it off, I added another pocket on the OUTSIDE - extra positioning fun.  Plan better than I did.

Step 8: Add Strap

Cut and stretch three (or six, or 9) long strips of t-shirt material, and braid them into a strap.  Test it on your bag against your body for length - remember that the weight of the bag will Sew over each end to prevent it from unraveling, and then sew it firmly* into the side of your bag.

*Firmly = several runs up and down the strap to make sure there's no chance of it ripping out.  You may use straight or zigzag stitches.

Step 9: Sew Up Sides

Pin the sides of your bag together, and sew them up. 

Be sure to sew with the fuzzy side facing up so you can shove the strips out of your way!  I was suspicious this wouldn't work, but it was totally easy.

Step 10: Add Closure

Add the closure of your choice!

I used velcro; there's plenty of room in between the rows of strips to sew your velcro onto the fuzzy side.  Just don't use pre-sticky velcro, or it gets your sewing machine needle all gummy!  (Go on, ask me how I know this... I ended up having to hand-sew the velcro.  Yuck.)

You could also use a button or knot (like a Monkey fist) and loop (paracord!) as closure.  It depends on how you plan to use the bag.

Step 11: Add Shoulder Pad

Upon further testing, I decided the strap needed a removable shoulder pad.  Why?  Because the strap was thin, the bag was big (and likely to become overloaded and heavy), and because this project had turned into a bit of a crazy time-sink!  Ah well, once you start you have to finish it off properly.  So:

Make a properly-sized pad from four layers of an old fleece blanket, then cut a piece of fabric roughly three times the size of the pad (plus hem space).  Hem edges of the fabric, then sew it over the fleece pad.  It should look like the 2nd picture below.

Then add velcro along the edge of the padded portion (again, see the 2nd picture), and along the matching (underside) face.

Step 12: Wear!

Now you're the proud owner of a ridiculous, fuzzy, huge shaggy bag made from recycled t-shirts! 

Wear it with pride, and show off the blood stains*!

Before I sewed the sides of the bag up, it totally looked like I was making the front half of a dress, or an apron (though there's waaaay too much surface area for it to be a good apron; ack.)  The fuzzy t-shirt bits would make an excellent skirt!  Somewhere between faux-fur and flapper chic.  This technique seems flexible enough for use in a variety of fun clothing projects.

A fuzzy skirt is now somewhere on my (very long) to-do list, but I'd love to see someone else give it a try! 

*No, there weren't blood stains.  But we can pretend I left some nice ones.

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    21 Discussions

    Tinker L

    7 years ago on Step 3

    Help! My strips won't curl! Yes, I'm cutting them with the stretch, but they just stretch out into flat-ish coarse textured useless hunks of jersey. What am I doing wrong, please?

    2 replies
    canidaTinker L

    Reply 2 years ago

    Hi Tinker L, try cutting the opposite direction on your shirts, and see if they stretch then.

    Tinker LTinker L

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    p.s.: I tried 1" and 1-1/4" strips, cutting in the other direction, and started stretching gently then increased the tension.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Great bag! Truly Unique! Must have taken a while to make it :)


    6 years ago on Step 12

    Awesome bag, the colors layers make it look great!


    8 years ago on Step 8

    Oops - sentence error :)

    I guess you meant to say:
    "Test it on your bag against your body for length - remember that the weight of the bag will"...
    ... stretch it over time :D

    (Sorry, I'm really pedantic about that sort of thing - please don't take offence because I don't mean any!)

    It's an awesome 'ible, I'll be making this as soon as I'm reunited with my t-shirt stash!


    8 years ago on Step 12

    I just embellished my laundry basket in a similar fashion, for no logical reason, other than I like this application. I was looking for something I could wear with these fuzzies on it. Going to try this bag idea, but smaller scale, with a long cross-over strap. Thanks for the inspiration, and the technique. Didn't have a handle on how I would do it, now I do!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah it could've been named in a better way... But nonetheless a cool ible!

    I LOVE this bag. The craftsmanship, the color choices, the I-Robot, the skull fabric....truly, it's so amazing. I love new ideas and this one really hit the mark! Thank you again for a great gift!!!!

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Step 12

    Ooh, I might just steal your fuzzy skirt idea! Although I'll probably use hoooked zpagetti instead of t-shirts, to save myself some work.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Please steal away! I'd love to see the result.
    And swapping out the t-shirts makes sense if you're doing a ton of surface area.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    True, but all-encompassing. It's impressive visually - although, I will admit, the first thing I thought of was a carwash brush, the ones that use felt strips and spin over your car...but in an artsy way - and in sheer workmanship (I have determined I am physically incapable of using a sewing machine, so I'm always impressed by successful and ambitious projects). Plus, despite the ridiculously frilly nature, it seems like a genuinely useful object - I know my kid sister would love something like this - and well thought-out for a rapid project. And finally, cutting oneself to the bone and not tossing the bladed object out the nearest window...I don't ever cut myself, but any project on which I've hammered a thumb or such is most likely still unfinished... Detailed enough? ;)


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It's definitely a lot like a car wash brush! I can only imagine that producing a wearable tube of the material would be even more convincing. *ponders another Halloween project*

    And yes, that's a counterbalancing overabundance of detail. ;)


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    That would be a hilarious costume, but I'd bet the tube would make a great sleeping bag too. You'd really stand out at night, and no animal would want to get close for fear of spines or poison or something deadly!

    Plus it would be rather warm if you could do this with terrycloth or similar material...hmmm.


    8 years ago on Step 12

    Cool and Funky Idea!!!! Thanx A ton!