I love giving my clothes, and whatever else I no longer need, to people who can use them. However, there comes a time when an item, no matter how lovely, cute or useful it once was, must die. I consider myself to be the place where old baby clothes come to die. If I receive a hand-me-down item of baby clothing with stains on it, I will treat and wash it once, if the stain does not come out, it is retired to my fabric pile and made useful. I will not throw an item out if I can come up with a use for it, but I will not pass stained or ripped stuff on.
I feel guilty buying fabric to make things when so many things have fabric that I can use long after the original garment will no longer work. A stain on the shoulder of a t-shirt means it really can not be worn out of the house, but the rest of the fabric is fine and can be used. Think back a hundred years. When a garment was no longer good for it's original use, the fabric was repurposed and if nothing else it was put in the rag bag or might be made into a quilt. This is my version of the same.
In no particular order, here are things I have done or heard of being done with various items that have outlived their original use. In some cases a serger or sewing machine make these projects easier or things last longer, but in other cases a pair of scissors is all you need.
Towels When they raggedy or worn thin in spots you can -
Cut them down and use them for dirtier jobs, bleach jobs, etc.
Cut down, serge on the sides and use as wash cloths, diaper wipes, face wipes. These are good to have in a bag in the car for cleaning messy faces. I keep a bottle of water in the car, get one at a time wet as I need them and scrub away. They get the job done and don't leave stickiness or a funky smell in their wake.
Use a big bath towel that has gotten raggedy on the edges to make a pillow case for your throw pillows. I am planning to do this so that I can easily cover the pillows when a child is sick and spending time on the couch. That way the pillow case is absorbent and washable and maybe it will save your nice couch pillows from the possible yuck.
We also have simply cut off the strings and retired towels to the rag drawer for catching spills in the kitchen and wiping dirty paws and feet.
Wedding Dresses and Other Fancy, Never Going To Wear Again, Duds
I know, in some cases a daughter or daughter-in-law may want to wear a wedding dress. Then again, in many cases the size is not going to work and can not be made to work and sometimes a dress is...errrr....not timeless. Here are some other ways to save the sentimental items.
Use the material from a wedding dress to make a baptism gown, first communion gown, or ring pillow. These items can then be passed around for generations and be heirlooms.
Use some material to make a fancy cover for a wedding album.
Beads could be restrung and given as a gift to a young girl when she reaches a certain age. Even if they are not pricey, they hold sentimental value.
Lace can be saved to be used on a future wedding dress.
Lining material can be made into a playsilk, or play skirt for a little girl, or as a slip or liner for another dress.
Or, you could follow my mother's upcycling technique and let your dog sleep on your wedding dress. Ahem. :)
Cut into 2 inch wide strips, braid three of these strips together, as you get close to the end of one strip, you sew another on to the end (adding length) and continue braiding until you have a long coil of braid. Once you have lots of braid coiled up (you can use lots of color shirts and add on as tees wear out) you stitch them together in a circle, heart, oval, square, whatever and you have a throw rug. Some people do this with their white undershirts and sorta tie dye the braid before sewing. Pretty cool.
Make fitted diapers out of them - yes really, there are tutorials online here www.naturalviolet.blogspot.com/2009/04/recycled-t-shirt-diaper.html and here you can just use the t-shirt as a diaper, not cutting needed, cool! www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL7ZF3jlVgc
Use a serger to make them into face cloths, diaper wipes, etc.
Of course, soft tees make great dust cloths.
A little creative cutting and ribbon makes a super cute dress for a little girl look online for t-shirt made into dress tutorials. Ohhh, I can't find the tutorial! This one is complex, but great! www.indietutes.blogspot.com/2007/06/adult-tee-to-childs-dress-recon.html What I did was more like this pillow case tutorial, I just cut the sleeves off an old shirt of mine. www.everythingsewing.net/pillowcase_dress_how_to.htm
Cut offs, really, you knew that already, right? I have serged, rolled and put a few quick stitches in to make for nicer denim shorts. Not the most stylish things, but my boys really do not care.
Make a pair of jeans into a skirt using an online tutorial. www.savvyseams.com/clothing/jeanskirt.php
What about when the tear is in the crotch (hard to repair) and what about the fabric you cut off below that nasty knee tear? AHA!
Save these scraps and unuseable denim pants. Cut the good fabric on them into 6" or 8" squares, you can incorporate any fancy trim or pockets for a funky look. Sew them together with flannel squares on the back. Leave the edges raw so they fray and you have a great picnic quilt. I got this idea from the amazing Deb of Diapers by Deb at http://www.madebymama.com/. Here is a tutorial I found www.patchwork-and-quilting.com/rag-quilt.html I am working on one of these this winter and will post pictures when I finish it.
You can also save the long bits that are left over after you cut the squares off the legs and give them the same treatment we gave the t-shirts. That's right, make a braided rug. However, sewing these bad boys is not for the faint of heart! www.craftown.com/instruction/rugs.htm
What about the butt part? Make a cute purse. You could even make the straps by braiding denim strips together. Suggested by Liz. I would leave the lining out, but I guess that does make it nicer. www.threadbanger.com/post/2642/how-to-turn-old-jeans-into-a-sweet-new-purse
Dress pants with tattered knees get the cut off treatment, serged, rolled and stitched to make dressy shorts.
Sweat pants with tattered knees get the cut off treatment.
The legs of those sweats are cut open to lay flat, anything hard (elastic or a seam) is cut off. Then, I cut the fabric into appropriate lengths to use as diaper liners. The fabric is thick enough to keep diaper rash cream away from your diapers! After a use or two I don't feel bad throwing these away (the rash cream never completely washes out and WILL affect the absorbency of your diapers, so DO NOT wash liners with diapers!)
Other odds and ends
When flannel shirts are past their prime they are often soft. If that is the case, I will cut them into handkerchiefs for the kids. These are not necessarily pretty, but they get the job done and don't rub little faces raw. Also, flannel scraps are used to make the back of the denim quilt above!
I replaced the fabric on my dining room chairs and used the old fabric to make dish cloths. The fabric is really nubby and does a GREAT job of scrubbing.
Just about any material can be made into a diaper. If you have thought about switching to cloth diapers, but cringed at the cost, consider making your own from worn out clothing you already have or can find at thrift stores. I would reccomend using hemp, microfiber or at least flannel for the absorbent inner parts, but that would still make for a really cheap, just as effective diaper and leave you only purchasing the PUL covers. You could also go to the thrift store, buy old wool sweaters and make those into covers!
A friend recently used parts of old favorite pants to make a cute skirt. The waist was a waistband from a comfy pair of pants and she used legs from pants to create panels. Enough panels sewn together and sewn to the waist band and voila, a cute, free and comfy skirt! I would totally do this with pants that I no longer can wear, if I still love the pattern.
I know not all of these ideas would be appealing to everyone, but I hope this will make you think twice before you throw away an item of clothing that looks like it is beyond redemption.