Most of us are pretty good about donating clothing we no longer wear to thrift shops or rummage sales. But what about those items that cannot be re-sold, items that are damaged, torn or stained. After all thrift shops look for clothing to re-sell that is in good shape, clean, and odourless. 

Clothing that cannot be re-sold may be sent to places that repurpose them into rags or upholstery stuffing. Some will turn cotton into papers. Some gets sent overseas to be re-sold, and a small percentage does go into landfill. 

Before you get rid of your blemished, no longer perfect, in need of repair clothes, have you explored options to revamp, repair or make alterations? To extend the life of that favourite sweater or t-shirt? Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing:

  • If the hole isn't too big it can be darned. I know, I know, that was something our grandmothers or mothers did. But, really, the tidiest of repair jobs means the item is wearable once again. There are plenty of videos available online.  Of course it may take a bit of practice at first, but it's worth the effort to save a favourite piece of clothing. . And if the clothing has several colours or tones of one colour, the darning stitches just blend right in. Can you spot the repair in this picture? With practice, my repairs will improve even more. It's just below the arm hole so is barely noticeable. Of course, if you don't want to try this yourself, there are plenty of tailors available who will do the repair for a minimal cost. 

  • If after mending it shows up too much, adding some embroidery around the hole could do the trick.
  • Larger holes or stains can be covered with something another fabric, something that is complementary. Sashiko  or Boro - from Japan - and Kantha - from India - are all about patching up clothes and other textiles with scraps of cloth and with embroidery techniques specific to these regions. It also helps to strengthen fabrics, extending their lives even further. And no one says they patched parts have to match, they can be very colourful and funky, nothing like those old iron-on patches we used to see. This concept of repairing embraces the concept of "wabi sabi" which is about see the beauty in the imperfections and impermanence.
  • Old wool sweaters and blankets can be felted in your washer & dryer and cut into place mats or pot holders. Here are a few I've been working on. 

  • In days gone by, fabric scraps were recycled into beautiful quilts or cushion covers or other memory keepsakes - is there one hidden in your linen closet that has been passed down through the generations? I do sometimes see quilts made today from collections of old t-shirts or shirts which make wonderful keepsakes, especially when we have difficulty discarding a quantity of items that still have meaning.

    Or perhaps the scraps could be used to cover a mirror frame, like this one, or collaged onto a canvas, to make a piece of art.

  • Consider tie dyeing, bleach dyeing, sun printing, eco dyeing, fabric painting and more. This shirt was solid black, and after bleaching, turned this marvelous shade of brown. I used elastics to create the dark rings during the bleaching process.

Of course us fibre artists now look at old and damaged clothing in a whole new light, wondering if it can be altered or incorporated in some way into one of our projects. We collect fabrics for repurposing. If you also collect such materials, what suggestions do you have for altering or recycling?


"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try...