Thursday, January 15, 2015

Scarf Upcycled from T-Shirts

Problem: I love both my orange sunglasses and my red coat.  But they don't really match.

Solution: a red and orange scarf, all from recycled materials.

I was originally inspired by the book Sew Wild: Creating With Stitch and Mixed Media, but I didn't follow her instructions or even check out the book again when I started to work on my scarf.  Still, I wanted to give credit where credit is due, and it is a cool book if you like to sew outside the box, so to speak.

TIP: Read the whole tutorial before you start.  Trust me....

First, find a scarf that you like the length of and measure it.  I was aiming for about 60 inches long, roughly, and I decided to make it 12 inches wide, in part because I could use my 12-inch ruler to measure quickly and easily.  

Next, raid your stash old T-shirts, or hit the thrift store.  I decided to include fall colors in mine because I wanted something a little more wild and out there.  

Start cutting rectangles, keeping the width consistent (12 inches, in my case), but varying the height.  Of course, that depends on the look you want.  If you would like your scarf to be more uniform than mine, a consistent height would definitely move it in that direction.

Embellish some of the rectangles.  I probably did about one-third of mine.  You can do all, a few, or none, depending on your taste.  One thing I would recommend is to create images that don't have an upside down or a right side up.  For example, I wrote the word "love" and now it is upside down or right side up, depending on how I wear the scarf.  

I did multiple kinds of embellishments using glue, bleach, plastic, fabric markers, and thread.  I’ll detail these in an upcoming post.

Plan the order of the segments in your scarf.  Remember, the ones you put on the ends will be seen more often than the ones in the middle where they will be wrapped around your neck.  You will also probably want to balance colors and patterns versus non-patterned segments.  I decided that I wanted to avoid having the same color on both sides of the ends.  Remember that contrast is your friend!

Sew the segments of the front together.  I made a stack, and sewed them together two at a time.    Then I took those and sewed them together, so I had four segments sewn together.  Then I sewed pairs of fours into eights, etc.
 Repeat for the back.

NOTE: I used a serger.  A sewing machine will work but the finished scarf will be less durable unless you finish the ends of each piece with a zig-zag stitch before sewing them together.  Another tip to increase the durability is to leave generous seam allowances, at least half an inch.

Lay them side by side and realize that one side is too long.  Add onto the shorter side because the longer side is too cool to cut up.

Iron down the seams in one direction so that when you sew them, the foot of the machine will push them down in the same direction as you are ironing them.  This helps the finished scarf be less bumpy. 
Sew the front and the back together along one side.  (Don’t sew the other side yet!)  You now have a scarf the right length, but one that is much too wide and has seams showing—never fear, that will change!

In preparation for adding the fringe, fold over at least half an inch of fabric at the two ends.  Iron (or iron and sew) in place.  You are creating a nice edge for your fringe to jut out between.  Think of these like two lips and the fringe is the tongue that will stick out between them. 

Make the fringe.  This part took a lot of time, so if you are ok with fringe that is all one color, just make your scarf slightly longer and then cut the last (oversized) segment into strips.

I cut strips about 6-8 inches long out of leftover fabric from making the segments.  I took a strip of fabric (the anchor - orange in the photos below) and sewed other strips of fabric to it, overlapping them as I went.  Then I flipped the anchor over and added more strips on the back.  I repeated the process and made two of these anchor strips.  I wanted lots of thick fringe! 

Here’s one of the two pieces of finished fringe.

Sew the fringe to one side of your scarf, either the front or the back.  It doesn’t matter which as the fringe is going to end up between the front and the back.  Keep in mind that you don't want the anchor strip to show!

I like to sew on the finished side of the garment so I can make sure it looks good.  So I pinned the fringe on the back side, then added pins on the outside.  Then I took out the first set of pins so I wouldn’t sew over them. 

Sew one piece of fringe at one end and the other at the other.

Even up the edges for easier sewing. 

Next sew the other loooong side of the scarf together, with the right sides together.  You now have a tube that is open at both fringed ends. 

Double check your seam and re-sew parts if necessary

Turn your tube right-side out.

Pin and sew the ends so you have three layers all caught up in one stitch—the top, the anchor of the fringe, and the bottom.  You’ve now closed off your scarf. 

Trim away any "anchor" fabric that is showing from when you made the fringe. 

You are done!

Now I’m plotting a matching hat…..

Here is a related post about the five different techniques I used for embellishing fabric.

Questions? Compliments?  Pronouncements that nobody you know except me would ever wear something that gaudy?  Comments welcome!


  1. Very bright & one-of-a-kind for sure! Suits your style. :)

  2. Thanks! It was a lot of fun to make :)

  3. Nice! I shared it on our FB page: