You separate your trash, you turn off the lights when you’re not using them, and you cycle or walk to work (well, on nice days…). What else can you do to lead a more environmentally sustainable and conscious life? Become an upcycler! Learn more about upcycled clothing and sustainability, right here.

What Is Upcycling?

fabric patches
If you’re a crafter who uses fabric, you can easily become an upcycler.

The Merriam-Webster definition of upcycling, or upcycle, is: “to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item.”

You can see from this definition of upcycling what the “up” refers to: a higher monetary value. However, that focuses solely on the financial aspects of upcycling, and that isn’t always what upcycling is about! Sure, if you want to make some money by restoring old pieces of furniture or mending and tailoring vintage clothing, you absolutely can. But on a simpler level, upcycling can be about taking something old and giving it a new coat of paint or set of buttons to make it more attractive, modern, or useful.

Upcycling combines environmental sustainability with craftiness and your own personal style. Instead of throwing something old away or buying a totally new item, upcycling keeps items in use for longer. Plus, if you want to inject your own creativity into items you use in your daily life, upcycling can do that! Choose your own color palette, fabric trimmings, or other details for a totally unique, one-of-a-kind upcycled treasure.

Natural Inspiration—Upcycled!

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Why Is Upcycling Important?

tshirt yarn
Turn scrap fabric into yarn for knitting!


Every object you use in your daily life—from your clothes to your kitchen table—took resources and labor to create. When an old or unwanted item is thrown away, it’s added to a landfill (although some parts can be recycled) and you’re likely to need a replacement for that sweater or chair. That means even more resources and labor are used to meet the demand for ever newer goods. Upcycling puts a stop to this endless cycle, or at least slows it down and reduces waste.

Cost Saving

Who doesn’t love to save a few dollars? When you need to replace an item, buying new will usually cost more than upcycling it yourself. Even if you can buy something new for less than the cost of upcycling, you might not be saving yourself money in the long run. 

Think of an old coffee table you’ve had for years: You could sand it down and buy varnish or paint to upcycle it, or you could replace it with something cheap (that may not last very long anyway because it’s not well-made). Upcycling for the win!


If you dislike having the same mass-produced clothing or homewares as everyone else, upcycling is definitely for you! No two upcycled items are the same.

A Creative Outlet

Whether your tool of choice is a sewing machine or a hammer and saw, upcycling is a fun way to put your creative talents to use or to learn a new skill.

Examples of Upcycled Items


teacup plants
Old kitchen items can be turned into plant pots.

Looking for a decorative holder for your houseplants? You probably have something suitable on a back shelf in your kitchen! Paint it, decorate it—just don’t forget to place the plant within a smaller plastic container with drainage holes first, to keep your plants healthy.

Embroidered Clothes

Add color and individuality to your clothing with embroidery.

Get creative with a needle and embroidery floss and stitch a pretty and unique design onto an old, plain t-shirt. 

Applique Clothing

Skillshare instructor Vida Vasquez wearing one of her applique creations while making another.

Applique is the art of upcycling clothing by sewing scraps of fabric onto it in pictures, shapes, or abstract designs. Skillshare instructor Vida Vasquez will show you how.

Weave Cloth from Old Fabric

jeans jacket with cloth scraps
The panel on the back of this jacket is made of cloth woven from scraps.

Turn old strips of fabric into a totally new piece of cloth by weaving it on a handmade loom. You can then use that woven piece in various ways, including to decorate other clothing, like the denim jacket above, or as rugs or placemats.


The Japanese art of boro makes fabric out of patches of other fabric.

You can also stitch fabric scraps together to make fun pieces of patchwork fabric. Then, sew them onto other items of clothing (a bit like applique), or use them to make whole pieces, like bags or pouches.

Sweater to Slippers

slippers made of sweaters
These cozy slippers are made from pieces of sweaters.

There’s no need to throw away an old wool sweater that has a stain down the front or holes in the elbow. Use pieces that are still in good condition to make cozy slippers

Scrap Silk Flowers

flower crown
Turn luxury fabric scraps into flowers.

If you work with luxury fabrics, you won’t want to waste the offcuts. Make them into pretty flowers that can be sewn onto clothing, headbands, or accessories.

Resin Side Table

resin table
Breathe new life into an old table.

If you’re seeking an ambitious upcycling project, why not try this multi-layered resin side table

Greeting Cards

collage mountains
Student work by Rosemary Atwood for Upcycle Design: Create a Postcard from Trash.

Use scrap paper to make greetings cards, postcards, or art that you can hang on your wall. You don’t need to buy any fancy papers—old magazines, gift wrap, and other scraps work perfectly!

Crochet Rag Rug

crocheted rags
Crochet rags together to make mats and rugs.

Crocheting is a fun and relaxing craft, and you can turn old fabric scraps into mats and rugs by crocheting them together.

Leather Bracelet

leather jewlery
Turn leather scraps into jewelry.

If you work with leather, you likely have scraps you can turn into a fashionable bracelet or other piece of jewelry.

Notebook-to-Jewelry Box

notebook box
Turn an old hardback notebook into an upcycled jewelry box.

Here’s an upcycling project you might not have considered: Skillshare instructor Kate Chystykova teaches how to turn an old hardback notebook into a stylish jewelry box.

Get Started Upcycling

Ready to get started upcycling? Take a look in your closet or your garage and find something that’s seen better days. Alternatively, make a trip to your local thrift store and find something with a good underlying structure that could do with some TLC. If you’re really crafty, you can upcycle pretty much anything, but an easier way to get started is to choose something that is still structurally sound but would benefit from modernizing or refreshing. Have fun!

Live a More Eco-Friendly Life

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Written By

Elen Turner

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