A couple weeks ago Shira and I did a closet t-shirt clean out. When we were done we had a pretty sizable pile of t-shirts which were way to frayed to donate. We could just toss them in the trash (how many rags does one need?), but surely the Internet would have some terrific suggestions for putting these bad boys to use. Right? Well, almost right.
Lists do indeed abound: 39 Ways To Reuse, Restyle, And Rewear Your Old t-shirts, 50 Ways to Repurpose an Old t-shirt, 28 Innovative Ways To Use Old T-shirts, to name just a few. The catch is that most of the suggestions are either fashion related or are craft ideas outside my skill set.
Still, with all the great ideas out there, there had to be some Ben-appropriate uses for this heap of shirts. After a bunch of research, here's what I've come up with. Think function of fashion. Hope this helps.
1. Make a Bandana
It's trivial to cut a square of material out of a t-shirt, tie it around a pack strap or shove it in a pocket, and you've got one of the world's best outdoor multi-tools. (Here's 180 uses for a bandana, if you don't believe me). These particular bandanas would work well for activities that may involve messy jobs. If they get too grimy, you won't be sad to toss them.
2. Make Char Cloth
Assuming your old t-shirts are of the 100% cotton variety, then you can make char cloth from them. Char cloth is apparently a useful and time tested fire starting material. I've never used it before (I'm a dryer lint and Bic lighter kind of guy), but with all this cotton around, it's worth a try.
3. Master Making Cordage
One common t-shirt project is to braid or weave a new creation from t-shirt "yarn". Following this procedure, you can effectively turn a t-shirt into a length of cordage. Practicing this on some ancient t-shirts would help you master a skill which could really come in handy in the wilderness. Not to mention, if you make the cordage wide enough, you effectively have a scarf, which is handy in its own right.
Ninja Mask Improvise a Balaclava
I've covered this use of a t-shirt before: From t-shirt to Ninja Mask in 5 Easy Steps. I'd assume this approach would work just as well with a used t-shirt.
5. Create a Tote Bag
One frequently recommended use for old t-shirts that is functional is to create a tote bag. The whole procedure can be done in just a couple of minutes: (1) lop off the sleeves, (2) cut a wider opening on the neck and (3) close up the bottom of the shirt. The procedure is well described here, and gives you three options for sealing up the bottom of the bag. You can sew it, create a sort of draw string or cut fringes and ties the fringes off. I've tried that third approach, though before I tied the fringes off, I flipped the shirt inside out. Once the fringes are all tied off, and the bag is flipped back the right side around, the bottom is sealed and there's no dangly fabric in the way.
At first glance, these totes bags are of limited outdoor use. But, I think they may have more going for them then I originally thought. Given the right t-shirt, this may be perfect bag for a kid to bring along on a hike. The fact that the cotton breathes well and you don't really care about staining the bag, it might work well for collecting wild edibles. And finally, the soft fabric might be ideal for storing fragile gear off season. And just like the cordage above, practicing making the bag ahead of time means that if you ever need to improvise one, you'll know what you need to do.
So get snipping!