The Garbage Will Do: T-shirt Upcycle Project

Lauren Salerno

All Photos Courtesy of Lauren

Are you even a Star Wars fan if you don’t have a drawer full of t-shirts that you don’t wear anymore but refuse to throw or donate because…Star Wars??? Downsizing the amount of t-shirts I own can really fill me with existential dread. Repurposing a t-shirt though? That just makes me feel like a good human. 

In this t-shirt upcycle project, we’ll turn a t-shirt into a crinkle toy with some clever cutting and materials you were probably planning on tossing. When it comes to this fun, sensory toy, the garbage will do!

Supplies You’ll Need:

T-shirt with a fun graphic

Empty cereal bag


Straight pins or safety pins



Stuffing (Optional)

Some notes about supplies:

T-shirts – You want to pick a t-shirt that has a good focal point. Think characters, ships, creatures…anything with a clear outline for you to cut around.  

Cereal bag – Cereal bag packaging is typically made from high density polyethylene (HDPE). It is determined to be food safe, but there is always varying information regarding what level of interaction is safe with these materials. This is simply a note to inform yourself and make choices that feel good to you. Feel free to omit the cereal bag completely and opt for stuffing only.

Stuffing – This is optional. A lot of crinkle toys are flat. I think the stuffing adds another sensory experience to the toy, but it’s not a huge deal if you don’t have it. I happened to have a pillow that was at the end of its life. You could also use the innards from an old plushie that you’re ready to let go of.

Step 1: Prep and Cut

You’ll start off by prepping the cereal bag. Pull at the seams with adhesive until you have one big piece of plastic, careful to avoid ripping the bag. Wash and dry the bag. Cut off all the edges that had adhesive on it. Fold and cut the bag in half. Set the two pieces aside.

Take your t-shirt and figure out what your cut out is going to be. I’m concentrating on the Millenium Falcon. Cut your t-shirt into a square around the design for easier handling. Make sure you cut the front and back of the t-shirt at the same time so that they maintain about the same shape. At this first cut, you’ll give yourself at least 3 inches of space from your design to be sure that you have an appropriate amount of material to work with when you go back in to make some additional cuts.

Step 2: Mark and Cut

Take the front part of the t-shirt that has the design you want to cut out. With your pins, create a line of pins around the part that you want to be visible when the toy is completely finished. For me, I don’t care about the stripe design. I only care about the ship part, so I make my pins trace around the ship. That way I can feel where the borders of that design are when I’m sewing through all the layers of fabric and plastic. I used straight pins, but in retrospect, safety pins probably save you from getting poked in later steps.

Bring the two pieces of your cut out t-shirt back together. The graphic should be face down. Make sure the edges are aligned. Sandwich your t-shirt pieces between the two cereal bag pieces. Secure them with some more pins so that the four pieces you have don’t slide around too much. With all four pieces together now, you’ll cut about a half-inch to an inch away from the pin line. You may not be able to see it through the cereal bag, but you can certainly feel it. The goal is to give yourself enough room to sew around the design.

Step 3: Sew!

Again, using your pin line as your guide, sew around your cut out. I used a simple backstitch. Stop when you’re about 2 inches away from meeting your beginning stitch. Don’t do any finishing techniques just yet. I always double thread my needles for projects like this so that I can just let it hang and it won’t fall off the thread. Remove the pins you’ve been using to secure the four pieces together. They’ve done their job.

Step 4: Put That Thing Down, Flip It and Reverse It

Crafting sometimes involves a little danger, right? Here’s the danger step. Please be careful, especially if you have used straight pins as shown. 

You’re going to turn your partially sewn toy inside out so that the cereal bag pieces are on the inside and your t-shirt pieces are on the outside. If you’ve layered everything correctly, you should now be able to see the graphic and all of the remaining pins. You can now remove all of the pins. Give the inside and outside a good feel around to make sure you’ve gotten all of them out. 

Step 5: Stuff and Finish

If you have decided you want to put in a little stuffing, this is when you would do so. I didn’t put in too much. Just enough to make it a little squishy. You may want to put in a little more if you decided to omit the cereal bag. Find your threaded needle and make sure it’s on the outside. Fold the unsewn edges inward and finish sewing the rest of the toy closed with an invisible stitch.

That’s one way to make your Star Wars t-shirts live just a little bit longer.

How do you upcycle your t-shirts? 

Make sure you tag us when you make your own crinkle toys.

We’re on Instagram at @theprojectstardust. We’d love to see them!