How to Upcycle pt 3: Shirt to Bag

Our Young Content Coordinator, Maddie, completes her series of step-by-step guides on how to transform your old items of clothes into stylish new garments, in a bid to become more sustainable. This article will show you how to transform an old shirt and part of a skirt into a backpack. For more in this series, see pt 1 to discover how to turn a pair of shorts into a crop top and pt 2 where Maddie shows us how to turn a pair of jeans into dungarees.


Men’s Shirt and Skirt into a Backpack


For this project, I used:

Men’s shirt, size medium

Long skirt, made of relatively thick and strong fabric

Iron-on interfacing (available from most fabric shops)



Step 1 – Cut out the pieces from the shirt, lining, and interfacing

Lay the shirt out flat. Draw a straight line across the top just beneath the collar, then draw two straight lines down, angling slightly out as you go down the shirt. You want to avoid the arms. Cut out along this line. Use one of these pieces to cut out the same shape twice from the lining and twice from interfacing.

Step 2 – Iron on the interfacing

Iron the interfacing onto the back of the two shirt pieces.

Step 3 – Make the pockets

If you want a pocket on the front and inside, cut a rectangle big enough from each of the sleeves. Cut a rectangle out of interfacing, at least two centimetres smaller. Iron the interfacing onto the back of the pocket pieces, with a centimetre of the shirt fabric showing on all sides. Fold this fabric under twice, concealing the raw edge. Pin one pocket to the front shirt piece and pin the other to one of the lining pieces. Sew along the sides and bottom.

Step 4 – Cut the straps out of fabric and interfacing

If you have a long sleeved shirt, you could use them for the straps. I had a short-sleeved shirt so I used my leftover skirt fabric. I cut strips out of the skirt and sewed them together until I had four long strips. I worked out how long the straps needed to be by measuring the length of the straps on a backpack I already had (which turned out to be 71cm) and then adding 10cm.

As the straps of a backpack need to be stronger than the straps for dungarees or a crop top, you will need to cut out two strips of interfacing, slightly narrower than the straps, and iron them onto the back of two of the fabric strips.

Step 5 – Make the straps

Pin the strips right sides together (the ones with interfacing on paired with one without any interfacing), sew along the two long edges and one of the short edges. Turn them through so they are the right way around and press flat, folding the raw ends of the straps in as well.

Step 6 – Make a handle out of the collar

To make a handle out of the shirt collar, cut along the bottom of the collar. Then make a strip of bias binding out of the leftovers of the skirt and bind the bottom raw edge of the collar (the same process described in Step 5 of the Shorts to Crop top project).

Step 7 – Sew the collar and straps to the back piece

Place the collar and the straps where you want them on the back piece of the shirt. Use 5cm at each end of the straps to pin them in place and sew them down, so the straps themselves still end up being the right length. I found the collar looked better when I sewed a rectangle of lining fabric over the ends. Once everything is pinned in place, sew them all down. I found I had to hand sew along the edge of the collar to keep it from flopping down.

Step 8 – Sew in the zip

Lay out your front lining piece right side up and place the zip right sides down along the top edge. Then place the front shirt piece right sides down over the zip. Pin in place and, using the zipper foot on your machine, sew along that line. Do the same thing for the back lining and the back shirt piece on the other side of the zip.

Step 9 – Sew the bag together

Lay out the bag so the two lining pieces are lying on top of each other, right sides together, and the two shirt pieces are lying on top of each other, right sides together. Pin and sew around the edges, leaving a gap in the lining so you can still turn the bag through.

Step 10 – Square off the bottom of the bag

If you want the bottom of the bag to be squared off (like mine is), then draw a square at the bottom corner of the shirt pieces and the lining pieces. Make each side of the square equal half the width of how wide you want the bottom of the bag to be. So if you want the bottom of the bag to be 10cm wide, the square should be 5x5cm. Take each corner of the square which meets the side and bottom seam, push them together and flatten them out so you have a triangle at the corner with a seam running straight through the middle. Sew along the bottom of this triangle, at right angles to the seam.

Step 11 – Turn bag through and sew up the lining

Using the hole you left in the lining, pull the bag the right way around. Hand sew the lining together.

Step 12 – Celebrate!

You’ve finished! Have a party! Or have a rest, because you’re probably knackered.

This article was written by one of our Young Content Creators, an initiative ran in conjunction with Young Storyhouse to provide budding content creators paid opportunities to showcase their unique voices within Storyhouse’s digital channels.

Young Content Creators are supported by Film Hub North, awarding funds from The National Lottery.