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The easy way how to upcycle clothes that are too small

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How to upcycle clothes that are too small! If you have a favorite tshirt that you or your kids have outgrown, there is a simple way to chop it up and turn it into an applique on a brand new, bigger shirt! Here’s a full upcycle tutorial with more photos of refashion inspiration along the same lines. This is the quickest, cheapest way to refashion kids clothes, especially since you can use shirts with holes and stains to keep them out of the landfill.

The easy way how to upcycle clothes that are too small

My kids have never gotten super attached to specific pieces of clothes, but I always keep things they’ve outgrown when the shirts aren’t easily worn again due to holes, stains, pilling, etc. I’ve turned them into stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, and patches in the past but now I’m sharing the simplest option which is a way to refashion a too small tshirt! This is one of my favorite ways to refashion a shirt, so there are a lot of examples to scroll before you get to the actual tutorial.

diy kids shirt tutorial

I actually used three other old tshirt scraps to add color and layers to this design! You can see the dodgy stitching here; I have tips below on how to avoid it, I’m not that finicky about details. You can spot where I swapped the chest pocket to the arm too, just for fun.

upcycled kids tshirt example

Here is another shirt I made in a similar style, except this one I started from scratch, upcycling two other adult shirts for the sleeves and the body. This is my favorite way to make shirts from scratch because you reuse the hems, see this post on how to turn adult shirts into kid shirts for a tutorial on that!

refashioned favorite kids shirt

And another example! I had fun adding the shapes on this one and it’s been a big hit with my kid. The shark also covered up the lame logo on the orange tshirt, which was a double win.

patch upcycle tutorial

Here is an even simpler version – no extra flourishes, just chopping the patch out!

make kid shirt bigger

Here is a busy example that I added lots of fun circles to!

upcycled kids tshirt

I saved the text from the cat shirt upcycle above and eventually stuck it on a dino shirt!

simple applique upcycle

A quick and easy one, covering up some boring branding.

mini boden applique refashion

Not the best photos, but a fancy Boden applique rescue, I promise the hearts match the glasses colors better in real life.

upcycled tshirt makeover

I took a long time sorting out this geometric one – the tiger came off another tshirt and then all the other bits were tshirt scraps.

boden applique upcycle

A Boden makeover! Added a fun party hat for some pizzaz.

upcycled kid shirt

Using a different background shape, a whole shirt makeover.

hanna andersson applique upcycle

A super quick and easy refashion, chopping this little doxie applique in half to jazz up a plain sweatshirt.

refashioned hoodie sewing

A hoodie makeover with this fun 3D patch I chopped off a shoddy old tshirt, added some cute letters.

refashioned kids shirt

I initially was going a different direction but didn’t love it and adlibbed the ‘slash’, so happy with how it turned out!

hand embroidered kid shirt refashion

A friend’s kiddo asked me to upsize a beloved shirt, the orange print, and this is what I came up with – hand embroidery added and a design spin!

refashioned hoodie

This hoodie had a Nike logo on it until I covered it up with an old tshirt design, isn’t it colorful!

refashioned sweatpants

These pants were way too short and I loved the bright yellow but knew it would show stains quickly. So I tie dyed them and cut up a small tshirt to cover up the logo!

upcycled tshirt example for kids

I went asymmetrical and basic shapes with this one, adding text in from a prior upcycle shown above, with the bear!

upcycled kids tshirt example

Mixing two tshirts together to make a funky, summer beetle upcycle shirt.

tshirt dress refashion

Covering up an old Halloween costume with a fun new design!

refashioned tshirt example

A super simple refashion for my husband!

santa shark shirt

A holiday upcycle for my son!

colorful refashion tshirt for boys

A colorful D&D refashion for my son!

tshirt collage sewing project

A toddler shirt morphed into a big kid hoodie.

If you like this post, check these out while you’re here!

Pin this tutorial for how to upcycle clothes that are too small with this link or collage image:

what to do with too small kids clothes


how to upcycle clothes that are too small



tshirt patch diy

Before you get started, wanted to share a photo of patches shown on this way so you get a sense for how the edges end up curling a bit after washing & drying, even with heat n bond.

cheap way to mend

Here you can see a zig-zag along the edges if you don’t like that curl! These are small patches, but same concept applies to bigger refashions like I’m showing on this page.

upcycling kid tshirt

Step 1- Cut up the side seams to maximize your usable fabric! Then cut out around your design – keeping in mind you need some space to sew around it.

Step 2- Time to add a layer. I alternated between no Heat N Bond and using it; if you’re using multiple layers it can get a little thick but it does lay smoother and sew cleaner, so it is just personal preference. In these multi-layered appliques I used a featherweight Heat N Bond that is even thinner than Lite. If you’re not using Heat N Bond, a glue stick or pins will help keep it in place. If you’ve never used Heat N Bond or appliqued, check out this post for even more details and photos – how to machine applique for beginners.


I definitely recommend using it for any small pieces, it keeps the edges from rolling up.

Step 3- Time to sew! Make sure you’re using ballpoint needles; I have a walking foot here but it isn’t necessary unless you’re using bulky knits. I’d recommend doing some trial/test stitches on scraps before getting started in case you need to adjust stitch length or tension.


Step 4- Keep layering as you go! You can see the difference in smoothness in the final picture of where I used a glue stick vs the Heat N Bond.

Step 5- Finish sewing, give it all a nice press, and you’re done!

Let me know if you have any questions, I will keep doing these as we get into my kids’ summer wardrobes and update this post with more examples!

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Sunday 4th of February 2024

Might be a while before I’m able to successfully pull this off but I am so impressed by your creativity. I loved just looking at the designs. You have a true talent!

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Monday 25th of March 2024

Essie, that is so super sweet of you to say!! I hope you get a chance to try it yourself :)


Friday 3rd of March 2023

So many great ideas!


Saturday 25th of February 2023

Love these tips and very creative ideas—thanks so much!

Tanaquil LeMaster

Tuesday 9th of November 2021

Great ideas! I never thought of a glue stick to use. Thanks for the tips.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Tuesday 9th of November 2021

Yay! Happy to hear it, hope you get a chance to try it :)

Nina Paul

Friday 23rd of July 2021

This is a great way to protect the mother nature & for saving money. Thanks for sharing this great idea.

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