T-shirt sleeves to pouches - an upcycle tutorial

I'm currently working on upcycling the old-style uniforms from my daughter's swim club.
First I made a few tote bags using the main backs of the t-shirts which had our club name on. You can see some pictures of those here.
Now I've made some small zipped pouches with the sleeves, lined with waterproof rip-stop nylon so they are ideal for carrying swim caps and goggles for our star swimmers. You could line these pouches with any kind of material you choose and use them as anything from a pencil case to a money pouch!

Here's how to make a small zipped pouch from a t-shirt sleeve:

First cut the sleeve from your t-shirt and trim off the seams and hem.

Then cut 2 rectangles from the fabric you have. I cut mine as large as I could from each size, so the pouches were varied sizes depending on the shirt size!
You also need to cut 2 more rectangles of fabric the same size for the lining. I used my scrap fabric stash for this - but you could always use the other sleeve from the t-shirt!. Then you need a zip which is approximately the size of the longer side of your fabric rectangle and a few scraps of each fabric you're using:

Adjust the zip length
First you need to make the zip the same length as the long side of your fabric rectangle.  To do this you need to use fabric scraps that are a little wider than the zip.
Place the scraps on either end of the zip with the right sides of the fabric facing in towards the zip. The outer fabric facing the outside of the zip, the inner fabric facing the inside of the zip. 
Pin these in place where you want the finished ends of the zip to be:

Before you stitch, pull back the fabric scraps to check you've got them pinned the right way - the fabric should form the new zip ends like this:

Stitch the scraps into place at either end of the zip. Be careful if you're stitching over the teeth of the zip. Go slowly and lift the foot a little if you need to to avoid snapping your needle!

Trim the fabric scraps so that they are in line with the zip edges:

Then you can pull the fabric back on both sides of the zip and it's ready to attach to the main pouch parts!

Attach the zip to the main pouch parts
Lay down one of your outer fabric rectangles with the right side of the fabric facing upwards.  Lay your zip on top of this with the right side facing downwards.  Then place one of the inner fabric pieces, face down on top of the zip:

Pin then stitch in place using the zipper foot attachment on your machine.

Then flip both fabrics back and top stitch close to the zip. This should prevent the fabric from catching in the zip when you open and close it.

Now repeat all of this with the other 2 fabric rectangles. So again place the outer fabric face up; then next the zip face down (so now both pieces of outer fabric should be right-sides together); then finally your last inner fabric piece face down on top:

Pin, then stitch, and once again flip the fabrics back and top-stitch close to the zip on the top of the fabric:

Here's what it looks like on the underneath:

Joining the outer and inner pieces together
Then put both outer fabric pieces on one side of the zip, and both inner pieces on the other side - with right sides of the fabric together in both cases!

Pin around all four edges, leaving a gap of a few inches to allow you to turn the pouch right sides out at the end.

Stitch where you have pinned, then trim the corners.

Now turn the pouch right sides out through the gap:

Pin and slip-stitch the opening closed. This seam will be on the inside of the pouch so you could just machine stitch it as it won't be seen!

That's it! You're done!

Fill it up and start to use your new upcycled zipped pouch!

For the free downloadable PDF version of this tutorial, click here.

For more ideas on ways to upcycle old t-shirts you can go here or follow my Upcycling T-shirts Pinterest Board.

Or for over 600 ideas for upcycling all kinds of old clothes, check out the long term linky here!

Have you upcycled any clothes lately?


  1. LOVE IT!!!! Often, sleeves have great logos on them, so this would be fabulous to do with them.

  2. Interesting, I would never have attempted t shirt fabrc into a bag with zip until I read this (would be out off by the stretch nature of the fabric!)

    1. I've never worried about the type of fabric I'm using; I just look at the colour and pattern for what I want to make. Sometimes it doesn't work, but fabric is very forgiving!

  3. Great idea! If one were industrious one would never (or seldom) have to buy fabric. :D

    1. That's so true Kate! Old clothes are such a great source of fabric for many projects!!

  4. What a fabulous, detailed tutorial, Jill! I have never understood how to shorten a zip until now. Love the bag you made with waterproof lining - that is insanely useful. Wonderful tee upcycle!

    1. Thanks Michelle! I can't believe I used to be scared of sewing with zips - they really are quite versatile and easy to work with!

  5. Loved this pouch, zip fitted to neatly in there! I wish I had a sewing machine, but I will postpone this dream for w little while... :)) Thanks for sharing your creativity Jill! Have a wonderful week ahead!

  6. You could also use fusable interfacing or stabilizer to keep the fabrics from stretching if they are from a real stretchy material.

    1. Great idea Brenda! That would really help overcome the stretchiness. I was lucky that these t-shirts weren't too stretchy at all so they sewed really easily!

  7. Its very creative and easy. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Now I know what to do with all those tee shirt sleeves that I cut off to make a quilt for my niece. Thanks for the idea and the clear tutorial!

  9. You're very welcome Kimberly! Hope you have fun sewing some of these pouches!


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