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This clever upcycle project will fit you and your kids to a tee


Tested, edited & approved by:

Carmen DeLeon,
Science Educator

to learn

This animal is not on exhibit in the habitats. It is one of our Animal Ambassadors and is used in public and school programs.

Cleaning out your closet? Don’t ditch that old freebie or concert t-shirt – give it new life as a cool tote bag. This is great way to clear out the clutter, make room for new clothes and teach your kids about upcycling. And don’t worry – you’ll find other ways to remember that ‘NSync concert back in ’98.

All you’ll need for this simple project is a cotton t-shirt (or pillowcase), some scissors and a pen. Young kids may need help with the tracing and the cutting (and choosing an old t-shirt from your giveaway pile.) Your DIY tote will come in handy for school, sports – or maybe an ‘NSync reunion tour in 2025.


  • Cotton T-shirt (Don’t have a t-shirt? No problem! Use a pillow case!)
  • Scissors
  • Pen


  1. Lay the T-shirt on a flat surface and outline the cut-out for the neck line.
  2. Cut off the neck. Cut through both layers of fabric at the same time. Cut off the sleeves. Remember to cut through both layers of fabric at the same time.
  3. Cut 1-inch-wide, 4-inch-long strips of fringe into the bottom of the T-shirt, or long enough for you to tie 4 double knots. Cut through both layers of fabric at the same time.
    If there is a graphic or logo on the T-shirt that you want visible on the bag, turn the shirt inside-out at this point. If you want to hide a logo, leave the shirt right-side-out.
    Flip up one layer of the fringe so you can see the corresponding pair below.
  4. Starting at the edge, tie 2 over-hand knots in the fringe. Pull tight so the fabric stretches a bit. Continue for all of the fringe pairs.
  5. Starting at the edge again, tie the two adjacent knots together by tying another double knot using the fringe pair to the left and one strip of the fringe pair to the right. Remember to pull tight.
  6. Now turn the T-shirt inside — out and your tote is ready to use!


  • Don’t have a cotton T-shirt or pillow? Try a T-shirt made of a different fabric, or another tube-shaped cloth.
  • Don’t want any holes in the bottom of your tote? Hand-stitch with a needle and thread or use a sewing machine.
  • Want to make the bag but don’t want to keep it? Personalize it and gift it to family and friends.


Repurpose and upcycle the materials you have at home to make a purse, grocery bag, shopping bag, beach bag, carry-all! There are a finite amount of resources on the planet so the more we can rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, refurbish, repair, repurpose, and recycle, the better for everyone including wildlife and the environment!


Skills: Creativity, scissor practice, fine motor skills, knot tying

Themes: Eco-friendly, upcycling

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San Mateo, CA 94401

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