Upcycle worn T-shirts to add flair to a plain tree skirt.

By Lauren Bengtson and Kim Hutchison
November 04, 2020
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This year we're embracing our creativity and thriftiness with holiday decor made with upcycled materials. This fun, fringed Christmas tree skirt comes together with the help of a few old T-shirts. Raid the back of your closet (or hit the thrift store) and gather eight shirts in any colors you like. You'll cut the tees into wide strips, layering similar colors for interest, and then snip them into a festive fringed design. This easy Christmas craft is a great way to reuse old clothes you don't wear anymore, and it'll help you add a new holiday decoration without spending much money.

Credit: Carson Downing

How to Make an Upcycled Tree Skirt

Supplies Needed

  • Wrapping paper or parcel paper
  • String
  • Pencil
  • 2.5 yards wool felt
  • Scissors or a rotary cutter and mat
  • 8 assorted T-shirts
  • Sewing pins
  • Sewing machine and thread (to match felt and T-shirts)
  • Hot glue gun

Step-by-Step Directions

Follow these simple how-to instructions to assemble your DIY tree skirt. You should be able to complete the project in about an hour.

Step 1: Make Template

Before you start cutting shirts, make a template for your tree skirt. Use a roll of wrapping or parcel paper to make a pattern. Cut a 60-inch square, then fold the square corner to corner, making a triangle. Then fold the triangle corner to corner, making a smaller triangle that has four layers of paper. 

Unfold your paper triangle back into its original square form, then tie a string onto a pencil to create a compass that is shorter than 30 inches. Hold the string in the center of the square (where all of the folds meet) and tug the pencil until the string is taut. Then draw an arched line around the paper, forming a circle. Fold the paper back into the triangle and cut out the arched line, cutting through all of the layers of paper. Once the cuts are made, unfold the paper. At the center, trace a small bowl to create the tree opening, then fold into the triangle to cut out the bowl outline.

Step 2: Cut and Trace Panels

Once you've cut out the template from wrapping paper, you'll cut the paper into 8 equal-sized panels. They each should measure about 2 inches at the top narrow end (this is the part that will cover the trunk of the tree), 22 inches long on each straight side, and about 18 inches at the bottom curve. The panels should resemble a large cone shape. Once you've cut the paper panels, use those as templates to trace the panels onto wool felt. Make seven of the panels ½-inch wider on one straight side for seam allowance. You’ll need 8 felt panels.

Step 3: Prepare T-Shirts

Once you've finished creating the felt panels, prep your T-shirts (we used 8 shirts total). Cut the arms, neckline, hem and seams off all of the T-shirts. To cut T-shirts for fringe, turn the shirt sideways (so the sides of the T-shirt are on the top and bottom, and the neck and opening are on the sides). Lay a T-shirt flat with one closed side facing you (open ends will be parallel to you). Using scissors or a rotary cutter and mat, cut 6-inch-wide strips from the bottom to the top of the sideways T-shirts. Since the T-shirt is laid sideways, you’ll end from side to side. (You will end up with 6-inch-wide rings.) Cut open each ring so it’s one long flat piece, then repeat with each T-shirt.

Step 4: Cut Fringe

When you've prepared the T-shirt strips, set out eight of the 6-inch strips for each felt panel. Cut two of each following size: 6-by-18 inches, 6-by-17 1/2 inches, and 6-by-17 inches. Fold one 6-by-18-inch strip in half so it's 3-by-18 inches. Position it at the bottom of one felt panel with the half-inch excess so the cut edges of the T-shirt piece strip line up with the outside curved edge of the felt panel.

Step 5: Pin and Sew

Pin the cut T-shirt edges along the curved panel edge, leaving the half-inch felt excess uncovered on one straight side of the felt panel. Sew along the curved edge using about a 1-centimeter seam allowance (measured from the cut edges). You’ll be sewing both sides of the folded T-shirt section together so it stays 3 inches wide (use the presser foot as a guide).

Editor's Note: You’ll have a half-inch of excess felt on one straight side of the felt panel. Make sure the excess is on the same side for every section.

Step 6: Sew and Fold Shirt Strips

Once the T-shirt material is sewn on, fold the 3-inch strip down over the stitched edge like a flap that covers the raw edge of the felt. Repeat the process with another 6-by-18 inch T-shirt piece, positioning the T-shirt strip just above the one folded-down below it in a shingle-like structure. After the second T-shirt strip is sewn on, fold it down over the top of the first T-shirt flap. You should have two folded flaps that overlap each other like ruffles.

Step 7: Repeat and Sew

Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the next-size-down T-shirt strip. Repeat, moving up the felt piece toward the narrow end and working down in T-shirt strip length. On the very last T-shirt strip (the one at the top): Once it’s sewn on and folded down over the next flap, secure it with a 1-centimeter seam allowance from the top. This will keep it folded down over the next flap and create a cleaner edge. Repeat on all felt panels, saving the smallest felt panel (without the half-inch excess) for last. Finish the middle opening of the tree skirt (the part that wraps the tree trunk): Fold a half-inch of felt over toward the back side (without the T-shirt ruffles). Stitch to finish.

Editor's Note: For the felt section without the half-inch excess, sew the T-shirt strips across the full width of the panel.

Step 8: Form the Skirt

To join the felt panels together, line up and overlap the panel edges so that the open half-inch edge of one felt panel is behind the finished edge of the next panel. Backstitch from the top narrow part of the felt panel down to the T-shirt area. Stop at the top of the first T-shirt strip. Reserve the smaller of the felt panels (without the half-inch excess) for last.

Repeat until all felt panels are secured together in a collar-like shape, leaving one side of the last, smaller felt panel open. (Because you’re not securing the last panel to another, you’ll have two open sides. This creates the open tree skirt shape.)

Step 9: Cut Fringe

With all of the T-shirt flaps folded down over the next, cut equal- width strips of fringe from each flap. They’ll all still be looped at this point since the T-shirts were folded. When all fringe is cut to the same width, tug on each piece and cut at the loop. (Tugging on the T-shirt helps the edges curl in and creates a fringe-like effect. If the fringe is too flat, pull on the T-shirt pieces a little more to help it stretch.) Repeat for the rest of the fringe loops.

Credit: Carson Downing

Step 10: Finish Skirt

Finish securing the curved, unsewn ends of felt panels where the T-shirt fringe starts: Overlap open panel edges so the empty half-inch of one felt panel is behind the fringed edge of the next connected panel. Hot glue to secure. Cut six 1-by-5-inch strips from extra T-shirt scraps and stretch to make it look like yarn. Hot glue to the underside of the open edges of the tree skirt to create the ties to hold it together under the tree. Let it dry, then use the finished tree skirt to decorate your tree

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