Free tug toy fun? Here’s how to make simple no-sew DIY dog toys from old sweatshirts! When I talk about materials for making homemade dog toys, especially tug toys, I often refer to old clothing or blankets as recycling alternatives to buying polar fleece material for tugs. This post has been some time in the making as I slowly saved up my completely worn-out old hoodie sweatshirts. Now I can finally demonstrate some quick and easy options for making DIY dog toys from old sweatshirts and similar salvaged materials. I’ll also show you side-by-side examples of different sweatshirt materials and how that might affect how you reuse them.
Using Recycled Sweatshirt Materials for DIY Dog Toys
I like the warmth and comfort of slipping on a hoodie around the house or when I’m in the garden. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ll wear them out to the point of falling apart before relegating them to salvage basket. They go from publicly presentable to home comfy clothes as they wear out. And in these crazy COVID times, we probably all have some extra well-worn home comfort clothes. Ready for recycling?
Making DIY Dog Toys from Old Sweatshirts
Sweatshirts, sweatpants, and similar salvaged materials work as a close substitute for polar fleece in many of my DIY dog toys. It’s one of the few common clothing materials that doesn’t usually shed threads (see my notes of caution below) and is sturdy enough to work in tug toys for my boys. Many salvaged no-shed knit fabrics, like t-shirt material, are too flimsy for playtime at our place. The exception being the thick off-cut bottom hems, which are the only salvaged t-shirt materials I use for dog toys.
Sweatshirt materials can be different blends, thicknesses, and knit combos. This will affect the size, durability, and potentially the safety of any toys. This is especially true when using the materials for no-sew toys. Loop-backed sweatshirt materials, like French terry, have a smooth front layered with a loopy back. This type of backing can shed threads from exposed cut edges, which is something I try to avoid for no-sew toys. The inside of the very worn arm of my grey sweatshirt shows this quite well. Definitely time to recycle. I’ve paired it with a side-by-side comparison photo of the fleece-backed blue sweatshirt below. Well worn, but thread-free.
Salvaging Old Sweatshirt Materials for Reuse
I cut apart these old sweatshirts with the aim of minimising direct waste. I’m a bit of a tree-hugger in addition to a dog-hugger. If making dog toys isn’t your thing or you just have tons of old sweat ready for recycling, clean cut sweatshirt material can be used similar to purchased heavy knit fabrics for other crafts. Here’s how I cut these hoodies apart to make my DIY dogs toys:
- I would usually save the zippers for reuse, but these were all damaged. I definitely wore these old hoodies out!
- The least worn out parts of my sweatshirts are the hoods and upper backs. Those were removed as large panels of fabric and saved for other projects. You might even see them appear here in a future recycling post.
- The bottoms of the sweatshirts from zip-to-zip (including seams) is the largest span of fabric on my size of shirt. I used the blue for the woven tug toy. The grey looped back material was kept for other use because of the threads.
- Scrappy offcuts, like upper chest and pockets were also salvaged. At minimum, soft sweatshirting makes good material for cleaning cloths and rags. Textile recycling isn’t available here, and I like to make sure I’ve used things completely before going into the rubbish.
- The sleeves were removed and used whole for the knotted dog toys. It’s an easy way to re-use the very damaged sleeves and cuffs.
- The ribbed bottom hems were removed whole, including their seam. These were used for making a woven tug, inspired by our t-shirt hem dog toys. The sweatshirt hems are even tougher than the t-shirt bottoms, and the ribbed texture made for a really cool tug.
Options for Making No-Sew Dog Toys
DIY dog tug toys are my go-to for no-sew toy making, and I prefer to weave rather than braid. The layers of knots used to weave a toy make for a much sturdier dog tug toy than braiding. Braids come apart if an end knot is undone or a part of the braid is broken during play. For this demo on how to make DIY dog toys from old sweatshirts, I’m adding an unusual extra to my no-sew fun with very simple knotted sleeve toys. My sweatshirt sleeves were too short for weaving and too worn-out to be much use for other material salvage. The knotted sleeve toys have the extra bonus of concealing all of the raw edges and backings, which works for both fleece and loop backed sweatshirts. All of the toys were thoroughly Humphrey tested and approved, after a few very excited and impatient photos. Haha!
DIY No-Sew Dog Toys Using Old Sweatshirt Sleeves
Preparing Your Salvaged Materials
The sleeves were cut free from the shirts near the seam, and the cuffs left in place. Easy peasy! They could just be knotted for play. But because my grey sweatshirt had a looped backing, I decided to show a sneaky way to create a simple but fun toy without any free raw edges. For short little arms like mine, joining the sleeves also creates a bigger toy for better play. Feeling crazy? You could also upsize to huge with sweat pant legs instead of sweatshirt arms. I’m not a sweat pant wearer, so sleeves it is for these dog toys.
Making the Knotted Sleeve Dog Toys
As shown in the collage above, these toys are created by joining two sleeves at the middle. Very easy, but also very fun. If you let your dog play with empty plastic bottles, sleeves could be used as covering for the crinkle. You could also use stuffing (with or without squeakers) for a simple no-sew stuffed dog toy. Humphrey would shred that soft sweatshirt material in seconds to get to the stuffing and squeakers though! We’re making quick and simple toys with just the sleeves.
- Position the prepared cut sleeves on a flat surface, raw edges facing.
- Fold the raw edge of one sleeve inwards.
- Tuck the raw edge of the other sleeve inside. It needs to be tucked in enough that the joint will hold when knotted.
- Fold the sleeves inwards to the middle.
- Carefully tie the sleeves together, aiming to conceal the folded edge joint within the knot. You can double knot for added security (or if you’re having difficulty concealing the joint).
- Knot the ends near the cuff. Done!
DIY Dog Tug Toys Using Sweatshirt Material
Preparing Your Salvaged Materials
The recycled sweatshirt dog tug toy simply swaps sweatshirt material for polar fleece in a standard woven tug. As noted above, the exposed edges on this no-sew toy are better suited to fleece backed material, not looped back material. I cut strips width wise from my old blue sweatshirt, including the side seams and residual seams from removing the front pockets. This was best option for long strips from my small shirts. If you have old pants instead of sweatshirts, lengthwise strips from waist to foot would be an even longer option.
Making a DIY Dog Tug Toy from Sweatshirt Material
Strips of sweatshirt material can be swapped for strips of polar fleece in most of our DIY dog tug toys. Pick an option that works for the size and thickness of your sweatshirt material. I made a simple four-strand spiral tug toy using the corner-to-corner method. See our post on how to weave a spiral dog tug toy for full instructions, including step-by-step photos and diagrams.
I went with a spiral instead of a square knot tug toy because I thought it would be a little more forgiving for hiding the extra bumpy bits as the strips transitioned across seams inside the weave. In the end though, the seams weren’t difficult at all so go with any pattern you’d like! This tug came out better than expected because of the way the fleece backed fabric curls. Sweatshirt material tends to curl on itself when cut into narrow pieces, similar to t-shirt yarn. The sweatshirt curl is flat face in, fleece face out. The end result here is that you can hardly tell the material in the tug toy isn’t actually some kind of fleece. Sneaky recycling for the win!
DIY Dog Tug Toys Using Sweatshirt Hems
Preparing Your Salvaged Materials
Like the tug above, the recycled sweatshirt hem dog tug toy swaps sweatshirt material for polar fleece in a standard woven tug. The hems were removed whole from the bottoms of the shirt, including their attaching seams to make sure that they didn’t come apart once cut. I gave them a quick tidy up after cutting to remove excess material from the shirt side of the seams, taking extra care with the grey to trim away the loopy threaded material. Although the hems are a bit bulky to work with, they created a surprisingly cool tug. I loved the subtle texture of the ribbing in the finished toy, and so does Humphrey.
Making a DIY Dog Tug Toy from Sweatshirt Hems
The hems can be swapped for strips of fleece in any of our DIY dog tug toys, but it’s extra important to pick an option that works for the size and thickness. Hems can be bulky. I didn’t have four hems to weave with, so I was extra limited. Instead, I wove two strips from the middle into a spiral tug using the corner-to-corner method. See our post on how to weave a spiral dog tug toy for weaving instructions, including step-by-step photos and diagrams. As an additional adjustment, I finished the tug with a boondoggle end knot. It requires less material and suited the bulky hems better than my usual simple overhand end knots. You can find details on both stick ends and boondoggle end knots in our post on different end knots for DIY dog tug toys.
Fun and Free!
From cutting to completion making these DIY dog toys from old sweatshirts was quick work, although new weavers might take a little more time with the tugs. Best of all, the toys were not only fun, but completely free. They made good use of otherwise scrap or rubbish materials, giving my worn-out sweatshirt materials a second useful life. I can feel good about that, and Humphrey can have extra fun!
Humphrey of course enjoyed them all, but was surprisingly keen on the sleeves. They have a fun unpredictable flail and flop from the heavier knots vs. flexible sleeves. He also likes puzzling on the knots. The hem tug was a winner for me. I like the texture and the feel-good factor of making use of an otherwise wasted offcut hems from my sweatshirt scrapping.
More Recycling and Upcycling Ideas
Keen to cut and craft? You can find other recycling and upcycling projects here on the blog using the post tag. I also keep a board with recycled and upcycled pet projects on Pinterest. Salvaged fabrics can be used for just about any type of DIY. As long as you’re using the same or similar material types, salvaged materials are often a straight swap. Super easy. Old dress shirts are one of my favourite sources for salvaging fabrics. My husband’s work shirts have been made into many DIYs, including several projects here on the blog for the dogs.
Safety first, furfriends! Remember, no matter what a toy is made of or how it’s made, toys are meant for supervised interactive play. Know your dog before giving him or her any new toy. Some dogs try to eat toys or parts (whether bought or handmade) and that’s dangerous. Toys are for playing, and playtime is always safer (and more fun!) with you involved. You can read more in our dog toy safety post, including tips and helpful links for safer playtime. Have fun and play safe!