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 completely worn-out old shirts. 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… Perfect for crafting.
Making DIY Dog Toys with Old Sweatshirt Materials
Sweatshirt (and sweatpant) materials can 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 thick and strong enough to work with for toys for my boys. Many salvaged no-shed knits like t-shirt material are too flimsy to withstand 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. Yikes! I’ve paired it with a side-by-side comparison photo of the fleece-backed blue sweatshirt. Well worn, but thread-free.
Salvaging Old Sweatshirt Materials for Reuse
For this DIY dog toy demo, I’m cutting apart my old shirts with the aim of minimising direct waste. I’m a bit of a tree-hugger in addition to a dog-hugger. If toys aren’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 crafting. Here’s how I cut these shirts apart:
- The least worn and damaged parts of my shirts are the hoods and upper backs, so those were removed and saved for material use other projects. You might even see them appear here in a future post. I would usually save the zippers for reuse too, but these were broken. I definitely wore these shirts out!
- The bottoms of the shirts 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 saved for other purposes because of the threads. Extra offcuts, like upper chest and pockets were also saved for reuse. At minimum, soft sweatshirting makes good material for cleaning clothes or rags. Since textile recycling isn’t available here, I like to make sure I’ve used things completely before they end up in the rubbish.
- The sleeves were removed and used whole for the knotted dog toys. It’s an easy way to make use of the very damaged sleeves with their cuffs and also demonstrates an option for concealing the raw edges. Win win.
- The bottom edges were removed whole, including their seam. These were used for making a tug toy, 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. And bonus for making good re-use of the scrappy offcuts.
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 them rather than braiding. The layers of knots used to weave a toy make for a much sturdier toy than braiding, which will come apart if an end knot is unravelled or a part of the braid is broken during play. For this demo post, I’m adding an unusual extra to my no-sew fun with very simple knotted sleeve toys. My sleeves were too short for weaving and too worn-out to be much use for other material salvage projects. 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 sweatshirting. All of the toys were thoroughly Humphrey tested and approved after a few very excited and impatient photos. Haha!
DIY No-Sew Dog Toy Using Old Sweatshirt Sleeves
Preparing Your Salvaged Materials
The sleeves were simply cut free from the shirt bodies hear the seam, and the cuffs left in place. Easy peasy! They could just be knotted and played with, but because my grey sweatshirt had a looped backing, I decided to show you a sneaky way to create a very simple but fun toy without any free raw edges. For little arms like mine, this also helps to create a bigger toy for better play. Feeling crazy? You could also upsize to huge with a sweatpant leg instead of a sweatshirt arm. I’m not a sweatpant wearer, so sleeves it is for these toys.
Making the Knotted Sleeve Dog Toys
As shown in the collage above, the toys are created by joining two sleeves at the middle. Very easy, but also very fun. If you allow your dog to play with empty plastic bottles (we don’t), the sleeves couple be used as covering for the crinkle. You could also use stuffing (with or without squeakers) if you’d like a simple no-sew stuffed toy. We’re making ours with just the plain 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.
DIY Dog Tug Toy 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 best suit a fleece backed material, not a looped back material. The strips of material were cut width wise from my old blue sweatshirt, including the side seams and residual seams from removing the front pockets. This was best option for the longest strips from my size of shirt. If you have worn out sweatpants instead of shirts, lengthwise strips from waist to foot would be an even longer option. Sweatshirting tends to curl on itself when cut into narrow pieces, similar to t-shirt yarn. The curl is flat face in, fleece face out. The end result is that you can hardly tell the material in the tug isn’t actually fleece. Sneaky recycle for the win!
Making a Dog Tug Toy from Sweatshirt Material
The strips of sweatshirt material can be swapped for strips of polar fleece in any of our DIY dog tug toys. Make sure that you pick an option that works for the size and thickness of your material. I went with a simple four-strand spiral tug toy, woven 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!
DIY Dog Tug Toy 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 Dog Tug Toy from Sweatshirt Hems
The hems can be swapped for strips of polar 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 also didn’t have four hems, so I was extra limited. Instead, I used two strips woven from the middle to create a stick-starting end. The hems were then woven into a spiral 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. As an additional adjustment, the tug was finished with a boondoggle end knot. It requires less material and is better suited to the bulky hems 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 DOY 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. Better still, they made good use of otherwise scrap or rubbish materials, giving my worn-out sweatshirt materials a second useful life.
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, with the texture and bonus of making use of an otherwise wasted offcut 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 by using the post tag. I also keep a board with recycled and upcycled pet projects on Pinterest. Clean recycled materials can be swapped into just about any type of DIY though. As long as you’re using the same or similar material types, salvaged materials are often a straight swap. Old dress shirts are one of my favourites for sourcing salvaged materials. My husband’s workshirts have been made into many DIYs, including several 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!