Jill Whitcomb
(Jill Whitcomb)

Beandocker hats made from T-shirts and polar fleece tops. (Jill Whitcomb)

(Jill Whitcomb)

We all have them. That stack of old T-shirts, sweatshirts, and polar fleece sitting in a dresser drawer or stacked on a shelf in the closet.

Maybe you participated in a charity walk four years ago, and earned a free T-shirt. Maybe you have some sweatshirts that you only wear for painting and yard work, but they are getting a little frayed and worn. Or maybe you finally buckled down and lost those remaining 30 pounds that you'd been trying to lose for ten years. Now, all of your old clothes are too big.

What can we do with a stack of clothing that is not nice enough to donate to charity, but still usable in some way? One solution that I found is knitting.

Wait a minute. Knitting...with fabric? Yes!

It isn't as crazy as it sounds. In fact, in today's world of reuse, recycle and repurpose, knitting with fabric (and upcycling old clothes into something new) is downright fashionable.

Don't forget the health benefits of knitting, either. According to a 2016 article in the New York Times, Personal Health writer Jane Brody discovered that "knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol." That might explain why our Grandmothers were so cheerful as they watched their favorite TV show, carried on a full conversation and knit at the same time -- all while never dropping a stitch.

Knitting with fabric is easy. Just cut your old T-shirt or sweatshirt into thin strips and roll them into balls the same way you would roll a ball of yarn. Do you have old T-shirts with paint spots, transfers, logos, and designs? Don't throw them out -- they work especially well. Once you cut them into strips, it gives a speckled, confetti-effect when the strips are knit. Even shirts or knit dresses with rhinestones, sparkles, and small studs can be cut into strips and used.

Once you have your balls of fabric strips, what can you knit with them? And how will it turn out? Knitting with fabric strips makes a heavy and thick item. A scarf made from old T-shirts would be thick enough to use all winter long.

Another idea is to knit fabric baskets. A small fabric basket could be used as a candle holder or a small vase, once you place a jar inside of it. This is a good way to recycle those old jars you have sitting around in the basement. A medium sized fabric basket could be used to hold crayons, hair barrettes, or Matchbox cars for a child's room. A larger fabric basket would be a good hiding place for a cat, as we all know that cats like to squeeze into the smallest and coziest spots.

But my favorite thing to knit from upcycled fabrics are Beandockers. What? What in the heck is a Beandocker? Ah... I am so glad you asked.

Many years ago, when my son was small, he and I would make up funny words for things. One word that we made up was "Beandocker". We have all heard the saying "thinking with our bean", which means "to use our head". So Beandocker was just a silly, made-up word that meant "hat".

Each of my Beandockers are a unique combination of modern-day beanie and cloche hat (inspired by the 1920's). No two Beandockers are alike, as I never create any that are the same combination of fabrics, the same colors, or have the same decorative trim. They are a one-of-a kind accessory and wearable art, as unique as the person wearing it.

Now we know how to clean out our closets, recycle old clothing, and reduce our stress. All we have to do is... knit!

Jill Whitcomb is a North Dakota-based writer who is currently residing in Grand Forks. Jill has written for newspaper, magazine, and Prairie Public radio. Jill also writes a blog, SeekYourBliss.blogspot.com, which has garnered readers from 75 countries. Jill enjoys reading, vegetarian cooking, and a strong cup of British tea.