I don’t know what it is about the mating habits of T-shirts, but they seem to multiply faster than rabbits. Possibly even faster than bacteria. I could abandon my relatively comfortable life and embark on a quest to educate the humble T-shirt on various methods of contraception, but instead I’m going to cut them up and do a three-part series of upcycling tutorials. Way easier and probably way less awkward.
T-shirt yarn is awesome. It’s soft and squishy and CRAZY thick, so simple projects work up in about 12.7 seconds. I was able to make both potholders shown above in about an hour. There are lots of things you can do with t-shirt yarn even if you don’t knit or crochet – you can braid it, add a button, and make a quick and easy bracelet, tie a length of it in your hair for a simple hair band, or even use it instead of ribbon for your next gift wrapping adventure. Before you can rock the possibilities, though, you have some reading to do, so grab a cup of coffee or bourbon, brace yourself, and LET’S GO!
Step 1: Hit the thrift store (or your closet) and find some shirts!
The optimal T-shirt for T-shirt yarn will be at least size 2XL, completely blank, and will have no side seams. The only real requirement is that it has no side seams and is just a tube with a hem until you reach the armpits, but you should look for shirts with very little printing and printing only above the armpit seams. You won’t be able to make yarn out of the printed bits, but you will be able to use them for other parts of this tutorial series, so choose your printed bits wisely and buy shirts in your favorite colors. If you plan on making the crocheted Eye Heart Potholders that I designed specifically for this yarn (pattern below), you’ll need shirts in white, maroon, red, black, and blue.
Step 2: Get to Cuttin!
First, lay your t-shirt flat on a table, counter, or other hard surface and cut off the hem. Starting from the folded edge closest to you, cut your t-shirt into strips approximately 3/4 inch wide, stopping each strip about an inch or so from the opposite fold until you reach the seam at the armpit.
Open up the uncut fold and cut diagonally from the uncut edge to the first cut. Then cut diagonally from cut to cut (as in the second picture) all the way up the side of the shirt. Once you reach the armpit, cut around the shirt until you reach the opposite armpit. That will give you an extra couple of feet of yarn. Thrifty! Cut your strip off at a diagonal and gaze adoringly at your big pile of soon-to-be yarn!
Step Three: Dismantling the rest of the shirt!
Start by cutting off the arms, then cut off the shoulder seams and the band around the neck. In the third picture above, I’m cutting the sleeves open and then cutting them into three pieces in the last picture. I’ll put these aside to use as rags to clean up inevitable ink, paint, and formaldehyde spills. You never know.
If your shirt has a printed design that you like and want to use in a future project, cut it out and put it somewhere safe. Once all of the seams, hems, and bands are cut off, you should have two large pieces of material if your shirt was plain, one large piece and several small pieces if your shirt was printed. Set these aside and look for part two of the t-shirt upcycling series in August where we’ll do something with these! The last picture is the measly pile of scraps left over. This is the only thing that gets thrown away. You’re a good little Earth Ranger!
Step Four: Making yarn!
Grab your long strip of shirt, holding your hands about 4-5 inches apart. Stretch the crap out of it. No seriously, stretch it a LOT. This makes the yarn pretty much the same width and makes the raw edges curl on themselves. Once you get the hang of how much it needs to be stretched, you can roll it into a ball and stretch it at the same time. Until that point, run through your entire length of yarn twice and make sure you get it stretched out evenly. Once you’re done, you’ll have a lovely ball of soft and squishy t-shirt yarn!
After making all of this yarn, I wanted something super cool to go with it, so I made these eyeball and anatomical heart potholders. You can download the free pattern in .pdf format by clicking this link: Eye Heart Potholders
Don’t forget to send pictures if you complete this project to get an entry into our Beyond Wonderdome contest! To get an entry off this particular tutorial, all you need to do is make a ball of yarn and make SOMETHING with it, even if it’s just ear bands for your cocker spaniel. You don’t have to make the potholders, but if you do I totally want to see them!