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!
If you’d like to see more stuff made with yarn (but maybe not t-shirt yarn), click here! For more upcycling tutorials, click here!
cindyjob · May 27, 2011 at 8:01 am
I am so excited to see a step by step (with pictures) on how to make the t-shirt yarn. I have some non crocheter ideas for it too! But I want that eyeball pot holder enough that I may have to learn!
sarah · May 27, 2011 at 9:16 am
I'm excited to see what you do with it, you clever thing!
nangalambos · May 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm
EYE think the pot holder is just what my kitchen's been missing. (Besides a personal chef.) Excited to see what other uses for yarn you got up your sleeve. If you have any sleeves left after rolling all those purdy balls of T-shirt yarn!
sarah · May 28, 2011 at 11:01 am
Now I want a personal chef…
AnnDAngelo · May 28, 2011 at 1:24 am
Sarah, I just finished making both of the potholders with T-shirt yarn, and I cannot flipping believe how thick and awesome they are! I am pretty sure I could broil lava and not hurt myself, which is kind of a miracle to contemplate, because ordinarily, I can set the oven to 175 and somehow burn myself!
sarah · May 28, 2011 at 11:00 am
Yay Ann! I can't wait to see them!! ;D
Amy (theweavershand) · May 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm
OMG! you are my hero! i have so many t-shirts just crying out to be yarn! woohoo! im never going to catch up with all these fabu projects. i want to try them all!!
sarah · May 31, 2011 at 8:17 pm
and you should try them all! 😉
sarah · May 31, 2011 at 8:18 pm
Luckily they're both super quick! We're constantly feeding the idea-producing monkeys. Mine live on booze and paint fumes. 😉
Tera · June 3, 2011 at 11:40 pm
I am very excited to try the t-shirt yarn! I work at a mental health facility and many of our members are extremely creative, i mentioned this idea to them today and they came up with plans already. We are gonna start tomorrow, we are gunna make kitchen and bathroom rugs, potholders, coasters, jewelry and headbands! Also, i crochet as well as a few of the members, i will send pics! Thanks for sharing your ideas 😉
sarah · June 4, 2011 at 12:01 am
That's exciting!! One of the things I wanted to make but ran out of time was a project basket, so baskets and bowls can be easily rocked out with T-shirt yarn, too! 😀 I can't wait to see what y'all accomplish!
Tera · June 7, 2011 at 3:02 am
I did end up making a candy bowl! i sent in pics too 🙂
Aveii · December 1, 2013 at 4:37 am
Well i would love to see your candy bowl Tera!
Carol B.C. Honkanen · June 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm
After I submitted MY creation, I re-read the instructions again and noticed I only concentrated on the first part "T-shirt Upcycling". 😮 Oh, well. At least I recycled!!! 😉
Wool and Knitting Yarn · April 4, 2014 at 4:50 am
That's not bad. As long as you recycled and participated in this wonderful thing. this is the first time that I read this so I will make my won.
Natty Shirts · April 7, 2014 at 7:28 am
After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same comment. Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service? Many thanks!
sarah · April 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm
Oo, sorry that's happening! I don't have any way of doing it – if you see down below where it says "subscribe to replies", you can click on replies and change it to "none". . If not, there should be an unsubscribe link in the emails you're receiving.
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