How to make yarn from old t-shirts

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last week i started a new project with this lovely homemade “yarn”. and what did i make it out of? old t-shirts!

there are tons of ways to upcycle t-shirts that you don’t use anymore, but this is a great way to use up all those stained, shrunken, discolored, ridiculously worn out or otherwise hideous ones. making yarn out of them (and then working it up), you don’t really notice all these defects. let’s go on to how to make it.

1.  find some t-shirts that you don’t need anymore. you can do this project just with scissors, but it is so ridiculously easy and fast to do it with a rotary cutter and an extra-large self-healing mat. this was the first time i used these tools and it was a revelation for me! (i’m putting in the links to the actual products i used and where i bought them from.)

2.  first, cut the  bottom hem off the shirt. then start cutting strips from one side to the other but leaving about 2 or 3 cm at one edge UNCUT. for the project that i did, i cut 2 cm wide strips, but if you have a thin t-shirt, you might want to make wider strips. you don’t have to make them perfect because anything knit or crocheted with this yarn will have lots of little imperfections anyway, but i like this effect (good thing, too, seeing as i always tend to cut corners and not be particularly careful about certain things!). cutting strips from a horizontally-striped shirt is even more easy.

3. keep cutting these strips until you get to the armpits of the shirt, where you will cut all the way through to the edge to cut the strips off from the top of the shirt. then unfold the side seam that you didn’t cut. with your scissors, make a diagonal cut from the far edge to the inside of the first upper strip. look at how the scissors are positioned in the picture (which, i KNOW, is not focused, but i was having issues holding both scissors and camera!). then continue cutting from the right side of each lower strip to the left side of the corresponding upper strip. doing this, you will end up with one long continuous strip. the diagonal cuts will not be perfect, but it really doesn’t matter in the end. another way you could do this without using the rotary cutter would be to just cut a spiral up the body of the shirt with scissors, though it would be harder to make the strip even.

4.  you could just leave it like this, but seeing as each t-shirt doesn’t give you a ton of yarn, i prefer using the top of the shirt, too. so, after flattening out the top part on the cutting mat, cut off the sleeves.

5.  then cut strips across of the same width as before. when you get to the neck, you can pull up the front part of the shirt and cut more strips out of the back of the shirt (which generally goes up higher than the front part).

6. now we need to join all these strips. what i did for most of the shirts was join the ends with a serger. it’s hard to sew the ends together with a regular sewing machine because t-shirts are awfully stretchy. another way to do it (but which makes the final knitted result a bit less regular, although it’s not a real big problem because nothing you make with this “yarn” will ever be perfectly regular anyway) is to join the strips with knots. at the end of each strip, fold over a little and make a tiny cut with your scissors.

7.  insert the end of one short strip into the cut made in the end of your long continuous strip. please don’t try to first join all the little strips and only after that join those to the long continuous strip (as i did the first time around). you’ll have to pull a long amount of strips through that little hole and it will be a pain in the butt. 8. insert the other end of the short strip through the hole sticking out, making a loop.

9.  and pull that end to make a knot. don’t pull too hard or you might rip the hole. it doesn’t have to be a tight knot.

10.  when you’re done joining all the strips, roll a ball out of your new yarn. and go hunting for every old t-shirt in your house to make a bunch more!

in order to knit (or crochet) this yarn, you’ll need big needles (or a big hook). i used 13 mm needles and that worked quite well for 2 cm wide strips. i’m still working on my project with this stuff, so it’s still going to be a secret. but i hope to be able to show you in a few days! don’t forget to come back to see what it is! (edit: here is one project and here’s another!)

21 thoughts on “How to make yarn from old t-shirts”

  1. ciao calendula! è una macchina con diversi aghi (da 3 a 5) e una lama, quindi taglia la stoffa appena prima che il bordo viene cucito con diversi fili. se ti piace molto cucire, è una meraviglia, anche se costicchia. io la uso molto e infatti, funziona benissimo per la maglina. per darti un'idea, ecco alcune macchine della bernina.

  2. Ciao, ho appena scoperto il tuo blog e quest'idea per riciclare le magliette mi ha davvero colpito!
    Mi è venuto in mente che per tagliare strisce regolari con le forbici procedendo a spirale si potrebbe attaccare alla maglietta dello scotch di carta largo tanto quanto le strisce che si vogliono ricavare e poi usare i bordi dello scotch come guida. Dovrebbe funzionare, no?
    Oltretutto lo scotch aiuterebbe anche nel tenere ferma la maglina.
    Appena avrò un po' di tempo proverò!

  3. benvenuta, chiara! 🙂 veramente non è necessario tagliare delle strisce completamente regolari perché si arrotolano un po' mentre si lavorano e non si nota neanche se sono un po' irregolari. poi, secondo me, un po' di irregolarietà aggiunge un elemento di interesse! ma sì, potresti usare lo scotch di carta, anche se non è necessario tenere ferma la maglina mentre si taglia, solo se hai intenzione di cucirla. ma anche se usi le forbici invece della rotella, è molto più semplice se tagli nel modo che descrivo io che in uno spirale.
    se lo provi, fammi sapere come va! 🙂 lisa

    • Hi Havalah! I agree, it’s a shame to waste old shirts. I usually refashion my old shirts into new clothing, but what I love about making t shirt yarn is that you can even use the ones that are in awful condition, with rips or stains, or in a materials you don’t want to wear. I will only wear 100% natural fibers for shirts, so I can use my old poly/cotton blend shirts this way, too!


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