Introduction: Recycle T-Shirts Into Seamless Yarn

About: Let's skip the pretentious titles. At present, I am a paper pusher. In the remainder of my life, I am a mother of two handsome grown men, a wife to a very patient man, a nana of two precious grandchildren, c…

Just about anyone you know likely owns at least one T-shirt, if not dozens or hundreds of them. As a result, they seem to be one of the most ‘disposable’ articles of clothing in today’s world. Walk into any second-hand store, and you’ll probably find several racks full of them. This provides the perfect opportunity for repurposing them, for mere pennies if you find the right sale.

Now begins the curiously addicting chore. You may find this to be a very relaxing process, like me. I have made and rolled up umpteen T-shirt balls.

And now, the most important question. What to do with this newfound material?

Please visit, and consider making, a Slouch Beanie Hat made from Recycled T-shirts

Step 1: Supplies Needed

PENS OR PENCILS – You will need a writing instrument in both dark and light colors in order to see the lines drawn that will be cut. Colored pencils work great.

PENCIL SHARPENER – No need to explain this one, right?

RULERS or MEASURING TAPE – Something to serve as both a straight-edge, and a measuring tool. Yardsticks are great methods of measure, and can also be used as guides for the width of your soon-to-be yarn. A 1 ½” wide yardstick produces a very thick yarn which is best for bulky projects such as rugs, while a 1” yardstick is ideal for making yarn that is thin enough for weaving and such. The good thing about using a 1” stick is that after you mark the 1” measurements, you can ‘eyeball’ the center enough to cut it in half, giving you an even smaller ½” yarn. Also keep in mind that lightweight shirts will produce a thinner yarn and can be stretched further, while a thick, heavyweight shirt will be bulky, harder to cut, and will not stretch as much. If you choose to cut thin strips, keep in mind that you should make them just a little wider if you select a shirt with a thin weave.

See the image provided (#4) which shows the different thicknesses of yarn based on the cut width.
How do you like those handy bread tie labels?

A FOLDING METHOD – Though I was lucky enough to find a shirt folding board for but a few dollars, you might not happen upon such a bargain. Consider making your own. :-) See step #3 for great tips and ideas from fellow Instructables authors!

T-SHIRTS - Plenty of them! Raid the second-hand stores, peruse your closets! Don't help yourself to your roommate's closet unless you have permission.

SCISSORS - Though some people use rotary cutters, I am not one of those people. I don't trust myself with them, and can't confidently advise others to use them. I know they can be used in a completely safe manner, but I'll stick with my scissors.

Step 2: Selecting the Best Type of Shirts

Most T-shirts are made with cotton or a blend of cotton and another fiber such as polyester or rayon, in a myriad of colors, sizes and sleeve lengths. For this project, you’ll want to collect shirts with the following particulars:

SIZE - The bigger, the better. I've been able to get 87 yards (yes, 87, that is not a typo) from one large shirt, while a smaller, almost child-sized shirt yielded only 26 yards of 1/2" yarn. Look for the biggest shirts you can find, and when you come across a 4XL shirt, grab it. Score!

100% COTTON – When T-shirts are cut into horizontal strips, then stretched, the strips will roll into themselves, which creates a unique little tube of fabric. I’ve cut up hundreds of T-shirts. Of those hundreds, I remember only a handful of shirts that did not roll when cut, even though they were labeled as 100% cotton. I believe these isolated shirts may actually be the result of the manufacturer either mis-labeling the fabric content, or the manufacturer cut the shirt pattern against the grain of the fabric.

SEAMLESS SIDES – While choosing shirts for this project, try to find shirts that do not have side seams, but rather have one continuous length of fabric. You won’t want knots or seams in the finished T-shirt yarn. It is easier and tidier without seams.You may notice that most men's shirts do not have seams in the sides, but shirts made for women do. We usually need a little extra room in the front, you know.

NO LOGOS – Try to select shirts that do not have embroidered, painted, or ironed-on logos, pictures and such. They interfere with the rolling of the fabric after cutting. Also be sure to check the back of the shirt for logos. You will only be able to use the fabric that does not feature a logo, so if there is one, it would be best if it was above the underarm location of the shirt, such as a name logo in the lapel area. Unless a logo is in the way, you will typically be cutting from the underarm down, or from the logo down if present. Sometimes, if I can't resist a certain color, I will sacrifice a bit of length when I have to cut the logo off.

If you are only able to find shirts with logos, and must cut them off, consider making T-shirt Quilts By trowel_gal

CLEAN SHIRTS – A shirt that is considered stained will work just fine, provided it isn’t greasy or has a hard surface, such as dried paint. It would be a good idea to launder all of the T-shirts prior to cutting into yarn. Stains will typically be rolled into fabric and will not show.

NO RIPS, TEARS, OR HOLES – If you are going to take the time to make something, make it good. Save the less acceptable clothing for another project.

COLORS - There are numerous T-shirts in any second hand store, though depending on the area, you may find one color seems to be more popular. In our area, black and white seem most prevalent, while pink and purple tend to be available only in smaller sizes, such as for young girls. Remember that most any color goes well with black, as do bright, fluorescent colors, which are often used for construction-type shirts. Pair several shirts together to get an idea of the color combinations you like, keeping your intended T-shirt yarn project in mind while you choose shirts.

THICKNESS - Thicker shirts will, of course, produce a much thicker strip, while a lighter weight shirt will produce a thinner strip. You should take this into consideration when choosing the width of your measuring and marking device. See step 3 (Getting Organized) for a helpful suggestion in making sample strips.

Step 3: Getting Organized

Nothing would be as disastrous as trying to make T-shirt yarn with wrinkled shirts from a big, messy pile.

When you bring home what will hopefully be a great big pile of shirts in all colors, the first thing you should do is wash them, if they are not already, fully dry them, and then organize them. Yes, people have been folding shirts forever in some form or fashion, without tools, but I like them extra neat and tidy. Call in the T-shirt folding tool!

I happened upon a plastic version for three dollars at a second hand store, but you can easily make one.
Simply visit one of these fellow Instructables author's fun pages. Note the 'two second' trend. :-)

  1. Sheldon Cooper T-shirt Folding Hack
  2. T-Shirt Folding Machine
  3. How to fold T-shirts in 2 seconds
  4. Fast way to fold a T-shirt
  5. Quck and Easy Way to Fold a T-shirt
  6. Shirt Folding Board from Cardboard and Duct Tape
  7. How to fold a t-shirt in less than 2 seconds
  8. How to fold a T-shirt in 2 seconds
  9. How to Fold a Shirt in 2 Seconds
  10. How to Fold a Shirt (the Liberty Laundry way)

Once you've folded up all of your shirts, you can now easily see and select colors.

Consider making test strips in various widths in order to determine how you will need to cut the T-shirts for your fabric. In the sample image shown (image #3) I've cut several different sizes of the same fabric to see how it will stretch. The labels are simply bread ties. Keep in mind that heavier weight shirts such as those labeled 'Beefy T's' are typically made with thicker fabric.

Step 4: Bonus! How to Make a Yardstick Stencil

Making a stencil: If you do not want to use one single ruler, moving it along every time you mark, it would be a good idea to make a stencil. Stencils are very handy, especially if you find yourself making a lot of T-shirt yarn. While any same-size wood strips are perfectly fine, I like to use yardsticks, as they include measurement markings, usually stamped on both sides.

Keep in mind that the width of the yardstick will be the width of your T-shirt yarn strips before stretching. I’ve made several stencils in various sizes. I used a 1-1/2" thick yardstick for this Instructable. Such thicker strips are better for things like weaving and rug making.

Purchase five six yardsticks, all the same type and size. We will assume you have purchased 36” sticks. Cut each stick in half. Lie one stick on a flat surface, then lie another one right next to it, with the ends even. Lie all of the sticks the same way. Now carefully lift up and remove stick #2 from the group, then place it on the end of the stick row to the right. You will see a gap that is the width of a yardstick. Pick up stick #4 and do the same, moving it to the end. Repeat this process with every other stick until the stencil is the width you desire, but not to exceed the length of 18”, unless you want to purchase additional yardsticks that you will not cut, in order to achieve the extra-long stencil length.

Trim two of the spare yardsticks to the width of the other sticks that are equally spaced, placing them at the top and bottom. Make sure they are lined up well. If everything looks good, you can now remove the top and bottom sticks, place a dab of wood glue at each end of every spaced stick, then place the top and bottom sticks back in place. Allow to dry before using. Lay the stencil on your project, and now you can quickly mark fabric.

Step 5: Laying It Out, and Marking

I realize there are other ways to achieve stretchy T-shirt yarn, but what can I say? I like details in excess.

Okay, so we're ready to begin!

Image #1.) Lay a shirt, face up, on a flat surface before you, such as a table. A tall table is especially helpful, so you do not have to stay in a bent-over position for extended periods of time. Smooth out wrinkles and lines, taking the time to make it nice and tidy – it will pay off. Align the front and back hem at the bottom of the T-shirt. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but try to get it lined up as best you can, this will give you more T-shirt yarn in the end. Then smooth the wrinkles upward, smoothing the fabric as you go.

*If you have not already read the section in Step 1 & 4 regarding Rulers or Measuring Tape, please do so now. You are about to cut your fabric, and must decide on the resulting thickness, determined by the width of your measuring device / stick.

Image #2.) Using a straight-edge such as a yardstick, line the stick horizontally so that when a pencil is run along the stick, the pencil will mark a horizontal line on the T-shirt from underarm to underarm as shown in image #3. Move to the side of the table, or carefully slide / turn the shirt so that the single pencil-marked section is now vertical to the center of your body.

Image #4.) Cut the shirt from one side to the other, along the line you have drawn.

Image #5.) Remove the top of the T-shirt and set it aside for another project.

Image #6.) Turn the T-shirt back to the original position.

Image #7.) Using both hands, pick up the folds of the shirt at the bottom, pulling it toward the top, as if you were going to fold the shirt in half, but do not fold it to the edge. Instead, leave a gap (see image #8) of about 3/4" or so. This is very important. Smooth out any wrinkles.

Image #9.) Place the yardstick at the left edge of the now folded (but not all the way) shirt. Firmly hold down the yardstick with your left hand while running the pencil along the straight edge from the bottom of the shirt up to the gap, or from the point after the gap, to the bottom of the shirt, or the hem. You may find that it helps to make two marks, one from the middle down, and one from the middle up, going in opposite directions so the T-shirt does not drag as you draw. Don't worry about the pencil marks, they won't show once you stretch the fabric. Use a light colored pencil for dark shirts, and a dark pencil for light shirts.

Image #10.) Continue to mark the width of your yardstick along the shirt, until you have reached the end. Don’t worry about the bottom hem section, especially if your pencil mark does not line up with the stitches on the hem. I usually cut only the strips that can leave a little on the hem part, which I then trim off neatly, as I am saving the tidy hems for another project. Discard any scraps.

Step 6: Cutting the Strips - Part 1

Image #1 & 2.) Starting at the left side of the shirt, begin cutting on the first line. Cut straight, and smooth, up to the point where you left a gap from the top edge of the shirt.

Image #3 & 4.) Do not cut into the gap.

Images 5.) Cut each line in this manner until you reach the hem section, which should be on the far right of the fabric as shown in image 7. As you only want fabric, and not hem in your yarn, make the last cut all the way past the edge of the shirt, into the gap, leaving a hem piece with a little more fabric on it. Sometimes you get close, sometimes you are off by about one width of your yardstick. Cast the hem piece into the scrap pile.

*Note. Once you make your first cut, and decide you want the strips a bit thinner, you can cut each strip in half as you go, keeping the layers of fabric as tidy as you can.

Image #8.) Now laying before you should be a width of shirt material cut into strips, but still attached all the way across the top by a solid strip of fabric.

Step 7: Cutting the Strips - Continued.

Image #1.) Because the yarn for my intended project should be 1/2" wide, I have cut the strips in half once more. If you do decide to make your strips thinner than originally cut, be sure to keep the fabric as precise as you can, keeping the layers neat and tidy, cutting one strip at a time in half.

Image #2.) Using the fingers of both hands, pinch the left side of the gap area with your left hand, and the right side with your right hand. With your pinched fingers in place, lift the shirt up and allow the cut strips to dangle freely. Now lie the shirt back on the table. You are basically unfolding the fabric strips, which were folded at the bottom.

Image #3 & 4.) Using the fingers on your right hand, pick up the top left corner at the solid strip area, and insert your left hand (or a flat piece of wood) with your index finger pointing out, between the folds of fabric, and push your left hand all the way through the solid strip, like a tunnel.

Image #5.) You should now have a bunch of danglies hanging from your arm, secured by one solid strip of fabric in the middle. If a pile of strips falls to the floor, you’ve done something wrong and will need to start over with another T-shirt. Cast any mistakes into a scrap pile for later use on other projects.This is why you should consider using second-hand shirts. It is just a shirt, don't get upset if you make a mistake your first time.

I just realized these instructions sound a bit like trying to teach someone how to deliver a baby over a telephone call.

Alternate method: There is a shortened version of cutting strips, if you don’t feel the need to be so precise, that will yield the same results. Simply fold a shirt in half lengthwise, leaving the 1” gap, and begin cutting at the hem side.

Step 8: Final Snip, and Stretching

If you are still with me, and still have danglies hanging from your arm, we’re in good shape.

Image #1.) With scissors in your right hand, make a diagonal cut as shown. Please note, if you are left-handed, simply reverse the side you are working on, and angle the cuts the other direction.

Images #3.) Once you make that first cut, the rest is easy. Continue to cut between the open gaps as shown, all the way across the fabric, making one final diagonal cut to end the strip as shown in image 4.

Image #5.) Now you should have a long, continuous pile of strips. Yes, they will appear wonky due to the diagonal cuts, but fear not, once you stretch the fabric out, this will not be a problem.

Image #6.) Starting at one end of the now long strip, hold an arm’s length of strip between both hands and give it a yank. A firm yank, but not with the force of a gorilla, you don’t want to rip the fabric strips, we’re simply trying to coax them into tube shape by way of stretching. Continue stretching and pulling new lengths into your hands.

Step 9: Rolling Your New Yarn Into a Ball

When you reach the other end of the strip, simply roll what is now T-shirt yarn into a ball. This is easily accomplished by winding the strip several times over a group of fingers. Turn the pile sideways and wrap a few more times. Turn, wind, turn, wind, and soon it will become a ball. Turn as necessary to create a ball shape.

Tuck the end strip into the ball and set aside. You did it! You made your first ball of yarn! It is a good idea to measure the yarn, if you are willing, and put a little tag on the ball to indicate the yardage. This will be helpful if you will need a certain amount for a project.

Now what??

See step 10 for a plethora (don't you just love that word) of ideas from fellow Instructables authors.

Step 10: Now What?

There are so many things you can do with T-shirt yarn.

It is stretchy, yet tough, and can be used for so many craft projects.

Baby helped to help choose colors for our next project, and here it is!


Check out a few of the many T-shirt Instructables by fellow authors on this site!

Old T-shirt to New Crochet Bowl by janpreet.kaur

Custom cut and braided T-shirt by Minky Pop

How to crochet a basket with t-shirt yarn - By my 9 lives

Braided t-shirt yarn basket - By jessyratfink

Rug Woven from T-shirts By Norahbelle

Make a braided t-shirt rug By suzelac

Create a pot-holder from an old T-Shirt By stofke

Knit with T-Shirts By kathrynl

Other ideas using T-shirts:
Cut up tank top: Twist weave/laddering in wide blocks By mmmmqc

If you use Twitter, check out #tshirtTransformation

Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new Instructable of my own using this very yarn. It won't be long. :-)

Thanks for checking out my Instructable.