2015 Lookback: A Year of Tshirt Reuse

I went into 2015 excited about attempting to go zero waste and making use of existing resources. January 2015 was my first visit to the Really, Really Free Market to find treasures among piles and piles of unwanted tshirts.

Austin Really Really Free Market

I got home that day with a beach bag stuffed full of tshirts in my favorite colors. As I had started earlier with my own worn out shirts, these also gradually were transformed into tshirt yarn. It was a slow process for me because I wasn’t content to cut off and discard hem, seams, or collar, instead painstakingly removing all the stitches to make full use of the fabric. Once I had an assortment of yarn colors that looked like they might be okay together, I braided them and stitched them round following this braided rag rug tutorial. That first one was fairly small, but I was amazed and proud to have made my very own rug.

Braided Rag Rug #1

I quickly moved on to another, slightly larger and with different color scheme. Trying for something even more ambitious, I handstitched it so the thread was (mostly) not visible from the front side. It does look a bit better but was a ton of work. The only reason I might try this again in the future would be to use up all my tiny spools of cheap thread in various colors since they aren’t useful for machine-stitching.

Braided Rag Rug #2

Next up was a twined potholder on a cardboard frame, following the instructions from Bobbie Irwin’s book Twist & Twine from the library. The cardboard frame was a hassle and wasn’t holding up while working on it, so for the second potholder the frame was chopsticks tied to a metal grated tray. Still not perfect, and the pale blue/pink color scheme didn’t provide enough contrast to show off the work I had put into the pattern, but two potholders was plenty.

Twined Potholders #1 and #2

But by this time I was excited enough to have made a purchase of a set of (not new) crochet hooks online. My enthusiasm waned a little when I opened the grossly excessive packaging they were mailed in, but it was already done. After starting off with some practice crochet on a normal length of thread that I had around, a tshirt yarn crochet bowl was the next item on the agenda. It was so cute that I wanted to make more, but most of my tshirt yarn was already cut too thickly to work well for bowls this small.

Small Crochet Bowl

Fortunately, I had a larger crochet hook (Size N) as part of the set and was ready to make the big version. My primary goal was to use up many of the smaller pieces of yarn from the arm and chest sections of the shirts and even collars, sewn together into one continuous yarn and then crocheted so that the seams wouldn’t be visible. This basket might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it works great for storing my fabric yoyos, both completed and in progress.

With these easier crochet experiments complete, it was time to get on with my next rug experiment–the crocheted rag rug. Every tutorial I’ve read says that crocheting in the round is easier for beginners attempting to make rag rugs, but I didn’t believe them. Starting a round and then increasing at the right time is complicated. And I was right! For me at least, making regular turns for a rectangular piece is so much easier than round. This blue beauty is now sitting next to my bed ready to give my feet just a little more cushion in the morning.

Trying to use up some of my plentiful tshirt yarn, I made one final braided rag rug of the year. This is my favorite so far and as you can see from that last picture it’s also the largest. To get an interesting color combination, I used both a couple of standard yarn balls from tshirt bodies and one ball made from various shorter pieces sewn together. This will definitely be my modus operandi for future attempts.

For those of you interested in hopping on the tshirt yarn bandwagon, here are a few tips:

  • Choose 100% cotton tshirts when possible so any random scraps left over can be composted (although almost all shirts have non-compostable polyester stitching).
  • Choose tshirts with a small or no logo. The printed area doesn’t form into yarn like the rest of the shirt, and you’ll have to force it while braiding, crocheting, or twining.
  • Skip the shirts that have a side seam if you have a choice. You want the main body of the shirt to give you as long a continuous smooth yarn as possible.
  • If making a braided rag rug, be very very careful to start stitching in the right direction so the rug will grow away from the sewing machine. I think I got that one wrong every time, ugh!
  • If using a sewing machine, take time to look through the manual and understand as much as possible how it works to prevent any issues. And clean your machine more regularly than I do to keep it in good condition.
  • Don’t be afraid to try again. I learned a lot of things about working with colors from these experiments, and my most recent rag rug is by far my favorite.
  • Crocheting with thick tshirt yarn can be strenuous. Take breaks and don’t expect to do a large project all in one go.
  • If making a round rug, set it down regularly and check for lumps or curling to determine if the next rings need to be tighter or looser respectively. (I’ve so far been too lazy to actually remove any existing stitching to fix it, but that’s probably not a bad idea either.)

All in all, I’ll declare my tshirt reuse plans for 2015 a smashing success! In the future I’d like to try something like Prarie Peasant’s knitted rag rug (I’ve been gifted a knitting set that previously belonged to a relative of my sister’s boyfriend so nothing to buy!) or one of the more complex braided rag rugs that also requires absolutely no sewing. I have a different big project for next year, though, so time to put away all my leftover yarn for when the urge hits again.

Leftover tshirt yarn balls

4 thoughts on “2015 Lookback: A Year of Tshirt Reuse

    • Deborah Ray January 15, 2016 / 5:10 am

      Thanks for the kind words! It reminds me I really should get started on my reupholstery resolution. 🙂


  1. connie.n.w. August 8, 2016 / 12:39 am

    Wow, I’m impressed! They look amazing!!


    • Deborah Ray August 8, 2016 / 1:11 am

      Thanks, Connie! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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