Author Archives: tshirtyarn

The History of T-shirt Yarn

Do you ever wonder who was the first person to discover that if you cut a continuous strip from the torso of a t-shirt in a spiral fashion and stretch it the result is a wonderful yarn?  I do!

Given that the T-shirt likely made its entrance on the scene in the late 19th century or early 20th century, I’ll wager that some unknown housewife, looking to make ends meet by using every scrap in the home for a purpose, was up late one night looking at her husband worn, stained and ripped shirts, when the idea popped into her head!

The idea of t-shirt yarn started appearing in 20th century books.  One book, Rags: Making a Little Something Out of Almost Nothing, written by sisters Linda and Stella Allison and published in 1979, has a chapter about T-shirt yarn.

Today, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people posting tutorials on this process.  I am one of them.

But who was the first to share a tutorial online? Here are a few of the oldest ones I’ve found:

Have your own special process for making t-shirt yarn?  Please share in the comments!


Yarn 101 – Processing a typical t-shirt

This is how I process a t-shirt that has no seams at the sides of the torso area.  These are the most common types of t-shirts and the only type that will produce a long seamless yarn if cut properly.

After working with MANY t-shirt over the course of a year, I found this method to be fast and efficient.  I use the entire t-shirt so there is no waste.

  1. tshirt Start with a clean no longer wanted t-shirt.  I get many of my t-shirts from a local thrift store and then wash them in my homemade laundry detergent.
  2. tshirt cut below graphic Separate the torso area of the shirt from the chest area just below the graphic.  If your shirt has no graphics or screen printing, separate it below the armpits.
  3. tshirt cut near stain If any stains exist on the torso area make another cut.  This shirt has a small blue ink stain.
  4. tshirt folded Fold the remaining stain-free torso area so that the side folds are not even with one another (as shown in the picture).
  5. tshirt with dowel inserted Insert a dowel or similar object (a small curtain rod will work, too) into the top fold.  This object will prevent you from cutting all the way through the t-shirt.
  6.  Place a straight edge perpendicular to the dowel and use a rotary cutter to make 5/8″ strips (or whatever width you prefer).
  7. tshirt strips and band separated When you reach the bottom hem of the t-shirt while making strips, be careful not to cut through the stitching.
  8. tshirt bottom hem after turning inside out Use a tube turner (blue object shown in the picture) to turn the bottom hem of the t-shirt inside out.  This makes a really wonderful cord that you can use for other projects.
  9. tshirt after strip cutting Pick up the area you just cut into 5/8″ strips, remove the dowel and insert your hand in it’s place.
  10. cutting diagonally across the fold Cut across the folder diagonally – this creates a continuous strip.  Be careful not to cut straight across.  If you do, you will end up with individual loops instead of a continuous strip.
  11. stretching the strip into cord Stretch the strip (pile on the left) into cord (pile on the right).
  12. start making a ball Now that you have a pile of cord, take the end and wrap it once around your thumb.
  13. Wrap around hand Wrap about 90% of the cord around your hand as shown in the picture.
  14. wrap in an x pattern  Wrap the remaining cord using an alternating X pattern as shown.
  15. wrap end around x Wrap the end of the cord around one of the last wraps so the ball won’t unravel.
  16. remove from hand Carefully remove the ball from your hand and the end of the cord from your thumb.   Now you have a ball that is easy to use – simply pull cord from the center.
  17. ball done Pull a little extra cord from the center of the ball and wrap it around the ball.
  18. cut strips method 2 Using the other portion of the torso (the part on the other side of the stain I cut away), I’ll make loops by cutting strips all the way through (no dowel this time). An alternate method of cutting and measuring strips is to make your own pre-measured strips out of cardboard and and use them as a guide for your straight edge.
  19. loops Simply stretch the strip and you get a cord loop. You can wrap it around your wrist to make a hip earth friendly bracelet.
  20. move up to sleeves remove sleeve hems  Lay out the sleeves of the shirt and detach the sleeve hems. Be careful not to cut through the stitching on the hem.
  21. use tube turner on sleeve hems Turn the sleeve hems inside out just like we did with the bottom hem earlier.  A tube turner makes this task a snap.
  22. remove the sleeves and flip them upside down Detach the sleeves and flip them upside down.
  23. remove seam Remove the seam that runs along the underarm of the sleeve (now shown at the top because we flipped the sleeve).
  24. sleeve strips  Cut the remaining sleeve into strips and stretch the strips. These shorter strips are great for making your own Eco-friendly product tags!
  25. arm seams With the remainder of the shirt (the chest and back area), fold in half and line up the arm seams.
  26. remove arm seams Remove the arm seams.
  27. spreadshirt Spread out the front chest area of the shirt as shown.
  28. cut strips from design free area Cut strips from the design free area between the top of the graphic and the collar.  Save the collar and screen print area for other crafts (I’ll post tutorials for these soon).
  29. shirt back Spread out the back of the shirt the same way and cut more strips.  I use the cords from the chest and back area to make my variegated t-shirt yarn (tutorial coming soon).
  30. Make Mulch With any leftover scraps, cut into pieces of about 1″ by 1″.  These can be used as mulch in your garden if you collect enough.
  31. t-shirt mulch looks like clown exploded Here is a section of my garden with t-shirt yarn mulch.  My husband says it looks like a clown exploded.