Don't Toss Those Old T-Shirts! Here's How to Turn Them Into Soft, Fabulous Yarn

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Pop quiz: Old T-shirts are perfect for A) wearing to bed, B) turning into rags or C) making yarn? The answer is all of the above, but today we're talking about yarn.

I bet you never looked at one of your beaten-up T-shirts and thought, I could make yarn out of that! But T-shirt yarn is actually a great raw material for all kinds of projects, from coasters to rugs. It's sturdy and durable but still super soft. Plus it's an eco-friendly solution for ratty old shirts — especially if you've got more cleaning rags than you know what to do with.

Let me show you how to make T-shirt yarn, step by step.

Note: This tutorial uses a knit T-shirt; most of the instructions are the same for a traditional cotton T-shirt. The few minor differences are noted in the second set of photos below.

1. Cut Off the Top

Lay your T-shirt out flat, face up. Cut off the top by starting right under the armpit and cutting horizontally, straight across to the other edge of the shirt.

2. Cut the Bottom

For a typical cotton shirt, you'll also need to cut off the bottom hem. The knit shirt in the photo above didn't have a bottom hem, so that wasn't necessary here.

3. Make the First Strand

You should now have a rectangle of fabric held together by the two side seams of the shirt. Turn the shirt so the seams are at the top and bottom. Fold the shirt in half from the bottom up, but leave about half an inch of the top part taller than the bottom part you're folding up.

Starting about half an inch in from the left side, cut straight up towards the top. Keep cutting until you're nearly all the way through both layers of the shirt, but leave about half an inch of the taller T-shirt layer uncut at the top, as you'll see in the photo above.

4. Keep Cutting

Repeat this process all the way across, cutting strips from the bottom to the near-top of the T-shirt, and spacing them half an inch apart. (Note that you can cut the strips as thin or as wide as you want, but ½-inch to one inch width is standard.) When you're finished, you'll have what looks a little like a grass hula skirt.

5. Snip the Strips Free

Open the shirt so that the uncut portion at the top is in the center and the cut portions fan out at the side. Now the hula skirt looks more like a rib cage.

Start at the bottom by making a cut in the center of that rib cage and working towards the left, cutting diagonally to the edge of your first cut. You'll see that you're now creating a strip of fabric, and that's what will eventually become your yarn.

Keep on cutting the strips diagonally from the right side to the left side to make one continuous strip of fabric yarn.

6. Stretch It

For a knit T-shirt like the one in this tutorial, the process is now done. Just roll the strip into a ball and use it. If you're working with a traditional cotton T-shirt, you'll want to stretch out the strip before rolling it, to create a thin yarn-like fabric instead of a thick fabric.

To stretch that cotton strip: Working in four- to six-inch portions, hold one end of the portion in each hand and pull your hands apart. The strip will stretch and curl in on itself to create a smooth yarn that doesn't reveal the cut edges of the cotton. Stretch all the way across the fabric, piece by piece, then roll it into a ball of T-shirt yarn.

Now, use that yarn to make anything you want — or better yet, grab another old T-shirt and create the next ball of soft, colorful, fabulous yarn for your collection.

Images by Kathryn Vercillo of Crochet Concupiscence

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