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Many of us likely have old t-shirts or fabric scraps laying around the house, which is why we’re happy to share this scrap-busting DIY yarn tutorial by Jule and Masha from the Berlin, Germany, craft group Trial&Error! Once you’re done creating your new yarn, you can then use it for knitting, macramé, tawashi sponges or any other thicker yarn-based project.
Jule and Masha: Only 1% of used textiles are recycled into new garments. Although most donated clothing items can still be worn, if they’re not sold (which many aren’t), they often end up in either incinerators or landfills creating massive amounts of waste.
Instead of letting our once-loved clothes turn into textile waste, we can easily repair and upcycle our torn, ill-fitting or out-of-style clothes… or even those items in our closet we’ve never worn that still have tags on them!
Do you have an old t-shirt at home you no longer wear, but don’t want to throw away? Or maybe you have some extra fabric left over from a sewing project? Let’s learn how to turn them both into yarn that can be used in new and fun ways!
Pro-tip: Jersey fabrics are particularly suitable for this DIY yarn project because they are very stretchy and won’t fray, and can therefore be rolled up into a yarn shape easily. We do not recommend using non-stretch fabric.
Spread your jersey fabric smoothly in front of you on a flat surface. In the photos, we’ve used a cotton jersey fabric. This fabric is particularly suitable because it can be stretched in all four directions and rolls up very well by itself (which we’ll show in the next step).
Start cutting from one corner of the fabric to the next corner with a distance of about 0.8” (2 cm) from the edge. Cut around the fabric piece in a spiral shape, keeping the same .8″ inch distance from the edge as you go around. Continue like this until you reach the center of the fabric. In order for your yarn to have enough stability, it is important to keep the fabric strip approximately 0.8” (2 cm) thick.
Now pull and stretch all the way down the fabric strip to make it longer and provide a more uniform structure (and make it actually look like yarn!). Whenever you come across protruding corners, which were created by the spiral cut, you can cut them round.
Wind the yarn into a ball so it can easily be used later. You’re done! Now let’s learn about the t-shirt method.
Lay your t-shirt on a smooth surface and cut the hem and sleeves off.
Cut the t-shirt into strips about 0.8” (2 cm) wide, leaving a 1.2” border (3 cm) on the left side.
Unfold the shirt for this next step. After, cut away the first strip (very important!) and then cut diagonally from the second to the first strip, then from the third to the second… until you reach the end of the shirt.
You should have a single, long continuous strip like we did in the fabric scrap portion of this DIY. Pull and stretch all the way down the strip.
Wrap your new fabric yarn into a ball to easily use whenever you need it.
Now that you know how easy it is to upcycle your old clothes, here are some bonus tips to keep in mind when you are looking for new items.
Jule has been part of Trial&Error for 6 years. She is particularly interested in the circular economy and cultures created around sharing and swapping. She offers workshops on textile upcycling, creative environmental education with children and youth and how to achieve zero waste at home. She is a firm believer in grassroots revolutions and in the idea that everyone can make an important contribution to systemic change through their own consumption choices. Hence her favorite motto: “Be creative, get out of consumption roles and be the change.”
Masha is involved in hands-on teaching of climate-friendly everyday practices. For several years she has been giving workshops at Trial&Error on natural cosmetics and soap making, upcycling in general, plastic avoidance and climate-friendly nutrition.