Lesson one in lessening waste: Upcycling made easy

A newly-formed pile of yarn sits coiled in a hectic heap. A single, raggedy t-shirt has been shredded and cut in a whole variety of ways and directions to create a continuous length. After being stretched out, it is ready to be neatly wrapped, forming a yarn ball. Courtesy of Cassandra Clevenger via Flickr

Following Earth Day and inspired by impending doom surrounding anthropogenic climate change, many of us might be thinking of new, exciting ways to lessen the waste we produce in everyday life. Many different strategies can help you limit the material you throw away, like avoiding unnecessary purchases and opting for longer-lasting goods when you must buy.

My personal favorite way to reduce waste, though, is with a creative upcycling project. There’s no one right way to upcycle; the only goal is to take something that’s no longer serving its intended purpose and give it a new one. Ideally, you’ll use only materials that you already have to create something you can use regularly.

A few things that are probably laying around your dorm right now can be manipulated into more usable crafting supplies. Bear in mind that some clothing you might not want could be used for these projects, but might also fill someone else’s clothing needs if they’re in good shape. While this isn’t a traditional craft tutorial, it will allow you to implement Pinterest-worthy ideas while limiting your environmental impact.

If you and I have anything in common, your stock of t-shirts is more than adequate for a single human being. Sure, some of these old favorites will never go out of style, but for those that are getting a bit raggedy, or that embarrassingly advertise your high school drama production of “Shrek: The Musical,” you can implement upcyling.

If you’re a knitter, crocheter or weaver, you can certainly use yarn much more than extra t-shirts. All you need to make t-shirt yarn is scissors, shirts and stamina.

  1. Lay out the first shirt you want to shred flatly in front of you. Cut off the top portion of the shirt, including the collar and sleeves (you can retain it for scrap fabric if you want). I usually cut off the hem as well.
  2. It’s helpful if you mark 1-inch (ish) sections along the vertical length of the shirt. This will help you maintain a constant thickness of the yarn as you go.
  3. Following your marks, you’ll next be cutting the shirt into strips from right to left, leaving the shirt cylinder intact. This means that each cut will be through two layers of fabric. However, you’re going to leave them all connected by about a half-inch section on the left side. Since this is two layers and they’re connected by the left-hand seam, the section of connected fabric will end up being one inch wide.
  4. Now, starting from the bottom, you will cut along the above-mentioned one-inch section on the left. Move your shirt so that the whole one-inch connected section is visible, with the seam in the middle. By cutting along this section from the top of one strip diagonally up to the bottom of the next strip, you’ll keep the strips continuously connected and avoid needing to sew up small strips.
  5. Continue these diagonal cuts all the way up the shirt, being careful to connect the sections so you end up with a continuous piece.
  6. Now, you should have what’s basically a t-shirt noodle.
  7. Put down your scissors. You won’t need them anymore.
  8. Now comes the fun part: Stretch out the flat yarn noodle into a curled cylinder. How, might you ask? By stretching it. It’s rather cathartic. Start at one end. Hold it in both hands, then slowly pull apart, like how we imagine people made taffy back in the Handicraft era. This yields a dual effect: The noodle will become significantly longer, and it will naturally take on a round shape, making it much easier to work with in fiber arts capacities.
  9. As you go, wrap the resulting t-shirt yarn around four fingers of one hand, and then around the resulting loop to make a yarn ball.

There you have it; you have made t-shirt yarn (which, for the record, goes for like, 7 dollars on Etsy).

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