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How to Upcycle Everyday Junk into Yarn – And Knit It

By using everyday junk that might otherwise go to a landfill, you can create recycled yarn–improving the environment and saving money

Let’s talk recycled yarn.

No, I’m not talking about unraveling sweaters for their yarn. (I’ve tried that… with varying degrees of success. This is an excellent guide to sweater unraveling, if you’d like to give it a try.)

Instead, I’m talking about taking plain, ordinary materials you already have around your house and turning it into yarn.

Some of these you may have heard about already. You may have heard of “plarn,” for instance: that’s recycling plastic bags and turning it into yarn. You may also have heard of T-shirt yarn, which is exactly what it sounds like. (I’ve even done it before!)

But have you heard of making newspaper yarn? Rag yarn? Blue jean yarn? Nylon stocking yarn?

Do you feel like I’ve lost my mind yet? I kind of do… and yet I know I haven’t, because I have actually found tutorials for every single one of these types of recycled yarn online! (Isn’t the Internet wonderful?)

If you’re looking for a way to repurpose junk that you would most likely throw away, and try knitting some truly unique projects, and reduce your carbon footprint all at once… you could be an excellent candidate to create recycled yarn!

Do note, before you dive in, that creating the yarn will be a project in and of itself, and some of it will require special skills. For instance, you’ll need to be able to spin yarn if you’re to make newspaper yarn. If you want to turn old blue jeans into yarn, you’ll need to do some sewing.

But these types of yarn can make some exceedingly practical projects, such as:

  • Tote bags
  • Placemats
  • Dishcloths
  • Baskets
  • Rugs

… and more!

Are you ready to do some recycling?

Tutorials for Recycled Yarn

1. Plastic Bag Yarn (Plarn)

  • What you’ll need to make it: Lots of plastic grocery bags (not that these are hard to come by at all) and a sharp pair of scissors.
  • Why you’ll want to: Plastic grocery bags are ubiquitous in the Western world (do tell me, Easterners, if they’re everywhere in your world as well!), and they will probably never go away. Recycling it into yarn is an amazing way to reduce their impact upon the environment. (You could even consider making them into shopping bags so you won’t need to get more from the store!)

2. Newspaper Yarn

  • What you’ll need to make it: Newspaper (obviously!), a pair of sharp scissors, and a spindle or spinning wheel. You’ll also need a good knowledge of spinning yarn.
  • Why you’ll want to: You love to spin your own yarn, and you’re intrigued by the thought of spinning something that might otherwise simply take up space in a landfill. You can use the yarn for baskets, placemats, even rugs.

3. T-shirt Yarn

  • What you’ll need to make it: at least one old T-shirt; a sharp pair of scissors
  • Why you’ll want to: This is such a great idea for old T-shirts that you hate to get rid of but no longer want to wear. And as the tutorial writer mentions, the actual process is rather fun. (I can attest to this, having made T-shirt yarn myself!)

4. Rag Yarn

  • What you’ll need to make it: Really any kind of fabric: T-shirts work, but so do old bed linens or anything else you might have consigned to the “rag bag” (you could even use the fabric from an old umbrella!); a sharp pair of scissors
  • Why you’ll want to: The process of making “rag yarn” is similar to the T-shirt yarn process above. The main difference is that rather than creating one long strip, you’ll create several strips that you’ll then weave together. If the idea of creating one long strip makes you nervous (what if I cut the wrong part?), try this fun project!

5. Blue Jean Yarn

  • What you’ll need to make it: One (or more) old pair of blue jeans; a sharp pair of scissors; washing machine and dryer; drop spindle or spinning wheel (optional); a whole lot of patience (to untangle the “yarn” once you run it through a washer and dryer).
  • Why you’ll want to: Don’t we all have at least one pair of jeans that are languishing in the back of a closet or bottom of a drawer? If so, this is the perfect reason to bring them out into the light and dust them off. Spin the resulting fiber to create a different sort of texture for your yarn, or don’t bother if you like the texture the way it is.

6. Nylon Stocking/Pantyhose Yarn

  • What you’ll need to make it: Nylon stockings and/or pantyhose (as many as have runs!), a sharp pair of scissors
  • Why you’ll want to: Nylon stockings and pantyhose are notorious for popping runs if you so much as brush past something with a slightly roughened texture. Turning them into yarn is a wonderful way to turn lemons into lemonade.

You can use this sort of yarn for baskets, bags, bowls, and more!

What to Knit with Recycled Yarn

Now, you might be thinking, “So this sounds fascinating. But, what can I actually knit with all these kinds of yarn?”

Unsurprisingly, people all around the Internet have the answers! In the Loop Knitting has a blog page that solely comprises knitting patterns made with materials recycled into yarn. The following are some of my favorites:

1. Baskets

Perin Knitted Wall Basket – for T-shirt yarn

Amsel Storage Basket – for any fabric yarn

Twined Basket – for T-shirt yarn

Plarn Bowl – for plastic bag yarn

2. Sandals

Knitted Sandals – for plastic bag yarn

3. Bags

Injeanius – for blue jean yarn

Plastic Bag Shopping Bag – for plastic bag yarn (obviously!)

Re-Bag – for plastic bag yarn

Reduce … Reuse … Recycle Business Card Case – for plastic bag yarn or any fabric yarn

4. Oven Mitts

Upcycled Oven Mitt – for T-shirt yarn

5. Rugs

Rag Doily Rug – for rag yarn

T-Shirt Rag Rug – for T-shirt yarn

Cable Rag Rug – for rag yarn

Note: this final link is an affiliate link to a knitting pattern that is not free but is for sale on Etsy. If you make a purchase after clicking, I may receive a commission. Thank you! I couldn’t resist including this pattern even though it’s not free–it’s simply too clever to ignore.

6. Garden Planters

Graduated Ombre Garden Pods/Planters – for plastic bag yarn

An added bonus to all this knitting (and/or crocheting) with recycled yarn is that it helps the environment by keeping things such as newspapers and plastic bags out of landfills and puts them into good use.

So why not give upcycling a try and make your very own yarn?

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