The Knitting with T-Shirt Yarn Experiment

I’ve seen so many articles, tutorials, and recommendations about knitting with T-shirt yarn, sometimes referred to as “rag yarn.”

I’ve passed these along to others, including our newsletter subscribers. But I’ve wondered, just how easy is this? Could I do it? What are the pitfalls? Is it worth it? So today I decided I would give it a try, see just how easy or difficult it is, and report back to all of you!

The Knitting with T-Shirt Yarn Experiment

First I needed a tutorial. So I went to one we have suggested in our Knitting Nuggets newsletter, from the Craft Passion blog.

I took an old gray long-sleeved T-shirt that I haven’t worn in a long time. I laid it flat on the floor and followed along in the tutorial.

Step one was to cut the top off of the shirt, just under the underarms. Not only was I grateful for a very sharp pair of scissors reserved for fabrics only — you really need sharp scissors for this task — but I was also reminded that I am terrible at cutting fabric. I cannot cut a straight line to save my life. To be honest, I’m terrible at cutting anything, period!

But never mind that. I finished cutting off the top, then I also cut off the bottom border. That was a little easier; I could just cut along the sewn border.

Step two was to fold the fabric from side to side, leaving a little 1-inch-wide overhang on the bottom layer.

Step three was to begin cutting from the opposite side of that overhang all the way up to the overhang, being careful not to cut too far into it. I also read the very helpful caveat to make sure that the strips I cut were no wider than 5/8 inch. “The project will be doomed for failure if the strips are thinner than 5/8 inch!” the tutorial said.

Okay, maybe not in so many words. But the warning was clear nonetheless.

Once more, may I reiterate that I am terrible at cutting? I’m not great at estimating measurements, either. I suppose I could have laid a ruler under the strips to make sure they were all the same width, but to be honest I was too lazy to do that!

I tried not to cut the strips thinner than an inch. The tutorial said 5/8 inch, but I was attempting an overly-safe approach.

When I was finished, the strips looked pretty ragged, but I pressed on to step four, which was to unfold that one-inch overhang that I now think I should be calling an “underhang.”

Anyway, the next step was to cut in diagonal paths from one lower strip to another upper strip; this would create one continuous strip of fabric. So far this was the easiest step.

Craft Passion’s blogger mentioned that she leaves that first strip for last. I did so and wound up cutting it the wrong way and lopping off a small length of yarn. I won’t be doing that again. Next time, I’ll cut the very first strip along with all the others.

Once all the “diagonals” were cut, it was time for the most fun part: tugging the fabric in opposite directions, a length at a time, in order to make the fabric stretch and curl inward. Here the tutorial explains that this is the reason to make those fabric strips no thinner than 5/8 inch; the strip will break when tugged if they are thinner.

I am happy to report that none of my yarn broke upon stretching.

And when all the fabric has been tugged and stretched out, the yarn is ready!

I rolled it into a ball and contemplated it. What to make? I decided to try knitting it into the quickest possible project, a dishcloth/washcloth.

I used a very basic pattern, a stockinette-stitch square with a garter-stitch border. Using a set of size 15 needles, I knit a square approximately 5 x 6 inches. I had a tiny bit of T-shirt yarn leftover when I was done. I could probably have made it 6 x 6 inches if I hadn’t been afraid of running out of yarn.

What I Learned and What You Should Know

So what did I find, overall?

1. Creating T-shirt yarn is a very forgiving process. As I mentioned once or twice, I’m terrible at cutting. But once I stretched the fabric, you really couldn’t tell that the “spinning” process was less than pristine.

2. One T-shirt does not produce a large amount of yarn. You can create a dishcloth or a potholder (I actually think my dishcloth would make a great potholder!), but for larger projects, you’ll need multiple T-shirts.

3. When you knit with T-shirt yarn, you need large, slick needles (I think aluminum is best, though plastic or acrylic might work, too), relaxed hands, and lots of time. The “lots of time” isn’t necessarily because it takes a long time to knit with T-shirt yarn; to the contrary, my T-shirt dishcloth knit up in about 30 minutes.

But because T-shirt yarn is not very flexible, it is a little more difficult to work than other kinds of yarn. Imagine a bulky yarn made from cotton, and you have the gist of how it feels to knit with. You will definitely need relaxed hands and possibly a looser gauge. I’m a tight knitter, so it was a bit of an adjustment.

4. This is just my opinion, but wow, did it feel satisfying to make that little dishcloth! The process of creating my own yarn, then knitting with the yarn I created, was so rewarding. This must be what it feels like to knit with one’s own handspun yarn! Now I want to try that as well, more than ever.

The process of creating T-shirt yarn was a little time-consuming, but it was fun and easy. Knitting with T-shirt yarn was a very rewarding experience. Overall, I think this is something I want to do again.

I’m ready to attack my husband’s T-shirt drawer!

P.S.: If you’d like different colors than what you’re stuck with in your old T-shirt pile, you can always pre-dye the shirt before cutting it into strips. Then you can start knitting with T-shirt yarn with customized colors!