I’ve been making rag rugs for over fourteen years now…. about half my lifetime in fact. After sticking with one craft intensively for such a long time, it’s important to try new things to keep things interesting. I’m, therefore, always on the lookout for new project ideas, new innovations that can be applied to rag rugging and new materials to try.
T-shirt yarn has been on my radar for the past few years and, although I’ve always made my own when I’ve needed it (for making braided rag rugs and coasters, for example), I’ve always wanted to try out some of the pre-cut rolls to see how they differed to the handmade stuff. Well, finally my time has come to try rag rugging with t-shirt yarn 🙂
So what is t-shirt yarn?
In essence, t-shirt yarn is yarn made from recycled t-shirts, as opposed to wool or acrylic. I guess the clue is in the name really… T-shirt yarn is used in a number of different crafts, including crochet, knitting, macrame, weaving and, of course, rag rugging. It can largely be broken down into two types – handmade and manufactured.
Handmade T-shirt Yarn:
In its most basic form, t-shirt yarn can be made for yourself at home. This is done by cutting up a t-shirt (or many t-shirts) in a specific way that creates a continuous strip of fabric. If you’re interested in learning how this can be done then you can find the method in the techniques section of my book “Rag Rugs, Pillows & More” on page 17 or you can browse videos on YouTube explaining how it is done. I use handmade t-shirt yarn to create braided rag rugs like below…
Handmade t-shirt yarn is great as it means you can use up clothing you already have (which makes it sustainable and cheap), but, it’s quite labour-intensive as it involves a lot of joining. It is also a bit of a faff sorting out of seams and nasty bits on a garment. Cue, manufactured t-shirt yarn.
Manufactured T-shirt Yarn:
Manufactured t-shirt yarn is created from the offcuts from t-shirt production at the actual textile factories themselves. It is a natural by-product of the t-shirt manufacturing process and, whereas before this selvedge edge probably would have gone to waste, now it is wound onto bobbins or rolls to be used by avid crafters like you and me.
As with my blanket yarn, t-shirt yarn comes in a whole range of different colours and patterns as it depends on what t-shirts have been made that run. For some people, this is a problem as it means that you can’t necessarily get hold of a particular pattern you’ve used in the past, but, for me, it’s a wonderful part of the product as it means that the things you make are truly individual and one-of-a-kind.
The main advantage of manufactured t-shirt yarn is that it’s convenient. It comes in a continuous strand, which means there isn’t any pesky joining. What’s more, the quality is consistently smooth and perfect (unlike some of the handmade stuff I’ve made in the past).
However, on the face of it, t-shirt yarn seems pretty expensive at approximately £8 a roll (for approximately 700g or 120 metres). To be honest, it’s the price that has put me off rag rugging with t-shirt yarn in the past.
However, now the time has come to give it a go and see what the true pros and cons of the product are. So, here it goes…
Rag Rugging with T-shirt Yarn from Hoooked:
One of the big global producers of manufactured t-shirt yarn is Hoooked from The Netherlands. They’ve paired up with textile manufacturers in Portugal to create a huge range of sustainable t-shirt yarn products out of remnants. I was lucky enough to meet the Hoooked team at the NEC in Birmingham and they gave me some of their different yarns to have a play around with. I got my hands on three big rolls of Zpagetti (they claim that it’s the original t-shirt yarn) and two smaller bobbins of RibbonXL. All were in taupe and grey colours.
I also asked for a small reel of Hoooked Natural Jute Yarn. Jute is actually what hessian is made of and I loved the idea of trying to rag rug jute into jute. Yes, serious nerd moment.
What project to choose?
In British rag rugging, there are largely two techniques – shaggy rag rugging and loopy rag rugging. Loopy rag rugging is best done with long strips of fabric (the longer, the better), so it seemed to lend itself nicely to the manufactured t-shirt yarn that comes in one wonderfully long strip. I, therefore, decided that my first Hoooked rag rug project would be done in the loopy style of rag rugging.
Without knowing quite how far the t-shirt yarn would go, it seemed pretty ambitious to make a rug straight away. It would have been pretty annoying to run out of materials half way through. I, therefore, decided to make a cushion… it seemed safer. Although at some point I’m keen to try the RibbonXL t-shirt yarn, which is made from 100% cotton, I decided to play around with the classic Hoooked Zpagetti yarn to begin with. Here is what I made…
My T-shirt Yarn Cushion:
The cushion in the centre is one that I made using Zpagetti t-shirt yarn. It’s my first ever example of rag rugging with t-shirt yarn.
So what have I learnt rag rugging with t-shirt yarn?
Fabric Consumption and Cost:
To complete this 40 x 40cm cushion cover it took me…
- 88g of the dark brown t-shirt yarn
- 244g of the light grey t-shirt yarn
- 106g of the light brown t-shirt yarn
- Approx 30g of the natural jute for the border and accents.
In total, I therefore only used about 468g of t-shirt yarn to complete the cushion cover. I honestly couldn’t believe how far it went.
This was a complete revelation as it meant that the manufactured t-shirt yarn worked out a lot less expensive than I ever could have hoped. My cushion cover would have cost me only about £5 in fabric, which is pretty darn cheap.
Ease of Use:
T-shirt yarn also had some pretty obvious advantages over normal rags.
- It was pre-cut into the correct width of strip which saved a lot of time cutting up old garments and offcuts.
- It was in one continuous strip, which meant that you could really get into a rhythm when doing the loopy technique of rag rugging. There was a lot less stop and starting.
These factors meant that rag rugging with t-shirt yarn was easy and quick. Did it look good though?
Overall, I really liked the look of the t-shirt yarn when it was rag rugged up in the loopy technique. It created a very bold design that worked well for the cushion cover. I did, however, have a couple of bug bears.
- Ends of strips don’t blend in as well when using t-shirt yarn. This may seem like a particualrly harsh critque considering it’s so minor, but I didn’t particularly like how easily you could spot the ends of strips when rag rugging with t-shirt yarn. Normally ends of strips are completely disguised amongst your loops and it is near-impossible to spot them, but they stood out quite prominently in my cushion…
- I missed using different textures. An easy way to elevate your rag rugging is to use a variety of different textures in one piece, so using just the one type of fabric got a little flat after a while. I did, however, enjoy adding in the cushion accents and border in the Hoooked Nautral Jute Yarn, which added a bit more flare. When I next use t-shirt yarn, I will include some patterned fabrics and some other products from the Hoooked range to add different textures to the piece.
- T-shirt yarn isn’t the softest fabric. Although the Zpagetti yarn was great for creating a defined pattern, it doesn’t give as soft a finish as other fabrics. It didn’t feel nearly as cushy as my blanket yarn cushion or my brushed cotton cushion, for example.
Overall, the advantages of rag rugging with t-shirt yarn more than outweighed the minor problems I pointed out. It was very quick and easy to loopy rag rug with Hoooked’s Zpagetti T-shirt Yarn and made for a fun and speedy project. The cost of the t-shirt yarn itself turned out to be a lot better value than I was expecting and I suspect you’ll be seeing far more t-shirt yarn creations from me in the future 🙂 Do let me know if you decide to give t-shirt yarn a go. I’d love to see what you make!
p.s. I should add that the folks at Hoooked haven’t paid me anything to do this post – it was a purely objective and honest review.
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As always, thanks for reading.