September 1, 2014

How to Make T-Shirt Yarn

Making t-shirt yarn is super easy and a great way to reuse shirts that are past their prime. If your shirts do not have side seams - the body of the t-shirt is a tube of seamless fabric - you can make a continuous strand of t-shirt yarn. I like to cut on a ruled, self-healing mat with a rotary cutter and straight edge, but it's fine to simply use a pair of scissors with a ruler to gauge where to make your cuts.
Lay your shirt flat on the mat (if using rotary cutter) or other hard surface (if using scissors). Smooth it out to remove all wrinkles and puckers. When completely flat, cut just above the bottom hem of the shirt and below the arms. Set aside the hem and upper chest of the shirt for other reuse purposes.
With the open (cut) ends of the remaining t-shirt tube facing left and right, fold up from the bottom just shy of half-way, leaving a one inch allowance at the top.
Working right to left, cut through all 4 layers of folded t-shirt at one inch intervals (or wider for bulkier yarn). Start cutting from the bottom fold, working up towards the one inch allowance. Stop cutting just past the fold and before going through the allowance, as shown above.
Your t-shirt tube will now resemble a set of ribs attached to a central spine (the uncut allowance). Unfold your loops of t-shirt with the uncut allowance laid flat.
To transform the loops into a continuous ribbon, use scissors to cut across the spine/allowance at a diagonal from bottom right to upper left, as indicated by the red lines.
This is what the diagonal cuts look like.
When finished cutting, you will have a continuous ribbon of jersey fabric. Use like this as ribbon yarn, or pull the ribbon to create a rolled, round strand yarn. 
Firmly hold a couple of feet of ribbon between your hands. Pull your hands away from each other to stretch the t-shirt ribbon. The cut edges will roll inwards to create a rounded strand of yarn. Continue to pull and stretch down the entire length of the ribbon.
Any printed areas of the t-shirt will now be rolled inside the yarn. Pictured above is the section of yarn that is printed with purple text. The dark ink shows through a little bit, but isn't much noticeable.
Wind up your yarn and you're ready to go. The yardage and gauge of the yarn will vary depending on t-shirt size and density of fabric. In general, I have found one inch wide ribbon pulled into yarn works up in stockinette at 2.75-3 stitches and 3-3.25 rows per inch on size 15 (10 mm) needles. The medium shirt pictured above yielded 25 yards of yarn. Men's XL shirts typically yield 33-36 yards of continuous yarn when cut at 1 inch intervals.


  1. Brilliant! Now then, I am not sure all t-shirt material curls.

    1. Hi Littleviews. Are you a knitter? Look closely at the structure of the t-shirt. Most are knit in stockinette. (If you aren't a knitter, this texture looks like little "v"s lined up neatly in columns on one side of the fabric and shallow "u"s on the other side of the fabric.) All stockinette t-shirt fabric will curl when pulled. If you cut across the grain like illustrated in the tutorial, the yarn will curl towards the "v" side. If you cut with the grain (from the hem to the neckline), the yarn will curl towards the "u" side. Hope this makes sense. Thanks for your input!

  2. Wow! This is such a great tutorial Laurie. Thanks for posting - it's given me so many great ideas for what to make from the t-shirt yarn. Fantastic photos too! All your instructions are so clear :)

    1. I'd love to see pics of what you make, Xan.

  3. You bet Laurie. Our Spring break is coming in a few weeks so I've bookmarked it for a little holiday project with the kids. Look forward to sharing what comes of it :)