Tips for Working with T-Shirt Yarn

T-shirt Yarn Bowl
A basket made out of T-shirt yarn. © Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

T-shirt yarn is fun to make and fun to use in knitting projects, whether you make it yourself or use one of the commercially available yarns made out of old shirts.

While the results are awesome and projects work up really quickly because the yarn is so big, T-shirt yarn can actually be a little difficult to work with.

You'd think, being made out of T-shirts, that the yarn would be stretchy and easy to work with, but it's actually pretty firm and can strain your body if you work with it too long in one sitting.

Here are some tips to make working with t-shirt yarn a little easier.

Always use large needles. Maybe even larger than you think would make sense. Unless your yarn is very fine, a needle in range of size 11 US/8mm and up will work best for you.

Try plastic or metal needles. Needles that are a little slippery can be helpful for working the stitches more easily and evenly. I tend to use plastic circular needles, even when working flat.

Take your time. When projects (like the T-Shirt Bag) get big, they can put a lot of strain on your body, even when working with circular needles, just because they are so heavy. T-shirt yarn is a lot heavier than the same amount of regular yarn would be, and holding all that weight does take some strength. Take it slow and rest often if you're feeling sore.

Try not to stretch. Cotton T-shirts are meant to be stretchy, but the less you pull on and stretch the yarn as you work the better off you'll be in terms of getting an even tension and having stitches that don't look distorted.

Don't worry about perfection. On the other hand, it's difficult to cut numerous shirts so that they make yarn that's exactly the same width (unless you use a rotary cutter and a ruler), so there are naturally going to be variations throughout your project. You'll probably also run out of yarn in the middle of a row and have to change colors.

That's fine. It all adds to the organicness of a recycled knitting project.

If you're making your own yarn, try to use seamless shirts. It's not a huge deal, but the side seams in a shirt add bulk to your yarn, and sometimes you'll see the seam in your finished project, which isn't so great.

What else to look for? You're probably inclined to choose plain colored shirts (or shirts with logos and only using the part without printing), but it can also be fun to use shirts with a print, or even stripes. Especially since T-shirt yarn projects tend to have a scrappy look naturally, they don't have to match.

And what to knit? A great idea is to check out projects on Ravelry for inspiration. There are hot pads and washcloths, hats and bags, bibs and bowls.

Some of my favorites include:

  • The Tee Bib, another paid pattern, this one by Laurie Kimmelstiel, which is super cute and I hear it can be knit in an hour