I wonder if all gardeners have a similar closet organization? Mine is divided in two: my “public” clothes, and my garden clothes. You wouldn’t mistake one for the other, as the garden clothes are very worn and patched, and not really fit for public appearance. Occasionally I try to up my game, but then come the inevitable holes from working with gopher wire or caught on a rose, or stained from dirt or grass or mulberries. So, my garden wear usually reverts to a homey attire that I’m a bit shy to be seen in at the mailbox, and I check for passersby first before darting to get the mail. 😉
Such old favorites have a nostalgia for me though–filled with memories of digging holes for blueberries or mowing a walking path through the field of spring poppies and maybe dotted with colorful splatters from a repainted building. So, when they become more tatter than attire, I try to find one more use for them before composting, so I can enjoy them a bit longer. This requires that the fabric still has enough integrity (doesn’t rip at the slightest tug) in order to be repurposed. If not, it’s time for the worm bin.
Any woven fabrics tend to get made into produce bags, as shown in another blog post. But the T-shirts or jersey fabric are fun to repurpose too, ever since I discovered the rugs you can make with them.
Making a shaggy rug from old t-shirts
There are different ways that I know of to make rugs from old t-shirts, but by far my favorite rug method is the shaggy-dog type of rug! I find the look very playful and enjoyable to make. And because you are working with small strips, you can utilize more of the t-shirt easily.
You will need a backing of strong fabric to sew the strips onto, like cotton duck canvas fabric or an old towel that isn’t too thick. (Keep in mind you’ll be sewing through this layer plus the cotton jersey strips, so the backing should be strong but not super thick.) Also, use a heavy duty needle in your sewing machine and strong thread. Because I use cotton ducking fabric for shower curtains and usually have some left over from hemming those, or am ready to recycle one, I often have some of that laying around for the backing. Hem the edges of your backing to prevent unraveling.
Use a pencil or pen to mark parallel sewing lines along your backing. The spacing will depend on how thick you want your rug to be, and how much jersey you have at your disposal. The spacing I like is an inch apart, but 1/2 inch would be more plush if you can manage it.
If you want your rug to have these spaghetti-like, curled-up strips, cut a test strip beforehand and stretch it, to make sure the fabric you have does indeed curl up. If it does, there is no need to stretch all the strips before you sew them onto the rug, as they will curl up during washing and drying. (Although, it is kind of like popping bubble-wrap–there is something inexplicably satisfying about it). I’ve seen other rugs made with fabric that doesn’t curl and that is a whole other look that you may prefer.
Now that your backing is prepared, cut the old t-shirts (or other jersey material) into equal-size strips — again, the width and length is up to preference. Mine are about 6 inches long and one inch wide (before being curled up). A six-inch long strip will make a three inch rug pile, since they are sewn down the middle. Jersey strips don’t unravel, so there is no need to finish them in any way.
Now begin sewing them onto the backing, starting on a line at one end. How to do this is something you have to get a feel for: how many strips to sew on as you work your way down each line. You may want to divide your pile of strips into four, and highlight your sewing lines into fourths, so you can ration the strips accordingly as you sew. On mine, I would sew slowly, and keep adding strips as I went along, usually only one or two strips at a time, but without any gaps between them. See photo. You’ll have to gauge what your sewing machine can manage. Do one line at a time, and proceed to the next adjacent, until finished. You’re done! Once you throw your rug in the washer and dryer, the strips will curl up.
I use these rugs in the bathroom or next to the bed, and they might also be nice for a pet bed or as a garden bench pad during dry weather. It’s fun to play with the color options and patterns.
Making braided rugs from old t-shirts
Another rug you can make from old t-shirts is a braided rug. You’ve probably seen them. To do this, cut the t-shirts into very long strips. I usually do this by starting at the bottom of the t-shirt, and cutting a continuous, even-width spiral upward around the tube of the shirt until I reach the armpits. Above the armpits, you can cut smaller strips of the same width and sew the ends together to make a long strip. You will probably need several old t-shirts to make enough for a small rug. You’ll have to experiment with the amount of fabric and what size of rug you wish to end up with. Take heart if you don’t have much material–sometimes a small rug is very charming in the right location.
Once you have a sufficient quantity of fabric strips, tie three long pieces together at the end in a knot–leaving some extra at the ends. Then, fasten those ends onto something sturdy and at a comfortable height, like a coat hook on the wall, or, in my case, a laundry rack attached high on a wall. Now start braiding these three strips into a very long braid of medium tension. If one strip runs out of fabric, you can just overlap it a few inches with another strip, and work that into the braid. The braid should hold it. I purposely left some ends tufted out in the rug above, because I like a non-uniform look. Once you have a long braid using all your fabric, make another knot at the end.
Now untie the braided “rope” from it’s fixed place, and begin forming the rug shape. This is best done on a level surface, like the floor or a table, because you want to keep checking that it lays flat as you sew it together. Start with an end of the braid, and curl it into a circle if you want a circular rug, or a rectangle if you are aiming for an oval rug. Sew the strips together at the edges by hand with big stitches of strong thread. You may be able to sew it on your machine with a wide zigzag stitch, but I have yet to try that. I usually use a double thread for hand-sewing these rugs. You may want to to make knots here and there, to make it more secure. Keep checking that it lays flat as you work your way around–that you aren’t cinching it into puckers. Make a knot at the very end, trim the excess if desired, and tuck that remainder up into an adjoining braid, or sew it on to smooth the edge. I wash mine on a normal cotton setting, but you may want to be cautious about the dryer–to prevent bunching up, or stressing of hand-sewn seams. Air drying would be safer, like draping it on a laundry rack or laying flat as with sweaters. However, it might be fine the dryer, if you are feeling adventurous.
If you make one of these rugs, I hope you’ll share the photo. I’d love to see it! And gardeners, I’m so curious, do you have a closet section just for garden clothes?