Monday, 4 January 2010

Knit wit

Toot toot happy new year! To celebrate we've got ourselves a guest blogger today.

Lisa Margreet is a craftastic upcycling expert from The East London Craft Guerilla who can tell you how to transform a t-shirt into an iPod cover or how to harvest yarn from a floppy old jumper. It's not a whole bunch harder than dropping your old clothes in a recycling bin, so read on to learn how it's done. (By the way, the pic above is not a portrait of Lisa herself, but a pattern available to buy in her Etsy shop.)

Raisin: Why upcycle?

Lisa: People are really familiar with the concept of recycling e.g. taking your finished wine bottle and junk mail and chucking them in the recycling bin, then waiting for it to be collected once a week and feeling pleased that you're doing your bit for the environment. That's great, but upcycling is a more creative way of solving the issue of our consumer detritus. When you upcycle an item you take something that would usually be disposed of either by putting it in the bin, by recycling it or sending by to the charity shop and you think about ways that you can reuse it for a different purpose. By giving it a new lease of life you are preventing it from ending up as someone else's unwanted item, as a problem in landfill, or from sitting lonely in the charity shop.

The East London Craft Guerrilla have been doing a lot of work with upcycled t-shirt yarn ever since we came across the technique and we keep on finding more things that you can make with it! T-shirts are interesting in themselves in that a lot of chemicals are required to grow the cotton for one t-shirt and there are often questionable practices in their manufacturing processes. They have become so prolific and cheap that they are now viewed as a disposable item by many people. You should think carefully about the provenance of your t-shirt when you buy a new one as so many of the cheap t-shirts end up in charity shops, worn once and then discarded. The charity shops then have problems selling them as there are just so many of them and I have heard of bags of t-shirts ending up in landfill as even the charity shops can't sell them. Of course, this is great for the crafty minded as we can save these t-shirts and give them a new purpose in life! Along with the many t-shirt adaptations you can do, you can also turn your t-shirt into yarn and then knit and crochet new items from them.

Raisin: What kind of project is t-shirt yarn best suited to?

Lisa: Knitted and crochet items that need a chunky yarn with a bit of stretch to it work best with t-shirt yarn. A lot of people are familiar with bath-mats made with rags from t-shirts, however we've made bookmarks, camera and iPod cases, clutch and tote bags, bracelets, necklaces and fascinators - I recently came up with a pattern for a really authentic looking 1960s pill box hat - move over Jackie O! I'm currently working on a waste-paper basket pattern made from crocheted upcycled t-shirt yarn with a fused plastic-bag lining.

Raisin: Can you give us a brief overview of the method?

Lisa: To make t-shirt yarn all you need is a pair of scissors and an old t-shirt! Place your t-shirt on a flat surface and cut off the bottom hem then start cutting all around the t-shirt at about 1cm width. It's easiest to cut it if you put it over an ironing board as it helps with turning it, but it's perfectly possible to do it on a flat surface as well. Keep cutting at 1cm width around until you have one long string of t-shirt yarn and you have reached the shoulders. Save the shoulders and the top of the t-shirt yarn for other crafty uses. To finish off the t-shirt yarn take small sections and give them a small tug lengthways so that the ends start to curl inwards, then wind the yarn into a ball and you're ready to start knitting or crocheting with it!

Raisin: How can we can learn more?

From February 2010 I will be running bi-monthly workshops at the East London Craft Guerrilla craft night on learning how to crochet using t-shirt yarn. There will be three initial three workshops starting with Learn to Crochet: How to Make T-shirt Yarn, learning basic chain stitch and then making a simple chain bookmark. The second workshop will cover single and double crochet stitches and then making a simple crocheted bangle. The final workshop will cover crocheting in the round and making a small fascinator or pill box hat. For more details on the workshops visit or or email me.

Raisin: What can you tell us about reclaiming yarn from old jumpers?

Lisa: For the knitter and crocheter on a budget a really good technique to learn is how to harvest yarn from old sweaters. As a rule of thumb, hand-knitted, chunky sweaters are easiest to unravel but unfortunately these are hard to come by. Try sourcing them from jumble sales rather than charity shops. Any jumper without a lot of seams can be unraveled and the yarn then wound into balls for knitting and crocheting with. If you come across any jumpers made from natural fibres e.g. pure wool, then you can felt them in your washing machine and then use the resulting material for cut and sew projects. A word of warning though, a lot of modern materials are treated with chemicals to prevent them from shrinking when you wash them. Great if you want to preserve your favourite cardi but not so good for the would-be felter! If you're interested in learning the techniques for yarn harvesting and felting from old jumpers and want a few patterns to get you started then I've written a small booklet that you can buy from my folksy shop or my etsy shop.

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