Sunday, December 6, 2009

Old T-Shirts, New Rug

This project was sort of a happy accident. I had been reading a book about traditional braided wool rugs and decided I could translate the craft into a braided t-shirt rug for my bathroom. I combed through my local thrift store looking for large men's t-shirts that matched my bath towels. I bought seven shirts for just over $3. I tried to focus on solid-colored shirts with little printing on them. Also, I looked for t-shirts that did not have side seams. Several of the shirts had breast pockets, but I removed them before I began working.

I took my second-hand haul home and eagerly began cutting the shirts into 2" wide strips. Then I sewed the strips together into long strands. The edges of the strips naturally curled in toward the "right" side of the shirt, so when I added a new strip to the strand I made sure to maintain the curve. Once I had a long strand of each color, I began braiding, keeping the edges folded into the center and hidden. After about ten feet of braiding, however, I realized that t-shirts are just too thin for such a rug. My sad little braid was flat and knobbly. Dismal failure. So I pulled the braid out and tried to come up with something to do with all of those t-shirt strips.

I've read about crafters knitting with old sweaters or denim jeans, so I decided to try knitting my t-shirt strands into a bath mat. Our small apartment has a SMALL bathroom, so this would not be a full-size rug. I needed a mat to fit neatly between the scale and the toilet, so I was really eyeing the size when I cast on. I just bunched up my first strand and, using size 15 needles, cast on 25 stitches. I worked in stockinette stitch (knit a row, purl a row, knit a row . . .) for three rows, then switched to another color. One thing that I did differently with the t-shirts was stitch the ends of each strand together when I changed colors. With yarn, I would incorporate the new yarn without knotting and just knit in the loose ends. With the t-shirts, however, I was worried that these free ends would be too bulky when incorporated, so I just seamed the strips together with my sewing machine. This did take a lot of extra time, but I think it was worth it. Also, when I needed another strip of the same color, I stitched it to the end of the previous strip.

I continued to knit in stockinette stitch, changing colors every three rows, for forty-two rows. I finger-blocked as I went, pulling and straightening the stitches after each row. Then I bound off loosely and weaved in the beginning and ending tails. Right off the needles, the rug measured about 16" x 21". I'm trying to block the rug right now (wet t-shirts hold their shape when they air-dry right?), so that the rug will lay more flatly and the edges won't curl under so much. I'll update on that later.

I loved being able to use a material for this rug that so many people overlook and even discard. Also, I definitely can't complain about the price! I think a larger, more colorful rug for my kitchen floor may be in my near future. I knit almost every usable scrap of 6 t-shirts, and part of a seventh shirt. The sleeve seams weren't really a problem and any printing on the shirts conveniently rolled toward the inside and became invisible. T-shirts make a surprisingly thick rug, so this knit mat would be good in an area with a cold floor (basement laundry, chilly bathroom). If you are a better color knitter than I am, consider a rug with an interesting design. Use a knit t-shirt rug to add a bit of interest to any space. Be creative and enjoy!

UPDATE: The wet blocking worked even better than expected. No more curled edges! I just soaked the rug for a few minutes, squeezed out a little excess moisture, then placed it on top of two towels spread on my floor. I rolled it up tightly in the first towel like a jelly roll, squeezing as much water out as I could. Then I unrolled it and pulled out the soaked towel. I spread the rug out on the second towel, stretching it and uncurling the edges until it was even and flat. Then I left it to dry for several days. Voila!

UPDATE #2: A ravelry member, TeriCloth, suggested an easier method for cutting the strips. Using the technique for making continuous bias tape would save the hassel of sewing the strips into one long strand. Here is a link to a youtube video demonstrating the method.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea. Thanks for posting the instructions. Got here from the link in the Thrifty Crafters group on Ravelry. I think I will be making one of these rugs.