June 06, 2011

Recycled T-Shirt Cowl Tutorial

Last summer, I watched a Knitting Daily TV episode with I don't even remember who on it about recycling old t-shirts into yarn.  I made big plans!  I gathered old sheets to make rugs, I had the kids cut up their blue jeans that were too small, but too bedraggled to go to Good Will (there's a bag with a bunch of crookedly cut denim around here somewhere!), and then my life got in the way and I didn't make a darned thing. 

Well, finally, I did it.  I recycled a t-shirt (actually, I recycled one and 1/2).  My husband was in need of a cowl, and making him a cowl to wear on the motorcycle on frosty mornings in the fall was on my summer projects list (we can scratch that baby off now, finally!).  So, here's how to make a cowl--for anyone who wants you to make one--from recycled t-shirts.

Step 1:  Snag an old t-shirt and lay it flat on the table.  The fancy experts use a cutting board and one of those nifty roller-knife thingys, but a pair of sharpened fabric scissors works just as well.  This is jersey, and your strips will roll into a tube once you start to connect them; so perfectly straight edges aren't necessary.  In fact, imperfect edges and skinny-fat strips will give you that "artsy" thick-thin effect that you might pay big bucks for on Etsy. ;)  Cut up everything but the bottom band (cut that off first), the collar, and the sleeves.  You can remove the collar and the sleeves pretty much all at the same time.  The result will be a piece of fabric that you then need to cut into about 1/2 inch strips.  You can make the strips wider, which will give you a bulkier "yarn", but you will end up with less yardage, of course.

Step 2:  Connect your strips by folding the end of the strip over itself about 1/2 inch and cutting a small notch in the fold.

You will thread one notched strip through the notch of the other strip, then through its own notch and pull tightly.

The end result should be a curled, knotted section with two little flaps of fabric that you can just fold down. 

My experiment with the grey t-shirt (originally an XL) yielded 78 yards of "yarn".  I also added about 8 yards from a black t-shirt to each end of the strand.  Word to the wise, if you wait to attach the ending color until you have knit to the point that you are ready for it, it will save you much frustration.

Step 3:  Take two strips and twist them together, then lay them on the table.  Find a needle that matches the width of these two twisted strips.  Mine called for about a US 11.  I first tried a US 9, but that was too difficult to work with--my stitches came out way too tight.

Step 4:  Cast on.  I first measured my husband's neck with the cable of my circular needle so that I would know how wide the thing had to be if it lay flat.  My CO was X stitches, and then I joined them to knit in the round.  If you are a fan of stitching ends together, by all means, knit your cowl flat and mattress stitch it together later.  I am NOT a fan of seaming.  For my cowl, I knit three rows, since I could tell after the first row that it would curl.  I wanted that little roll to keep the cowl in place beneath the collar of Honey's leather jacket.  Then, I purled for another X rows in-the-round.  I guess this little number is totally reversible, but the pearled rows gave it a more masculine look, I thought, and seemed to create a denser fabric to face the wind--which is so important on a motorcycle in chilly weather!

Step 5:  Attach the ending color for the last three rows.  You have to do this one strip at a time, just like you did to beging making your yarn; but it will significantly improve the likelihood that you will have a color change at the beginning of your round on the row that you want it to be if you manipulate its location.  Knit 3 rounds.  I ended up with about 1/2 of my 78 yards of grey "yarn" left over; so don't expect to follow my directions and have just barely enough left over.  There will be enough left over for a second cowl.

Step 6:  Bind Off.  My bind off was the standard knit two, pass one over, knit one, pass one over chain.  I connected the knotted end of the last stitch to the beginning of the BO row, secured it, wove in my ends, and voila!

Now, it seemed a little small when I was finished with it; but this is jersey, remember, and jersey is stretchy.  I just had to stretch it out a little and it fit over Honey's head just fine.  I tossed it in the wash and dried it in the dryer, and it shrunk a little; but then it stretched right back out.  Not enough to be saggy and misshapen, though.  So, keep in mind that there will be a little stretch-ability, but it's not elastic enough to make up for knitting it a size too small. 


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