Wednesday, July 21, 2010

sow's ear

Last week I crocheted a market bag using recycled t-shirts for yarn. As an unabashed fan of I had been destined to take on this project for months, but it didn't come together for me until late May, when Elana listed a bag of about 20 old t-shirts on* -- free to anyone who would come and pick them up -- and I realized it was time to start trying Cindy's techniques for making and using t-shirt yarn.

RecycleCindy instructs her followers to cut t-shirts into 1/4" strips to make what she calls
t-yarn or tarn, and that is exactly what I started doing as soon as I got home with Elana's old t-shirts. BTW, Elana was moving out of her apartment about six blocks away from our house. She felt that the shirts weren't in good enough shape to give to charity, but, though she'd never heard of t-yarn, hoped they'd be of use to someone. I loved that she was so conscientious about not dumping her discards, and we had a pleasant though short visit among her boxes and bags.

Cutting t-shirts into 1/4" strips is a pretty tedious operation, and I soon found that I had more compelling things to do with my time. Days later, I returned to it while watching TV, but somehow the 1/4" strips became 1/2" to 5/8" strips. As my ball of
t-yarn grew, I started trying various crochet hooks with it, and ended up with my beloved wooden 'Q'-sized monster, which quickly created a very heavy fabric with a nice floppy feel to it. Not bothering to check Cindy's patterns, I lost sight of the fact that my t-yarn was twice as heavy as hers.

Suddenly a couple of weeks ago, when I finished a crochet project for our five-year-old granddaughter, it was time to get serious about the t-yarn. I checked some patterns and settled on a market bag style because I liked the idea of a single handle strap integrated firmly into the design rather than being stuck on like an afterthought.

I decided to use only 100% cotton t-shirts -- all white or with white backgrounds. Of course some of the shirts were whiter than others, so as the work developed, it took on a subtly striped appearance when I changed from one shirt to the next, while the flecks of printed color produced a slight tweediness. The handle prescribed by my chosen pattern didn't seem right at all, so I reoriented it to the ends rather than the sides of the bag.

Last Wednesday night I was going to an art lecture**, so I decided this would be a good time to field-test the bag. Alas! The handle stretched to an unacceptable length while tiny white dandruff-like particles of cotton appeared all over my black pants. Reluctantly I cut Elana's last white cotton t-shirt and started a row of reinforcement around the handle and top opening, but it was too white for the quasi-natural look of the bag. So I pulled the new stitches out (crocheters call this
frogging because we "Rip It"!) and completed the process with an old t-shirt of Steve's. A careful laundering reduced the dandruff effect considerably, and I have faith that it will all go away soon.

Is my bag finished? Probably not, but I will field-test it again at this evening's Historical Society picnic. It's a bag with a history so should be very appropriate. I'm thinking in terms of lining it with a piece of another old t-shirt so that my crochet hooks and knitting needles won't work their way out.

When my bag IS finished, I'll post a picture of it, along with a draft of a pattern. Maybe someone else will want to make one.
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* I wouldn't have found the t-shirt posting if I hadn't listed some plants in craigslist's 'free stuff' section. Elana's listing was adjacent to mine, so I spotted it serendipitously when I went to check that the info on my proffered dudleyas was correct.

** The artist, Salomon Huerta, repeatedly uses a power sander to obliterate the portraits he paints, until he gets them JUST RIGHT and sees that they are truly finished. One of Huerta's guiding principles -- simpler than his esoteric preoccupation with the look of the face -- is that his laboriously constructed canvas-covered boards should not be thrown away. 
My more mundane ripping out and re-crocheting was a delightful coincidence. Recycling is where you find it. 

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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License