Thursday, December 5, 2013

Upcycling Tutorial: T-shirt Yarn Frisbee

Remember the “glad game” from Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter? The purpose of this game was to look for the bright side of a situation that seemed to have no silver lining. I used to think about that game as I lamented my children growing up, becoming more independent, and coming closer and closer to my own height. What could I be glad about? 

Well, I was glad for the pile of outgrown clothing looking remarkably like future stitching and crafting projects to me. Call me an optimistic opportunist! 

And so I'm glad that someone came up with the brilliant idea of making t-shirt yarn, or tarn. Tarn is remarkably fun to crochet into floor mats as it works up quickly and is soft and spongy underfoot.

It's a bit heavier than most yarns, which also makes it perfect for a homemade frisbee that's heavy enough to fly and soft enough not to hurt your child when it beans him in the forehead or knocks her on the shin.

To make a crocheted t-shirt yarn frisbee, you only need to know some basic stitches and a willingness to cut up some old clothes. 

Materials needed:
t-shirt yarn, approximately 13 metres total (one larger adult t-shirt or two-three children's t-shirts) 12mm crochet hook
smaller crochet hook or tapestry needle (optional) 

Instructions: CENTER RING: Make a slip knot on your crochet hook. Chain 6. Slip stitch into the first chain to create a closed circle.

RND 1: Crochet 2 double crochet (dc) into each chain for a total of 12 stitches around. Slip stitch (sl st) into the next stitch to soften the circle.

RND 2: Crochet *2 dc in the next stitch, then 1 dc in each of the next two stitches*. Repeat from * 4 times for a total of 16 stitches. Sl st into the next stitch.

RND 3: Crochet *2 dc in the next stitch, then 1 dc in the following stitch*. Repeat from * 7 times for a total of 24 stitches. Sl st in the next stitch. 

RNDS 4-7: Work rounds 4-7 using the directions for RND 3. (Omit round 7 for a smaller frisbee for younger children.)

Up to now, you have been increasing stitches (adding more stitches per round) to create the round frisbee disk. Now you will decrease (make fewer stitches in the round) in the next round to create the rim that folds to the back of the frisbee. 

RND 8 (Or RND 7 if you are making a smaller frisbee): Make *3 treble crochet (tr) in each of the next 3 stitches, skip one stitch*. Repeat from * all the way around the circle. Sl st in the next stitch. Cut the t-shirt yarn and pull it through the slip stitch to tie it off.

Use a smaller crochet hook or tapestry needle to weave the tail ends of the tarn into the back side stitching loops. 

Your Friendly Troubleshooting Guide
Crochet in the round can be a bit tricky if you've never down it before. The main problem that occurs is that the disk won't lay flat. It does this for one of two reasons.

  • *It's a bowl. Too few increases. 
    *The edges are wavy. Too many increases. 

    While these guidelines are consistent in theory, in practice they are not the only source of the problem when you use t-shirt yarn.

    T-shirt yarn is much more stretchy than a normal skein of wool. As you stitch, you may find yourself actually stretching the yarn to maintain the tension you want, only to produce stitches that pull on each other and create waves and bowls that would not otherwise have formed.

    Another spanner thrown in the works is that not all t-shirts are the same weight or fabric. If you have followed the same directions for making t-shirt yarn from shirts of differing weights and fibres, the actual yarn width and stretch can vary greatly. 
    Don't let this deter you from making a frisbee. Although aerodynamic in nature, it is not rocket science. These are some strategies I've used when the t-shirt yarn was not being compliant. (Yes, blame the materials. You are perfect.) 
    Wavy edges: If you find at round 5 or so that your frisbee is becoming wavy, instead of pulling out your stitching and starting over, try crocheting the next row entirely of one dc stitch per stitch. That will stop the increasing and flatten out your work. Continue the next row as before including the increases, but your total number of stitches will have changed. Congratulations! You are learning to improvise. 
    Bowl: I have never made a frisbee that didn't try to become a bowl because it was hard to maintain the perfect tension in the first two rows without stretching the yarn somewhat as I worked. By round 4 or 5 if your work is becoming a bowl, you may need to pull out a row or two and make sure you are not pulling too tightly on the yarn as you work.

Crochet terms:
chain – ch
double crochet – dc treble crochet – tr slip stitch – sl st increase – increasing decrease – dec 

*** One adult t-shirt will yield about 13 metres of tarn while a child's t-shirt may yield only 8.

*** Don't use a ribbed t-shirt. Use a nice uniform cotton jersey that is not too thick to produce a workable yarn.
*** To change colours, simply tie the new colour tarn as close as possible to the tarn on your hook. This will let you continue stitching while the colour changes with the very next stitch. Weave the knot tails into the stitching at the back.
*** If you don't have fancy stitch markers that tell you when you have come to the end of your round, you can use a paper clip or, better yet, tie a bit of contrasting tarn into the last loop of the each round as you go. 

The best shirts for tarn have no side seams.


  1. What a great idea!. I'm pinning this for future reference. Oh I love the colour of your t-shirt yarn

    1. I couldn't help myself when I saw the brightly colored tie dye shirt at the op shop. I've had these tshirt yarn balls for more than a year...waiting....waiting for the perfect project.