Frugal Fibers for Budget Crafters

Chirped by Tina

Any devoted fiber artist or crafter probably has an overflowing stash of yarn for new projects. But let’s assume for the moment that you don’t, or that you’re new to crochet, knitting, etc. Maybe you want to test the waters with some small beginner projects – without breaking your budget on materials. Or perhaps you’d like to help a non-profit with a crafting cause, but can’t afford skeins of expensive wool? Sure, you can find discount bins at the craft store. But why not give the Earth a high five and try some of these upcycling ideas instead?

Thrift Store Gems

For many projects, used or re-purposed supplies may be perfect. If you’re making things like rescue nests or a potholder, you don’t need brand new yarn. You also don’t need perfect technique, so it’s a great way to learn and practice! Allow me, therefore, to introduce you to the Goodwill Outlet Store! These and other pay-by-the-pound-type thrift stores take all the stuff that didn’t sell quickly enough at the regular retail thrift shops and try to sell it by the pound, before either auctioning it off or recycling it. As you may have guessed, pilled sweaters, misshapen scarves, or unfinished crochet pieces don’t weigh a heck of a lot. They can be a goldmine of raw materials for a new hobby – for just a handful of change and a little, rather satisfying, elbow grease… (see “Reclaiming Yarn…”, below.)

New Uses for Your Old Clothes

Outdated, shrunken, ratty, stained or just plain unwanted t-shirts and other clothes can get a new lease on life in any number of ways. If they’re in good shape, but you don’t wear or love them anymore, donate them to a thrift shop! But if not, consider these crafty alternative destinies…

  • “T-shirt Yarn”: Stained or damaged tees can be re-purposed into T-shirt yarn for crafts. At the 2018 Earth Day Yarn Bloom in Perkasie, PA, we taught kids how to fashion macrame wrist and headbands from this kind of fabric yarn. Lots of t-shirt yarn was incorporated into crocheted flowers and vines, or used to decorate trees, benches, and even a fish on a fence for this temporary fiber art installation!

  • Rag Rugs: My sister likes to cut strips from old bluejeans to form the weft, or cross-wise base, of her twined rugs. She secures them around large empty picture frames. Then she uses strips of worn out clothes and bed sheets to weave through the sturdy jeans material. I love seeing glimpses of my kids’ old pajamas in the weave of one of her rugs!
  • Memory Quilts: Collections of beloved T-shirts can morph into treasured memory quilts once they’ve outlived their wear-ability. What a great way to preserve your souvenir from that school, vacation, camp, concert, sports team… you name it! Not up for the challenge yourself, or need help finishing it? No problem – check out Idle Time Stitchers on Etsy or Facebook – they’ll do it for you! They’ve made four quilts for me in the past and do wonderful work at a great value.

The best part about these upcycling ideas? You can declutter your closet or dresser drawers and make your own craft supplies in one fell swoop! A win-win!

Reclaiming Yarn from Existing Pieces

Apparently not all old sweaters and knitwear are suitable for deconstructing into balls of their component yarn. This article I found about “frogging” (as in: “Rip it, rip it, rip it!”) suggests that knitting is a lot harder to frog than crochet, and that some kinds of yarn, and more complex crochet stitches, can catch on themselves or tangle more easily. But this long crochet piece that I salvaged from the Yarn Bloom take-down was too skinny to be useful as a scarf, and had rips where it was cut down off a tree. Deeming it unsuitable to donate, I set it aside for salvage. I threw it in a lingerie bag and washed and dried it first, so it was fresh and clean for it’s next incarnation.

The trick to unraveling is finding and teasing out (or in desperation, snipping out) an end that has been woven into the rest of the piece to secure it. Since this scarf already had a tear on one corner, it was a piece of cake to start pulling out the white stripe… This must be how they make Ramen noodles! c(-;

Had to share this video of harvesting the first multicolored stripe… I think my kids would call this “deconstruction porn”…? Please forgive the haphazard camerawork – I didn’t have my little tripod and was trying to both film and unravel one-handed!

Once you’ve got a pile of curly yarn, you’ll need to wind it up into a neat ball for use in your projects. I like to draw from the center of the ball, since it’s easier to prevent it from rolling off your lap and down the hall. There are different ways to achieve a center-pull ball, but I wrapped it around the handle of a rubber spatula while keeping one thumb on the inside tail so it didn’t get lost…

Here’s a short video on how to get it started. It’s quite easy, even relaxing, and you get a nice end result that slips easily off the end of your spatula, fat crochet needle, or other smooth, thick handle. Just tuck the outside tail under a few strands to keep it from unwinding. Now you have two ends to work with, in case one is engaged in an ongoing project and you need a little bit of the same yarn for something else! In the case of this yarn harvest, I turned my ball into a child-sized crown for our Crowns for Kids project with Shriner’s Hospital.

I’m a huge fan of making new, beautiful things out of old junk. I also love saving money on my crafting pursuits. So whether you’re budget-conscious or conservation-minded, hope these tips add a dimension of treasure hunting, earth hugging, upcycling fun to your next fiber adventure!

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