Recycled Knitting

Recently I’ve been thinking about the ways in which craft skills, in particular knitting, can be used to comment on consumerism and the environmental impact of fast fashion. I’ve been working on my personal variation of the ‘buy less/buy smarter’ philosophy for a while now, and how this can be balanced with pursuing crafts that often necessitate buying a whole lot of specialist equipment and materials. Does crafting help me move away from over-consumption or just give me a whole new range of things to lust after and buy?

I have a number of different approaches to answering this question and, ultimately, using quality yarn to knit a cardigan that will be worn for years to come doesn’t quite feel the same as buying a cheap top to discard after a few wears (and could perfectly fit my ‘buy less/buy smarter’ outlook). However, as I’m trying to expand my idea of what crafting and making can achieve and think more broadly about ways of using my craft skills I decided to experiment a little with using recycled materials. A quick search online will yield a million different ideas for materials that can be turned into yarn, and what stood out to me were a couple of things that I have in abundance: old t-shirts and plastic bags.

Betsy’s knitted plastic bags

My friend and fellow crafter Betsy Lamborn used a cupboard full of old carrier bags to create a liner for her bike basket, and you can read all about it over on her blog. Plastic bags are an interesting knitting resource as I find the end result challenges expectations of how knitting should look. The plastic is stiff and has a texture a million miles away from wool or cotton yarn, and the individual stitches disappear slightly so it appears to be more woven than knitted.

For my own experimenting I was inspired by this how to to try turning a pile of my mum’s old t-shirts into something new. Cutting t-shirts into long, yarn-like strips is surprisingly easy and very satisfying and the finished balls of yarn looked so good I kind of just wanted to just leave them around to decorate my flat.
T-shirt Yarn

Knitting with them actually turned out to be a bit more challenging than I anticipated, even using the largest needles I have (12mm) it knit up quite dense and very stiff, not useful for the scarf I had planned to make, and I quickly learned that cutting certain t-shirts left raw edges that shed tiny bits of fluff everywhere. However, this sparked my creativity and got me thinking about the material’s specific qualities in a way I might not have done if I’d bought a ball of yarn with tension and needle information printed on the label, and I landed on the idea of using the yarn to make place mats and coasters.
In use as table mat

Experimenting with recycled materials has helped me to expand my idea of what can be used to create, and how materials can be applied to different uses. I also had to creatively think on my feet, and I haven’t been challenged in that way for a while. I swear I could feel dormant parts of my brain kicking into gear! Now my inspiration’s been sparked I can’t to try applying this approach to my other favourite craft, embroidery, and seeing what results I get.