How Not to Make a T-shirt Rug

Let this post serve as a warning to anyone else that has an imagination which runs beyond the practicalities of turning their ideas into a workable project.  This is a post on The Rug that Will Not Die.

First a bit of background, this project started back in March, before this blog was even born, with the now clearly laughable intention of being finished in a week. A week, how young and foolish I was! It was planned as part of a larger and even more ridiculously complex idea that I’d been dreaming up for months; to turn my flat into a magical craft-style woodland scene where I would host a faerie party to celebrate my birthday. Oh the plans I had, but this rug would prove to be the most persistent of them.

For where other elaborate schemes eventually fell by the way side, as time grew shorter and I panicked more and more, this was something I’d already started, already invested time and money in, and something I wanted to keep to decorate the flat long after the inevitable hangover had faded.

This was a project I would have to finish, but with my birthday now passed and without a deadline this would soon become The Rug that Will Not Die.

Party in the woods

If you go down to the woods today...

And so to the rug itself, a t-shirt rug in two shades of green, designed to give a crafty stylised interpretation of a summer lawn; a summer lawn two metres squared. A t-shirt rug two metres squared. No, I don’t know what I was thinking either.

A t-shirt rug, or rag rug, for those who don’t know is in principle simple, made using a piece of fabric with a wide weave such as burlap or hessian into which cut strips of t-shirt fabric are threaded as in the pictures below. They can be made for little to no money using discarded or recycled materials, such as an old sack and a bunch of worn out or unloved t-shirts. I imagine you could probably do the same with any old fabric you had lying around, old bedsheets, old towels etc, but t-shirt fabric works particularly well.

This was my first problem; a standard t-shirt rug is about the size of a bathmat, maybe 50cm by 100cm at most. You can cover this size of rug with a handful of old t-shirts that have collected in the back of your drawers over time or have been bought for cheap from a charity shop. Two metres squared would require a lot more t-shirts than that.

The second problem was the colour. When making a rug like this some will try to colour co-ordinate, if they have enough t-shirts of a similar colour, if not they may try to work with what they’ve got by creating patterns using the different colours, or sometimes just throw then all together at complete random for a particularly unique look. As the purpose of my rug was to act as grass though I needed a specific colour of t-shirt, I needed them all to be green.

There was an easy solution to this though; whatever differently coloured t-shirts I found I could simply bleach and dye green. The variations in hue this would produce I assumed would only add to the crafty grass look of the rug, as long as they were all some shade of green, so that just left me with problem one.  I knew that buying up t-shirts from charity shops would still prove far too expensive, and besides what I was really looking for was t-shirts too old and past it to be respectably worn anymore; holey old souls which had given up on their life as a t-shirt and were looking for a new role to save their tired threads from the scrap heap. So I put out a call on Twitter and Facebook and I scoured my local FreeCycle pages, did anyone have any old forgotten t-shirts they needed to be rid off?

Rug progress so far

Rug progress so far...why am I doing this again?

Amazingly an ex got in touch to say that he did, the only problem being he still lived back in Manchester a bit far away for me to collect my t-shirt hoard from. I filed that as plan B. Then a new thought occurred, perhaps it would be cheaper to just buy a box of t-shirts in bulk. That way I could make sure they were all the right colour too or at least buy them in white to save myself having to bleach them before dying.

I looked around the internet and found a few sites selling boxes of plain t-shirts in bulk at around 70p a shirt, bargain. Yet it still seemed wasteful to me to buy a box of brand new t-shirts only to strip them down for their fabric. Finally I realised what a fool I’d been, why not just buy a few metres of t-shirt fabric, you must be able to buy that somewhere on the internet too. Of course you can, so that’s exactly what I did buying up 10 metres of interlocked jersey fabric in emerald green and 10 metres of the same fabric in mint green. I have no idea if this will turn out to be enough fabric to cover the rug but I’m really hoping it will especially since both fabrics are now out of stock.

I decided to cut the fabric up into strips 10cm by 2cm, to give myself roughly a 5cm pile to the finished rug.  To make life easier on myself (ha!) I did this by folding the fabric so that it was a meter width, cutting 10cm strips and then laying these on top of each other to cut every 2cm. Shifts in the fabric and trying to cut through too much at once did mean that I ended up with some significantly thinner strips than others, but again I decided this would just add to the crafty look.

Along with my t-shirt fabric I’d ordered a 2mx2m length of hessian to act as my base, which I needed to hem before I could even begin weaving in the rag strips. This alone took me three days because I made the masochistic decision to hem it by hand. I’d actually received a sewing machine for my birthday, but convinced myself I’d damage it if I tried to use it for this. Six months later it’s still in its box.

How to make a t-shirt rug

Threading the t-shirt rug

Finally with the base hemmed and the fabric strips cut I could begin construction of the rug itself. There are special tools you can buy for the purpose of rug making, or alternatively there are sites suggesting the use of a stick to separate the threads of the base fabric and manually push/pull through the rag strips. I took the third option and used a small pair of jewellery pliers I have to push through the hessian and pull the bits of fabric bag through into place.

The suggested convention according to Mr Internet is to pull the strips every two – five threads depending on how dense you want the final rug to be and the size of the fabric pieces you’re using. I began spacing them every two threads, but after two days of this it became apparent that this would be far too tight for my purposes. By this point I’d abandoned having the rug ready for my party but picked it up again a few weeks later this time threading the rag strips every three threads. I completed an entire length of the rug like this, working on a block about ten strips wide, before I realised that this too wouldn’t work. Although the pile was about the right density I suspected I would need much more fabric than I had to continue like this, and that to do so would take much longer than I was willing.

As trying a spacing of four thread count proved too sparse I finally settled on a four thread count but run in a chequer board style rather than a strict grid. Although not as dense a pile as I would have liked this does seem to provide a good coverage and means that I will hopefully have enough fabric and possibly complete this beast before I retire.

T-shirt rug

Of course by the time I do finish the rug I will have grown to utterly despise it, and not only that but I’ll be so aware of just how much work went into making it that I won’t let anyone stand on it or go near it with food or drink lest they harm it. The sensible thing to do would be to give up now, but I know I can’t; this rug already owns too much of my soul.

So I would recommend making a t-shirt rug, it’s incredibly simple to do and can provide a fairly relaxing pass-time in the evenings like knitting or crochet. It should also give you something nice and colourful to brighten up a room, on very little money if you do it properly using old t-shirts, and something you can feel smug about when people come round and compliment you on your lovely new rug. I would recommend making a t-shirt rug, provided you keep it to a realistic size, and remember this cautionary tale of The Rug that Will Not Die.

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18 responses to “How Not to Make a T-shirt Rug

  1. I have one of these! Given to me as a gift, I don’t think I have the patience to make my own.
    I keep it under my chair at the kitchen table so it feels like we have nice thick carpets instead of cold dusty lino…

    Keep at it, grasshopper, you’ll get there 🙂

    • Did your friend make it themselves or buy it? I know you can buy them but they can be fairly expensive for what they are and really why would you when they are so easy to make? Easy to make provided you don’t attempt an insane size like me that is! I’m willing to be your rug isn’t 2m squared!

      The bit I’ve done feels really great underfoot though, I think it’ll be brilliant to just lie across when it’s finished…whenever that may be!

      Thanks for the vote of support! ^_^

  2. I’d like to put in an order for 3×3 square metre rug in er…orange please. Thank you.

    ps I think this is an amazing effort for a faerie party, mad but well done!

    • Ha! Sure I’ll get right on that then, should have it ready for oh…say 2053? That’s good for you right?

      Mad themed parties are a bit of a habit of mine, see Mad Hatter’s Hat in my profile picture from a previous year. I frequently see my birthday as an excuse to make my friends do fancy dress. I might post a couple more from that party actually like the wings I made and the wolf mask my boy is wearing in the top picture, because otherwise this will be my only craft post for a looooooong time (damn rug!).

  3. I bought a book on how to make rag rugs in patterns in the 1990s – the one on the cover was of a cat on a window sill looking at the moon. and would have been just the thing for my bedroom. The book is in a box in the attic somewhere, and the rag tool is a box. We have a seude rag rug in the lounge now – it came from John Lewis 😉

    • Ah smart choice getting one from John Lewis! Although I think if you made a normal sized rug it wouldn’t take that long, only if you get a bit too adventurous and have little concept of the time and effort a 2x2m rug will take! You should get the book and the rug tool down and have a go, you know you want to 😉

  4. did you ever finish it?

  5. It being a chilly sunday afternoon and having the house to myself, Hubby and son at the rugby. Also having a pile of old t shirts and some hessian ready and waiting, the moment seemed right to get started on that t shirt rug. A quick google search to get a few pointers and then it will be all systems go. Thank goodness I discovered this post before embarking on such a fruitless task. Thank you for saving me from months of stress – I’m off to rerad the paper instead!

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  12. Hi! Just curious, did you ever finish the rug?? I made a small one a few months ago but instead of threathing the t shirts i sew them to an old bath rug. It came out quite cute.

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