T-shirts can become an unlimited source of thread for sewing. Thread derived from T-shirts can come in as many colors as do the T-shirts the thread is taken from. This article will explain how to harvest cloth from T-shirts and make sewing thread from the cloth.
For the T-shirt thread to be durable, the material has to be a cotton blend. 100% cotton thread is not strong enough and breaks too easily to be of value. A good blend is the 50% cotton 50% polyester and similar combinations. Material can be harvested from T-shirts, pants legs of T-shirt material, or similar material.
The material can be harvested by dedicating the entire T-shirt to making thread, but a single T-shirt will provide years’ worth of thread. Therefore, it is possible to harvest the material while keeping the rest of the shirt for other uses. Two ways of harvesting the material are to cut the sleeves off of the shirt and to trim a few inches off of the bottom. Alternatively, you can take material from shirts that have been used for other crafts and get the string from there.
Material from T-shirts has to be about ten to twenty inches long to make a sufficient length of string. This length is measured horizontally; the cut end of the cloth should curl outwards. If it curls inwards you are at a 90 degree angle perpendicular to where you need to be. Cut along the cloth as straight as possible, using the grain of the cloth as a guide. Try to leave a square corner to allow for easy pulling of the material.
Now it is time for the tedious part. Pull the thread from the corner. It will do one of two things usually. It will end and come off, because it was cut into, or it will jam as it encounters more cloth. If the thread is cut, keep pulling thread until one jams or you pull off a full thread. If the thread jams, try to pinpoint where the cloth is at its highest and pick at it trying to pull material. Once you find a thread that pulls, pull it. If it jams, pull at the material that stopped it. Eventually you will have pulled away the material that jammed the first thread. Pull another thread from the beginning and see how far it goes. Repeat until you get a full thread. Try to avoid runs. A run is when in pulling one thread, it starts another one with it. Remove runs by pulling out that second thread but starting it from a different point so that it doesn’t pull out another one as you pull it.
When you get a full thread, you are ready to produce sewing thread from the material. Pull out not one, but two threads, and pull both off of the material. Even from polyester, a single thread is not strong enough, so you have to go double. Line up one end of each thread, wet the two threads to get the ends to straighten out. A greasy material is ideal but water or saliva can sometimes work. Straighten the string end between the fingers and cut it, then string it into the needle before it separates. You may need to straighten the thread again or even trim it again, but with practice, you will get it into the needle on the first or second try most of the time. Nail polish or similar can be used to hold the thread in place for easy stringing.
Once the thread is on the needle, pull the needle down about an inch, then continue pulling the needle down into the thread, but pulling the thread ahead of the needle through your fingers to keep it even. Continue with the fingers to the end, holding the thread with the other hand should you reach the end and lose your place. Once you are holding the other end, grab the first end (the one threaded through the needle) and hold them together. Pull on the needle to center it and even out the thread. Tie a knot to connect all four thread ends, then trim off the remaining material.
The thread will still be bunched together at this point but simply begin sewing as if it were regular thread, keeping it tight like normal thread and it will straighten out as it is used in the sewing. If the end forms a clot, gently pull on the clot to straighten the jam, then pull on the needle to pull the extra thread through. Once you practice a bit and are used to how T-shirt thread works, you now have an unlimited source of free sewing thread from old T-shirts and T-shirt scraps!