by Even Howard
Missing wildflowers and deep starry skies combined with concern about the buy-it-now nature of the modern world, I set about to create something lovely from the cast-offs of many summers still lurking in my closet. The whole process was magic, from cooking up small vats of shirts on my stovetop, stirring a steaming purple cauldron from time to time, to musing about the life lived in all these clothes. One tank top’s yellowed straps led me back to a Mexican beach not far from Guatemala where I swam with manta rays and silver fish, first saw an armadillo, and finally said goodbye in the midst of orcas dancing. Another was my favorite evening shirt when I lived in a tipi at the edge of Montana mountains. Oil paint stains on another are recent evidence of my first art show last spring.
I invite you to take some time to reminisce, poke around the corners of your home (and possibly your friends’ homes) and work up this little treasure of a rug. It is extremely easy (if you’ve ever made a granny square, you’ll catch on right away). You can keep your shirt colors as they are or dye them using fabric dye or natural materials. The finished rug is about 90cm (36in) across and is the perfect size for meditation or moonlight readings, or more mundane situations like next to your bathtub. If you can’t find enough materials, or end up with way too many, you can easily change the size by subtracting or adding rows.
- At least 18 adult shirts. I used 1 men’s large T-shirt, 4 medium women’s long-sleeve shirts, and 13 tank tops. Cotton is best for dying.
- Hook size: I made my own hook from a dowel, it is 8mm in diameter. Any rug hook will work, though, as gauge isn’t crucial. Beware that a larger hook will need more yardage in ‘shirt yarn’ though.
- I used RIT dye in aubergine and royal blue, one box of each. You can use any dye you like.
- Notions: You’ll need large, comfy scissors for cutting all those shirts (you may want to wrap a small shirt scrap around the scissor handles). This is a good place to employ non-crocheting family members and friends…
First two rows equals 25cm (10in) in diameter.
US terms used
Ch – chain
Dc – double crochet means one yarnover, not two.
Sl st – slip stitch
Bellflower Rug Pattern
This rug is a process, albeit a simple one, so give yourself a few hours here and there over a few days and all will be copasetic. Basically you will gather shirts, dye shirts, cut shirts into yarn strips, and then finally crochet. So here goes:
- Find a bunch of shirts! Ask your friends; go to the thrift store. Light colors are easiest to dye, but if you want to use a dark color scheme don’t be afraid to accept any color, they will add lovely variation. Before dyeing, cut off hems, necklines, and sleeves. Trim the shoulder seams too. You don’t want to waste dye on parts you won’t be using.
- Dye according to the manufacturer’s instructions. I used 2/3 of a box of each color separately then I did a third batch of blue and purple mixed. Make sure to wear gloves and an apron! Rinse your shirts thoroughly so that no dye bleeds from them and hang to dry.
- Let the cutting begin! I cut my shirts from the bottom up, using a spiral pattern. This results in one long ‘strand’ from each body and each sleeve. Mine were ¾ inch (about 2cm) thick. You will want to consider the weight of your shirts — if some are made of heavier fabric, make the width thinner to compensate. Start with one sleeve and do a test swatch in single crochet to see how it behaves with your hook. Keep each shirt as a separate ball if you want to be choosy about where your colors fall.
- Ok, ready to crochet? This is essentially a granny square worked in the round with 5 points instead of 4. The 5 points of the star are added after making a pentagon shape for 6 rows. I changed colors every row. If you want to too, plan a little by saving colors you have the most of for rows 5 and 6 (they took 4 tank tops each).
Ch 5 to begin, sl st to close.
Rnd 1: Ch 3 (counts as first double crochet), 2 dc into center space. (Ch 2, 3 dc) repeat 3 more times. Ch 2, close with a sl st in top of ch 3. Sl st across 2 dc and into ch 2 space.
Rnd 2: Ch 3, 2 dc into space, ch 2, 3 dc into same space. (Ch 1, 3 dc, ch 2, 3 dc into next space) repeat three more times around. You should have 10 groups of 3 dc. Ch 1, sl st to join and sl st across to space.
Rnds 3-6: Continue each row following the diagram. Corners will have 2 ch and edge clusters will have 1 ch between them.
Rnds 7-11: For each star point you will join at the right hand corner of each side (if you are right-handed, reverse for left-handers). On the diagram you will see that each row decreases from here. Start with a ch 3 in the first space then immediately begin a 3-dc cluster in the next space. To finish each row, don’t chain, just make 1 dc in the last space.
Rnd 12: This is just the tiny point of each star. Simply ch 3 and then dc in the next space. Pull the yarn through the last loop to tie off.
Open circle = chain
Closed circle = slip stitch
‘T’ with one notch = double crochet
small solid triangle = join yarn
Tuck in all ends from joining new colors/attaching shirt strips. I used my fingers rather than a hook. If you need to shape/block, spray lightly with water and use your hands to pull it to shape. I would recommend hand washing outside with the hose and laying flat to dry. You could use a washing machine too, if you have a gentle version.
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