Saturday, October 6, 2012

DIY Project: Recycled T Shirts Rag Rug, aka Cat Mat

My hubby and three teenaged boys wear out a lot of t-shirts and jeans, and i can't bring myself to throw them away.  The jeans turn into car blanket sort of quilts, but the i never knew what was in store for the t-shirts until i realized a person could make braided rag rugs with them.  This is a quick step-by-step of my process, but please do additional web research in order to get additional options.

old t-shirts (22 were used in this project)
fabric scissors
heavy thread (eg. quilting thread)
large needle
backing fabric (about 1.5 yd, depending on your finished rug size)

1.  I picked all of the red, grey, black and khaki green t-shirts out of my mountain of old cotton.  Using my sharp fabric scissors i cut off the bottom hem of the shirt (discard it), and then cut in a single, continuous, upwards spiral around the t-shirt, eyeballing a strip width of 2-2 1/2 inches.  Terminate your strip when you run into the armhole seam.

2.  If you pull gently lengthwise on each strip, the fabric edges tend to curl in on itself from the sides.  I put the ends of three long strips together, inner side of the fabric facing up (the edges thereby curl away from you and you don't see the raw edges), and pinned them to a heavy window curtain.  You use the natural curl to make the strips more rope-like, which makes them easy to braid neatly.  You may be able to think of something else to pin the braid to, but i found it comfortable to work standing, the braid pinned at about eye level, and then i could braid quickly for 3 feet or so, before unpinning and raising the braid up and re-pinning at about eye level again to continue braiding.  You want the braid to be fairly tight.

3.  To coil the rug, you want one super long length of braid.  When you come to the end of one t-shirt strip while you are braiding, you add another strip to it.  Here is a really handy method, which avoids the hard bump a knot would make:

 *Adding strips end-to-end:  a.) Cut a 1/2" slit in end of the old strip and end of the new strip.  b.)  Insert a few inches of the end of new strip through the slit of old strip, and stick the far end of the new strip through the slit of the new strip and pull the tail all the way through.  Give it a bit of a tug, helping with your fingers, and the join kind of melds with itself without a bulky knot.

4.   Braid all the material you have into one very big pile. You can finish the ends off by taking several stitches, in place, through all three layers of material and making a knot.  This tacks the three ends together without making a bulky knob.

5.  Starting with one end of the long braid, begin coiling.  As you were braiding, you always try to keep the side of the braid facing you nice and neat.  So when you are coiling and stitching now, keep the "untidy" side of your braid facing "up".  I opted to make an oblong-shaped rug by keeping the first about 1 foot of the braid straight, and coiling the rest of the braid around it.
Stitch the adjacent braid together as you coil the braid.  In the photo you can see the relative placement of my ladder stitches, using heavy thread (quilting thread in this case).  I would take about 20 stitches and then pull the thread taught.
6.  I used a heavy cloth that i had on hand, as the backing.  I know most rag rugs don't need a backing, but my rug seems a little loose, and it can't be handled roughly without becoming deformed, so it needs the support of a backing.  In case the rug you make also ends up needing a little extra support, i include my directions for backing it here.  I basted (heavy black thread in the photo) the backing fabric to the rug, taking a small stitch completely through the braid, and a longer stitch on the back.  I found that on the front side of the rug, this small stitch usually disappeared into the many little crevasses of the braid and were almost unnoticeable from the front side.  (But it would be wise to more or less match your thread color to your rug color.)  The stitching pattern is unimportant, but i started by making a cross, then did a star pattern, and then filled in the big gaps with squiggles.
7.  I turned the edge of the backing fabric under in a double fold hem and stitched it down to the rug, securing it only to the back surface of the braids (not taking the stitch straight through to the front).
I didn't measure the length of the braid it took to make this 3 1/2 foot rug, but 22 old t-shirts are still being used daily, and have the appreciation of a happy kitty.


  1. I just love this and really want to make one. Thanks so much for your easy directions!

  2. Thanks for the hand-stitch option...i love it. I'll be trying this one!

  3. I know I clicked anonymous but I do want you to respond to me so first of all here is my email address
    I purchased two braded runners which are too long and much too used and much too late send back.
    I would like to cut one of them in half, kind of frey the ends and finish the ends somehow.

    Thanking you in advance.

  4. I plan on making a couple small-ish ones for my inlaws using old sheets ( queen size flat) in their favorite colors for the sides of their bed ...

  5. I really enjoyed reading your post. You did an excellent tutorial on how you made your rug and I am now very excited about going through my husbands old t-shirts and also stopping at a few thrift stores and buying some t-shirts to begin making these types of braided rugs for our home and even a few for my Mom. Thank you so much for sharing! Have a fantastic day!

  6. Love your rug - takes me back to my childhood in Bermuda - I live in New Zealand now and have for just 50 years! I want to make one and will start collecting old T-shirts. I also want to know how to make sock monkeys, corn dollies, and dolls from wool or raffia. If anyone can direct me I would be most grateful. Keep up the traditional crafting-they never really go out of favour no matter how fashions change. Best Wishes from 'downunder'.