Tarn and the Tie-Dye Rag Rug

Johnny cozied up on one of my rag rugs.  8/17/2018
I've made quite a few rag rugs over the years.  For our house, for my sister, for my mom.  There are three in my house at the moment--front door, library, and bathroom.  
Ginger sitting on our rag rug bathmat popping bubbles that escaped the tub.  1/21/2021
It started when Matt weeded out some really old tie-dyes from our inventory many years ago.  Some of them had been for sale for multiple years without success.  Sometimes I could see why--our artistry improved with practice.  The tie-dyes were okay, but not spectacular.  
Th slip-stitched, rainbow-hued rug.  2/24/2016
We weren't sure what to do with these "duds."  Give them away?  Make rags from them?  Do something crafty with them?  So they sat boxed up in the basement for almost a year.  Periodically I would bring them out when we had guests and let them pull out what they wanted.  But, mostly, they just sat, taking up space....
Johnny taking a nap on the bathmat.  8/18/2022
...until my (very resourceful) friend Kris planted the seed for transforming these shirts into a rag rug.   She was making a rag rug--something I'd long wanted to try-- so I decided to follow her lead.  I went for a fairly traditional braiding and coiling style--and the braiding part went just fine.  The problem started when I had to coil the long braid before stitching it all together.  
My first attempt at making a rag rug.  4/11/2016
I tried a couple different ways to shortcut this time-consuming portion of the project.  I attached a piece of fusible interfacing to the back hoping that would be enough to hold it together, but it wasn't.  I tried sewing across the braids (like an asterisk) with my sewing machine, but the coils kept separating and my machine wasn't happy about the thickness.  So, I just hand-stitched them together... which is also the traditional method.  No shortcutting it, I guess, no matter how I tried.
Ginger and my first upcycled t-shirt rag rug.  4/11/2016
The end result was a small rug that was not very sturdy and rather uneven.  I was already considering throwing it out when Johnny finalized my decision by peeing on it.  And that's when I learned it wasn't a good idea to put down rugs in the basement.  Ginger liked it though.  Matt did, too.
I really like working with two strands of tarn.  One strand of tie-dye tarn and one strand of black is probably my favorite pairing.  The contrast is beautiful to my eye.  8/28/2018
I was about to give up on t-shirt rag rugs when an acquaintance showed me how to make t-shirt yarn (tarn) at a little craft get-together (with Kris, as it happens!).   Joyce had a trick whereby she could turn one adult t-shirt into a fairly substantial ball of tarn easy as pie.  It is all in how you cut it.  It was like magic!  
On a t-shirt that has been folded in half, I use a rotary blade and ruler to cut the shirt into one-inch strips--leaving a little fabric on the fold uncut.  12/9/2019
After cutting the shirt into a "rib cage" of one-inch strips with my rotary blade I slide the whole thing onto my arm and make the final diagonal snips with my fabric scissors.   12/1/2019
This continuous cutting hack, coupled with the realization I could just crochet the tarn instead of all that fussy coiling and stitching, suddenly made a rag rug seem like a doable project again.
Johnny was a big fan of "sitting on stuff."  Boxes, paper bags, shoes, laundry, cat beds, and so on.  She commandeered this in-process strip of crocheted rug as the perfect grooming location.  It was juuuuuuuuuuuust wide enough.  9/2/2018
So I decided to make a rectangular rug for our shoes by the front door.
The slip-stitched, rainbow-hued rug by the front door.  2/24/2016
In no time at all, I became a woman possessed!  I crocheted that first rug in just a couple of days.  I even hauled it to work on my bicycle so that I could crochet on my lunch break!  It was so satisfying and was turning out so wonderfully that I just couldn't wait to finish it.
This is probably my favorite rag rug to date.  I like the way the black highlights the other colors.  8/28/2018
That rag rug exceeded my hopes.  It was sturdy, thick, and just a gorgeous rainbow of colorfulness.  It has held up over many, many years.  Eventually, I replaced it with another that was double-crocheted and even thicker and more absorbent.  I moved the slip-stiched one into our library where it remains--a bright splash of color in front of the bookcase.  I've gone on to make half a dozen rugs using continuous cutting and crochet techniques.
The slip-stitched, rainbow-hued rug.  2/24/2016
A ball of tarn.  4/11/2016
These tarn rugs can be a no-sew project.  When I get to the end of one ball of tarn as I crochet along I just tie on another ball of the tarn, making sure all the knots ended up on the backside of the rug.   I've also made mondo-balls of tarn by sewing two or more balls together.  I am not sure one method is really superior to the other.  There are no knots and no tails to tuck in when I sew the balls together.  That said, with the knotting, it is a more travel friendly craft because I I don't have to sew the tarn balls together in advance.  I can just tie a new strand on and keep going.  So, for me it's six of one, half dozen of another, I think.  Pros and cons to all things.  I've done both.  I like both.
Cutting tarn.  12/1/2019
I will caution that cutting the tarn can get quite messy.  It is a colorful mess, but a mess nonetheless. 
Cutting the t-shirts into tarn results in a lot of teeny fabric particles everywhere.  12/9/2019
More partially cut tarn.  12/9/2019
Prior to the front door rug in 2016 I hadn't crocheted since I quit cigarettes back in 2006.  Crochet was a big part of my quitting strategy.  I just kept my hands busy whenever I wanted to smoke, especially when I was a passenger in the car.  I made an absurdly long scarf with an absurdly small crochet hook and even more absurdly small yarn (which I later discovered was actually embroidery thread, but what did I know?!?!).  By the time I was done with the scarf, I had quit smoking.  And then I didn't crochet again for an entire decade.  
Sunbeam naps and handicrafts.  1/31/2016
For my rag rugs, I use a huge size Q crochet hook.  It is just right for the bulk of the tarn.  I've done slipstitch, single-crochet, and double-crochet rugs.  
A rag rug in blues!  November 12, 2018
I appreciate the look of a braided rag rug, especially the contrast of the three strands.  It was so much more time and hassle compared to the crocheting method though so I'll never go back.   Plus, the colors look great crocheted, too, and boom--it is all hooked together from the get-go!!!   Often I use two strands of tarn simultaneously to get more color contrast without braiding.
Once again, Johnny couldn't wait for the rug to be finished before claiming it for a nap.  8/14/2018
In addition to rugs, I think there is a lot of potential for bright and beautiful trivets, potholders, and seat covers.  To this end, I am attempting to crochet in the round once again.  (Partly inspired by Margo's rag rug bathmat.)  I've never mastered that, just squares and rectangles.  
The slip-stitched, rainbow-hued rug.  2/24/2016
We shall see!  
A collage of Johnny pretending to be a shoe on the blue-toned rag rug by the front door.  She really liked that spot.  7/16/2020, 6/7/2021, 8/12/2021, and 11/4/2021.


  1. Wow - the things you make are so impressive! Good for you1

  2. They're awesome! I once took a class and made a rug with offcuts from a textile mill on a loom, but it wasn't all that pretty. It's great you're using fabric you already have.

    1. I've never tried anything on a loom. I follow some folk online who do amazing work on theirs though. Crazy skills and talent! It looks a bit mind boggling to me!

  3. Beth! These are fabulous! I much prefer the bright colors to the white one I made. Phoebe did ask me for a bedside rug in bright colors - I think I will have to start saving the bright tees to cut up :) And refer back to your methods/plan when I'm ready. A rectangle will probably look better from my skills, also.

    1. Thanks, Margo. I am happy to report that--while not perfect--I successfully crocheted a ball of tarn into a circle. Hooray! Thanks for the nudge to try, try, try again!

      Best of luck and have fun rounding up all the colorful tees for the bedside version! I've had a pretty good time matching and coordinating the colors.

  4. Also definitely calling it TARN from now on! (Have you seen people strip plastic bags and then crochet reusable bags? They call it "plarn")

    1. Gretchen who worked for me at the campus library was big into making stuff with plarn! We worked a trade one tie-dye shirts for a big ol' tote bag. I've made just a tiny bit--to mend the bag that Gretchen made for me after years of heavy use. It was such an amazingly strong material. Gretchen would get sorta excited when she'd find a place with unual colored plastic bags--green or pink instead of white, say.

  5. Brillant! Awesome! Love that! My grand aunt used to make them but i don't know anyone that creates rugs now. Maybe i might be the one that takes on the tradition! Your are inspiring!

    1. Thank you!!! It would be cool if you were to revived making these rag rugs for your family! I love how they are functional, but can incorporate sentimental fabrics--fabrics that tell our story!

  6. This looks like a wonderful project! Thanks for sharing all those steps and als what did not work. Do you think a child could do this project?

    1. Thanks, Eva. Yes, I think I child could do it. Crocheting bulkier, chunkier thread seems easier for little hands than tiny, fiddly stuff. Depending on the age and maturity level I might have an adult do the cutting of the t-shirts into tarn for safety, but that would vary I am sure.

    2. Ah, thanks so much! I will think about that and see if my youngest might be interested. She loves to crochet, but is also kind of impatient.

  7. What a wonderful project. I am struggling with crochet and have tried online videos and am now on to children's books about crochet. I have so much yarn and want to use it!!

    Beautiful rug.

    1. I can really appreciate your struggle!! It is tricky to learn! I still get lost in the patterns (and counting the stitches!) so mainly stick to simple rectangles and single crochet! But am getting better with practice. I think! I DID successfully start a round rag rag. I only had to start over like ten times (and consult both my books and youtube) to get there!


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