Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The T Shirt Blanket

Well hello, dear reader. How are you? I hope all is well. I'm good, thank you, but busy, busy, busy. I like being busy and this makes me happy. My textiles course is brilliant, and is taking a couple of days per week of my time. At the moment I'm doing lots of work on learning to draw and making marks. Sometimes it's a little frustrating as I'd like to leap ahead to the sewing bit, but I'm realistic enough to know that I need to work on this stage pretty hard; my drawing is terminally rubbish. I'm going to set up a separate blog to track my college work, I think. I'll share a link when it's up and running and, if you're interested, you can pop over and have a look at what I'm doing.

Today I wanted to talk to you about the second of my columns in Handmade Living magazine. It was published in the August edition. It talks about our family days out at Spurn Point.


Day by the seaside

Spurn is an amazing place. It is a spit of land that's slowly being reclaimed by the sea. It is wild and lonely, with raging hot-chocolate coloured tides and sandy beaches peppered with wild sea grass. The skies are massive as the surrounding land is very flat, and the beaches are peppered with long gone coastal defences: well worn bricks, rusted pieces of metal and eroded concrete. We go to take photos and walk and throw stones into the sea. 

I took these pictures at Spurn in 2009. It's amazing how much the boys have changed since then!

Spurn collage 1

Jonny was just a boy, bless him. Now he's tall and muscular and strong. A man. 

Spurn collage 2

I love the texture of Spurn Point. At one point the path narrows, being eroded on both sides, so that the sea is to your left, and the Humber estuary to your right. One side smells briny, and the other brackish.

Spurn collage 3

There is something about the moodiness of that picture of Dom that makes me weak at the knees. He's bemused by this, and his mum thinks it's a dreadful picture. 


Spurn collage 4

Charlie is but a baby! He's lost his baby cheeks now, and is a proper, lithe, six year old boy. I miss those chubby baby cheeks.

Last time we went to Spurn there was an unusally high tide. The power of the sea was utterly magnificent. That night part of the road was washed away. Spurn is a land that will be reclaimed to the sea in the next few years - often large chunks disappear overnight. That overpowering feeling of loss and the raw power of nature pervades the place. It forcefully reminds me to live in the present, and to appreciate all the things that I currently hold dear.

In the spirit of this magical land, I wanted to make a beach blanket that was respectful to it's environment, but also provided a base for family adventures. It needed to be cheery and comfortable and practical. 

At the same time, I was sorting out bags of clothes the boys had grown out of, and was trying to find time to take them to the charity shop. Then an idea hit. Why not re-use those fabrics to makes something special?

Beach blanket 1

In order to make a family sized beach blanket, you need several T shirts. I used 17, big and small. As you are knitting in squares, you can knit up a square each time you have some spare fabric - it'll take a while to get enough together to piece the final blanket, but it'll be worth the wait.

Beach blanket 2

Making the yarn

Cut the T shirt across the body under the arms. This should give you a tube of fabric. At the bottom seam, cut into the t shirt at an angle, until the cut is about 2cms deep. Then start to cut the shirt horizontally, 2cms from the bottom seam all the way round. You should aim to cut into into one long strip, so will need to work at a slight angle, like peeling an apple. If you do end up with a shorter length, fret not, just tie the ends together tightly. Don't worry about plastic transfers or embroidery on the T shirt, just keep snipping. These add to the texture of the yarn, and give a visual reminder of where the fabric has come from.

Beach blanket 3

Knitting Up

You will need huge 20mm knitting needles. Cast on 20 stitches. Knit five rows in garter stitch. Cast off. Knit as many squares as you have yarn available.

Colour Correction

You may be lucky and your t shirts all look good together. On the other hand, you may end up like me with lots of mucky, stained school shirts that don't look great even when knitted into squares. If this is the case, you can correct the colours with dye.

I used Dylon Machine Use Dye, that I purchased from Hobbycraft for £6.49 per colour. I chose bright colours as I wanted something to cheer us up on beach days. However, with dye, the world is your oyster. The only things you must bear in mind are this:

  1. Man made fibres will not dye easily. Most t shirts are different blends of cotton and man made fibres like acrylic. This means that you will get varying shades from one load according to the amount of natural fibres in each item.

  2. Most modern items are made with acrylic thread. This means the thread usually stays white even when the rest of the fabric changes colour.

  3. The larger the number of items in any one dye wash, the lighter the shade will be generally. For very intense colours, use a small number of fabric pieces.

  4. It is very difficult to lighten dark colours. I would recommend only dying lighter shades.

  5. Normal colour mixing rules apply. For example, if you dye yellow fabric a blue shade, then you will end up with green.

I really like Machine Dye as it's so simple to use. You just add cooking salt to the drum, followed by the powdered dye and the fabric pieces. Set to a 40 degree wash and leave alone. Watching that first turn of the drum where the colour first meets the fabric is a special kind of magic!

Beach blanket 4

Joining the Squares

If you have several different colour squares, it's worth playing around to see how best you can put together your pieces. Do you have enough for a gradual rainbow change? A chequerboard pattern? Something random? I like to take a photo of each of my pieces and arrange them as a photo collage. I use Picnik, but I am sure there are other equally good photo collage services out there (if you know a better one, please let me know!)

Once you have decided what sort of pattern you want, join the squares with single crochet, with spare t shirt yarn. A tutorial can be found on the web here


Et voila! A new use for old fabrics you have knocking around the house, and a blanket that will hopefully be the scene of many a new family adventure. Here's hoping many a picnic is consumed upon her, and many sandy feet run across her - and that Spurn stays around for a good long time yet.

With love

Claire x

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