Give a darn about t-shirt yarn.

By: Laura Kraus, Spare Parts Volunteer Coordinator

One of the first memories I had of visiting my grandparents in California were the amazing t-shirt rugs made by my great grandmother. Spiraled up and tightly braided, they were multicolored, cushy things perfect for digging your bare toes into as you noted all the work that went into them. Of course, at the time I didn’t pay attention to the work. It was only years later, when I actually attempted to make one that I fully appreciated what goes into a braided t-shirt rug. And I’m not just talking about the braiding and sewing together of the t-shirt yarn! Have you ever stopped and thought about what goes into making a plain old t-shirt?

It takes about 400 – 600 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make a t-shirt. This really surprised me, as well as scared me, considering how abundant t-shirts are in our society. That’s a lot of water. According to an article in the Economist, making 1kg of fabric of any kind generates 23kg of greenhouse gases on average. Further research on the website Mental Floss led to this surprising information about how a t-shirt is made and where all it has to travel to become the t-shirt that you see in a store: After the cotton is grown on a farm in one part of the world, a process that requires large amounts of water and pesticides, it needs to be treated, woven, and dyed at a facility, sometimes in a totally separate country.

Yes, this is depressing, but we can do something about it, and as a matter of fact, there are people who already are, like Alex Eaves, who made a business out of reusing old t-shirts. He even made a documentary called, “Reuse! Because you can’t recycle the planet” and Spare Parts is featured in it. Eaves prints his message on old t-shirts and sells them to help fund his cause.

What can you personally do about it? Refuse fast fashion. Reuse once you wear out your favorite t-shirt by making it into t-shirt yarn, using one of the tutorials in the links below. Tell your friends. Be social and get the word out on the “interwebs.” We can make a difference together. And don’t forget to tag Spare Parts on social media with a photo of your own reuse creation! #reusegotmethinking #reusesanantonio

Resources on how to make T-Shirt yarn
The Spruce – How to Make T-Shirt Yarn
Instructables T-Shirt Yarn


How to make T-Shirt Yarn

A pioneering partnership: spare parts and the San Antonio DoSeum make “Junk Jam” happen

spare parts & DoSeum partnership
spare parts & DoSeum partnership

Meredith Doby, Exhibits Director at The Children’s Museum/DoSeum, already knew Spare Parts was an excellent collaborating institution. “To give you an example,” she says, “at Christmas time we did a ‘Reverse Santa’s Workshop.'”

…Which, it turns out, is just as delightful as it sounds; kids got to dis-assemble toys collected and donated by Spare Parts, then created entirely new forms from them. For me, this is an ideologically significant scene to imagine, as well as a fun one. Reversing Santa exemplifies what Doby calls the “maker and tinkerer” mindset, for sure, but it also subverts the dictates of commercialism, but without ideological fanfare. It’s one thing to preach at kids that the holidays are more than just acquiring more objects. It’s quite another to encourage kids to reimagine objects. One has to do with attempting to thwart a kid’s desire (which rarely works); the latter, to ignite a kid’s imagination, sharpen their maker techniques, and to address a material problem through experimentation.

Baby Alive
Baby Alive

I wish I’d been allowed to take stuff apart and make my own stuff, rather than being given a Baby Alive but made to feel guilty about it. For one thing, Baby Alive was a nightmare; a dead-eyed, insatiable mechanized maw, whose only activities were taking in provided packets of gelatinous goo, and ersatz-pooping. Baby Alive allowed for very little imagination, except for the night terrors it induced. I feared it would come to life in the dark and eat my hair. If only I’d been allowed to take the horrible grinding ersatz mastication motor out of Baby Alive and enlivened something else with it. I could have made an EZ-bake garbage disposal. I feel things could have gone differently for me.

I’m being facetious, of course, except that I for-real remember Baby Alive with dread and guilt. Also, it’s still in existence in a landfill somewhere, I’m sure. Worse, I’m still afraid to take things apart; it was just never in my purview, as far as I understood. This has terrible (and possibly gender-aggravated) repercussions; I’m terrified to attempt minor car repairs, I throw things away that could be easily repurposed and made useful, and I buy stuff I neither need nor understand. Writ large… you see where this is going. Or has already gone. We’re all living in the consequences; Spare Parts and the DoSeum are helping to re-route the consumerist directive into a cluster of impulses that involve resource management, engineering, and multidisciplinary arts.

Junk Jam by Kara Salinas
Junk Jam by Kara Salinas
DoSeum Junk Jam Artist Kara Salinas
DoSeum Junk Jam Artist Kara Salinas

Meanwhile, “Junk Jam,” an exciting multimedia sound installation conceived with artist, teacher and mom Kara Salinas, is the next DoSeum/Spare Parts collaboration.

“The DoSeum wants to bring our mission of using recycled [reusable] materials into our programming,” Doby tells me. “We have a gallery called Sensation Studio that studies the science of light and sound.”  Through materials collected and provided by Spare Parts, the DoSeum and Salinas are constructing a mixed-media sounds sculpture that kids can play.

(You can see a video here of the Foundstrument, an experimental playable instrument at the Providence, RI Children’s Museum, (scroll down a bit to find it):

Junk Jam materials sourced by spare parts.
Junk Jam materials sourced by spare parts

Perusing Salinas’ Facebook page turns up a call for materials image of intriguing diversity; metal bells, cardboard tubes, toy xylophones and kiddie pianos, wind chimes, milk bottles, and colored wooden blocks. Spare Parts also launched an appeal for reusable materials to be creatively re-purposed. According to the project description, the many objects “would be grouped similarly but have different tones. And of course, it must be able to withstand constant play by children.”

The result should be up and running later this Spring.

This is enthralling. Partially because I’m dying to hear a playable sculpture manipulated by children, who in addition to being disruptive disease vectors and largely unemployed in this country, are natural musicians. Secondly, a kid who is encouraged to use pre-existing and discarded materials, will. And if they continue to be encouraged, they won’t stop there. And they’re less likely to be the kind of adult who buys and tosses, fears and ignores.

spare parts reusable materials in action at a Children's Museum workshop.
spare parts reusable materials in action at a Children’s Museum workshop

Here’s Doby again: “We’re hoping that using these recycled [reusable] materials will make unique and interesting sounds,” she says, then emphasizes, “we’ve also got a strong mission to work with local artists. This inspires kids to be excited about what’s going on around them and for future career paths through new and fun exciting ideas. We are excited to partner with Spare Parts as part of this mission.”

“We think this is pretty amazing because the Children’s Museum is valuing the commitment to provide sustainable and eco-friendly creative experiences to its visitors. And they sought our expertise.”

This is a unique and probably unprecedented type of partnership in the San Antonio arts community. It can/should be replicated.