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

It isn’t waste ’til we waste it.

“Imagine a place in San Antonio where waste inspires creativity…because it isn’t waste ’til we waste it,” reiterates Mary Elizabeth Cantú, Founder and Director of Spare Parts. As an organization whose mission includes–cultural and environmental sustainability; affordability and accessibility to the arts; community, education and creativity, green-style–Spare Parts engages the public with many possibilities to reach zero waste...


Collaborative project sees a creative reuse forest

Photo by Joey Lopez.
Photo by Joey Lopez.

See the Forest for the Trees is a remarkable artistic partnership between Spare Parts, the Southwest School of Art Teen Program (aka Bee Nation), and AP Art Lab. Members of Bee Nation decided they wanted to make a statement with a project for this year’s Contemporary Art Month (CAM). Under the guidance of Spare Part’s Founder and Director Mary Elizabeth Cantú 15 students collectively envisioned a large tree demonstrating the connection of art to the environment. “The theme of the exhibition revolves around the environment, material culture and waste,” explained Cantú. “Because, it’s not waste until we waste it.” Teen Program Coordinator and international installation, performance, and video artist, Julia Barbosa-Landois guarantees, “you will be wowed by this innovative installation made by local teens.”

Cardboard is everywhere. It’s used to package over 85 percent of all products sold in the United States. Seemingly innocuous, cardboard is the single largest component of municipal solid waste around the world.  Cardboard and paper waste make up 41% of the solid waste stream. According to this informative web article one ton of recycled cardboard saves:

  • 390 kWh hours of electricity
  • 46 gallons of oil
  • 6 million Btu’s of energy
  • 9 cubic yards of landfill space

It’s all about imagination and creativity

 Using over 400 square feet of discarded cardboard and reclaimed materials such as reused cardboard, plastic, paper and found objects from their homes and schools, Bee Nation students created this colorful, decorative tree to ‘uncover the aesthetics of detritus and reexamine their relationship with the discarded.’ Celia realized, “Until we did this project I had no idea the amount of trash we make as a society. It kind of freaked me out.” The student artists worked on their project beginning in January. First came the design and then the construction of the trunk and branches. Truly a tree of life there is a cornucopia of multimedia vignettes worth your while to give up close perusal. “Coming from a home of six people, we always have a LOT of toilet paper rolls. I learned that they can make really cool flower designs if you just alter their shape. That goes for all scraps of trash,” explained Alexis.

Someone said this to me the other day and it’s pretty on point – “Art is about transformation.”

See the Forest for the Trees


The resulting installation gives used cardboard a new life that honors its forest origins. “We didn’t know how it would look until it all came together during the installation,” said Bee Nation’s Elizabeth. Amanda Poplawsky, offered her AP Art Lab Studio located at 1906 South Flores for the exhibition. “I love working with youth in connection with social issues and activism,” she states. The above picture shows the tree from the front with closer views of some of the amazing details that went into the artistic construction. No wonder this installation won a Contemporary Art Month Cammie–the R. Mutt Award for Novel media turning something that isn’t art into art (see below photo with Cantú and Poplawsky) (March, 2016).

Cammie Award 2016

Cantú added, “Through this project I hope our artists are compelled to continue this type of art making. I hope these students see how their work can inspire and educate the community. Finally, I hope they understand that it doesn’t matter how young or young at heart you are, you have the ability to make positive change in the world.” This Tree of Life represents the hope for a healthier, more sustainable future. Because, there’s no such thing as thrown away!


Spare Parts is SA2020 nonprofit partner and this event was “Awesome Certified.”