Around two years ago, I stumbled across a fun tutorial: making dog toys from old shirts. Let me make something clear: I am NOT particularly crafty. I like to experiment and try different things, but it’s not an area where I have a lot of natural talent. But I decided to give these a try. I had lots of friends help me. And we made a big pile of dog toys to take to our local pet shelter before Christmas. They were thrilled with the donation – they told me that they had had a Girl Scout troop donate them the previous year, and the dogs LOVED playing with them and chewing them.
Fast forward to this week. I have an exciting new opportunity at my Church. Twice a month, I get to help run an activity for 8 and 9 year old girls. Although sometimes we will do things just for fun, our focus is on helping these girls to learn, to grow, and to look outside themselves to serve others. This week was the first activity that I was in charge of, and this immediately came to mind. If you need a Scout or youth group activity, if you are an animal lover, if you have some old clothes that you don’t know what to do with – here is a great project for you!
All you need are some old shirts, scissors, and the ability to cut and braid. When I say old shirts … I mean REALLY old shirts. Do you have any that are so stained, pilled, faded, or torn that you hesitate to even donate them? Perfect! That’s just the kind you need to make a perfect toy for your dog – or, as we did, to donate to animals in a shelter. (A simple craft that makes a free service project – I’m in!) So grab an old shirt or two, and let’s go!
First of all, we make “yarn” out of our shirts. Why don’t we just cut them into strips? Well, you certainly can, especially if you’re making tiny toys. But remember that the fabric will be significantly shorter after braiding it, so just cutting the shirt into strips doesn’t give us much to work with. By making yarn, you have a lot more flexibility in the sizes of toys you’re going to be making.
So get your shirt, lay it flat on the counter, and cut it up! You want your strips to be roughly an inch apart from each other. IMPORTANT: do NOT cut all the way through. Stop cutting about an inch from the top.
This is the part that seems tricky, although it’s really not. Once you’ve cut the shirt all the way up to the armpits, you need to start the yarn process. To begin, go to the very top of your first strip. At an angle, cut across the first strip all the way to the end. This breaks loose your chain. Then open up the top of your shirt. See how the cuts are now at an angle from each other? Just cut (at an angle again) from one slit to the next. And you’ll see that your shirt begins to coil – instead of strips, you have yarn. Cool, huh?
Just keep cutting and coiling (I stop about halfway through to roll my yarn into a ball so it doesn’t get tangled) until you get to the end.
Now here’s where I kinda wing it. When you get to the armpit part, you can cut the rest into strips, or call it a day and throw the top out. But I have found that it’s really easy to just grab the top piece and continue to spiral cut my way around the shirt. When you get to a corner, curve around and keep going. When you’re done, you just need to trim the corners off of your yarn. I am able to cut an entire shirt into one huge piece of yarn, and I only end up with a few little scraps.
When all your shirts are cut up – time to braid! You can experiment with lengths and thicknesses. I found that braiding six strips together makes a small braid that is perfect for puppies and tiny dogs, while braiding twelve strips makes a good thickness for bigger, older dogs. My girls had fun experimenting with loops at the end (for tug-of-war), mixing colors, and trying different lengths.
If you want to be really crafty, you can use almost any fabric! Someone donated a sheet to our project, and I cut it into big strips. I even used the bottom of my daughter’s jeans to make denim yarn! I hacked at the knees (where the holes were) and folded up the cuffs to make shorts for my daughter. And then I took the bottom pieces and treated them just like a shirt. I loved the denim yarn – this is perfect for dogs who really like to chew.
So there it is! Trust me when I say if I can do this, you can do this. And so can kids! I found that some of the 8-year-olds struggled a bit with the cutting-at-an-angle part, but with a bit of adult help, all of them were able to do it. And they LOVED working together to braid. So if you’re looking for an activity to do with a group of kids or teenagers, ask people to give you their oldest shirts, grab some scissors, and start cutting! The dogs at your local animal shelter will thank you.