DIY: Recycled Holiday Garland

>> Tuesday, December 7, 2010

After cleaning out our closets last week, we had a ton of old, ripped t-shirts we planned to trash (they weren't donation-worthy because they had holes, etc.). But I hate throwing things away. Blame it on the hoarder in me. Or the environmentally conscious girl who hates this wasteful time of year.

I don't know which of my multiple personalities is responsible for this one. But Saturday morning, the idea hit me the moment I woke up: MAKE SOMETHING FESTIVE WITH THEM! We had planned to decorate all day anyway . . . so I carved out a few hours in the AM, switched on a movie, and got to work.


Skill-wise, all you need for this project is the ability to braid and make a basic tie/knot. (Did I just hear a cheer from the crowd?) I'd say in all, I used about 7 to 10 shirts for one garland. How many you use is up to you, the length, and number of colors you want in your finished masterpiece.

Things you'll want to consider.
  • Cloth: T-shirt material is much easier to work with than dress shirt material. It stretched and hides imperfections in your cutting much more easily.
  • Colors: I went crazy with ours because we love punches of all hues in our home. However, you may want a more monochromatic look.
  • Length: Depending on your desired use (tree, fireplace, etc.), you'll want to make your garland as long as necessary. We compared ours to a garland we already had. Not terribly technical, but it works!
  • Time: You can take your time finishing it -- but if you're like me and want instant gratification, you'll need to set aside about 2 hours.

STEP 1: Cut Shirts Into Strips

We didn't do this step all at once. Instead, I cut as needed (so, I'd cut, then braid, cut, then braid). It may be easier to cut it all first. Let me know. Anyway, you don't want your pieces incredibly long or else they will be difficult to braid. I'd say a good length is 6 to 8 inches.

You'll end up tying pieces together to get the length longer as you move along. And honestly, you'll figure it out along the way, too. But here are some other tips to help you along:
  • How many strips? Difficult to tell. But I'd say we used at least 20 (times three, for each strand in the braid). Probably closer to 30. And our finished garland is about 16 to 18 feet long.
  • How long should they be? As I mentioned above, you don't want them much longer than six to eight inches. Otherwise, they'll get tangled as your braid.
  • How thick? A quarter inch to a half inch. If your material is thin and stretchy -- thicker. If it's hefty and bulky, thinner.
  • How straight to cut? As straight as you can, but when you strech the pieces, they'll hide little imperfections. Fool-proof, I tell you!

STEP 2: Braid Away. Then keep braiding.

Tie three strips of fabric together in a big knot. Then slip that knot inside a drawer (or heavy book, etc.) so that you can braid without it moving all over the place. Then just braid. And braid. And keep on braiding.

When you come to the end of a strip (an inch left), tie on another strip. You can use the same color or another color depending on the look you're going for. I used all different colors, but tied it together by using a piece of black the entire way through.

Then keep braiding. And I mean, it'll take you a while. So, set aside some time.
  • How tight? I'd describe ours between a tight and loose braid. A medium braid, if you will.
  • What to do with the ties? We were for a rustic look -- leaving the ends of the ties sticking out. If you want a cleaner look, make sure they're tied tight and you can either cut off the ends . . . or weave them through until they're unnoticeable (sort of like in knitting).
  • HELPFUL HINT: It's good to gently tug on each end of the strip before tying it onto the rest of the garland. This allows the edges to curl in and hide imperfections (as mentioned above).

STEP 3: Embellish with Knots and Ties

They end up looking a lot cuter than they sound. And be creative -- you can come up with your own knot combo to create flowery looking things. Or bows. Or whatever you like, really.

Here's how I made the basic "berries" on our tree garland.
  1. Take two 3 inch strips of fabric and lay them out in a plus sign fashion.
  2. Tie one strip around the other -- with the meeting point in the center.
  3. Do it again, but with the other strip -- with the meeting point over the other meeting point.
  4. Keep doing this until you have about half an inch left.
  5. Then tie two of these "berries" together . . . and then tie around the garland as you wish.


On the fireplace garland, I followed these steps. But I also wanted a chunkier, more textured look. So, I braided together three braids (not as time-consuming as it may sound because it was a much shorter -- maybe 5 foot -- garland). I also wanted a shaggier effect with the embellishments.

So, I made some berries. But I also added simple knots (like you would for shoelaces). And even tied some shorter, leftover pieces in a simple tie around the whole thing.

STEP 4: Marvel at Your Creation

It's pretty cool, right? Not only does this project make great use of what would otherwise be considered trash, but it's also pretty pet-safe. We always complain that we can't "have nice things" because Rivey and Scully bite in to everything with a surface. Yeah, the cats have ruined everything from computer chargers, to lamp wires, to ornaments and even x-mas trees.

Even if your cat or dog gets a hold of this decorative touch . . . he/she can't really destroy it completely. Though, we've decided that this year -- just for the month of December -- we're keeping the cats under lock and key. At least for the workday.

How do you pet-proof (or even kid-proof) for the holidays? We'd love some tips! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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