Sunday, February 8, 2015

How To: Make Rubber Yarn

  I've been doing some spring cleaning a little early, and I happened to pull some new crochet material out of my closet! Well, it wasn't crochet material when I found it...I had to do a bit of work to save it from a landfill and turn it into "yarn" for crochet. What is it? It's rubbery, kind of shiny/metallic, has a bit of stretch, and is equal to about super-bulky weight yarn, but quite a bit heavier.

  I'm not going to tell you what it used to be, yet. First, let's have some fun with words...Plastic + Yarn = Plarn, so what can we call Rubber + Yarn? Rubbarn, Yarber, Rurn? Yubberarn! Oh, they all sound like nonsense.

How about we just call it Rubber Yarn, okay?

  So, there's a hint about the material. It's rubber. But what object was recycled to create this awesome Rubber Yarn? Chances are, you might have one too. Any guesses? Follow along to find out:

  Here is (what used to be) my beloved exercise ball, although I never really exercised much with it! I hate sitting still in a chair, so I used to use this ball as my office chair. When I get antsy and need to move around, I can rock, roll, and bounce on my "chair" to keep me moving, and stop the need to get up and walk around. It saved me time and kept me focused. Otherwise, I'm out of my chair every five minutes, which usually leads to a distraction, and less productivity.

  Yes, a big bouncy exercise ball is the perfect choice for a person with ants-in-their-pants disease. But, if you follow the blog, you've probably seen my charges before:

  Just like me, they don't like to sit still, so, sorry that you get a blurry photo of Gilly and Jump. I know I can't have anything inflatable around the two of them. But, these cuties (devils, really) aren't the cause of death for my exercise ball, like you may think.

  We don't have the real culprit, Bites, anymore. He was a much loved part of the family that was lost last year. This trouble-maker's favorite games were Attack, Claw, and as his name suggests, Bite. Those are games that don't mix with my favorite chair, the inflatable rubber ball.

Pizza? What pizza?

  I patched the ball once, after he got his claws into it the first time. It held, and I saved my chair. Then, he went "psycho mode" on it, and made too many teeny-tiny claw marks to make it worth saving again. Now, it's only salvageable material that got stuffed in the back of my closet and forgotten, until my early spring cleaning episode. Now, it's time to make something out of it!

  Let me begin by telling you the absolute truth: I thought this would be so much easier than it actually was. It's not the most difficult thing in the world, I just really underestimated the time and effort it would take to cut up the material. It was thicker, stronger, and heavier than I imagined it would be. However, I think you could use this method to recycle those giant rubber/vinyl play balls that kids love to pop, too. With a thinner, lighter material, the process may go much quicker, and you'd get cool colors, too! I'm going to explain everything exactly as it happened with this thicker exercise ball, so you get an idea of what you can expect, and hopefully avoid the same problems.

  It's a pretty cool way to save garbage from the landfill, and give you free material to crochet (or whatever) with. I'm itching to see what the results would be like with a kid's play ball, or any kind of similar material. After finishing this project, I regret throwing away the little blow-up pool my kids used to have. I think that kind of material might be a little easier to crochet with, because this kind of rubber produces a very heavy yarn that catches on a hook. I'll explain more about working with this material at the end of this article, and even more in an upcoming post. For now, let's get to cutting!

  My original idea was to cut the ball using the spiral method for cutting plarn. But, that thought was quickly killed when I realized it wasn't going to work. I don't know why I was thinking that it would, other than maybe I just wasn't thinking! The spiral method works on a cylinder-shaped tube of plastic, and this is a big sphere-shaped ball that can't be flattened out. I don't know of any magic mathematical formulas that will flatten out the sphere and allow me to cut the material in one long strand. Do you?

  So, the new plan is to cut the ball the hard way, in a spiral fashion, going around and around to create a thin strand of rubber. I figured it would be best to start at the top, where the fill valve is, since there's already a hole there.

  And, I assumed that I'd be able to just pop the valve out, making a starting hole. But, I couldn't pop it out by hand like I thought. That white piece is just a stopper, and the valve is a cup-shaped piece that's actually molded into the rubber.

  I fought to poke through this thick rubber with scissors. In hindsight, it might have been easier to create a starting hole with a craft knife. But, I toughed it out, and cut all the way around the valve with the scissors.

  And there it is, if you've ever wondered what the valve inside an exercise ball looks like. You can see how thick the rubber is if you look at the part that's molded to the piece:

  After removing the valve, I began cutting around the hole in a spiral, trying to keep the strand about 1/4" (0.5 cm) wide. The first few cuts didn't go as smoothly as I thought they would, and left the material with jagged edges:

  That's an issue that was resolved after the first cuts. I just didn't have enough room at the starting point to make a longer cut, and I was using larger scissors. I switched to smaller, shorter scissors, and was able to cut around the starting point with a smoother motion. The real problem was, I couldn't continue cutting the material at this width. With a tiny pull, it broke just after I snapped this photo:

  I know cutting the material wider is going to make it more difficult to crochet with, but...Hey, I'm already committed to the project at this point. My plan is to make material now, and figure out what to do with it later. I started cutting it at 3/8" (just under 1 cm), and the material became much stronger with this small increase in width. The very beginning of the spiral makes some pretty useless material, because it holds its shape, but the rest flattens out after the first few passes:

  It get's pretty boring from here. Just follow the spiral, try to keep the width even, and keep cutting...

  I was surprised at the amount of material that was spooling out. After cutting through less than a tenth of the ball, I already had a few yards.

  The loose "yarn" started getting in the way, and my hands needed a break, so I stopped to roll it into a ball. Looks pretty cool, doesn't it?

  Again, cut, and cut...This is a great rainy day project, isn't it? At this point, I'm a little over a half-hour into the cutting, and my hands are getting tired. Time to roll it up again, and take a break.

  Ah ha! I don't know why I'm putting my hands through this torture. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I can't handle the pressure of the scissors for this long. My good friend the rotary cutter is going to help me from here:

  Which was a great idea! I can cut so much quicker with the rotary cutter, but now keeping the other side of the ball out of the way will be an issue. I want to keep this material in one piece if I can, and I don't want to cut through the strand on accident. I had started with the ball facing the opposite side, cutting the layer that was closest to me, while moving the bottom out from under it. After a few cuts, I reversed it, cutting the bottom layer and holding the top layer away from it:

  At the point of the previous photo, I was about two hours into cutting, with a few breaks in between for my hands, and starting to run out of daylight. I put it away for the day, and thought to keep better track of my time the next day.

  And now, we're back to the same process: Cut, and cut, and cut...

  From the previous photo to the end of the ball, I stopped to take a progress photo every 15 minutes. Let's skip all the "blah, blah, blah" in between, and just go for a quick explanation: After getting half way through it, I was able to fold the ball up in a way that allowed me to flip and cut faster. Then, after it got even smaller, I was able to open it up and just spin it around to continue cutting:

  So, there it is! I had to switch back to my little scissors to finish the final spirals, but these flatten out more than the beginning piece. An additional hour and forty-five minutes later, I'm finally done. I'm unable to judge the actual total time, because I didn't keep track the first day, but I spent almost four hours cutting up the ball. It took sooooooo much longer than I thought it would. But, it's cool, right? Something to do on a rainy day.

  Now, what will it be? A cool new free pattern, of course! But what it will be, I don't know yet. My original thoughts were for an anti-stress mat, because of the awesomely squishy, anti-skid material. After the cats got their paws on the ball, I discovered that it has super-fur attracting powers, which makes me wonder if: (A) Will an anti-stress mat become a fur magnet? And - (B) Will the material be better off turned into a "cat-shedding mat"?

  That's a bit of a joke. My best idea is the anti-stress mat. But, I ran into a problem when I began working with the material. I already knew that it doesn't slide easily on a hook, so I planned on using finger crochet. It's a great idea, but I'm going to need to practice more before creating a pattern this way. The rubbery yarn is unlike anything I've ever worked with, and although fun and interesting, it takes some getting used to. After working a short row of single crochet with my fingers, the stitches seemed too loose to be useful as a mat:

  Which leads me to think I need a backup plan, just in case. I practiced a little more, and used a few different methods of finger crochet to compare the differences. That's the part I'll have to cover in another post, because after an hour and a half of playing with rubber yarn, I ended up with a blister on my finger. I've since discovered a better, blister-free way to finger crochet with it, but I need my hands to heal up first. Besides the blister, I gave myself a few cuts working with the rotary cutter, and one of my "little buddies" clawed me. This rubbery yarn causes a lot of friction, so I need to be "boo-boo" free before I begin a project with it. Also, I'd include more about working with it, but this post is getting so long, so let's wrap it up, okay? I promise there will be more, another day.

  One last thing: I succeeded in using a hook with the rubber yarn, but not without help. Put this high-friction material on any hook, and it's almost impossible to make even a chain stitch! With the assistance of some petroleum-based lotion on my hands, the material slid over the hook more easily. Switching over to baby oil, it worked up perfectly.

Because of my discovery, let's end with a laugh, but first, a disclaimer:

  For those of you crocheters who don't enjoy the "hooker" jokes, and you don't have a semi-dirty sense of humor, don't read any more. I'll tell you now to have a nice day, and you can click the "X" at the top of the page, and you won't be offended. I don't want to offend anybody, so you've been warned.

Now, for those of us who share a dirty sense of humor, and think all the "hooker" jokes are hilarious, this is what you'll need to keep in mind before you begin a project with this material:

  Remember to lube your rubber first, and hooking will be easier!

Happy Crocheting!


  1. Hi jenny, i was happy to read your blog, as i was myself wondering what to do with used long rubber gloves. What are you going to crocket/knit these into? I am planning to knit it into a rubber mat.

    1. Ooo, I like your idea! The thinner material from gloves would be so much easier to work with; this material was a real pain in the hands.
      I ended up making a mat, and you can check out the pics here:


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