Recycled T-Shirt Hem DIY Dog Toys

DIY recycled t-shirt hem dog toy ball

Finally! A use for scrap t-shirt hems! Check out our DIY recycled t-shirt hem woven dog toys using these tough off cuts from other upcycling projects. When I first started making dog toys, I tried a few toys with t-shirt fabric and was unimpressed at how rapidly my wild beasts darling dogs ripped them to shreds.  The material might be fine for gentler play or smaller dogs, but t-shirt toys simply didn’t last long enough to be worth the effort.  Until I discovered the hidden potential of the unwanted hems!

Creating Dog Toys (and More) from Recycled T-Shirt Materials

Recently, while cutting apart t-shirts to make quilts (see the DIY recycled t-shirt quilt instructions on our partner blog), I had an idea. When I first started making dog toys, I made Oli some denim knot dog toys from pairs of old jeans. I liked incorporating the side seams of the legs to make things more durable as well as reduce the risk of shedding threads. Perhaps the off-cut bottom hems could be put to use in slightly stronger t-shirt toys? Yes indeed. Finally! A good use for the scrap t-shirt hems. I salvaged “the good bits” for other recycled t-shirt fabric uses, and set the hems aside for toys.

Recycled t-shirt hem DIY dog toys

Unlike denim (and many fabrics) the knit material of t-shirts isn’t prone to shedding threads. This is one of the reasons why I like using fleece when making tugs.  Using a non fraying material reduces the risk shedding threads, which can be dangerous if swallowed as well as creating a mess. If toys aren’t you thing or you just have tons of t-shirts ready for recycling, clean cut t-shirt material can be used similar to purchased knits for crafting. Just like I did with the dog’s recycled t-shirt cuddle quilts.

Dalmatian dog cuddled in DIY recycled t-shirt patchwork quilt
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DIY Recycled T-Shirt Hem Ball Dog Toy

This toy is similar to the original simple denim knots I mentioned above, but I think it’s even better. In addition to not having threads, I was able to take advantage of the stretchy t-shirt material to shape thing into a more rounded ball with the ends tucked. Since I had large t-shirts to work with, I used the hems as big uncut loops instead of strips. If making a similar toy, make sure your ball is big enough for safe play and supervise carefully.  All balls, bought or made, can be risky, especially if undersized.

Making a recycled t-shit hem ball dog toy

Making a Knotted Ball from T-Shirt Hems

  • Gather your hem loops.
  • Use one to tie the bundle together (I used green – see the collage above). This secures the starting point for knotting the toy.
  • Spread your hem loops from the starting knot and arrange them into four groups in a cross shape.  I was using eight hems, so there are two left, two top, two right, two bottom.
  • Knot using a “box weave” aka “square knot” or “box braid” as shown and detailed below. This is the same knotting technique as we use when making a basic square knot tug toy; however, we flip it repeatedly here to build up a rounded ball instead of a long tug.
    • Spread the strips in a cross (+) shape.
    • Fold the top of the vertical strip towards the bottom.
    • Fold the bottom of the vertical strip towards the top.
    • Fold the right end of the horizontal strip towards the left, passing over then under.
    • Fold the left end of the horizontal strip towards the right, passing over then under.
    • Pull to secure. The stands should now look like a woven square.
Diagram for weaving dog toys using a box knot
  • Flip the knot over and tidy your strands back into a neat cross (+) shape.
  • Repeat the steps, flipping after each knot, watching your “ball” grow by wrapping around itself.
  • You can leave a few tempting ends for your pampered pup to carry and grip, or wrap and tuck them into the toy, as shown, to make a tidy ball.  These will inevitably be pulled out during play, but are easy to tuck back in again, if you wish.

Tips: A giant looping knot like this isn’t a uniform smooth ball, but it does have a ball-like shape if you work with care. You can take a little extra care on the final layers to position the fabric for an attractive finish.  Not that the dogs will object if things are a little less than perfect! You can also tie hems together or separately if/as needed to create size and/or to wrap the final loop ends into the ball. 

DIY recycled t-shirt hem knotted ball dog toy
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DIY Recycled T-Shirt Hem Stick Tug Toy

This is a variation on our square knot dog tug toy. Since I had large t-shirts to work with, I used the hems as big uncut loops instead of strips. Unlike basic t-shirt fabric strips, these wide strips of hem were very durable (surprisingly so). This was a great way to give the scraps a second useful purpose. Although the ball may be better for some, for my dogs and our style of play, this was a much better option for using my hems. I may mix it up with different ends in the future (Humphrey loves tassels).

Making a recycled t-shit hem stick tug dog toy

Making a Knotted Ball from T-Shirt Hems

  • Gather your hem loops.
  • Use one to tie the bundle together (I used green – see the collage above). This secures the starting point for knotting the toy.
  • Spread your hem loops from the starting knot and arrange them into four groups in a cross shape.  I was using eight hems, so there are two left, two top, two right, two bottom.
  • Knot using a “box weave” aka “square knot” or “box braid” as shown and detailed below. This is the same knotting technique as we use when making a basic square knot tug toy.
    • Spread the strips in a cross (+) shape.
    • Fold the top of the vertical strip towards the bottom.
    • Fold the bottom of the vertical strip towards the top.
    • Fold the right end of the horizontal strip towards the left, passing over then under.
    • Fold the left end of the horizontal strip towards the right, passing over then under.
    • Pull to secure. The stands should now look like a woven square.
Diagram for weaving dog toys using a box knot
  • After the first square knot, flip so that this shows as your “pretty” starting end, then continue weaving from the other side. Unlike the ball, you do not continue to flip after this beginning point. Simply continue weaving until you approach the end of your hem loops.
  • Tuck the end loops back into the toy, as shown, to create a stick tug.  These will inevitably be pulled out during play, but are easy to tuck back in again, if you wish.

Even if your starting t-shirt hems were all the same size, you may find that you start to run out of knotting space on some hems before others. If this happens, you can continue with the remainder (try to capture any shirt ends inside the toy) until you can no longer weave. Alternatively,  you can trim and tuck, if you prefer. As a scrappy hem tug, a little imperfection is all part of the quirky character.

DIY recycled t-shirt hem dog tug toy

🚨 Safety first, furfriends! Remember, no matter what a toy is made of or how it’s made, toys are meant for supervised interactive play. Know your dog before giving him or her any new toy. Some dogs try to eat toys or parts (whether bought or handmade) and that’s dangerous. Toys are for playing, and playtime is always safer (and more fun!) with you involved. You can read more in our dog toy safety post, including tips and helpful links for safer playtime. Have fun and play safe!

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