Recycling isn’t easy

Recycling isn’t easy

The idea of upcycling and recycling is enormously appealing given the situation we all face. But going back and undoing work from others’ hands is challenging.  For those of you who have come late to my adventures in recycling,  I am disassembling worn out silk kimono to weave into more modern type of jacket, still with an Asian look, but done in a rag weave. This is part of the Japanese tradition of using materials to their utmost, so I don’t feel too bad about taking these garments apart.

The process of tearing or cutting the fabric is boring, boring, boring and just for a change of emotion it’s frustrating too!  I have dulled blades on fabric cutters, dulled scissors and now I’m trying a combination of rotary cutter and ripping, but still I’m not having great success.


Sometimes the silk tears into perfect strips

Sometimes the silk tears perfectly and the strip can be used exactly as it comes off the fabric, then the next strip goes completely haywire for no discernible reason.  These are really old kimono so my suspicion is that they have started to shatter, but that should be working in my favour when ripping, so I’m at a loss.

I have pressed and folded the silk and laid it out on the quarter inch.  This is when the straight edge and rotary cutter come out.  The silk used here is very fine, from the lining, so the width of the ribbon is a little more than the quarter inch. The poor rotary blade was starting to sound pretty grim after eight deep cuts.  I’ll look for a small sharpener to try to extend the life of the blades.

The ribbons are joined into one long ‘thread’ using a split knot.  A small cut is made in each end of the ribbon about a quarter inch from the ends.



The right hand ribbon is threaded through the slit in the left hand ribbon.

Then the very end of the left hand ribbon is threaded through slit in the right hand ribbon.

And finally, they are gently given a slow and gentle pull until they come together in a little butterfly knot that will be a design element of the weave.  It will be random and just pop up here and there on the fabric.

I find doing this hour after hour nearly mind numbing, and can only do this for a few hours a day or two at a time.  I really want to finish this kimono project but it’s getting to be a slog so I have to take breaks.  I will finish it, but not in the original time line.  What do the rest of you do when you have a project that starts to pale as time goes on?

This time boredom prompted me to crack out the dye pot and do something vivid and cheery for a November day.

12 thoughts on “Recycling isn’t easy

  1. I think you are making good progress on your “silk yarn”. I have always had trouble tearing silk and it never seems to cut straight, no matter what I do. So I feel your pain. I do know that splitting up the chore into small time periods is best for me. I did this with my slow stitch project which I didn’t want to work on any more. I spent 20-30 minutes each morning on the task and I enjoyed that much more than marathon sessions. The results of the dye pot are luscious!

    1. I’ll try doing a daily time slot for this project, just to get it done. Anything more than an hour and I’m so ticked off I can hardly look at the stuff, but you’re right, little bits at a time and it will be finished.

  2. It’s the laborious work that often gives the best satisfaction in the end – so stick with it!

    Ruth is right. Split the mind-numbing stuff into small portions as it makes it much easier to swallow. And of course have fun in between making lovely stuff like your dyed goodies.

  3. The guild has a rag cutter. I wonder if that would work better. then you only have to cut it into the six that fits in the cutter. Maybe you could get a grandchild to turn the handle for you.

    1. I’ll drop the rental coordinator an email and see what she says, thank you for the tip.

    1. That sharpener is perfect, just what I need, thank you for sending me the information. I’ll hint hard at my family that it would make a wonderful Christmas present and if they whiff on the suggestion, I’ll get for myself.

  4. I can do any number of hours’ mind numbing work if I have something to occupy my mind while my hands are busy. I listen to audio books and am away in another world while the slog is going on. I even enjoy weeding and/or ironing as it gives me a good excuse to listen to another book!

  5. Interesting reading your comments, and confirmed by Ruth, that silk has a mind of it’s own – I would not have expected that.

    Your efforts will ultimately be so beautifully rewarded & I look forward the next instalment.

    I too, however, feel your pain as I did similar including the same knot, with t-shirts that I had begged and acquired from everyone. I used the t-shirt yarn to make some crocheted rugs. T-shirts don’t tear so I had to continually re-sharpening the cutting blades….I will NOT be repeating the whole process! And the rugs….I still have one. Oh boy were they heavy too – unbelievably so.

    The suggestion of time slots sounds good as it will be a break not only for the mind but also the fingers.

    Thank you for also talking about the Japanese specifically re-using kimonos, although that fits in with their philosophy of Kintsugi and Sashiko. There is a lovely site that talks about the philosophy of repair relating to life ( and refers to the whole process as showing ‘resourcefulness, resilience and persistence’….maybe you can view your mind numbing activity as participating in a new way of thinking….(even if I had known this at the time I would have been hard pushed on this one 🤪)

    1. Thank you so much for the encouraging words. I’ve had discussions with both my sons who are very fond of some of the Japanese ways of living, especially as you have mentioned kintsugi and sashiko. One is a cook and is fascinated with the way the Japanese use food, the other is amazed how they have use resources to such a high degree. As he says, it was an island that was resource poor, but ingenuity bountiful with a powerful over layering of selflessness.
      I wanted to reuse some silk, but it has opened a door to so many beautiful and sustainable possibilities, not just in fiber arts. And yes, I must learn to be more patient, to value time and meter it, so I can continue to enjoy the process and its ultimate reward. Onward to a new way of thinking.

  6. I admire your patience and it’s going to be interesting to watch this project progress. Normally I like to work in silence but if I were to do something like this it would have to be in small chunks and listening to a podcast or audio book. Like Ann, I find it easier to keep my hands going on a repetitive task if my mind is being occupied. I will be following up on Helene’s recommendation of a blade sharpener!

  7. Thanks for this! I actually needed a nudge to start unravelling a jumper and this was it. I’m sure your Kimono will look wonderful and I can’t wait to see the end result.

    Also, how yummy is the dye pot’s end result?

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