Be Kind, Please Rewind: VHS Tape as Yarn

I’m not entirely sure why I decided to try my hand at working with VHS tape. Perhaps I just wanted something different to try, perhaps it is because VHS tapes are hard to recycle where I work and I wanted to help find a way to make use of them (I work for a second hand retailer, we try to recycle almost everything that doesn’t sell/ can’t be sold, but last I checked, we didn’t have a place to send VHS tapes). In any case, I’ve been playing around with using old VHS tape as yarn, on and off,  for the last couple of weeks.

WARNINGS

While writing this article, I came across a Flickr discussion on the topic citing health dangers adherent in magnetic tape (VHS and cassette tape). Read the full discussion complete with further links here: Warning- Crafting with old cassette/ video tape. Basically, the tape contains cobalt, chromium and iron, which can break down or come off as dust from the tape. The iron may not be so much of a problem, as humans naturally have iron in their bodies (though too much iron can be bad), but cobalt and chromium are certainly toxic and can cause cancer. I am not telling anyone not to use these tapes, and I, myself, have not had any issues with it yet, but I want to bring the health concerns to attention so you can make up your own minds.

Trial and Error

While I don’t really have any finished projects right now, there are certainly some things I have learned in the process of trying to work with this material that I want to share.
The first idea I had was to use it to make a “Letters From Mr. Right” letter holder/wallet/clutch from Melissa Horozewski’s Austentatious CrochetThis required that I pull on the tape to stretch it and make it thinner and more pliable. It is harder to get the tape stretched out uniformly if you are impatient and are trying to get a lot of it in a short time. I ended up getting blisters/ friction burn on the sides of my index fingers. I recommend using leather or garden gloves, this will not only help prevent the blisters I got, but it will also help prevent getting any dust on your skin if your tape happens to flake off on you. I also learned that if you pull too hard the tape will snap apart. If you look, it’s kind of hard to see the texture of the cluster stitch used. It just looks like a blob to me.

Because I got tired of pulling on the tape so much, I decided I’d also try using a bigger hook and crocheting with the straight tape, no stretching. Because there is no prep work needed, it works up a lot quicker. I don’t have much done with it yet, and it’s entirely possible I’m just going to scrap the exercise because I’m just not fond of it. This experimental piece is just a single crochet around a chain, in the round.

Other VHS Artwork

Now, while I’ve determined that I’m not entirely fond of working with the VHS tape, there are other people out there that do work with it and have done things with it that I like:

Diane Gilleland used it to make flowers to accent a straw purse. She also used the casings to make bookends. – Craftstylish.com

Cindy from My Recycled Bags made a cute little sling purse – MyRecycledBags.com

Adrian Kershaw manages to turn VHS tape into absolutely gorgeous fine art – Crochet Concupiscence

Zilvinas Kempinas created this awesome tunnel installation – Lost At E Minor

Erika Iris Simmons created several portraits from VHS and cassette tape – VHS Art Representations

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“I’ll have a plaid milkshake, please!”…

…Replies my comedian friend, Buddah Eskew, when I posted to my personal Facebook page last night about putting fabric in a blender. “…What were you trying to do?”, asks another friend and fellow textile artist, Rachel Suntop of CoolClimates.

I wanted to make paper

I don’t like just throwing away material when I think that they might still have some use. I have an entire bag that is just scrap materials, a big bag full of smaller bags – scrap lace, scrap cotton, scrap fleece, etc. Over the last week, I have been trying to think of ways to use them, because I need to do something with them or get rid of them – I’ve been carrying some of them around since high school! I honestly couldn’t tell you what made me think of paper, but once the thought was in my head, it wouldn’t leave. I was determined to make paper using scraps of fabric.

Hasn’t anyone made paper from fabric before?

Because I’d never made paper before, let alone from fabric, I needed to get a basic understanding of how to go about such an endeavor. So I hit up teh internets. While I found several different videos and pages on how to make paper using old papers, I couldn’t really find much on how to make paper from fabric – at least not in the DIY arena. (There do exist companies that make paper from resources other than commonly used wood pulp, Conservatree lists several sources, including Arch Paper which makes their paper from 100% post-consumer textiles, like unsold or used clothing.) So, I followed the basic instructions for using paper, but substituted fabric instead.

The Setup

What you will need: A Small Tub of Water; A Blender; A Screened Frame; Towels; A Bucket or Large Pot; An Iron; Paper and/or Fabric Scraps

The best video I saw was How to Make Paper: Basic Steps by Arnold Grummer.

Homemade screened frame

He makes it look so easy and quick. I mean, the video only lasts about 9 minutes and doesn’t really cut away. I’m kind of cheap and didn’t want to go spending money for a kit and I’m also impatient and didn’t want to hold off until a shipment came in, so I made my own frame from an old picture frame and some window screen. I spent just under $2 at The I.D.E.A. Store here in town. I basically took the glass and backing out of the frame and sewed a piece of window screen onto it with some crochet thread.

Making a Colossal Mess

Even though my fabric scraps were small to begin with, I did cut them into even smaller pieces. You want to try to cut in squares as strips can and do get caught up in the blades/ rotating unit. Since I only have the one blender, I was worried that it would jam up and burn out the motor. My blender did survive, but please be careful when and if you do this yourself. I put all the cut fabric into the blender, added water, and turned it on. It only took a second to get entangled in the blades. Getting the fabric pulp took a lot of back and forth between the blender and the pot because I’d have to stop every few seconds and pull out the fabric from the blades. I was also helping it along but going back and cutting the bigger globs of fiber into smaller chunks as I went. It takes about 30 seconds to make paper pulp in a blender, but it took me about 30 minutes to get the fabric pulp.

Making the Paper

Ultimately, I used a mixture of fabric pulp and paper pulp to actually make the paper. (That last thumbnail is the fabric/ paper mix) I don’t really know what the ratio was, I just threw in some paper. I eyeballed it until it looked about half and half.

I made a lot more pulp than I needed and wasn’t sure how much pulp I need to put into the frame to make 1 sheet. I played around with it for awhile. That’s all I can really say at this point, if you want to try this yourself, just play around with it until it looks good to you. For me, it really is a learning by experimentation thing.

After I took the frame out of the water tub, I set in on a towel. I then covered it with more window screen and another towel and proceeded to use the palms of my hands to flatten down on the layers and soak up some of the excess water. I let it set and dry overnight. It was still damp when I went to peel it off the frame, so I had to be a little careful. I set the sheet on the towel and used the iron to dry it out. I think it turned out fairly well. I only had one clump of fiber that didn’t get broken up all the way.

Making Use of Everything – Recycling, Repurposing, Everyday

I’ve been spending most of my morning cleaning my apartment. I’ve been folding laundry, doing dishes, sorting the recyclables, etc. (I do my recycling with Green Purpose here in town.)

 

As a good practice I always clean out containers before I throw them in their bins, but today, one of the items I’m cleaning out is a tube of toothpaste. I cut it apart to be able to clear out all the remaining toothpaste residue.

However, it’s a little hard to get that bit in the opening. I don’t have any pipe cleaners and see no sense in buying any (especially since I’m kind of broke right now), so I made use of some scrap fabric.

The other day I cut the edgings off of some fitted sheets I want to use for quilting/ clothing and wasn’t sure what to do with them. This is one use 🙂   I’m also considering saving the flat portion of the toothpaste tube to make something with, perhaps a wallet or a purse, much like these capri sun purses.