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It seems like a fairly simple thing to do, but I haven't found a single DIY how-to online about making your own tube yarn. I don't mean "t-shirt yarn" or "fabric yarn," which I have seen many articles about, I mean the stuff from the arm-knitting craze. I'll include images below. From what I can tell, it's usually either a jersey cotton or something like velvet or fleece sewn in a tube with some sort of cable cordage or straight up .

It seems silly that no one has attempted to make their own, especially since purchasing tube yarn can get expensive, but the materials to make it would be relatively cheap. I suppose it would potentially be time consuming.

Am I underestimating the difficulty of making your own tube yarn?

Reference images:

Velvet tube yarn with the cordage or fill showing. You can see the seam in some of the tube yarn here, which is what leads me to believe at least some types of tube yarn wouldn't be a custom-woven fabric or anything. An image showing the cordage or fill inside of tube yarn A close-up image of tube yarn

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  • Issues that pop to mind: 1. You want the seams and excess material on the inside of the tube, which means you have to start with all the finished, continuous tube yarn you need; you can't invisibly add to it mid-project unless you can count on hiding the joined ends. That means turning potentially hundreds of feet of tube inside out. 2. Getting the fiberfill inside the inside-out, potentially hundreds of feet long tube. I can think of ways to do those things, but it wouldn't be as trivial as just sewing the long edges of a fabric ribbon together. :-)
    – fixer1234
    Dec 6, 2022 at 23:01
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    The seamed version probably uses a special sewing {machine;attachment} that lets you feed the fill and close the seam on the inside in one step. Maybe they are available on the consumer level?
    – rebusB
    Dec 7, 2022 at 2:09
  • @rebusB it would be tricky with the inside seam on that scale, roughly the size of a thumb in the first picture. I'm struggling to envisage a compact mechanism that uses the same feed, needle, and thread paths as a typical desktop machine to close the tube. In comparison, feeding the fill looks easy - but you'd need a reel of just the right diameter, pulled through a nozzle (I could design that bit as an attachment for my machine, but only with external stitching)
    – Chris H
    Dec 7, 2022 at 10:51
  • @fixer1234 so, most of these types of "yarn" come in skeins of 70 yards, typically with raw ends. So, even if i buy it manufactured, I think I'll still have to sew ends together.
    – Sling
    Dec 7, 2022 at 18:11
  • @rebusB and chris (can't tag 2 people), that was my concern too. I kind of imagine sewing it inside out with a string on the inside of the tube as I sew that i can use to attach the raw edge of the tube to some kind of cordage like you use for piping, maybe a few pieces of large piping, then using the string to pull the piping through and at the same time turning the tube inside out. I guess we'll just have to do some trial and error!
    – Sling
    Dec 7, 2022 at 18:15

2 Answers 2

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The solution I came up with is generally similar to Chris H's. The work flow is a little different, so I'll post it so you have some variation to play with.

Supplies

Fabric ribbon: The circumference of the tube will be 22/7 times the diameter. Add about 3/4" to 1" to that for seaming, and that will be the width of the ribbon needed to make the tube. The longer the ribbon, the fewer joints you'll need along the length.

Fill: As a practical matter, you'll want fill that's already basically in "rope" form since it would be time consuming to form it into a rope as you go, and difficult to make it a uniform density if you're forming it from a big wad. You might be able to buy fiberfill "rope" on a big reel. If not, you could use something else for fill. Examples:

  • Many strands of soft yard. Since it will be hidden inside, you might be able to cheaply buy some yarn that a knitting supply store can't sell; it doesn't matter what it looks like.
  • A bundle of strips of loosely-twisted cloth cut from rags, or odds and ends that a fabric shop wants to get rid of. Material like jersey, fleece, or old flannel will have some bulk and softness. But even strips of thinner, flat fabric, like old sheets, will work when they are loosely twisted and then bundled. Stagger where individual pieces start and end, but you don't need to go to great lengths to secure the ends together.
  • Plastic grocery store bags. Even the flimsy produce bags will have some bulk once they're opened, crumpled, and straightened out again. Bundling a bunch of those bags works great as fill. Join them end to end, and stagger the joints.

If you're making the fill from relatively short pieces, you can pre-make long ropes so it's ready to use when you make the tube yarn.

String: You need one piece of string or twine that is longer than the first section of tube. This should be smooth and "slippery" rather than rough twine like sissal.

Setup

You seam the first section of tube with no fill; that gets added in the next step. The tube gets seamed inside out. For the first section, use a piece of fabric ribbon that is not the shortest piece. Fold the fabric ribbon in half the long way with the good face on the inside (you stitch a flattened, inside-out tube).

Enclose the string on the inside. So that it doesn't get lost, attach one end of the string to one end of the fabric ribbon in the middle of the width of the ribbon (where the ribbon is folded in half). Use a few strong stitches to secure the string. Stretch out the fabric ribbon and string to ensure that the string is longer than the fabric when the fabric is flat.

Stitch the seam to create the (flattened) tube. The extra width of fabric for seaming will stick out beyond the seam. The string should be inside the tube but free to move.

Secure the free end of the string so you can pull against it. So you should have a length of string secured at one end, then running through a tube of fabric and attached to the far end of the fabric tube. Now you're ready to start making the tube yarn.

Making the first section of tube yarn

If you pull the fabric tube away from the secured end of the string, the tube will turn inside out. You use this action to capture the fill. Place the end of the fill at the end of the tube. Pull the fabric just enough to start it turning inside out. That will create a little pocket. Stuff the end of the fill into the pocket. It might simplify things to secure the end of the fill in the pocket with a few stitches.

You then pull the fabric, turning it inside out around the fill. When the first section of tube is completed, you will have the exposed string running from where it is secured to the start of the tube yarn, then the length of the first tube yarn section (filled and correct side of the fabric out), with the unused portion of the fill hanging out the end.

Detach the string. You're done with it and you can use it for some other important purpose.

Making subsequent sections

You make the subsequent sections the same way, using the finished section of tube yarn as the string. For the second section, use a length of fabric ribbon that is a little shorter than the first section so there is some of the first section sticking out that you can grab. After the second section, the tube yarn should be long enough to always have some sticking out.

Fold the next section of fabric ribbon around the finished tube yarn, with the wrong side out. Align one end with the end of the previous tube with the unused fill hanging out. Stitch the tube closed around the previous section.

Where the fill is hanging out, you will have the ends of the old and new sections, with the new section as a layer on top. Hand-stitch the two layers together near the edge to join the sections. The excess fabric will become hidden on the inside.

Now you pull the new tube away from the start of the tube to turn it inside out over the fill. There will be a lot more friction. If you stretch the first section end-to-end, it will get thinner, making it easier to move the outer layer of fabric. You can work the outer tube along starting from the other end. Push the far end in the direction of the section joint to create some bunching, and then pull the bunching along, caterpillar-style, until the new section is right-side out around the fill.

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  • The plastic bags may not be so great in the long run as they will break down over time, and in the meanwhile be noisy and weird.
    – rebusB
    Dec 9, 2022 at 0:43
  • @rebusB, I thought they were being banned in some places because they take thousands of years to break down. :-)
    – fixer1234
    Dec 9, 2022 at 2:21
  • yeah... they never really go away, just get smaller and smaller.
    – rebusB
    Dec 10, 2022 at 13:16
  • I think that it'd be interesting to also knit the tube with size 0000 needles to turn a skein of the thinnest yarn into the thickest yarn. Apr 25, 2023 at 19:38
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OK, I think I've got it.

You start with the strip of fabric folded over inside out. Sew away from you as normal. Once you've got a few inches sewn, pull the closed section inside the open section, coming back towards you past the foot. Insert the filling and secure it (clips?). Keep on sewing out, inside out, and turning the right way in and the tube will grow back towards you along the filling.

Doing it by hand it will work in steps: you'll have to bring the edges together to form the seam, sew a bit, pull back towards you, etc.

It would be possible to have a ring towards the back of the machine, supported from the front, to guide the fabric where it turns round. Keeping tension on the finished section tube would then mean less stop-starting, and I've seen ways of feeding strips (e.g. grosgrain) aligning the edges that could be scaled up and adapted to feed this strip.

Sketch of sewing up tube yarn

The fabric here is red, bright on the right side, dark on the wrong side. Thread is yellow and filling is blue. You should be able to take both fabric and filling from spools, and the finished tube ends up by your feet. So you can make it as long as you can source materials

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    That is a good idea. And once you get enough length reversed with the fill inside, pulling on that will advance the fill naturally.
    – rebusB
    Dec 9, 2022 at 0:41
  • I'm late to the party, but this is awesome. What a great response, thank you!
    – Sling
    Mar 2, 2023 at 18:59

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