Use Ribbon, Not Cassette Tape

July 21, 2017

Ever thought about using (video) cassette tape for a crochet project? It is smooth and soft and got a distinct metallic color. Apparently, it isn't such a good idea though.
Ribbon versus Cassette Tape for DIY Projects

This winter, kiddo and I were tidying up at the attic. We found a lot of old cassette tapes and both of us - yup, kiddo too - immediately thought whether we could up-cycle the tapes. We started unrolling a couple. Then I got second thoughts and checked the internet.

Why You Shouldn't Use Magnetic Tape

A magnetic tape - VHS or cassette tape - is really just a thin plastic band. Not hazardous, BUT, apparently it is coated with different kinds of chemicals/metals, that are toxic to us in the wrong doses. From what I could figure out different brands use different combinations of chemicals on the tape, so you can't say exactly what is on every single one, except that commonly used coats consists of; ferric oxide, cobalt, chromium dioxide. Things that better stay where they are and not something for anyone to fiddle with.

Here are a couple of links about the tape. More info is out there, but it can get somewhat technical to read:
A few artists have made incredible art from cassette tape. I hope they know how to protect themselves. And if any cassette tape producer reads this, they could consider making some 'yarn' from non-coated cassette tape. That might be fun :)

Links to artists and tape art, in case you wonder about the fascination:
  • Sonic Fabric installation (not available anymore)
  • CO DESIGN - VHS Art Created With Miles of Magnetic Tape (also not available anymore)

Crochet Bowl made from Gift Ribbon

Use Gift Ribbon or Plastic Bags

So, I thought a lot of what to use instead. You know, not like I needed to make something out of the tape, but now I really wanted to try a ribbon.
You can of course make your own plastic ribbon from plastic bags. It might be a bit tedious to cut it up, but you can get a lot of different colors and it is very soft.

Then recently I figured gift ribbon might work too, though it has a less flexible structure.

Gift Ribbon

My first tries didn't work at all. But, finally I managed to make something and I would say this kind of project it is not suitable for a beginner. You need to know your stitches very, very well.

About Ribbon

The nature of the ribbon makes the stitches uneven, which adds a rough expression. Sort of the kind of things you either like or don't like.

Here a clues to pay attention to:
  • the ribbon should be slim and not too stiff
  • the hook should have a pronounced nose/lip for a better grip
  • crochet loose. It is difficult to find the right places to insert the hook.
The good part about the ribbon I used is, that it has some rigidity. Other ribbons might behave differently. But this one is possible to kind of shape and it will stay in that position. I have yet to see for how long this rigidity lasts and if it becomes softer with time. I might give my bowl to the kids and let them test it for me.

But go ahead and try for yourself. An excellent thing about the gift ribbon is, that it comes in all kinds of colors and types.

How to Make a Bowl from Ribbon

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  1. unless you physically consume the tape or eat from it, there should be no health hazard from it, as the chemicals are not volatile and they are embedded in the polymer. Besides you already contact with these chemicals in far higher quantities then a bowl like that would contain: ferric oxide - rust on your bicycle; chromium oxide - US dollars green pigment; cobalt oxide - blue pigment in ceramics

    1. Hi Olga,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I am no chemist, but I have searched the internet a lot before writing this blog post. It can be a little 'dangerous' to bring up a topic like this, but I found it too important to keep quiet.

      From what I can see, the coating is just what it says - a coating and not embedded in the polymer. Furthermore, they talk about 'dark dust', which mean the coating 'escaping' the polymer tape. I've actually seen dark colored dust from old tapes, I thought was fun to pull out (before I read about the coating).

      Cobalt used for ceramics really is embedded and stay put, while chromium has many forms and we can't really know about the one used on every single tape as there are different formulas for different brands. Chrome is used to impregnate wood. In this form it is toxic. When making stainless steel, chrome is often (always?) added, but the steel can still be used by people who are allergic to chrome. Besides, these are just the base chemicals on a tape. We still can't make a full list as all brands can be different.

      I've also asked in a clever forum about how we ought to treat old tapes of ours. I was told it ought to be treated as chemicals due to the coating (though I got no further explanation to that).

      One more thing. While searching the internet, no tape producer ever writes a note about the tapes being safe for DIY projects. If it was safe to use, it would be clever of them to say so. Just as we should always be careful if we want to use items for DIY projects in a different way than originally intended.

      It is - of course - up to everyone to do their own research, but from the information I could find, I've decided not to use old tapes for my projects and I would be careful not to encourage others to do so.



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