How to recycle yarn from sweaters
I began recycling yarn from sweaters last year because I wanted to have really nice natural yarns but I don’t want to spend all my money on the big yarn companies. Also it makes sense from a recycling point of view.
But since you are reading this you probably don’t need me to babble on about why I recycle yarn, you want to know how!
I am going to go through the different aspects that you need to consider when you begin to make your own recycled yarn and while I do so I will refer you to some of the best posts and videos where you can see what I am talking about. I am not going to go into detail about everything because there is so much written already about this and I just want to summarize this and point you in the right direction.
Choosing the right sweater
When choosing the sweater Lee mentions that it is important not get a sweater that is in any way felted. Any amount of felting makes a sweater difficult -> impossible to unravel. Having said that I find that it is a question of how much you want that particular yarn in that particular colour. For example this green sweater to the right. I just had to have this colour and the wool mix with a bit of nylon made is perfect for socks. But the sweater was ever so slightly felted. This meant that I had to pull the yarn out by hand before winding it into a ball (I will explain this more further down). It took a bit longer but was well worth it. Whereas, I bought sweaters earlier on in my experimenting that were just impossible to unravel due to felting. But the most important thing I want you to note is that there is degrees of felting and whether you take on a sweater that is slightly felted depends entirely on how much you want that particular yarn.
Another thing to consider is when buying a cardigan. First of all you should check what type of button-holes you are dealing with. Dawn shows a bad one here and explains this in more detail. She also mentions that you have to be careful with what lies beneath the button band. I have recently bought my first cardigan myself to unravel, but I checked it over very carefully before I did so.
Dawn also mentions that V-neck sweaters/blouses can be an issue. I must admit that the way I unravel sweaters this doesn’t pose any issue. Yes there is a bit of loss at the top of the sweater but I gain from this by using these small bits in other projects as a piece of knitted/felted fabric. I will show you some of these projects at a later date.
Good and bad seams
I find that again this is a question of how bad you want the yarn. There are good seams (easy-peasy), annoying seams (ones you only take on if you really really want this yarn), and bad seams (forget about it). Let’s start with bad seams. I read up on this before I began buying sweaters so I avoided the bad seams – which means that I can’t show you a picture of this. But Dawn show us an examples of bad seams to stay away from.
Next up is annoying seams. These are possible to unravel – but it means sitting and unpicking each seam with your seam ripper. This is why I call them annoying. I only buy a sweater with this type of seam if I really, really want this particular yarn. Lee shows us an example of this and so does Dawn! They both class these as good seams though, so it might just be me who finds them a bit annoying.
Finally, we get to the bit that’s most interesting – the good seams. What do they look like? Well they look like on this image below. According to Lee this is a crochet seam. Towards the middle of her post Dawn has a really good explanation on how to rip this type of seam. You can easily recognise a good seam because it has small Vs on the front and little Ls on the back
Where to begin
I must admit that I am not the most patient of people – as my husband will happily tell you! So I really can’t be bothered with taking the top of each piece apart like a nice girl. I tend to resort to the good old scissors and chop it parallel with the knitting as far up as possible. If I am dealing with a V-neck sweater I will chop below the point of the V. If I manage to chop nicely along a knitted row the amount of unravelling to get to the start of the continuous yarn is minimal.
If you on the other hand have loads of patience and nothing to use the odd bits of knit fabric for then Dawn has some great instructions on how to take the sweater apart nicely from the top of each piece.
Warning alert!! Whatever you do, never use the scissors to chop of seams horizontally to the knitting direction. These seams must always be taken apart, preserving the knitting as best you can, otherwise you will end up with hundreds of 30cm long pieces of yarn. This is probably not what you want.
The unraveling process
If at all possible I like to unravel the sweater directly onto my ball winder in this way. Once I find the end of the continuous yarn I attach it to my ball winder and just start winding the yarn straight of the sweater and into a ball. If the sweater is slightly felted it might resist being wound straight into a ball and I have to help it along a bit by pulling out a measure of yarn – winding it up – pulling more out and winding it up, continuously. This is more time consuming so I only do this if I really, really want the yarn.
What happens if the yarn breaks while you are unraveling it. Well you just tie it together and continue. At least that’s what I do and I’ll tell you why it makes sense. If you are unraveling yarn that is at least 3-ply weight then you shouldn’t have many breakages (unless you cut it by mistake when taking the sweater apart) so this won’t be a problem. And if you are unraveling yarn that is thinner (practically thread) then you will probably need to ply it anyway and breakages do become very well hidden in the ply.
Do I need to ply my yarn after I unravelled it, you may ask. Well only if it is lighter than a 2-ply weight. I tend to fall for lovely cashmere and merino sweaters (or rather blouses) than when unravelled come out very thin. So I have no option but to ply it to make it thicker. I usually 3-ply my yarn using the Navaho technique which means that I can ply one ball at a time with itself.
It might just be me but I’m not to keen on the smell of the fabric softener used by most charity shops (in the UK at lease), but at least it’s better than the item smelling of smoke or worse, depending on where it comes from. However, this fabric softener smell is impossible to get rip of. I’ve tried!
Even if you like this smell you might still want to wash your yarn. This is best done by skeining it using the back of a chair, a skein winder or a niddy-noddy. Having said that I have successfully washed cotton sweaters before I begin the unravelling. Once your yarn is dry you will probably want to wind it into a ball again. By now you are probably asking – do I really need this ball winder you keep talking about? Strictly speaking – no you don’t! But it makes life so much more easy for you if you have one and if you want to produce yarn to sell it becomes even more important.
If there is anything else you want to know about this that is not covered do leave a comment. Also if you have experience with recycling your own yarn – please share this below. I would love to hear from you!
Great posts on the subject:
- How to Recycle Yarn from a Thrift-Store Sweater by Lee Meredith (from Leethal yarn) on Craft Stylish
- How To:: Recycling Sweaters for Yarn by Kristin Roach on Craft Leftovers
- Recycling Sweaters for Yarn by Dawn on My Virtual Sanity
- How to Unravel a Sweater to Recycle Yarn on neauveau
- How to take apart a sweater for the yarn… with no mess! on The Cashmere Connoisseur
- How to Make Recycled Cotton Art Yarn by Lee Meredith (from Leethal yarn) on Craft Stylish [How to use your recycled yarn to make more exciting art yarn]
- Sweater to Goodies by Britt on Sneezerville [great post with tips on getting more out of your sweater than just yarn]
- Big Fat Yarn by Betz White [if you want real chunky yarn this is what you do]
Great videos to help you along:
- How to Unravel a Sweater to Recycle Yarn by Ashley (from neauveau)
- How to Unravel a Sweater for the Yarn by CashmereCreations
- The Unknitting by ronaldooregano [This is how I unravel using my ball winder]
Don’t feel like unwinding sweaters yourself but want to support the idea. Here is a list of places you can buy recycled sweater yarn: