How to Recycle Yarn from a Thrift-Store Sweater

comments (22) October 4th, 2008     

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leethal Lee Meredith, contributor
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When youre done ripping, youll have hundreds of yards of brand-new yarn for knitting!
This example sweater is bulky yarn, so itll be easier to see whats going on.
Sometimes the edge will be machine sewn closed, so youll have to make more cuts to get it started. With this sweater, only one snip was necessary.
When youre done ripping, youll have hundreds of yards of brand-new yarn for knitting!

When you're done ripping, you'll have hundreds of yards of brand-new yarn for knitting!

Photo: Lee Meredith
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If you're working with a crocheted seam, you can start pulling the seaming yarn to get it going. To unravel the chain, you'll need to pull the yarn on the opposite side of the seam from the chain-you may need to cut it a few times and try pulling from different places before you find the right spot and it all comes apart. If working with a sewn seam, you'll just have to take it out with your fingers and/or cut along the seam. Be super careful not to cut any yarn that's not the seaming yarn! I usually pull it out by hand, cutting it short whenever it gets about 8 inches long to make it go faster. (That's what the scissors are for.)


If your seams are sewn together, you'll need to pull the yarn out one loop at a time.

When you reach the end of the sleeve seam, you'll probably need to make an extra snip or two to get the shoulder seam going. For crocheted seams, look at what direction the chain is going to unravel in the right (easy) direction. For sewn seams, it doesn't matter what direction you go.


Work your way up the seam to the armpit, then you'll probably need to make a few more cuts where the seams meet.

Usually, after I detach each piece of the sweater, I like to go ahead and unravel it, to keep things interesting. If you prefer, you can continue taking the seams apart until your sweater is all in its separate pieces, then unravel all at once.


Getting each piece separated is the hard part. Once that's done, all that's left is the fun ripping part!

To unravel the sleeve, start at the shoulder end and find where the bind-off ended. Make any necessary snips and start pulling.

 


Sometimes the edge will be machine sewn closed, so you'll have to make more cuts to get it started. With this sweater, only one snip was necessary.

Pull and pull to turn that unloved sweater back into yarn, wonderful yarn!


As you unravel, ball up the yarn to keep it from tangling.

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posted in: yarn, recycle, reuse, wool, thrift

Comments (22)

Michaelsmoms writes: Excellent idea! Sometimes you can find the nicest, and most unusual yarns.
Posted: 1:57 am on February 22nd
Baystein writes: Wonderful tutorial. My best find is two sweaters, one silvery-gray, the other charcoal, both in a wool-silk blend. Two sweaters worth of wool/silk for a total of $4.00! Score!
Posted: 6:30 pm on April 19th
mariellin writes: Thanks for the neat tutorial! You are the perfect person to ask... Does boiled wool unravel? I cut off a boiled wool "jumper" for a vest. I'm thinking about blanket stitch in embroidery floss (don't know how closely I need to bind the edge) - or leaving a raw edge...
Posted: 1:25 pm on February 14th
belleeven writes: Thank you!!! I'm living where natural fiber yarns are impossible to find, and where shipping costs are gastly. This is a great alternative, and your tutorial makes it easy to see how to undo the seams (something I've never tried). :)
Posted: 8:17 pm on August 29th
Pola writes: webberel, you are unraveling from the wrong end of the knitted piece. Simply go to the opposite edge and find the loose end and start there. Believe me, I learned this through lots of trial and error. It should start to unravel like a dream.
Posted: 9:34 pm on September 29th
webberel writes: After reading this I was inspired and went and bought some sweaters at goodwill and tried this out for the first time last night. But I am having a really hard time getting it going, everytime I get to the end of a row I have to pull all the yarn through a loop at the end which I usually have to loosen with my fingers. I am really not getting the "pull and it comes apart effect shown above". Am I doing something wrong, in all the tutorials I have seen online there is no mention of this problem at the end of rows.

Posted: 12:00 pm on August 18th
webberel writes: After reading this I was inspired and went and bought some sweaters at goodwill and tried this out for the first time last night. But I am having a really hard time getting it going, everytime I get to the end of a row I have to pull all the yarn through a loop at the end which I usually have to loosen with my fingers. I am really not getting the "pull and it comes apart effect shown above". Am I doing something wrong, in all the tutorials I have seen online there is no mention of this problem at the end of rows.
Posted: 11:59 am on August 18th
webberel writes: After reading this I was inspired and went and bought some sweaters at goodwill and tried this out for the first time last night. But I am having a really hard time getting it going, everytime I get to the end of a row I have to pull all the yarn through a loop at the end which I usually have to loosen with my fingers. I am really not getting the "pull and it comes apart effect shown above". Am I doing something wrong, in all the tutorials I have seen online there is no mention of this problem at the end of rows.
Posted: 11:59 am on August 18th
webberel writes: After reading this I was inspired and went and bought some sweaters at goodwill and tried this out for the first time last night. But I am having a really hard time getting it going, everytime I get to the end of a row I have to pull all the yarn through a loop at the end which I usually have to loosen with my fingers. I am really not getting the "pull and it comes apart effect shown above". Am I doing something wrong, in all the tutorials I have seen online there is no mention of this problem at the end of rows.
Posted: 11:59 am on August 18th
he_knits writes: Great tutorial!
@Rosel, on dealing with the ribbing, I find it's sometimes attached as a separate piece. I don't usually have problems unraveling it, but I think the ribbed edges tend to get more wear, so I'll often use this yarn for swatching or sampling.
Posted: 8:59 am on March 6th
Ladydreamgirl writes: There's no need to abandon a lovely sweater just because it has serged seams. Bunches of short already spun yarn can be spun together into a single strand of bulkier yarn. Since the fiber isn't loose, this can actually be an easy way to get into spinning.
Posted: 5:42 pm on December 10th
creddy writes: This is Incredible! I've been recycling wool sweaters by felting them for sewing projects, but I NEVER thought of doing this to reuse the wool yarn! I LOVE THIS!! And thank you so much for taking the time to do a DETAILED tutorial of it! So complete!! Reuse, Restyle!!
Posted: 10:44 pm on August 31st
Calico63 writes: Wow! Thank you for the wonderful tutorial! No questions left unanswered. I've never tried anything like this, but now I'm excited to try it! My daughter's name is Lee also :)
Posted: 2:54 pm on January 24th
mal64 writes: I can't wait to get to the Salvation Army and start shopping! This sounds like fun and much cheaper than buying new. I really like the idea of recycling too.
Posted: 4:42 pm on December 27th
Derrydown writes: This is so great! Your method of washing and stretching the yarn really helps. I've recycled a number of sweaters into other projects. I live in a heavy-sweater area, and have found that a lot of people give away pullovers. Some are beautiful pattern knitting and I hate to unravel them! I prefer cardigans for layering, so I am working on turning men's heavy cardigans into zip-up cardigans for me. We'll see how it goes.
Posted: 2:25 pm on December 13th
Rosel writes: I've got a jumper i've been trying to unravel, but it has a ribbed edge which I'm finding really awkward to work through, does any one have any tips ?
Posted: 2:31 pm on November 1st
Jen1964 writes: I may have to try this one. I've watched yarn go from "supercheap" to incredibly expensive, in just a short time. So it seems, and it's really annoying. Quality is still quality. I'm not above reusing stuff "with a lot of wear left in it" though I never really thought of unravelling sweaters to get it. I know that's a lot of work. The soaking to remove the kinks is one of those "why didn't I think of that" brilliant strokes. It's sure to make the difference like blocking at the finish does. When your sweaters are too felted or itchy for humans, I've absconded with sleeves, to make doggie sweaters. They don't mind, and it's really cute. Those seams are there, exactly as you say. Once you get them undone, it's free sailing. I know when crocheting was kind of new, in the '70's, some folks unravelled stuff, to have yarn to work with. Just be careful, if you have carpal tunnel, or other tendon problems, and go easy on the winding stage - or better yet, let family help too.
Posted: 1:21 pm on October 20th
susanstars writes: oh, cool, Lee!
Posted: 8:08 pm on October 6th
laughingpurplegoldfi writes: it's wonderful to see people out there promoting the use of recycled/reclaimed yarns... as you know, it's a fiddly process... but well worth the effort, kind to the budget and the environment... gotta love that :)
Posted: 5:03 am on October 5th
marjidoll writes: Fantastic tutorial Lee! Now I know what to do with the first sweater I ever knit--a beautiful yarn in an ill-fitting bad design. Thank you!
Posted: 5:23 pm on October 4th
Average_Jane_Crafter writes: Amazing tutorial, Lee! Even for a non-yarn gal like me. ;) Your pictures and descriptions are fantastic - very clear and easy to follow. And what a beautiful idea/project! Huurahh!
Posted: 2:32 pm on October 4th
Sister_Diane writes: Beautiful tutorial, Lee - and great to see you here!
Posted: 1:50 pm on October 4th
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