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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Fill a sink, tub, or big bucket with warm water, then add a huge squeeze of dish soap or shampoo and stir. Gently push the yarn down into the soapy water, one hank at a time. Let it soak for a long time, at least a half hour-I often wait several hours or sometimes even overnight.


To avoid any felting, use warm water, not hot, and don't agitate the yarn at all when submerging it in the water.

Rinse the yarn with room-temperature water, or the same temperature as the water it was soaking in, gently without any agitation. Once it's rinsed super well, squeeze (don't wring) the water out in the sink. Now roll it up in a towel and squeeze hard or step on it to get all excess water out. After drying, to get the yarn all even and help with the kinks, whip each hank in the air or against your leg, or spin quickly over your head, and repeat a few times holding the hank in different spots. Hang the hanks to dry overnight, over towel racks, the shower curtain rod, hangers in a doorway, or on a coat rack as I use.


If your yarn was extra kinky and needs to be stretched to straighten out, you can put something in the bottom of the hank to weigh it down-I use a big salt container or canned foods, while some people use towels.

Once the yarn is completely dry, you can ball it up and start knitting! If you don't have a swift, you can put it back on the chairs and wind by hand. Or maybe if you go into your local yarn store and buy something and are super nice, they'll let you use their swift and winder to ball it all up! Maybe...


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

In case you're wondering, my total yardage of this bulky red yarn ended up being 428 yards. Normally you get more yardage than that because the weight is finer on most sweaters. But still, 428 yards of gorgeous, deep red, 100% wool bulky weight yarn for $6.99 is a darn good deal!

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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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