Crafty by Nature

Crafty by Nature

How to Make Recycled Cotton Art Yarn

comments (9) March 31st, 2009     

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leethal Lee Meredith, contributor
Love it! 72 users recommend
All-natural cotton makes for a soft and pretty spun yarn.
You can use recycled wools if you prefer, as I did with this skein.
I love my finished one-of-a-kind recycled cotton art yarn!
All-natural cotton makes for a soft and pretty spun yarn.

All-natural cotton makes for a soft and pretty spun yarn.

Photo: Lee Meredith
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When I first got into the idea of making yarn, I started recycling yarn from sweaters, then I starting spinning, then I thought, how about spinning recycled yarn? I've played around quite a bit with plying recycled strands together, spinning recycled yarn with bits of wool roving, plying them with thread, dyeing yarn before spinning it with other yarn, or dyeing it all together after spinning. Then I took it to another level by adding beads and buttons into the mix to make recycled spun art yarn! You can do this project with any types of fibers, since it doesn't involve dyeing, but I'm showing you my example made with 100 percent cotton, for a springy, all-natural yarn!

Creating new yarns by spinning multiple strands of recycled yarn together is much easier than spinning yarn from scratch, and you can use a drop spindle (which is very affordable, or you can even make your own) if you don't have a spinning wheel (or access to one). It will go faster with a wheel, of course, but by using a drop spindle you have the advantage of being able to use any size buttons/beads because they don't have to fit through the orifice of a wheel. I used my wheel, but I'll be including notes about how it'll work with a spindle.

I won't get into details about how to use your wheel or spindle—you can find plenty of online tutorials for that, and if you're new to spinning and want to get into it, I'd recommend getting a book on the subject to get you started. You don't really need to know how to spin to do this project (you won't be drafting or anything), but you'll need to learn the basics of how to use your drop spindle or wheel if you haven't already.

You'll need:

  • Multiple sweaters of different colors to unravel, or one striped sweater
  • Seam ripper and scissors for unraveling
  • Thick thread or sturdy lace-weight yarn
  • Buttons and/or beads
  • Bead threading tool or floss threader
  • Spinning wheel or drop spindle
  • More threads (optional)
  • More objects to spin into the yarn, such as long, skinny fabric scraps (optional)
  • Container with a hole in it, such as a CD-R case (optional)

First, you'll need to unravel your yarn, so see my recycling yarn how-to for that, which is written for wool yarn. I unraveled parts of three cotton items; for cotton (or any nonanimal fiber) you'll follow the same steps, but you can machine-wash the items first. Then after unraveling, you won't need to wash the yarn before spinning it. If you are using a wool yarn, you can decide if you want to wash it before spinning, or if it doesn't feel dirty, you can just spin it first, then wash the finished yarn (which you'll want to do regardless).

I used four color sections of the scarf, one brown sleeve of the baby sweater, and one sleeve of the large sweater with blue and white.

You wouldn't want to choose something knit all in Fair Isle color work unless the yarn is extremely special because it would be so much work to unravel. The snowflake sweater I used only had the Fair Isle design at the top of the sleeve I unraveled, so it didn't take too much extra time. When unraveling color work like this, be sure to keep each color balled neatly as you go so you don't end up with a tangled mess, and just pull one color until it stops, then the other, back and forth.

Color work like this is annoying to unravel, so don't choose a sweater with too much of it.

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posted in: beads, thread, yarn, recycle, buttons, cotton, handspun, spinning

Comments (9)

zoozi writes: Amazingly beautiful and so creative. A friend just lent me one of her ashfords for a while and this is a great project to start off with.
Thanks for sharing this!
Posted: 11:50 am on October 6th
creddy writes: Ok...that CD case trick is INGENIOUS!!
Thanks for posting this!!
Posted: 11:38 pm on August 31st
Jen1964 writes: I'm not sure my hands would welcome the spinning (due to repetitive strain injuries from over the years); but they are much prettier the way you've done them, than any of the original counterparts.
I had not thought of dissecting cotton sweaters. You see them all the time in tag sales. I don't usually care for them "as is" but admire the yarn. NOW I have IDEAS!
I mean the dog only needs just so many "sweater-sleeve jackets" for herself.
Posted: 2:27 pm on June 15th
ojosdelaluna writes: this yarn is soooo pretty!
Posted: 6:28 pm on May 30th
PamHarris writes: I am very excited to put your fabulous ideas to use to make a weaving stash! Thank you!
Posted: 2:42 pm on April 3rd
croqzine writes: LEEEEE, you're my hero. I love all your work, and this is no exception. Also, I love the CD spindle tip!
Posted: 9:45 pm on March 31st
Jen_W writes: I love this. You really made spinning yarn seem doable and I love how you merged our button theme with the crafting green theme.
Posted: 2:52 pm on March 31st
janetdawson writes: Another fabulous recycled yarn tute! Love them all so far. :)
Posted: 12:30 pm on March 31st
Joannie_N writes: This is so neat. My FIL brings me thrift store finds all the time. This is definitely worth a try. Love the beads and buttons!
Posted: 9:27 am on March 31st
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