In Knitting, Recycling on
May 30, 2015

How to free beautiful yarn from an ugly sweater

Okay. This may be too rough for you, but I like murdering sweaters. Especially evil sweaters that are trapping beautiful yarn in an ugly shape or pattern.

For example, I found one terrifying 80’s sweater — cropped, mock turtleneck, hideous stitch pattern — at a Goodwill near my house, and it was holding hostage a ton of absolutely gorgeous white 8-ply baby alpaca yarn. Sweater? Hideous. Yarn? Gorgeous.

This may be obvious, but you can get a full sweater’s worth of yarn for the cost of one Goodwill sweater (or for free, if you already own the sweater).

You can quickly develop a knack for spotting these crimes and it’s not that hard to rescue the yarn. I promise.

Here’s the basic idea.

  1. Find an appropriate sweater. Are you a knitter? Then you know what good yarn looks like, even already knit in a garment. You also can probably recognize seams that can be pulled apart vs. serged (and cut) seams. Cut seams give you one row of yarn, which is basically useless. Also watch out for bouclés or sweaters that have been felted, in which case they may difficult/impossible to pull apart. (1a. If the sweater is at all dirty or dusty, wash it first. The same way you would wash a handknit sweater, in cool water, with woolwash or Dawn.)
  2. Break it into pieces. If it’s a commercially-made sweater, it’s usually knit flat – the back and front are each pieces, the sleeves are each pieces (seamed) and the neck (and sometimes bottom cuff) are separate pieces or added on in the round.
  3. Unravel each piece. Start from the top (hint: keep the knit “v’s” right side up), find an end (or cut one in), attach it to your ball winder, and crank away. You’ll end up with multiple “cakes” of yarn.
  4. Wind each ball into a skein. You’ll need a niddy noddy or your elbow. Tie it off in four places with another yarn (cotton/linen if your yarn is wool).
  5. Wash. In woolwash or Dawn and warm water. Roll in a towel to remove excess water, then snap the loop twice between your hands and hang to dry (without a weight, so you don’t kill the twist).
  6. Wind into balls. You’ll need a swift and ball winder.
  7. Knit, weave, whatever! Enjoy your super cheap yarn!

Update: Step 3 can be made much more efficient with this cheap tool!


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