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Repurposing Sweaters for Yarn

Guest Author - Lisa Linnell-Olsen

Buying quality yarns is often very expensive for knitters. Knowing how to take apart an already knit sweater to use the yarn in a new project can save you a lot of money. If you do not have a local yarn store in your area, this can also be a great way to touch and feel the yarn before you use it. Since the sweater is already knitted up, you will have an idea how the yarn will behave in your finished garment. Here is what you need to know to create new sweaters from old:

Finding The Right Yarn Sweater You will need to make sure of a few things before you take your time to rip apart any old sweater. First, you need to make sure that the sweater is not felted. Many times, sweaters are given away or donated to thrift stores because they were accidentally felted in the washing machine. These sweaters will not unravel. Secondly, you need to check the seams to make sure the seams were sewn or crocheted when joined. If the sweater was sewn on a serger, the edges were all cut in the process, leaving behind yarn that is not a continuous, long strand that is needed for knitting. Third, you need to think about the yarn in the sweater - is it really fine yarn that will not knit up easily? Does the tag or feel of the sweater tell you about the fiber content? The same way you purchase new yarn that fills the specific needs of your project, you will also need to make sure that your recycled yarn will fill your new projects needs. Lastly, think about the likely yardage you will get from the sweater. Will you really get enough yarn to make your new project? You most likely will not be able to recycle a small size sweater into an extra long sweater.

Have The Right Tools You will need a seam ripper (like the ones sold at sewing supply stores), a good pair of scissors, a large bucket for soaking the yarn, and a good tool for skeining the yarn such as a kiddy-noddy. It is also really nice to have a ball winder.

The Actual Process Begin at the lowest point of the sweater and carefully cut through the sewn seams of the sweater without cutting through any of the knitted body. Take your time, and be careful! Knicking into the knitted fabric will mean that you will have to join the yarn, or a shoddy job with many knicks will leave you with nothing but several short pieces of yarn. Continue taking apart all of the sweaters seams, being careful to remove armholes and collar, as well as any side seams.

Once all of the pieces are apart, Use the scissors to cut a small corner off of a piece and pull gently to see if you can begin unravelling. This will most likely be the case. If not, try snipping the diagonal corner from your first effort. Unravel the yarn, and wind it on your kiddy-knoddy or wind up as you would long rope or electrical cord. Tie the the long skeins off the same way you would rope. You will notice that the yarn you are unravelling has a kinky texture to it. The yarn is holding onto the shape of the stitches from its previous knit, just as your hair does when you have it in curlers or braids for a long time.

To get the yarn to straighter out, you will need to gently soak your skeins in cool water. To really get the best effect, let the skeins soak for at least one hour. Be sure not to use heat, detergent or agitation during the soaking process if your yarn has any natural fiber content to it as this is what causes felting. When the yarn has finished soaking, gently remove it from the bucket and squeeze out any excess water. You may want to put the wet skein inside of a towel, with the towel folded around the yarn, and then gently press on the towel to remove even more water. Once you are satisfied that you have removed as much water as you can from the yarn skeins, hang them where they will get good ventilation until they are dry.

Once the yarn is dry, wind it into balls and use it for your knitted projects!

Repurposing old sweaters can be an exciting adventure - just as you may have favorite brands of yarn, you will likely notice a lot of variation in the quality of repurposed yarns taken from different sweater companies. Each recycled sweater will behave a little bit differently. I hope you enjoy this thrifty and environmentally sound practice!
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Content copyright © 2015 by Lisa Linnell-Olsen. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Lisa Linnell-Olsen. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Korie Beth Brown, Ph.D. for details.


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