Recycling Yarn: Breaking down the sweater
Recycling yarn is something I went a bit crazy with back in the day. I've finally gotten almost all of the yarn I pulled out of sweaters out of my stash, but some of it still lingers (J crew and AE sweaters, I'm looking at you...). Now, if I recycle, its probably because something fell in my lap, not because I stumbled across it in a thrift store, or at a garage sale. I've realized now that being a bit discerning about fibers goes a long way towards preventing stash overload with sweater-quantities of mediocre yarn. I've set up a tag in my ravelry notebook for recycled projects that you can check out for inspiration- the sky is really your limit. I mean, it's yarn! The project below is knit from cashmere/silk-blend yarn I pulled out of an ugly sweater bought at a garage sale for 50 cents, and I wore it for my wedding!
Recycling yarn is super easy because, as it turns out, most store-bought knit sweaters are constructed the same way hand-knit sweaters are. There are a million resources available in the Unravelers group on ravelry, but I recently had a perfect sweater fall into my lap from my mom and decided to do my own little tutorial. I've broken up my tutorial into three parts, one for breaking down the sweater, one for managing the yarn, and one for finding patterns (rav-specific). Even so, be prepared for a wall of wisdom!
To be honest, I really liked the sweater as is. It was just way too big for either of us! It's from Garnet Hill, and is 100% mercerized wool. Now, I haven't seen mercerized wool before, but it feels wonderful, and I think it will give me right around a DK/light worsted yarn. The first thing you need to do before buying a sweater for recycling is check the seams. If the seams are serged, you're out of luck (see this blog for a good pictorial of good vs bad seams). Unraveling a sweater with serged seams will give you a new length of yarn for every row. Same issue with buttonholes. You're a knitter, you know what knit-in buttonholes look like. Avoid the machine-sewn ones. What you want to see are seams like these:
See how it looks like two little braids right next to each other? If you pull the two braids to the side, on one side you'll see a smaller third braid, and on the other you'll see a line of dashes. This is from a crochet seam. which you can yank right out to separate the pieces. Like handknit sweaters, store-bought sweaters are typically made in pieces- two sleeves, a front, a back, and sometimes, a collar (this one has a collar). Before we start pulling anything out of it, we have to break down every seam until we're working with each individual part.
See the little Vs to the left? That is actually the seaming thread. You can see the dashes I mentioned above, which are on the other side of our little double braid. Ideally, you could unravel a whole sweater without ever using scissors. However, scissors are helpful in getting you started.
For the most pain-free experience, it's important to note that the Vs mentioned above are directional. In the picture above, they point to the left. The seam is going unravel most easily from the not-pointed part of the V. So, follow the seam all the way to wherever it intersects (in this case, we're looking at a side seam, so I followed up all the way to the armpit, which is pictured a little further up the page).
At the intersection, take your scissors and cut one of the Vs. Make doubly sure that you are cutting the seaming thread, so the little V tucked to the side of the two braids we mentioned above. If you cut one of the braids, you'll end up with an extra end once you unravel that piece. Once you cut the V, you should be able to tug apart the seam a little bit and find the end of the seaming thread. Give that a tug and it should start unraveling all the way down the seam!
Some fibers are stickier than others (wool, angora, and mohair, especially). This is a quality we love when we're doing colorwork, because it helps lock our knitting together, but it can be a pain when we're trying to unravel. Just be patient, and if things get really snarly, use your scissors (sparingly) to help break things loose. You're going to repeat these steps for all of your seams. In this sweater, I had two side seams (blue), two sleeve seams (yellow), four raglan seams (front and back on each side, red), and a collar seam (green). Once you have everything separated, it should look like this:
As you can see, I have five pieces- two sleeves, a front, a back, and the collar. The collar was constructed flat, so it actually had one extra seam where it was sewed into a circle. Before moving to the actual unraveling, you can do a lot of things with these pieces- they're essentially blanks, so you can dye them to totally reinvent your yarn. You could also felt them (if feltable) and make mittens, cup cozies, hot pads, etc. or even just cut into squares and sew into a blanket! If you're set on yarn though, stay tuned for my next post!