How Recycle a Sweater for Yarn?

I’ve seen some people recycle old sweaters to use the yarn to knit in new projects. If anyone’s done this, how do you know you’ve chosen a sweater that will take well to unraveling?

I found a few old sweaters in my closet recently and decided to try and recycle them. The first sweater I started was clearly not a good choice :teehee: . It keeps ripping or getting stuck and tangled to other stitches as I unravel…almost like it’s partially felted (which it may be, it’s not a sweater I cared for very well). I can’t get a stretch of yarn longer than 8 or 10 inches before it breaks again.

I’ll give it another try in a different section of the sweater tonight if you have any tips, but I have a feeling this is an exercise in futility. But for future reference: what do you look for in a sweater-to-be-recycled? Certain kind of seams? Fiber? Quality/condition? And how do you go about unraveling?

FWIW–I started this one by taking out a sleeve seam and trying to unravel the seam. It was kinda hard for me to see even which end was the CO and which was the end I should unravel from.


You might want to have a look here for tips and techniques.

Doing a search here on KH should yield lots of good info too.

From the looks of those pics…it appears I’ve got a “bad seam” sweater. Ah well, live and learn.

HamaLee, I’ve recycled loads of sweaters, and here’s what I look for:

  1. Good seams! You want a sweater that has been knitted in pieces and sewn together, not one that has had its pieces cut out and serged. If you see what looks like two rows of knit stitches side-by-side, you’re good to go. If you see a bunch of sewing-type threads, put it back and keep looking.

You also want to check to make sure the seams aren’t felted together. I usually check the underarm seams for this. If you can’t see the stitches, keep looking.

  1. Fiber content: I only recycle sweaters made of sportweight or heavier yarn in natural fibers. Cotton…maybe. Cotton’s harder to unravel, though. I don’t waste my time with acrylic, because it’s just about as cheap to buy it as unravel it.

  2. Intarsia patterned sweaters are a PAIN to unravel. I’d stay away if I were you, but that’s up to you.

As far as where to start, I usually begin by unraveling the seams that hold the sweater together. If the sweater has a chain-crochet seam, it’s pretty easy to rip that out - just grab an end that’s free of the chain and pull. After I’ve got the pieces taken apart, I unravel the individual parts. I wind them around my bedposts to make a hank, wash them in hot water with a bit of shampoo (wool is hair, after all, and it takes away the “thrift store” smell that some sweaters have) WITHOUT AGITATING!!! Just let it soak in the water! Then carefully take the hank out of the water, fill the sink again, and soak it to remove the wash. Roll the hank up in a dry bath towel and squeeze gently. Then air-dry it - I drape mine over the shower curtain rod.

I’ve recycled my first sweater!
I stopped by the local Salvo and picked up three huge sweaters for about $10. Ugly pieces of sin, but the yarn had nice color. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any nice fabrics–mostly acrylic or cotton. So two of them looked like sturdy cotton, and one is an Angora/something blend.

I checked seams, woo…the first one unraveled like a dream. Sadly, the cotton yarn is very slippery and loosly plied. Not sure I’ll be able to knit with it but maybe…it kinda looks like Microspun actually.

I’ll work on the others this weekend!
I think next time I’ll get chunkier or bulky yarn looking sweaters. I almost bought one but put it back…it was really hard for me to see the value of the yarn past the ugliness of the sweaters. :teehee: