Monday, October 27, 2008

recycling yarn from a jumper

Much of yarn recycling is trial and error... and everyone develops their own little techniques along the way. I have put together a series of photos which step you through my recycling process, to give you an idea of what is involved.

You will certainly have a million questions for me, especially once you actually start experimenting with the process. Ask away... I'll share everything I know with you!

There seriously are loads of photos here, but the basic steps I follow are:
  • air the garment
  • remove trimmings and tags, and undo seams
  • unravel each piece
  • wind into a skein
  • wash
  • dry
  • ball

If you are a beginner, I would recommend starting with a single coloured garment, preferably in a simple stockinette. I would avoid cables, fair isle, and anything complicated... until you have had a little practice first. Stick with a standard jumper if possible, and avoid cardigans, coats, or anything with a zipper. A hand knit would be ideal, if you have access to one. Avoid any yarn which looks fluffy or furry or hairy or boucley... because they will be difficult to unravel.

Before I start, I always check the seams. There are 'good seams' and 'bad seams' when it comes to recycling. Overlocked or serged seams are BAD. You will find that the yarn has been cut at the end of every row... so you will end up with lots of short yarn pieces... ugh! So always check the side seams and inner arm seams.

Don't worry if the shoulder or neck seams are overlocked. Because they run across the top of the garment and not down the sides, they are not of concern.

so... some examples of bad seams:



and these are good seams:



So... if the side seams are bound together by overlocking - BAD!

As for hand knits... all of their seams are GOOD... you don't even need to check them!

Time to get started now...

I don't bother washing the garment before I start. Two reasons... Firstly, I don't want to risk any felting or matting of the yarn fibres which would make it more difficult to unravel. Secondly, the yarn is cleaned much more effectively if you wash it AFTER it is skeined.

in the wind
So I just leave it out on the line for a while, just to 'freshen' it before I start working with it.


I use an unpicker and a pointy pair of scissors to remove tags, labels, buttons, zips, and any other trimmings.

chain with writing
Then I unpick the seams. Most store bought jumpers are seamed using chain stitch, which is wonderfully easy to undo. See the way the chain stitches form little arrows, pointing down in the photo? Well that tells you the direction to unravel in. So cut the top one, free the tail... and pull... it should unravel in seconds.

So now you have all the seams undone (this one had a seam down the centre of the back piece for some strange reason - probably a design feature)

Now it's time to start unraveling each piece, generally working from the top down. The cast off edge forms the same V stitches as chain stitch, and again they point in the direction you need to unravel. So start at the top end and snip, free a tail... and away you go.

Sometimes you might have a hard time getting started. If it's a nightmare for you, just chop the top few rows off, and then start unraveling. You will only loose a few yards of yarn, and it will save your sanity!

roll hold
I like to roll the garment piece, so I can grip it nicely while I unravel.

I have heard this kind of display referred to as 'yarn barf' and I think it's a wonderful description.

Anyway, if I am working indoors and am going to be able to skein the yarn immediately, then I just pile it on the floor as I unravel. If I am working outdoors I would wind into a ball as I go, and then skein from that... because you really don't want to get this in a tangle!

You can wind your yarn into a skein using two chairs like this...

Or using a skein winder if you have one. This one was a fabulous gift from Mr Goldfish last Christmas... and I love, love, love it!

Once it is all wound on, you need to tie the skein in a figure eight. Use some scrap yarn. I like to use a contrast from the yarn you have wound, so that the ties are easy to locate and removed after drying. I recommend using a light colour, because you would cry if the colour ran from your ties onto you nice new recycled yarn.

First divide the yarn in half as pictured above.

Then pop a scrap piece of yarn through like this...

fig 8
And back through again, forming a figure "8" with the tie.

Finish with a double knot.

I like to do this in six places around the skein to prevent tangling.

Wash by soaking in warm water and wool detergent. I'm a big fan of Martha Gardener's Eucalyptus Wool Mix, but I'm not sure if it is available outside of Australia.

Gently submerge the skeins. I prefer to soak all the yarn together, so that if it happens to lose any colour, all skeins will be affected evenly.

If possible, I leave it to soak overnight.

Then in the morning, I rinse it in a bucket of cold water.

Of course, with our current water restrictions here... that rinse water gets recycled directly onto my garden...

one towel
I gently squeeze the excess water from the yarn, and lay the skeins on an old towel.

two towels
Then I lay another old towel on top.

Roll it up, and walk up and down the length of it for a minute or two. This helps absorb a significant amount of water from the skeins.

Then I hang each skein on a plastic coat hanger to dry. I also use a second hanger to 'weight' the yarn slightly, and help stretch some of those kinks out.

If the weather is wet, then I put the coat hangers along a curtain rail in a sunny window and dry the yarn indoors.

When dry, cut the ties off and place the skein back on to the winder or chairs. Find the end and wind into a ball. Click here for my ball winding tutorial.

Interestingly the yarn I have claimed from this jumper is not that nice. I'm actually a bit disappointed with it. It looked nice in the garment, but is now a bit ugh! See the sheen in the balls. That is the rayon component. I liked that sheen until I started unraveling...

You can actually see the cotton and rayon strands here.

The rayon is harsh and grabby and kind of brittle. It actually reminds me of over bleached hair. I'm thinking it may well become hair on a creature or doll at some point. If I want to knit or crochet with it I think I will have to ply it first. I might even ply it with a different yarn to make my own special blend.

I guess the thing is, not to give up... occasionally you get a bit of a dud (like this one) but that just pushes you to think of alternate project ideas.

Most of what I have learned on this topic is through experience, but if you would like to check out the tutorial I first read on the topic, then click here.


Sam said...

Great tutorial!
I wish I'd waited a week, lol. I got there in the end, and I did mostly as you describe, just sometimes I got there backwards *shriek* Good job mine was acrylic, because I just shoved it in the washing machine, in a little washing bag net thing.
I know better now :-) But I have no idea what you mean about ply-ing. ???

Oh, and great view, and well done Mr Goldfish, lol.

Liz said...

I don't know how to knit, but I think this is the coolest thing ever! My mom gets frustrated at how much her yarn costs so I'm sending her over here!

Anonymous said...

Great tutorial Purple!!!

Alicia @ Oh2122 said...

Awesome tutorial!

laughing purple goldfish said...

sam - thanks... when I talk about plying, I am talking about twisting the yarn strands together... I would use my spinning wheel, although if you didn't have one you could use a drop spindle instead

liz - thank you... I'm the same as your mum... I was astounded at how expensive yarn was becoming... hope she enjoys this tutorial, and gets some ideas she can use :)

jacqui and oh2122 - thanks.. I'm a big fan of photos, as you can tell!

Anonymous said...

wow - thanks for the info! I always hated to frog any sweaters because didn't like how the yarn looked - never thought about washing it - lol! Now I will try again :) said...

WOW! This is such great information, I've always wanted to do this! I'll be linking...

Cats-Rockin-Crochet said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent. Now when I want to try it, I know where to read up on it first. Well done.

laughing purple goldfish said...

tatyana - try again! it's well worth it :)

rachel - I love it when you link... thank you!

cat - thanks... there's just not enough hours in the day to try everything, is there?

Anonymous said...

Okay, I always thought I was pretty frugal, but honestly it never occurred to me to recycle yarn! What an awesome idea! And thanks for the tutorial, I'm with sam, I'd have just tossed in the washer.

laughing purple goldfish said...

weston - it is awesome - and now that I have started, I can't go back :)

Joy Logan said...

That is so wonderful that you recycle old sweaters! I have a few great ones here that are no longer fitting me.

laughing purple goldfish said...

joy - they sound perfect... and think of all that yarn you will reclaim!

Redação do Blog said...

oii,adorei seu blog!
sou do Brazil!

Anonymous said...

Great tutorial

Nikki said...

Thank you for the tutorial, I am going to try this with one of my old sweaters.

laughing purple goldfish said...

saulo - thanks for stopping by

olasi - much appreciated

nik - wonderful! yay! have fun with it :)

Kanchan Karai said...

You took efforts for this. You really made me take out my knitting yarn out of the box. I have some old woolen clothes. May be I can try your experiment on those. Take care.

laughing purple goldfish said...

kanchan - definitely worth the experiment... you can recycle them into something new :)

Anonymous said...

I just got some old sweaters from a thrift store and am working on my first attempt at reclaiming yarn from them! Thanks again for all your great ideas! I can't wait to ball these up!


LisaB said...

This was a spectacular, amazing tutorial. I bought two sweaters at a thrift store for about $12. I think I am going to finish with about 8-10 balls of yarn! I decided to focus on wool and other fibers that might be expensive to buy. I am about halfway though it and every time I look at it, I get so excited. It has been my vacation week project. For me it is not just recycling, but a way to get yarn that would otherwise be out of my reach.

laughing purple goldfish said...

becky - I'm so excited for you :) it's wonderfully addictive!

lisab - I agree... my yarn stash is wonderful now that I am using reclaimed yarns... so much more variety than there ever was before... and not at all expensive! glad to be able to help you out

Neanner said...

Thank you so much for this post. I just happen to come across it while browsing your other posts since I LOVE all your ideas and I decided to give it a try myself. I LOVE this idea so much and I bought more things from the clearance racks at the stores to do this again. Here is my link: so check out when you have inspired me to do. Thank you again! :D

laughing purple goldfish said...

jeannie - thanks for sharing the link... I've left a comment on your blog... woo hoo!

Robyn said...

Thank you SO much for this tutorial. I have a knitted jumper for my DH which has one seam to finish. It isn't going to happen - not after 20 years of waiting ... SO I will unravel it and do as you do with something nice with the yarn this time!
And I love your pink plastics ...and photography...

Alison from Ottawa said...

This was a great tutorial. Thank -you. We should recycle more.

I will have my eyes wide open next time I'm at one of the local charity stores.

Unknown said...

Once again, this is great! I blogged about my trial and posted a link here within. Come check it out!

Christina said...

Love the tutorial. I started unraveling sweaters a little while ago and am hoping to sell them, if possible. For the most part I tend to just reuse them myself because all of the really nice pretty yarn is just too expensive.
If you get a moment, check out my page,
It's my trials and tribulations of crochet and yarn repurposing.