In Part 1, I shared how I went shopping for sweaters at the thrift store and what I found; in part 2, I told you about unraveling (and how that turned out to be far trickier than I’d thought!). Today, I’ll share my skeining, washing, winding… and the liberating value of failure!
Most of the articles I’ve read recommend skeining the yarn as you unravel it. That’s what I did. If you have a swift (one of those fun pieces of equipment that look kind of like an umbrella without fabric), that’s obviously the best way to skein the yarn. If you don’t, you can use the back of a chair, which is what I did.
If I could put this next part in really large letters, I would. Please note: if you use the back of a chair, do be careful not to wind too tightly! I did, and I then had a devil of a time trying to pull the completed skein off the back of the chair!
Washing is a really important part of the yarn-reclaiming process. Remember that photo where I showed you that ramen-noodle-like strand of yarn? That’s what ALL your yarn will likely look like after you unravel! Washing in the hottest water possible will help relax the yarn, if not remove the kinkiness altogether.
This is why skeining is so important. You can’t really wash yarn in any way aside from in a skein. When I washed my reclaimed yarn, I first tied it up with pieces of cotton yarn in a figure-eight fashion in four spots — one on each end, and two in the middle. I ran hot water in a stoppered sink, along with a few drops of shampoo, and popped the skein in.
After about an hour, I drained the water and ran another hot water bath, this time sans shampoo, and let it soak for another hour. Then I pulled out the yarn, squeezed it gently to remove as much water as I safely could, and then took it into a bathroom to hang over a shower curtain rod.
Once it dried, I attempted to wind it into a ball. I originally planned a center-pull ball, but since I don’t have a ball winder, I instead chose to wind it into a very simple straightforward ball.
When I began to wind the yarn, it did not take me long to realize that I did a terrible job of skeining my yarn. I suspect it’s because I wound it too tightly around the chair back, as I mentioned earlier. I wondered, when I struggled to remove the yarn from the chair back, if I would pay for this mistake when it came time to attempt winding. Sadly, this prediction came true. My yarn began tangling horribly as I wound it.
I made another mistake as well. In the bottom of the sweater panels I unraveled, tiny threads of elastic were woven into the knitting. I did not remove this elastic as I unraveled. Nor did I just discard this portion as a bad idea. This was a terrible mistake. The elastic thread helped to tangle my yarn as I wound it.
Unfortunately, the more I worked on winding, the more tangled the yarn got. I don’t even want to tell you how long I spent one night trying to untangle one bit of yarn. Just one little bit! Because I’m really, REALLY stubborn, I refused to concede defeat. After hours of struggle, I succeeded in freeing maybe a yard of yarn.
So my burgundy yarn? A total loss. My mistakes in skeining and in not removing the elastic as I skeined (or discarding the elastic-threaded portion) came back to haunt me, and it doomed this yarn. It’s a very fine yarn to begin with, and with little cobwebs of elastic running hither and thither through the skein, just pulling a little bit out made this yarn a hopeless mess. If I had unlimited time and absolutely nothing else to do, I might persevere, but really, who has that kind of time?
I felt bad for abandoning this skein after I put so much effort into it, but sometimes one has to recognize when to quit.
Friends, please do NOT make the mistakes I made!! Do not skein your yarn too tightly, and do not try to skein elastic with your yarn. I’m a little upset with myself for not recognizing this before I went to so much time and trouble, but at least now you all can learn from my mistakes!
The Rest of the Story
I nearly ended this article after writing that last paragraph. I pouted for a few days, and then I returned to the sweaters I’d bought from the thrift store. I picked up the one with metallic yarn and discovered that it had the so-called “bad seams” referred to in pretty much every sweater unraveling tutorial ever.
I decided I didn’t care and went about tearing apart a shoulder seam, just to see what would happen. It didn’t take me long to realize what, honestly, I should have also realized about the last sweater: it wasn’t made up of yarn so much as woven threads that looked like yarn, and then machine-knitted.
I think the fact that the first sweater was composed of just such a material may have as much to do with my failure as my own mistakes in winding the skein.
Anyway, the upshot is that after realizing this about the metallic sweater, I threw it away. I knew there was no point attempting to unravel thread!
There’s something liberating about a massive failure. I suspect the more massive the failure, the more libarating it is. Once you fail spectacularly, you realize that it’s not really the worst thing in the world. Yes, I spent hours upon hours (perhaps at least a day’s worth or more!) unraveling a sweater and being unable to use the “yarn” I got from it. But life continued. The sun rose in the morning, and the stars came out at night. In the big picture, it wasn’t really that awful.
And having had that big failure, I realized that the worst thing that could happen was another failure that would also not prevent the sun rising or the stars shining.
I looked through the remaining sweaters. (If you don’t remember what they looked like, here’s that first post with photos.) I tried the pink one on quickly, decided it was really quite cute and I might wind up wearing it eventually, and put it in my closet. Then I examined the beige vest. Still not something I would ever wear, and while it did have very fine yarn, maybe it would work.
So I decided to attempt to remove the V-neck and see what happened. It took a litte work, and it didn’t all unravel in one long continuous strand (because of the dreaded bad seams), but I unraveled it successfully! This time, rather than attempting to skein as I unraveled, I rolled it into a ball instead. I rolled it fairly tightly, hoping to help the yarn unkink a little. I unraveled the entire V-neck.
And then I tried knitting with it. I think it was just to prove that I could, after all this unraveling madness!
It’s actually not too bad! It’s basically fingering-weight acrylic, which I’ve never seen before, and I think it’s going to be fantastic for a preemie hat. Especially once I’m finished and can wash and block it.
So! That wraps up this portion of the unraveling saga. Next time, check out my finished preemie hat made with my reclaimed yarn, and we’ll go over the lessons I learned from my unraveling saga that I will happily pass on to you!
(Also, if you’ve got your own good lessons from unraveling sweaters for yarn, please share! I’ll gather and share them in my last article.)