When you last caught up with my sweater unraveling saga, I nearly gave up, but bounced back and tried again with that beige V-neck vest. I never did unravel the entire thing (though I’m sure I will, eventually); the V alone gave me more than enough yarn in which to knit my favorite preemie hat pattern.
I promised you a photo, and you’ll find it at the end of the article. It actually turned out really cute! I did wash and block the hat after I knitted it, and to be honest it never did fully unkink. But I’m not bothered by it; I think the slightly nubby texture of the hat adds to its charm. (It’s still quite soft and comfortable, too.)
Now then, I promised to share with you my lessons learned from unraveling sweaters for yarn. I was very fortunate to have a reader named Carol who is quite experienced in the art of unraveling and reclaiming yarn chime in with her own tips, which I’ll share with you below along with what I learned from my own personal experience.
Lessons Learned (and Shared) about Reclaiming Yarn from Sweaters
1. Pay attention to what you’re buying.
In retrospect, this was my big, number one, major mistake in this saga. I was so eager to buy sweaters to unravel that I didn’t really pay attention to what I was buying. The second I found something that I wouldn’t wear that seemed like it was knitted in some way, shape, or form, I snapped it up. Unfortunately, this meant that most of what I bought was simply not suitable for unraveling!
An experienced unraveler might have been able to get away with unraveling the incredibly fine-threaded sweaters I purchased for the cause. But for a novice like me, it was really quite foolish. I was incredibly fortunate to get that first sweater unraveled at all!
In addition to picking up sweaters made with very fine yarn, I also didn’t bother checking seams. Please check out the links to tutorials I posted in Part 2 , as both offer examples of “bad seams.” These seams produce yarn in fragments when unraveled, instead of one long uninterrupted strand. The first sweater I unraveled did not have bad seams, but the others I bought did. While I was able to successfully use the yarn fragments I harvested from the sweater vest, I still would not recommend it!
Bottom line: if you don’t see a sweater with good seams and yarn you think you would feel comfortable unraveling, walk away. Don’t do what I did and get caught up in unraveling madness!
2. Wash and prepare before you unravel.
This is the first of Carol’s tips, and I’ll let her explain: “I wash 99.9% of my sweaters first on hand-wash cycle in my washing machine. If the yarn messes up, little to no effort on my part! I also put sweaters in a pillowcase pinned shut or, as I did, make your own and put in a zipper. This keeps fluff out of your plumbing and/or septic system. Also, not knowing where the sweaters have been, washing first can be a really good idea. (I also put yarn from thrift shops/tag sales in a sealed bag in the freezer overnight for the same reason.)”
The second tip she added in there, about freezing yarn from thrift shops or tag sales, is an excellent one. It’s hard to know the condition of the yarn you might purchase from somewhere other than a store, and you never know what kind of critters it might harbor.
I definitey wish I had washed my sweaters before I tried to unravel them. She makes a terrific point that you don’t even have to worry about the washing messing up the sweater, since you’re unraveling it anyway!
3. For the love of all that is holy, WIND THAT HANK CAREFULLY.
I’m being melodramatic here, I know, but oh, the headaches I still get when I think of the hours I spent attempting to untangle yarn (well, thread masquerading as yarn) after I had poorly wound it into a hank! Granted, if the yarn had been thicker, I probably would not have had quite as much trouble untangling it. But I could have saved myself so much grief if I’d simply done this task carefully.
(By the way, I recently realized that I’ve been using the word “skein” when I meant “hank.” I guess I thought they were the same thing! But they’re not. You can knit directly from a skein without winding it into a ball. Not so with a hank. Mea culpa!)
If you don’t have a yarn swift, you can buy or make a niddy-noddy (this video shows you how you can make one easily and cheaply), or you can use the bottom of a computer chair as a yarn swift (as shown in this video). After using the back of one of my kitchen chairs, I think I can safely say that this is really not the best method to wind yarn into a hank. It works fine for holding an already-made hank before you wind it into a ball of yarn, but to make a hank out of unraveled yarn… not so much.
Also, bear in mind that you might not want to make huge honking hanks of yarn. If you have a big sweater with lots of yarn to give up, consider making several smaller hanks. Smaller hanks will be easier to wash (and dry), and easier to wind into balls as well.
If you don’t plan to wash your hank before you knit with it, you can always just roll the yarn into a ball as you unravel. That’s what I did with the yarn I nabbed from the V-neck vest, and it worked just fine.
Carol, by the way, alerted me to the video about making a niddy noddy. She also added about using hers, “I use the niddy noddy to wind it into a hank, because I can get yardage info. I weigh the hank and make a tag for fiber content, yardage, and weight. I keep it in hanks until I find suitable project; use smaller bits for gauge swatches.”
4. If you find elastic thread, get rid of it. By any means necessary.
If I could point to any one factor in my inability to save that first attempt at yarn reclaiming, the elastic thread woud be be the biggest one. Consider elastic thread public enemy number ONE in your campaign to reclaim yarn. If you find it, be ruthless! Don’t think you can save it, and don’t think you can reuse it with the yarn you’re reclaiming. You can’t. Used elastic thread is a scourge, and it will provide nothing for you but heartache and the overwheming urge to swear.
You’ll be most likely to encounter elastic thread in the stretchiest parts of a sweater, like the bottom, the shoulder or wrist cuffs, and the neckline. So those are the places to be most on the lookout for it. Personally, I would recommend just ditching entirely any yarn that comes snuggled next to elastic thread. Don’t even bother separating it unless you really enjoy a challenge. Just ditch it! Trust me, your hank- or ball-winding efforts will thank you.
5. Try not to get discouraged, and take breaks as necessary.
Dear readers, don’t make the mistakes I made and a) expect to be all done with unraveling in an hour and b) work yourself into a rage if it proves trickier than expected. Or if you do work yourself into a rage (let’s face it, we’re all human here!), give yourself a breather. Feel free to take a break. Remember the aim here: to get yarn you love at a reasonable cost.
Also, give yourself a break. No one is an expert at anything their first time out! If you’re new to the unraveling game, you’re likely to make mistakes. It’s okay! No one will judge you. Even if you can’t unravel or reclaim all the yarn from a sweater, if you get just a little bit you can do great things with it. I mean, just check out this preemie hat! Isn’t it cute?
6. Block your post-unraveled work.
So you’ve unraveled, hank-winded, ball-winded, and knitted with your reclaimed yarn. Are you still finding it to be curlier than you’d like? Try blocking! It will soothe a world full of knitted woes. Depending on the fiber content, you might want to wet block it or steam block it. I like to steam-block just about everything, but for some items you may prefer wet-blocking instead.
Carol says, “About the crinkles in the yarn: I wait til project is finished and find that blocking takes care of that.”
There you have it! Lessons learned one way or another, either via my own experience or the voice of reason (i.e., NOT me). That will wrap up this series unless I have any other readers that would like to chime in with unraveing tips, including lessons you yourselves have learned. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey and are ready to try unraveing a sweater to reclaim yarn for yourself!