Saturday, May 26, 2012



[uhn-rav-uhl] verb, un·rav·eled, un·rav·el·ing or ( especially British ) un·rav·elled, un·rav·el·ling.
1. to separate or disentangle the threads of (a woven or knitted fabric, a rope, etc.).

My first attempt at unravelling a sweater and recycling some yarn! There are quite a few tutorials out there on the internet these days, and here is a summary of what I have learned about the process (in case you want to try one of your own!)  The first step, of course, is to find a sweater (or two) to unravel. The main things to consider are:
  1. Weight: There are lots and lots of sweaters out there made from very fine yarns, which can be quite difficult to take apart. For my first attempt, I looked for worsted, and sport-weight yarns.
  2. Fiber content: I only wanted sweaters with natural fibers because (in my opinion) it is just not worth the time or money for acrylic, so be sure to read the tags. If there is a small percentage of nylon or acrylic, it will be less breakable and therefore easier to unravel, so a little man-made fiber content might even be preferable!
  3. Condition: It seems as if many wool sweaters end up in the thrift store because they were accidentally tossed in the washing machine, and a felted sweater will not unravel; an unfelted sweater will have a clear outline of each individual stitch, and you will be able to see through the fabric when it is stretched.  Also, be on the lookout for stains or holes that might affect your finished yarn.
  4. Seams: To get long lengths of usable yarn, your sweater must have sewn or crocheted seams (rather than serged). The easiest sweaters to unravel have crocheted seams (you will see a small crochet chain up one side of the seam).

 I chose to start my un-ravelling adventure with a 100% wool, purple sweater, and a Fair Isle cotton/nylon/wool/angora blend in a beautiful red/orange color.

 First, I turned the purple sweater inside out, and looked for the chain stitch along the arm seams.   What is a chain stitch, you ask? A chain stitch is the use of 1 or more continuous threads (no bobbin) to create a stitch. The chain stitch can be easily pulled out by pulling the right thread (like a potato bag). Taking apart good seams pictured above can be very fast and easy. If you start at the right end, undoing the seam is as easy as pulling on the yarn end - the seam comes apart like magic.

 After "unzipping" the arms, I did the armholes, and the neck band, which left me with four, separate pieces to start unraveling. To unravel the sleeve, start at the shoulder end and try and identify where the bind-off ended. You might have to make a couple of snips to get at a yarn end. When you find it, and start pulling, you will see the "live stitches" that every knitter can identify! At this point, I placed the yarn end in my ball winder, rolled the piece to unravel into a tube (so it could unwind more evenly) and started cranking away at my ball winder. It is very, very satisfying to see the piece unravel into lovely yarn right there in front of you!  If you need more information about any of these steps, I found this blog post to be very helpful!

I unraveled the red sweater in a similar manner, but it was a little more complicated because of the Fair Isle portions of the sweater. However, I was able to do both sweaters in a couple of hours. At this point, I was left with this:

Now you will have several balls of yarn, and you are ready to turn them into hanks for washing and stretching. If you have a niddy noddy you are all set... but for the rest of us, a couple of chair backs work just fine. I count the number of times I wind the yarn around and multiply that number by the diameter of the chair backs to calculate my total yardage. At this point, you can tie the ends of your yarn in a figure eight to hold them, and then add several more figure eight ties around the hank to keep it from getting tangled.

Now you will be left with several large, very kinky hanks of yarn that are ready to be washed and stretched! Fill a sink, tub, or large bowl with warm water and some wool wash or mild dish soap and stir. Gently push the yarn down into the soapy water (avoid using hot water and any agitation so that no felting will occur) and then let the yarn soak for at least 30 minutes.

After soaking, rinse the yarn with room temperature water, gently squeezing out the excess water. You can then roll the yarn up in a towel and apply pressure to get out some more moisture, or use your salad spinner :). Extra kinky yarn needs to be stretched to help straighten it out. I hung my hanks up on plastic coat hangers with a "canned food" weight to help stretch them out as they dry.

Once your yarn is completely dry, it is time to ball it back up by either placing it back on the chair backs to re-wind, or using your swift and ball winder. Since your recycled yarn does not have a ball band, make sure you label it with your fiber content from the garment label, and your calculated yardage (because you will not remember in 6 months.... trust me!!)  In case you are wondering, the total yardage for the purple wool was about 1200 yards... not bad for $4.99!

I also whipped up some of these yarn labels so I can keep all that pertinent information with my yarn.. feel free to use them for your own, non-commercial purposes :).  Just click on the picture to download the .pdf file from DropBox.


  1. Saw this on the Simply Notable Ravelry group. Julie's right, it IS a great tutorial :)

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Using recycled yarn kind of gives me permission to try new designs/patterns/projects without worrying that I might mess up, lol! It's freeing, in a way!