March 11, 2020

How to turn clothes into yarn

We all have this one knitted sweater, scarf or hat, that has a beautiful color or great quality yarn, but just doesn't fit right. Maybe you have thought about selling it, giving it to a friend or donating it. But if you are a knitter, crocheter or weaver - or always wanted to get into one of these crafts, hold on to that sweater, simply unravel it and use the yarn for your next crafting project.

The beauty of knitting

If you have ever tried to learn knitting, you've probably run into that problem of dropping one stitch and suddenly all your hard work unravels itself. It's frustrating but it is also the most amazing thing about knitting as a fabric construction technique (crocheting is just as amazing for the same reason). When you knit or crochet, you really are just making small loops into loops into loops, without ever making a knot or cutting the yarn.

In return, that means until you make the final knot, you can just pull on the end of the working yarn and turn your piece of knit or crochet fabric back into it's original form. Granted, depending how long the yarn has been knit up, the yarn can have more or less of a ramen noodle look to it, but that's nothing a quick soak in some warm water wouldn't be able to fix. Knitting and crocheting are reversible and that means, the world is a giant walking yarn stash, you just have to start unraveling.

What to look for in garments

There are a lot of ways to construct sweaters, hats or any other garment from knit fabric. If a piece of knit clothing is made cheaply, usually a giant roll of fabric is knit up by a machine and all the pieces needed to make a piece of clothing are cut out from that large fabric. These are the types of garments we unfortunately can't recycle, because the yarn does not continue from row to row. Instead it is only as long as the garment is wide in each row and you would end up with thousands of short yarn pieces if you were to try and unravel a garment constructed like that. ( see #1 on the Illustration)

What we need is a garment, where the individual pieces were knit to shape by adding increases and decreases to the knitting pattern itself. This way the pattern pieces don't have to be cut to shape and the yarn continues from row to row. You can recognize this by the very typical edges, that look like a small braid ( see #2 on the Illustration). Another good sign is, if the edges aren't serged over, as there is no need in this case to prevent any fraying.

Another thing, apart from construction is the yarn quality. Even though you can also unravel very finely knit or chrocheted garments, I tend to prefer a little chunkier knits. Minimum something that you would knit with a 3mm needle afterwards. This way it's easier to see the pattern, find knots and manage the mess. Apart from the weight, look for any holes, felting or other damages that might impact the yarn quality. Especially 100% woolen sweaters tend to felt a lot over their lifetime, making it really hard to get the yarn loops apart again, without breaking the wool. Same applies to mohair, some alpaca yarns and even some synthetics. With cotton you are usually on the safe side, so it is worth to check the label and see what's inside the garment.

Step by step

So what do you do once you found a suitable garment? In case of a hat or scarf i's quite easy, since they usually only consist of one piece. Here you need to simply find the knot at the end or top, untie it and start unraveling. In a hat you can easily find it at the very tip and in the very center, on a scarf it would be in one of the corners. But what about sweaters and other garments that are made up of multiple pattern pieces? Well, it's not that much harder, there is just a few more steps.

Step 1: Find the seams and un-do them very carefully with a seam ripper. Make sure to only cut the yarn in the seam and none of the yarn that is part of the knitted pieces.

Step2: Find the knot on each of the pattern pieces and untie it.

Step3: Unravel the first piece and repeat step 1-3 for the others.

Step 4A: If you want to wash the yarn to remove the "ramen effect", wrap it loosely around something like a long ruler to get a big loop of yarn in the end. Tie some small bits of yarn around your big loop to keep everything in place. Soak the whole bundle in some warm water and hang it up to dry. The water and its weight should help stretch your yarn smooth again.

Step 4B: If you don't mind the "ramen effect" just wrap the yarn into a ball in your hand. Whenever you can't wrap anymore because the ball is too big, start a new one.

What next?

To a lot of avid knitters and crocheters, this techniqe is surely nothing new. When working on a project or developing a pattern, unraveling is part of the game. But once you extend the unraveling to finished, especially secondhand, trash or simply least favorite clothes, you have unlocked a super-sustainable source of crafting materials. And while you are doing it, you can also learn a thing or two about garment construction and maybe pick up some tricks for your own projects. And remember, whatever you knit or crochet with your new old yarn, can be turned back into yarn again and again and again. The world and your home is an ever evolving stash of yarn, ready to be unravelled and transformed at any time!

Back to blog