Unraveling sweaters for yarn
November 23, 2018 2:25 PM   Subscribe

Can I unravel decent/good quality cashmere sweaters and reuse the yarn while still keeping my relatively good disposition and sanity? If so, specific instructions appreciated.

I took up knitting in 2018 and I've discovered it's a surprisingly expensive hobby. I'm willing to patiently take apart these sweaters, which I've been meaning to repair and/or dye for years, if it means I will end up with wonderful yarn, but don't want to sacrifice them needlessly.
posted by she's not there to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps start with trying that with some "bargain bin at the thrift store" sweaters to get the technique down before undoing the ones you already own.
posted by erst at 2:31 PM on November 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have no direct experience with unraveling commercial sweaters (only the ones I've made, ha ha... oh god don't ask) but unsurprisingly there is a Ravelry group for that called UnRavelers (there's a Rav group for everything almost).
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 2:33 PM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

I did this with an old fisherman knit wool sweater with good results and have been using the yarn for dyeing experiments. I wouldn't bother if the yarn is weak or felted but if you do try you will have to undo the seams, if any, without cutting the yarn which could be frustrating. Once you have the yarn "frogged" it should be made into skeins, gently washed and weighted to dry which will get rid of the kinks. Then you can wind it into balls for use. It's definitely worth doing for good yarn or to practice with.
posted by Botanizer at 2:45 PM on November 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is a fairly common practice! Here are a couple of tutorials.
posted by brook horse at 2:50 PM on November 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

When you're looking at sweaters, take a close look at the seams. If the sweater is commercially made, they may have just cut the pieces out of knit fabric instead of actually knitting it as a single piece. In other words, if you try unraveling it you'll just get a ton of short pieces and it'll be usable but really frustrating (and lots of knots).

Cashmere can be kind of tough to unravel because the yarn tends to stick to itself. One Weird Trick to making cashmere less sticky is to put it in the freezer for a while before trying to unravel it.
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:30 PM on November 23, 2018 [10 favorites]

Elaborating upon what Elly Vortex said:

Two of the [several] type of sweaters are FULLY FASHIONED and CUT AND SEW

In a fully fashioned sweater, the piece is knit to shape. The yarn goes back and forth continuously from edge to edge. You can often see the INCREASE or DECREASE triangles around the armholes.

Fully fashioned sweaters can be assembled by LINKING or SEWING. Linking is a single row of knitting that connects two pieces. The linking seam consists of interlocking loops and you can unravel the linking stitches. When the pieces are sewn together, you need to clip the stitches at regular intervals and carefully tug the seam apart without ripping the pieces.

Cut and sew sweaters are not good for unraveling. You might shred them to use for stuffing, or quilt them into a blanket for warmth.

You will generate a lot of dust while unraveling. Try to keep it isolated to a single room, vacuum and dust frequently.
posted by ohshenandoah at 8:10 AM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Of course you can, I'm doing it right now!

Take a good look at your sweaters. What kind of repairs do they need? Do they have moth holes? If they do, the yarn might be too weak to stand up to unraveling. Are they felted even a little bit? Even slightly felted fabric is almost impossible to unravel. Stains are no big deal, though, especially if you were going to dye the yarn anyway.

Are they 100% cashmere? Anything with lycra or elastic can be a real pain, since those are often separate strands which will unravel at a different rate than the main yarn.

If you post a picture we can vet the seams for you.

Commercial sweaters tend to be made from much thinner yarn than you'd usually buy for hand knitting, so there's a lot of yardage. Do you have a ball winder, a swift you can wind onto or a niddy-noddy? They will make the process go much more smoothly but they're not strictly necessary.

Relatedly, you may want to at least double if not quadruple the yarn when you knit from it, which can be awkward. It also means you'll have less yardage available than you might think.
posted by mgar at 5:22 PM on November 26, 2018

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