How to Reuse Yarn From Sweaters

Learn to reuse yarn from sweaters with this photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio. Partially unraveled sweater on a wooden table with bits and balls of yarn around it and scissors.

Learn to reuse yarn from sweaters!

As a part of my focus on recycling, reusing, and reclaiming this year, I want to show you how to reuse yarn from sweaters by unraveling them to make something else! The sweater you choose does not have to be from a thrift store, but the idea is getting something second hand and repurposing it to make something new. You could get a sweater, scarf, or hat from any store, or from your own closet! You could unravel an old creation that you no longer use.

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You might be asking, why? You could reuse the yarn yourself to make something you would like or you could sell the yarn to someone else if you are in the business of selling craft supplies.

What type of sweater should I choose?

When choosing a thrift store sweater to unravel there are a few things to consider. One of those I learned from the experience with the sweater that I chose which is pictured above. Don’t choose a striped sweater.

Fortunately for me, sometimes the makers of this sweater did not cut the yarn between the stripes, they made floats down the side of the piece instead, but sometimes they did cut the yarn between stripes of the same color, so I wound up with lots of mini-skeins instead of one large skein. If you choose a striped sweater, be prepared for mini-skeins because the yarn may be cut between stripes.

Sometimes in the clothing industry, pieces are cut from a large piece of knit fabric and sewn together to make the sweater. When we handknit a sweater, we don’t do this. We knit the piece in just the shape we want. If you are lucky enough to find a sweater that does not have seams on the sides, chances are very good that you will have nice long, continuous strands of yarn. If the sweater has been made by cutting the piece out of fabric, you will sadly have lots of very small pieces that are only good for stuffing pillows with.

However, side seams do not necessarily mean that things will turn out badly! The sweater I unraveled was interesting. The area around the neck and shoulders unraveled into very short strands, but once I got below the neckline, the strands were long and continuous (minus the stripe situation). I think they must have knit a rectangle and then cut a little to shape the shoulders and neckline. Interesting.

So those are a few things to look for, but in large part, getting something really great can be hit or miss.

You could find luxury yarn!

When I went to choose sweaters to use for this post I was lucky to find a cardigan that was 100% alpaca!

100% alpaca sweater from a thrift store. Should I unravel it? Photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

I haven’t unraveled this sweater yet. I kind of like the style of it and so I’m thinking I might leave it intact. It is very soft and cozy!

Be cautious about wool moths

One important thing about this sweater that you should know. It had a hole in the pocket. I think that this was probably just from a snag that unraveled a bit, but it’s important to know that if you get an animal fiber sweater with a hole in it, it could be from wool moths. If you bring wool moths into your home, you may have an infestation on your hands before long, which could be extremely damaging to your stash!

I packed this sweater into a large ziploc bag and put it into our deep freezer for a couple of months. I doubt it would need that long to kill moths, but I would give it a couple of weeks at least.

Start unraveling

So, how to actually unravel the yarn from your thrift store sweater. Once you get home with it, take the time to inspect the seams under a bright light. Stretch the seams open and look for the stitches that were used to sew the seam.

How to take apart a knitted sweater. Inspect the seams to look for the stitches used. Photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio

Like in the photo above, you may see a stitch going right across the bottom of the seam right on the edge. That’s a seam stitch, so you will cut it.

Inspect the seams of the sweater to help yourself find how to take it apart. Photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

In the photo above, I am stretching the sweater seam with my fingers so that I can see the seaming stitches better. I highlighted a few of them in yellow. See if you can spot the additional seaming stitches that are not yellow.

How to take apart a knitted sweater from a thrift store to recycle the yarn. Stretch the seams open as you cut the seaming stitches. Photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

You will cut these seaming stitches to take apart the sweater. Once you start this process, the stitches should become even easier to see. Keep stretching the seam open as you work and the stitches will become very visible. You can see the seaming stitches stretching apart like rungs on a ladder. Keep cutting these until you get the whole seam undone.

This sweater had these unusual, I’m not even sure what to call them, plackets maybe on the sides and shoulders that encapsulated the floats and ends. I guess if you don’t mind doing some extra knitting, you could use this method to avoid weaving in your ends, LOL. Anyhow, they were seamed to the sweater, so I stretched those seams out to find the seaming stitches and cut them too.

Floats along the sides of this thrift store sweater were a promising find! Unraveling yarn from thrift store sweaters, photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio

It was after I undid those side seams that I found the floats along the sides of the panels. This made me happy to find because I knew that I would have longer sections of yarn without breaks. A promising find in a striped sweater!

The bottom ribbing was also seamed on, so I undid those seams next. Recycling yarn from thrift store sweaters, photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

The bottom of the front and back panels had ribbing. Unlike your typical handknit sweater, these ribbing panels were not a fluid continuation of the main body. They were seamed on. These seams also had to be undone. Look for this if you have a thrift store sweater with ribbing.

Get yarn from thrift store sweaters by unraveling them. Photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

I also discovered that it had surface crochet chain stitches. This is a technique you can use yourself to add stripes of color to a project. See my tutorial here. However in this case, I had to unravel them.. I found that whoever made this sweater didn’t make all the stripes of surface chain stitches travel in the same direction. Some had to be unraveled from the top of the sweater and some from the bottom. Anyhow, I had to unravel those first because the rest of the sweater wouldn’t come undone otherwise.

Ready to unravel the front panel. Yarn from thrift store sweaters, a photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

I began unraveling the sweater at the shoulders, and as I mentioned earlier, until I got to the bottom of the neckline, I just got a bunch of short lengths of yarn. Clearly the neckline had been cut out of the panel. That and the surface crochet chains resulted in the pile of bits at the top of this picture.

Once I got below the neckline I started unraveling the main body and this went pretty smoothly. I had to put down a ball of yarn here and there as I worked since the sweater was striped and the ends weren’t cut between stripes. I used some knit clips to hold my balls of yarn together when I put them down. You can get knit clips here.

Finished unraveling the front panel! How to get yarn from thrift store sweaters, a photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

This is what I had after I finished unraveling the front panel. I had the “plackets” and the ribbing, the short bits from the shoulders and surface stitches, and the balls of yarn from the main panel. I also eventually unraveled the “plackets” and ribbing sections.

All finished unraveling yarn from thrift store sweaters. Photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio.

This is all the yarn I had when I finished unraveling my thrift store sweater! Now, what to do with it? I need to get the kinks out of it so that it is ready for using. See my next post all about getting the kinks out of used yarn!

Commercial yarns may be different…

There are a couple more points I want to make. This yarn is not your typical store-bought handknitting/handcrocheting yarn. We are used to yarn that consists of multiple plies of the same type of fiber twisted together fairly tightly. In my experience, the yarn used in the ready-made clothing industry is often not like this. The yarn used in this sweater is not tightly plied, or even tightly twisted within the individual plies. There is one ply that is fairly fluffy and another that is a strand of thread.

Also, the fiber content of the yarn in this sweater was 73% acrylic, 13% nylon, 7% wool and 7% cotton. Not very much like the great 100% alpaca sweater I found. My experience when looking at sweaters in thrift stores is that most of them resemble the fiber composition of the sweater I unraveled, not the alpaca sweater. However, I found them at the same store on the same day, so you may get lucky and find one like that too.

I hope you found this enjoyable and interesting to read! Please share your experiences with me in the comments! Have you unraveled a thrift store sweater? Any really great finds? What tips can you share? Would you like to try this? What’s holding you back?


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Learn how to reuse yarn from a thrift store sweater with this photo tutorial from Banana Moon Studio. Close up of a sweater being unraveled and a pair of scissors.

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