March 29, 2009

Giving a new life to old yarn

I've been known to be sadly browsing the aisles of thrift shops, adoringly shuffling through all the "homeless" handmade sweaters, blankets, toques, gloves, mitts, etc, etc. It breaks my heart to see some of this stuff just thrown in the garbage bag that goes to the sally ann. But on a positive note, sometimes these items find a home with someone who does truly appreciate them. Sure, I can understand why that scratchy, 3-D, sculpture-esque sweater that grama knit you for Christmas is there. And that's why I think it's great that there is a growing movement to re-purpose, upcycle, and re-cycle some of these garments.

When rescuing, say, an old sweater, you have a variety of options. You can unravel it for the yarn, this must only be done after identifying it can be done in one strand. Many commercially-made "knit" sweaters are simply large pieces of knitted fabric that are cut up and sewed/serged together into a garment. This means you will get many shorter pieces of yarn, which is not ideal for creating new garments. Handmade sweaters, and sometimes commercially made ones, are not made in this way. They are made in sections, and then stitched together. This means you can unravel them and usually end up with one long strand (or a 2 or 3) you can wind into a ball. Below is an example of just such. I found a beautiful sweater made in Nepal, but it must have been an XXLarge, because it was so huge. I couldn't pass it up, and at the time, I had no idea what I'd do with it. Just recently (when cleaning my studio), I found it again and decided to unravel it:

There are some things to consider when choosing a sweater to unravel:

- Fiber content/quality- it is not worth your time to unravel an acrylic sweater. Acrylic is not a quality material; I like to look for nice wools (the one above is 100% wool). Sometimes you can hit the jackpot and find something like angora. If you can't easily identify the fiber (ie no tags) be weary.

- Gauge/thickness- Avoid really fine yarns; you will just get discouraged! These can be beautiful, but very difficult and fragile to unravel.

- Dyeing/felting potential- Maybe you have found a nice white sweater that has a stain on it. Not to worry- can you dye it? Just cut out the stained part. If you are looking to dye, avoid anything synthetic. Animal/protein fibers are best for dyeing. Felting: you can also felt the garment if it is 100% wool.

The process: since there are already so many tutorials on how to actually unravel a sweater, I am not going to re-invent the wheel. Click here for an illustrated tutorial.
Here are a couple of examples that I have done using upcycled yarn:

berries. handpainted wool potholder/trivet
This was done with upcycled, white superwash wool that I dyed and crocheted. I got it from a church garage sale (those things can be gold mines for artsy folks!). I tried to felt it and that is how I discovered it was superwash!

Next, here are some pics of the dyeing process I use to create the yarn for my Harvest Fingerless Gloves with Hand-dyed yarn:

And finally, here I took a sweater and unravelled it for this lovely brown tweedy yarn. It didn't need to be dyed, I thought the color was beautiful on it's own. So far I've made this
Upcycled Earthy Hobo Bag:

These Tweedy Roots Legwarmers:And finally, these
Treehugger re-booties/slippers:
I'm so excited to find my next great sweater treasure. And I still haven't decided what to do with the Nepalese wool; will post when I make it into something! Recycling old sweaters, blankets and garments sure is a nifty way to come across some low-cost, unique yarns, and do the planet a favor by re-using instead of consuming something new!

1 comment:

PrairiePeasant said...

What great ideas! I unraveled one adult sweater once and reknit a child's sweater for my niece. It's nice to hear other similar stories of repurposing.