***Warning***  This is a very photo-heavy post!

Since starting my blog, a few people have shown interest in learning how to recycle sweaters for the yarn.  I spent the weekend working on a tutorial!

On Friday, I went to our local Salvation Army and struck gold.

thrift store sweaters

Five sweaters.  The teal sweater on top is a cotton/ramie blend, the green, pink and light blue sweater are all a blend of wool/angora and nylon and the darker blue sweater is merino. 

reclaim sweater

I chose to use the darker blue one for this tutorial because it was the smoothest yarn and was a little thicker than the rest.


The first thing you need to do is turn the sweater inside out and remove all the labels.  A seam ripper is good for this job, but a small pair of scissors will work as well.  Be very careful to only cut the thread that the label is sewn on with.  pick any thread that is left over after you get the label off out of the knit stitches.


This is a good seam.  It will kind of look like an extra thick row of knit stitches. 

no no

This is a BAD/serged seam.  I took this picture on a different sweater.  Technically you can still reclaim yarn from a sweater that’s been serged, but you’ll wind up with little bitty pieces and unless that’s what you’re going for, it kind of defeats the purpose.  There are a lot of sweaters that will have good side seams but serged shoulder seams.  These are still reclaimable, but you’ll have to cut the shoulder seams and unravel until you have a continuous piece of yarn.

zip cord

I like to call these pieces the zip cords.  These are the end of the seam.  They’ll look like little crocheted chains.  If you look at the end of your sweater (on the hem, cuff or collar) you’ll see a thicker area of seam.  This is where these will be.  You can usually give the seam a little tug to be able to see where they’re woven in.  Pull them out and this is where you’ll start.


This was the hardest picture to take for this tutorial!  It’s very hard to see because it’s so small, so I’ll try to explain it.  At the seam you’ll see a very small chain.  It’s harder to see when there’s ribbing on your sweater, so make sure you’ve got the right chain.  See the arrow?  That’s where my chain is.  If you clip the chain on the upper part of the loop and then go under the next loop with a scissors/seam ripper, you’ll create a little loop of yarn you can use to unzip the seam.  This took me a LOT of practice, but I learned that if you follow the way the chain progresses up the seam you’re on the right track.  If you can find the “zip cord” you can clip it close to the start of the seam and it’s much easier to unravel.

taking pieces apart

Begin taking your sweater apart!  Most sweaters are constructed the same way and this is how I usually do it; start at the neck and remove the collar.  Then start unzipping a sleeve cuff…you can usually follow the seam all the way down to the hem of the sweater.  From there, remove the sleeve from the body of the sweater.  If it’s anything other than a raglan, you’ll finish by taking the shoulder seams out.

pieces apart

Ta-da!!!  This was a sleeveless sweater, so there was only the collar, body and some small amounts of ribbing on the arms.

Now you’re ready to start unravelling your sweater!

begin unravelling

I start with the smaller pieces of the sweater and work my way to the larger ones. 


I wind the yarn directly on to my niddy noddy.  Now, I’m a little paranoid about a hank of yarn coming apart so I tie it in eight places when I’m finished winding it.  It also makes it a lot easier to keep the yarn from sticking together from the different hanks while you’re washing it.

crinkly skein

There’s one!

close up crinkly

The yarn will be very crinkly/crimped at this stage.  That’s perfectly normal and it WILL come out once you wash it.  It’s been in the same position for who knows how long!

Keep going!

all crinkly skeins

When you unravel all your sweater pieces into hanks you’ll have a big squooshy pile of yarn.  Into the bath it goes!

into the bath

I use a large tote filled with just barely luke-warm water to soak.  I don’t do a full wash when I’m first preparing my reclaimed yarn, just a soak to help get the kink out. 


If you’re reclaiming yarn from a wool sweater, DO NOT use hot water and DO NOT agitate the yarn!  This is very important!  Wool felts, which means if you do the above mentioned, you will wind up with big hunks of felted wool and not yarn.  So don’t do it!

I fill the tote first and then drop the yarn in.  Push it down gently into the water and let the yarn soak the water in.  I usually leave my yarn for ten or fifteen minutes just so it’s got plenty of time to soak up the water.

Now hang it!


(Pardon the yard!)  Squeeze the excess water out of the yarn.  Do not wring!  Hang it on a hanger and use a weight of some sort to pull the yarn downward.  This will help get the kinks out.  I just use whatever canned good is handy…in this case, soup!  The weight doesn’t need to be super-heavy, just something heavy enough to pull the yarn down enough to take the kinks out.

Allow your yarn to dry thoroughly.

When dry, twist it into a hank and you’ve got beautiful yarn on the cheap! 

all in a hank

There are approximately 1650 yards of fingering weight yarn here.  I spent $2.00 apiece on the sweaters.  THAT is a good buy!

Reclaiming yarn is labor intensive.  It takes work and it can be tedious, but if you’re on a budget or concerned about recycling for your craft it is completely worth it.  This was an easy sweater to unravel and not counting soaking and drying time only took about an hour to unravel.  Some sweaters are easier than others and if a sweater is filthy, felted or full of holes it’s not worth it to me.  Be sure to check the sweaters carefully before you leave the store with them to make sure that there are no signs of fleas or moths.  If you’re set on getting a sweater that looks moth damaged, bring it home, put it in a bag and place it in the freezer for a few hours.  It will kill any moth larvae that may still be in the sweater.