How to Recycle an Old Sweater (or a Botched One) Into Usable Yarn

Introduction: How to Recycle an Old Sweater (or a Botched One) Into Usable Yarn

Do you have old sweaters laying around? Is the yarn simply gorgeous or do you just want to re-use it? Is the sweater to mishapen to wear or just plain ugly, but the yarn is excellent? Did make an absolutely marvelous sweater, only to try it on and discover you should burn the pattern? Well then, recycle that yarn!!!

There are two methods of recycling a sweater into re-usable yarn. The first method is done from a work-in-progress (wip), the second method is done from an already finished-object (fo).

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Step 1: Remove the Needles

Here, we will begin by removing the needles from the offending sweater. This is done by simply sliding the stitches off of the needles.

Then, lay the offending sweater flat sew you can begin frogging. Frogging is the process of ripping the stitches out: As in, "Rip it, rip it, rip it!"

Step 2: Frog It!!

Begin frogging by grasping the unknit yarn and carefully rip out all of the stitches of the sweater. You will have to undo all of the yarn ends that were woven in, before you come to them (I don't hide my ends until I'm satisfied with it when I try it on.). This can be done by using a blunt tapestry needle to fish out the woven in ends. Also undo any knots you come across.

As you rip out the stitches, gently wind the yarn into a ball.

Frequently remind yourself that you will not knit clothes that will not fit you like the model in the picture, unless the model in the picture has a similar form to your own.

Step 3: Continue Frogging the Sweater.

Keep pulling the yarn out and winding it into a ball as you go.

Wind gently so you do not stretch the yarn out anymore than it is already. This is especially important if you are unraveling a cotton, silk or wool sweater.

Step 4: Locating the Seams of a Finished Sweater to Frog (rip It).

Pictures 1 & 2 demonstrate some typical sweater seams you may come across when you're recycling yarn from an old sweater or a thrift store find.

The arrows in 3rd picture show the seams in a knit vest that was way too small for my son.

If the seams are super snug, take a pair of scissors with very sharp points and carefully slide a point underneath one of the seam stitches and snip it. Make sure you do not cut into the knitted portions of the sweater. Picture 4 shows the snip being made.

Step 5: Continue Unseaming the Knit Object.

Continue using your blunt tapestry needle as shown in the pictures to gently lift out the seam stitches. Use your scissors to snip off the seam yarn as you go.

Do this to every seam in the knit object. Then lay out your pieces as flat as possible.

Step 6: Locate Where the Knitting Was Cast Off.

This step is tends to be very difficult for some people, so I will try to make it as easy as possible. I have not used photos from the vest because the yarn prevented good, defining photos. Pic 1 is a 4 inch x 4 inch swatch of silk.

A piece of knitting has a cast on edge (where the knitting was started) and a cast off edge (where the knitting was finished). The cast on edge is usually comprised of what looks like a straight row of stitches (Pic 1). The cast off edge looks like a series of V's (Pic 2).

The end you want to rip from, is the end that looks like a row of V's across it's top or bottom. Remember, most sweaters and knit objects are knit from the bottom up, so your cast off edge will usually be near the top.

Step 7: Find the End Stitch and Undo the Finishing Knot.

Now, find the very last, cast off stitch. This will typically be on the front side of the knitting(the knit side) at the left end. (Note: If you see the v's going in the opposite direction as those in pic 5, flip it over and look for the end knot there.)

Pics 1 & 2 show the locating of the finishing knot on the knit side of the swatch and the undoing of it.

Pics 3, 4, & 5 show the yarn being liberated from it's knot. Now you can rip out the knitting as shown in steps 2 & 3.

Step 8: Enjoy and Use Your Recycled Yarn

I typically let the yarn rest in the balls for a few days before I begin re-using it. Simply knit, crochet, or weave it into something new!!!

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    10 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Knitting is scary to a leftie like me!!! I make my old sweaters into "hopefully- up, maybe-just- re) cycled or repurposed dolls that occasionally turn out looking like cats... It's fun n sewing is SOOOOO much easier than knitting, so I hope that my friends and family like them... I got the inspiration when I lived in Madison, Wis. I can't remember her name right now, but there was a local artist who made AMAZING repurposed sweaters into INCREDIBLE cats... I got one for my birthday and hung it on the wall so he wld stay perfect forever!!! Yay!!!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    My brother gave me a gorgeous alpaca poncho about 45 years ago. Even though I haven't worn it for a lllooonnngggg time, I have hauled it with me and protected it from moths. I am going to unravel it and use it later to make something that I will use now. Thanks for the ideas.


    8 years ago on Step 8

    Awesome! I never could find the end bit! Thanks for the excellent photo with the Vs marked. I work at a thrift store and have so many lovely yarns to salvage!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I love doing this. It is very soothing and fulfilling to turn old, unwearable sweaters into lovely stuff. I made a scarf that I get tons of compliments on and everyone is surprised when I tell them I ripped apart old stuff to make it!! YaY for direct recycling!!

    teaellen 2003

    a comment about recycling a wool sweater that you are having problems frogging: If you really have a problem with the yarn being glued together & having trouble getting the yarn out of it then instead of fighting it, just use its qualities. Just like using like the lemons that life gives us to make lemonade. It is ultra easy to felt a wool sweater and the fabric is wonderful to recycle and use! There are so many things that you can do with a felted sweater.


    I do"botched" really well, lol.  Good idea.  People in THE Great Depression did this all the time


    If you're ripping back your own knitting, you know what's in the yarn and how it's been handled. Unravelling second-hand sweaters can be more problematic.

    Watch out for commercially produced sweaters that have cut-and-sewn sleeve seams, shoulder seams, or front plackets, unless you *want* a bunch of short bits of yarn.

    You also want to watch out for sweaters made of wool, mohair, or other animal fibers. Once the fibers start felting -- i.e., sticking together Till Death Do Us Part -- your chances of a satisfactory yarn-recycling experience go into a nosedive. Mohair and shetland wool are especially prone to this.

    Take heart, though! A seriously felted sweater is by definition not going to unravel on you, so you can cut it up and use it as lightweight, slightly stretchy felt. You can even look up a set of instructions for deliberately felting knitted wool fabric (see also: "boiled wool"), and turn your old sweaters into much denser felt that has all kinds of uses.


    11 years ago on Step 5

    A little hint here...on a commercial sweater you can usually find a chain of stitches on one side of the seam. Look for the point of the "V" in the chain, rip one link, then pull out in the direction of the "V". Makes much quicker work of ripping the seams!!! :)


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Very resourceful! I'm going to have to try it! Thanks for the great idea!


    12 years ago on Introduction

    If you really can't find the cast off stitch and are getting frustrated, you can always grab your scissors and snip off the entire edge. Sure, you may lose a few feet of yarn, but it's only a tiny fraction of the entire sweater anyway. If you do this on an old sweater, chances are this is the part that's the most frayed anyway...