How To Harvest Yarn From a Sweater

Part 1

Harvesting yarn from a sweater to use to knit or crochet is not only green, it is also quite economical. With yarn prices for a sweater often running upwards of $70 and the typical thrift store sweater costing around $15, it's easy to see why harvesting yarn from a sweater you already own or purchased at a thrift store, is a decision that is both thrifty and green. This is Part 1 of a 3 part tutorial on how to harvest yarn from a sweater. In Part 1 we examine how to choose a sweater that's perfect for the task at hand!

What You Need

Equipment:
ruler (to measure gauge)

How to Choose The Right Sweater

1. Feel the sweater. Do you like the feel of the yarn? Does the garment look felted? If the sweater is already starting to felt, it is going to be difficult to harvest the yarn from it. Felted sweaters make great fabric for other projects, but are impossible to harvest yarn from to knit or crochet.

2. Check the fiber content. Is the sweater mostly cotton? Is it a blend that is high on mohair? Do you like to knit or crochet with this fiber? Do you plan on felting the finishing project? An item that is 100% wool is going to felt much better than a blend. Also keep in mind the value of the yarn, a sweater made from 100% acrylic is not going to be as much of a harvesting value as one that is 100% cashmere.

3. Use your ruler to check the gauge. Do you own a ball winder or swift? Think twice about harvesting below a DK weight if you do not own a ball winder or swift. Winding by hand 2000 yards of lace weight is not a terribly fun time.

4. Look for a mostly solid color sweater. Fair Isle sweaters might look beautiful, but they are extremely difficult to harvest yarn from. A sweater with large stripes that have not been serged together is an option if you are looking to get multiple colors from a single sweater. If you plan on dying the yarn, look for a light colored sweater.

5. Check for stains and holes. Stains are less of an issue on a lighter colored sweater that you plan on dying. Keep in mind that the more holes that are in the sweater, the shorter your strands of yarn will be. If the holes are in indication of moths, put the sweater back. If moths have weakened the yarn it is not going to be ideal to harvest from this garment.

6. Look at the seams. Not all seams can be unraveled. An example of a good seam is in the image of the white sweater. An example of a bad seam can be seen in the image of the purple sweater. A bad seam is a seam that is serged. This means that the item was made out of pieces of knitted fabric that were then cut and serged together. When you unravel a serged seam instead of being left with one long strand of yarn, you are left with pieces that are only as long as the sweater is wide. If the sweater has a good seams along the sides but not on the top at the shoulders, this is still salvageable. In order to harvest the yarn from a sweater like this you will need to cut off the bad seam and will lose some yarn.

7. Check the button holes. If the item is a cardigan, it is going to have button holes. Like the seams, there are good and bad button holes. A good button hole (example seen in the off white cardigan) is made through knitting and not sewing. A bad button hole (example seen in the light brown cardigan), like a bad seam, cuts the the fabric. You will notice the sewing around the perimeter of the button hole in a bad button hole. Bad button holes, shorten the length of the yarn and prevent the salvaging of that section of the cardigan.

Additional Notes: Go for larger sweaters as these will yield more yarn and are where the best bargains can be found. For the four sweaters we picked up for harvesting, two of which are cashmere, we spent a total of $15.45. These four sweaters because of their large size will yield enough yarn for several smaller sweaters and hats!

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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