How To Harvest Yarn From a Sweater: Unraveling

How To Harvest Yarn From a Sweater: Unraveling

Joelle Alcaidinho
Mar 25, 2010

Harvesting yarn from a sweater is not only green and economical, it can also be quite fun. In Part 1 of this three part series, we looked at how to choose the right sweater to harvest yarn from. In this second part of the series, we are going to show you how to unravel the sweater. Next week, in Part 3, we are going to show you how to wash and dye your newly harvested yarn.

What You Need

Seam Ripper
Ball Winder (optional)
Swift (optional)
Cotton String


1. Before you can unravel, you need to deconstruct. We like to deconstruct starting with the sides going from top to bottom. To begin deconstructing, turn the sweater inside out. Since you have chosen a sweater with good seams, the pieces are most likely held together by something that looks like a crochet chain (see image 5). Find the end of this chain (it's usually tucked in at the end of the sleeves) and cut it.

2. Look at the seams. Notice the direction the stitches that are holding the pieces together are going (they look like a series of "<'s"). You want to use your seam ripper to remove a few of these stitches. Start away from the point of the "<" and work left. This will allow the stitches to be easily unzipped (image 7).

3. Once you have the sides separated, you will now need to remove the sleeves and the neck (image 8). If the seams are the same on these areas as they were on the sides, follow the same directions. If they are serged seams, you will need to cut as close to the serged seam as possible in order to separate these pieces.

4. With all of the sweater deconstructed it is now time to unravel. There are a few options for unraveling the yarn. You can either do this by hand, by using a swift, or by using a ball winder. To unravel you need to start from the top or cast-on edge of the piece and work your way down, gently pulling the yarn (image 11).

5. If you are using a ball winder or swift, you will need to take this strand of yarn and wind it onto the swift or ball winder. We decided to use a ball winder to finish unraveling this piece of sweater (image 13). This sped the process up considerably and was quicker than doing the unraveling by hand or through the use of the swift.

6. After using the ball winder, you will have a ball of very squiggly yarn (image 14). This yarn now needs to be in a form that will allow it to be easily washed and dried without getting tangled. This is why some people prefer to unravel directly onto the swift or with a template that will allow them to form a similar round coil like shape. With your yarn still on your ball winder, attach it to the swift.

7. Move the yarn from the ball winder to the swift by rotating the swift till all of the yarn is now on the swift (image 15).

8. Cut the cotton string into a piece about 6 inches long. Use this piece to tie a figure eight shaped wrap around the sides of the yarn (image 16). Repeat this 3 more times, placing the wrap at equally spaced intervals.

9. Carefully remove the yarn from the swift (image 18). The yarn is now ready to be washed and dried or dyed.

Additional Notes: There are several methods to deconstruct a sweater, some of which do not involve a seam ripper but use scissors to cut off the seams. We have found that using the seam ripper helps to prevent accidentally cutting what we do not wish to cut and helps to preserve the most yarn. It is entirely possibly to unravel a sweater by hand, but we have found that by using a ball winder and swift we dramatically cut down on our unraveling time.

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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