Sunday, February 13, 2011

How To: Unravel a Sweater

"Why, of all things, would you want to unravel a sweater," you may ask.  To which I would say, "How many ugly sweaters are there in one thrift store?  Answer: a lot.  And how much do you think all that yarn would cost if you bought it new?  Answer: probably about 4 times the price!"  So, of course you'd want to unravel a sweater if you want the yarn to make other, less ugly things.

Yes, unraveling a sweater for the yarn does take more time than buying a skein of yarn, and yes, it can be a bit messy, with little fluffs ending up all over the house for a couple of days.  But for the money you'll save and extra creativity kudos you get for knitting something beautiful out of discarded goods, I think it's worth it.  


Step 1: Getting the Right Sweater
There are a couple of considerations when buying a sweater with the intent to unravel it:
Bad Seam
  • The Yarn itself - Consider the color, texture, bulk, and fiber of the yarn the sweater is made of.  Check the tag.  Pull one piece of the yarn out of the weave to see if it will stay together as one string or if it is too worn and spreads into multiple strings.  
  • The Condition - Look for stains.  Check for excessive pills.  Maybe even give it a sniff. . .no one wants a hand-knitted scarf that smells like a bingo hall.
  • Good Seam
  • The Seams - Depending on how the sweater was put together, it can be easy or almost impossible to unravel and get long lengths of useful yarn.  Look for seams that look like two braids.  The other kind of seam is one sewn together and is okay if it is in the shoulders of the sweater, but if this type of seam is up the sides of the sweater as well, you will end up with pieces of yarn only as wide as that piece of the sweater. 
Step 2: Turn it Inside Out
This step is pretty self-explanatory.

Step 3: Cut it Up, yo.
Start by cutting up the sides.  Look for the piece of yarn in between the two braids of the "good seam" and just cut that piece all the way up to the sleeve!  If you are fancy and have a seam cutter, this step will be even easier.

Once you've done the sides, cut through the middle of the two braids on the sleeves, as well.  Once you've done that, it'll look like this: 

Step 4: Cut the Bad Seams
To cut the bad seams, just cut right up next to the seam on either side.   On this sweater, I did this on the top of the shoulder and all around the collar.  
When you're done, it will look like a sweater massacre:
Step 5: Unraveling
There is a right way and a wrong way to unravel.  I start by grabbing the loose pieces, discarding the ones that don't lead anywhere, and trying to find the strand that will unravel quickly until you are left with loops at the edge of the piece you are unraveling.  
See the Loops?!
These loops are what the knitting needle goes through.  If you find that you are unraveling one loop at a time and having to scoop the loose strand under another one to go further, you are unraveling from the wrong side.  Try the other side.
The strand being pulled is the right direction.
Wrap the piece up like a (tasteless) burrito and it will be even quicker to unravel (right):

Loop the loose yarn around your hand and once your fingers start to feel suffocated, you can make a ball using the "Twist and Squish":

And Squish

Along the way, you might be unraveling happily until it suddenly stops.  This could be because you cut into the piece while trying to cut the seam.  Just tie the new end to the loose yarn of the ball and pretend like nothing happened.  No one saw you, I swear.

Step 6: Yarn Family

Then you'll be left with a little yarn family of all sizes:

I believe knitting with this yarn would be classified as Subversive Knitting.  So, stick it to the Yarn Man, and knit like an anarchist.  I guess.


  1. You are so funny...I love the pictures of the yarn family.

  2. Thanks! The cats love them too. They're ripping the family apart.

  3. I love the "no one saw it" anyway and "the subversive, anarchist" way of doing anything! Who knew you were such a rebel?!