Monday, January 30, 2012

Repurposing Wool Fibers


Despite my interest in frugality, I'm relatively new to thrift stores.  Generally I don't enjoy shopping, but there are a couple of Goodwill stores on routes I travel regularly, so I've been stopping in there and browsing lately.  Naturally, there are some amazing deals to be had.  Probably one of the most surprising to me have been the 100% wool sweaters that sell for as little as $2, when they're on markdown.  It simply defies logic that these pure woolen items, some of them brought all the way from Scotland or Australia, end up being given away for a song. Of course, the vast majority of sweaters at the Goodwill are made from synthetic yarns.  But that only makes it a little more of a treasure hunt to seek out the wool.

I'm an occasional, largely seasonal, and not very gifted knitter.  One reason I haven't done more knitting is the incredible expense of the yarn.  It's always much, much cheaper to buy a sweater than to buy the yarn to make one yourself, even if you're paying the full retail price for the sweater.  But those occasional thrift store finds change that equation.   When woolen sweaters sell for so much less than the cost of the constituent materials, I've met my price point.  Mind you, it's not every sweater that can be taken apart by hand, so it pays to know what I'm looking for.  I learned what I needed to from this link

Taking apart a knitted item to recycle the yarn is a somewhat tedious task, well suited to wintertime, endless cups of tea, a BBC radio stream, and the company of a playful cat, brisking about the life.  It's amazing how much yarn comes out of a small sweater.  I cut a few cardboard pieces to wind the yarn around as I unravel the sweater.  Binding it in this way helps to stretch out some of the bends the yarn assumed when it was first knitted.  There are steps you can take to further relax the kinks in previously used yarn.  But they take time and effort, and my creations aren't so magnificent that I worry about minor issues such as slightly pre-kinked yarn.

In principle, you could take apart a knitted item made from any sort of fiber.  For my time and money, only wool or other animal fibers would make it worth my while.  I did scoop up an alpaca sweater from the thrift store, and it's waiting to be taken apart.  It's white but slightly stained.  I may decide to dye the yarn if I can't get the stain out. The beauty of acquiring these materials so cheaply is that it gives me free rein to experiment with them and learn from mistakes if I must.

I've knitted one pair of my chunky fingerless gloves, and am currently working on a second pair, both to be donated to the fundraising auction at the PASA conference, which is only days away.  These gloves are knitted with double strands of yarn, which makes them extra warm.  For both pairs of gloves I'm using the repurposed yarn as one strand.  It's satisfying to salvage and re-use this material.  The color of the sweater is such that I wouldn't choose to wear it myself, but in a double stranded item, I think it turns out quite pretty.

I'm off to the conference on Wednesday, presenting on Thursday, and enjoying myself thoroughly on Friday and Saturday.  After I'm home, I'll give my usual summary of the conference highlights, and with a little luck, relocate my writing mojo, which has been scarce of late.  Hope winter is treating you all well.

18 comments:

queen of string said...

This is the only way I can afford/bring myself to spend the money on quality yarns. The store price is unbelieveable for most yarns, so repurposing like this is the only way. I quite like the unravelling process and get great pleasure making something new with the yarn I have salvaged. I sometimes also felt garments to make bags and slippers.

SavvyChristine said...

I like to take apart wool sweaters as well, but the last time I did it, I had so much yarn that it lasted me years! I can't justify buying new yarn when I have so much used and vintage stuff in my stash. The problem is that I occasionally design patterns, and those call for current brand name yarns because a lot of people don't want to bother calculating how to sub their own yarn for the yarn called for in the pattern.

Did you wash the sweater before you starting taking it apart? Sometimes I find so much gunk in there that I'm grossed out, and I wash the sweaters before I pull them to pieces!

Lyssa said...

I do this a lot, and I've gotten some awesome yarn that way. Especially here in Los Angeles, I think a lot of people move here from somewhere cold and dump their perfectly good woolens!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I had no idea.

On the one hand, I'm delighted to hear that people are buying old sweaters and repurposing the yarn. On the other hand, the labor involved boggles the mind.

This is one activity whose participants I will admire from afar. Me, I'll just wear the $2. sweater.

Anne (I should be sleeping) said...

I hear you on the time consuming, suited to winter line!

I need coffee, good tv, or good conversation to distract me. But there is something so therapeutic about hand-winding yarn that for me, it's a satisfying activity!

Hazel said...

I've unravelled the odd jumper (and I'd love to find an alapaca sweater in a charity shop) but I mostly machine felt the wool jumpers I find. As long as it's at least 80% wool (I usually go for nearer 100% to be on the safe side) and isn't labelled machine-washable it will felt on a hot wash. I made cherry stone pillows for Christmas presents with a few old jumpers I'd acquired.

timfromohio said...

You might be able to get an even better deal by using a coupon - yes, Goodwill (at least the couple near us) have coupons and discount days.

Jeri said...

A couple years ago the price of cotton fabric skyrocketed and I started buying men's shirts at yard sales and thrift shops to use for quilting. There was no way I could afford to quilt anymore without this new approach. I wash the shirts first and then start cutting them apart. I enjoy this process and am thrilled that my stash is far larger than it ever was with new yardage. My main criteria is that it's 100 percent cotton. There are some beautiful shirts out there. My button jar is pretty full, too! I'm just finishing a queen-sized quilt made from all Hawaiian shirts. I kept track and the shirts totalled less than $20, a fraction of what yardage would have been.

Dmarie said...

LOVE this. even tho' it would be time-consuming, the process would make downtime more productive.

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W-S Wanderings said...

I have yet to unravel a thrifted woolen sweater (the yarn in the ones I've found just have not charmed me), but I regularly felt them for crafty purposes. I followed the link - your fingerless gloves are lovely.

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Jennifer Montero said...

That link was very helpful. I'm trying to unravel an old cashmere sweater, and all I've got are yarnlets. Now I know why. I shall cut my losses and make the body into a pillow instead.

I read somewhere that in ?China, women wash their wollens by unravelling the whole garment, washing the yarn, and re-knitting it. Sheesh! I can barely remember to stuff a mixed load into the machine and turn it on...

Anisah of South Dakota said...

The unraveling can be fun. I involved my kids when they were in elementary school. They loved trying to create the biggest ball of yarn. It was sort of a competition between them, but it worked to get all the sweaters repurposed.

I've used them not only to knit or crochet, but also in weaving projects. I first learned the repurposing of sweaters when I worked at a thrift store and a group of Hutterite Christian ladies came in and dug through all the sweaters looking at the seams. They told us how the Hutterite colony recycled the yarns and thus saved money.

Ever since then I have preferred to unravel verses purchase new.

Stacey said...

Really interesting reading your post - when I next hit the charity shops I will keep my eye out for wool jumpers too - what a good idea!

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

The one time I tried this was an utter fiasco. The sweater was some kind of five-dimensional geometric structure, not to unraveled by the likes of me.

And I am a champion string-un-tangler.

karrie said...

I've also done this with sweaters from Goodwill, as well as cutting up old jeans, woll blankets, t-shirts and so on to reuse in rugs and other projects.

I used to resell the really nice sweaters I found when looking. A few were the wrong size for me or anyone I could regift them too, and were still bargains for their new owners. I used to live in Boston, and some of the sweaters were just gorgeous--vintage, andor had cost well over $100-300 when new. I had a few sell for close to that amount when I listed them for resale online. Nice way to have more money to go back and buy other things I did need. :-)

sewing green lady said...

Great idea deconstructing the sweaters, wool is so expensive.