how to unravel a sweater

i was recently asked to show a tutorial on how to unravel a store bought sweater.  so today i am going to share how i do it.  there are tons of tutorials out there on how to get this done if you don’t like mine or need better pics.

first i would like to share why i unravel sweaters. i am a cheap skate! what can i say. i don’t like to spend tons of money on yarn if i don’t have to. i also hate to see nice yarn going to waste on a sweater that may never get worn again.  plus with a little bit of work and time you can have a ton of yarn for a very cheap price.  i sweater can equal loads of possibilities: such as, a new sweater, a shawl, well just about anything. i have made a set of mittens, a hat and a scarf all from one unraveled old sweater. oh and one last thing, each section of the sweater is usually one very long continuous strand! that rocks. i hate weaving in strands.

so let’s get down to it.

where to find sweaters:


salvation army

rummage sales

cheap rack at name brand stores like charlotte russ or b. moss

what you need to look for when you are looking to unravel a sweater:

yarn content : i am a bit of a yarn snob. i look for 100% wools, wool blends, 100% cotton, or anything with enough cashmere or angora to make it worth while. i hate acrylics but occasionally bite the bit and get one. watch out: super thin looking mohairs won’t always unravel well.

color: look for colors that you like and would use.  there is no point buying that cashmere blend in violet if you or someone you know won’t wear it!

seams:  i needs to have crocheted seams.  sergered seams are bad news and usually won’t unravel.  however, if the sergering is only on the shoulder seam get it!

wear : if the sweater is to old and worn out looking, don’t bother. the yarn will probably just keep breaking when you unravel it.  also if it looks like it is felting, don’t bother.  it won’t work out.

here are the sweaters that i picked up:

the burgundy sweater is acrylic (i know i know, what i just said up there.  but this one had a fun velvety sheen to it that i couldn’t resist.) turned out that i could only use the back and sleeves from this sweater. the front had a zipper (usually cool but) under the zipper they sergered the edges and they weren’t a continuous strand.

the white sweater is a wool / mohair blend. very fine yarn. (however, this one did what i said happens sometimes and just wouldn’t unravel without breaking)

the green sweater is really cool.  it’s a ribbon yarn.  these types of yarn are really expensive to buy in skeins and usually have small yardage amounts per skein!

total spent on sweaters: $9.oo.  one bomb.  but two with quite a bit of useful yardage.

now here are the details on what to do:

1.  take a picture of the tag. that way if you lose it later, you will still have a record of the yarn content.

2. i like to remove the sleeves first.  so start in the armpit area. you want to find where the crocheted edge starts at the armpit. the Vs will be pointed down.

3.  now you want to clip the crocheted thread. be careful just to clip the V with you scissors and not the other yarn.

4.  gently pull the seam apart.

5.  grab the thread and pull.  the entire seam will pull apart very easily.

sometimes you will have to do some careful snipping of threads where two seams meet up and don’t want to pull apart easily.

6.  do this to all the seams. slowly separating the sweater into its parts.

a note about shoulder seams.

sometimes, shoulder seams are sergered together. like so…

you have a couple of options here: you can get your seam ripper out and undo all the thread (very time consuming by the way) or you can get out your scissors and just cut the sergered seam away.  i do this.  yeah you lose a little yarn but not much and it is so much easier on your nerves. trust me, but again it is your choice.

time to actually unravel the sweater.

7.  carefully trim the sweaters tag from the sweater using small scissors or seam ripper. be careful not to clip the sweater yarn.

8. now take one of your pieces.  find the top (you always want to start at the top of the piece).  again you have a couple of options.  sometimes the top seam, especially on sleeves, is held together by another crocheted seam.  these are easy, simply snip the thread and pull. other times it is hard to locate where exactly they started knitting the piece.  for these it is best just to get out the scissors and cut across the top of the piece. seems wasteful again, but saves you a headache. and it really doesn’t waste that much yarn. (i usually do this, but i am also really short on patience.)

9.  gently pull on the yarn all along that top edge.  pull off of the little bits that you can.

10.  now just kind of pull on some yarn in that top row and keep pulling until an end presents itself.

11. once you have the end. just keep pulling, winding the yarn into a ball as you go.

you will end up with 4 balls of yarn, if all goes well: one for the front of the sweater, one for the back and 2 for the sleeves.

this sweater had two little zippers at the end of each sleeve. bonus for me. zippers for another project! don’t be afraid of zippers and buttons on sweaters that you are unraveling. they are just and added bonus!

you can basically use the yarn right now and start knitting.

the yarn will be all kinky but when you block you finished piece it evens everything out.  so i don’t usually bother with the next steps.

but if you want to see how to get rid of this…

keep reading.

you are going to need to find something to wrap the yarn around to make skeins.  i use the bottom legs of  a stool. you can use the top of a chair or the legs of a chair as well. or a kniddy knoddy if you have one.

1.  just wrap the yarn around the legs.  keep the beginning bit of yarn hanging down to tie up later. you don’t want to lose it in the skein (will cause problems later.)

2. continue wrapping until one ball is on there.  (do one ball at a time)

3. use some extra thread or yarn and tie the yarn together in several places.  weave the string in and out through all the bits of yarn.  you want everything nice a secure.

4.  pull it off of the legs and now you want to soak it for about 20 minutes in fairly hot soapy water. just like the water that you use when you block a finished item.

5.  rinse it well, and gently ring it out. don’t twist and move it a lot.  because if you didn’t secure it well, you will end up just knotting up the yarn.

6.  wrap it in a towel and gently squeeze to get out excess water.

7.  now you want to find somewhere to hang it.  this is what i do…

i use a plastic clothes hanger and hook the yarn over it. then you want to find something heavy to hook to the bottom or lay through it to help pull it straight.  i hang a heavy towel through it.

then just let it dry.

it should be all pulled back out fairly straight.

when it is dry, hook it back over the chair and wind it back into a ball.  you now have some beautiful yarn already to use for some new and exciting project.

you kind of have to eyeball the yarn to figure out the weight of it, unless you have a way to figure wraps per inch.  only down fall.

if you plan on doing this a lot, you may want to invest in a yardage meter as well. or you will just be guessing on whether you have enough for that sweater that you want to make.

with practice this all becomes lots easier.  and the whole process of unraveling is actually quite relaxing.

of course, if you don’t want to do this but would still like to be ecoly conscience, you can visit any number of etsy sellers for this type of yarn as well.

actually, up tomorrow, what i made from some etsy recycled yarn.

12 thoughts on “how to unravel a sweater

  1. This is one of the best tutorials I’ve seen. I love to repurpose the yarn from thrift store sweaters – have been doing it for years. I think it’s time to take another trip to see what’s there – especially since today is half-price day.:-)

  2. Interesting about the sellers on etsy–I didn’t realize there were folks selling recycled yarn.

    One of the tragedies of my thrifting/refashioning life is that I tried to refashion this *amazing* alpaca/cotton blend men’s sweater rather than just frogging it for the yarn. It was so delicious, and the refashion went pear shaped, and I’m still sad about it. Ah well. Next time. (Like there’s gonna be another giant, froggable alpaca/cotton mix sweater showing up at a thrift shop near me soon…) Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate the bits into another refashion altogether.

    Welcome back, Britt! Very clear tutorial, by the way.

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  5. I enjoyed this tutorial very much. I am one of those yarn collectors. I say that because if I see a sweater thrown away or someone says ” I don’t like this sweater” or what ever, I will grab the sweater and suggest “Me! I find adventure is taking a sweater apart and unravel. I have been known to take hours; and I don’t mind. I like to write short stories in my mind about who or what has lived in the sweater or etc. I wonder if any one has ever written a story called Unraveled. lol I also like to make animal beds, tunnels and etc out of knitted pieces that don’t look promising for unraveling. I use Aleene’s OK to Wash it to put squares together or if I am crosstitching and a sweater piece looks like the ground under a yearling, I cut it out to match the outline of the ground piece and sew it on for the ground. I could go on forever about that. The imagination is a wonderous crafter. Many times, the yarn is good for plastic canvas or needlepoint when the pieces I unraveled and washed are small. Doll clothes and even hair you can antique. As you can tell I am a talker. I use the little pieces I know will wash to stuff little things I make. I have even made beads. I am called “keeper of the keys” because I keep everything just about. Sorry I took up so much room. Now you can see why “taking and using” with sweaters is an adventure to me. Oh!!! Don’t forget the buttons!!!

  6. How interesting…. I never thought much about taking apart a sweater for yarn.. I seem to take every thing else apart tho. hhhmmmm- you got my mind going.. I wonder whats in my closet..

  7. I have done this a few times before but never had a specific routine. You make this procedure so much more easier. Thank you

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  12. Thanks so much for the tutorial! I have one sleeve and the collar unraveled on my first sweater! I went to the thrift store and found a blended brown and white one thats 100% cotton. Its easier than I thought it would be. I found my newest venue for my destructive energy!

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