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02/06/2013 / thriftomancer

Spinning sweaters into yarn

This is the tutorial I promised in reincarnating a sweater on how to use unraveled sweaters as raw material for new yarn. It’s easy, but there are a few steps.

1) Find and take apart a sweater.

Beautifully explained in this tutorial.

Since you’ll be spinning this reclaimed yarn immediately you don’t need to worry about winding it into skeins or straightening it, so you can ignore the last few steps in the tutorial. Just wind the yarn into balls as you unravel it.

2) Spin

Spinning with ex-sweaters requires only basic spinning skills (spinning singles, plying, ect) and one extra skill that’s the real focus of this tutorial. It comes later. For now, just use the unraveled yarn you’ve gleaned in place of roving and get to spinning.

You determine the weight of the yarn you’ll make by choosing how many strands to spin together. I usually use two or three, depending on how fine the original yarn is on its own, and end up with a finished product that’s definitely a “bulky” or “superbulky” size. Pick what you want and spin. It doesn’t matter what direction the sweater yarn you’re using was originally spun in, just choose a direction S or Z, whichever you’re most comfortable with, and spin. It all works out.

If you don’t know how to spin yet, go check out the collected tutorials in Spinning 101. It’s entirely possible to begin spinning with reclaimed sweaters instead of fleece, so read up and then come back here posthaste.

The minor mechanical differences when working with balls of yarn as your raw material as opposed to fluffy fiber stuffs are:

  • You may need a couple bowls to contain your balls and keep them from rolling all over as you pull.
  • You don’t have to worry about drafting.
  • You have to pay attention to slight changes in tension caused by the kinkiness of the yarn.
  • You have to pay attention and keep your multiple yarn strands from tangling together.

And if you’re curious, here’s my setup:

Preparing to spin

The wood bowl is a proper yarn bowl my little brother made me for x-mas, the other is just a cool bowl I found at a garage sale forever ago. The yarn is 40% merino, 30% rayon, 20% angora, and 10% cashmere. And very, very blue. Can’t forget that.

3) Add on another strand

This is that extra skill I mentioned earlier. When you work with fleece/roving this isn’t an issue, but when you work with reclaimed yarn, eventually one of the strands you’re spinning together is going to run out. When that happens you’ll need to add a new strand, this is how.

When you see a strand of your yarn is about to run out, spin as far as you can, then stop a couple of inches from the end. Pinch the spun section to keep the twist from migrating up and fan out the strands.

1: ID the short strand

Grab a new ball of yarn that you’ll add in and unroll about a foot of material from it.

Bring the free end from the new ball right to the start of the twist so when you release it, the new strand will be incorporated.

2: Add in a new strand

Release the twist a little to anchor the new strand, then weave in the tail end of the old strand. Make sure it’s securely looped into the others so no fuzzy bits will poke out once it’s spun.

3: Tuck in the tail

Then spin. The join will disappear into the rest of the single, leaving only a slight bump where you added the new yarn. The more you practice, the more seamless it’ll be.

4: Spin!

4) Keep spinning

Once you’ve turned all your reclaimed yarn into new singles, ply it, set the twist, and enjoy your new yarn.

That’s really all there is to it. Find a sweater, rip it apart, spin it back together, and voila: Fresh, handmade yarn.

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6 Comments

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  1. FemmeGauche / Jun 16 2013 11:35 pm

    This is so relevant to me! Have been looking into/acquiring basic skillsets for spinning, and reclaiming yarn from thrifted sweaters for some time now. What are you using as the whorl on your spindle there? I see that the shaft is a tunisian crochet hook.

    • thriftomancer / Jun 22 2013 7:08 pm

      The whorl in that picture is two disks of stiff red leather that I glued together with Elmer’s and clamped. It works pretty well for a lightweight whorl and was super cheap and easy to make. I’ve since switched to a heavier walnut whorl that my little brother made me. (He’s such a cool dude.)
      Good luck in your spinning! It’s a great skill to get into.

  2. Ajehy / Jul 24 2015 12:50 pm

    Thank you so much for the great tutorial!

    I have a question: I recently reclaimed a sweater made of 9-ply green wool. The plies separated as I unraveled it, but I balled it up anyway. Any recommendations for re-spinning it as it was? Or should I seperate the plies into bowls and redo the whole thing from scratch?

    • Ajehy / Jul 24 2015 12:56 pm

      Oh, and each “ply” of the 9-ply yarn is a two-ply in and of itself. It’s like Plyception here! The 9-ply strand is Worsted. The 9 component plies are roughly lace or fingering weight, and the 2 strands in each ply are dentil floss weight.

      • thriftomancer / Jul 25 2015 8:38 pm

        Whoo, a cabled yarn. Those can get tricky to work with.

        If the individual plies are separating, but are still roughly the same length (when you pull them together there’s not any bunching or stray loops and it looks like a cohesive yarn, just not as tightly spun) I would suggest you just work with them as-is.

        Try that to start and see what happens. Mostly likely it will all twist back into its old 9-ply self. And if not, then try separating the plies.

        Just be aware that separating plies can be a major hassle because even though they’re not tightly spun now, when you start separating them they will be. By separating you’ll start concentrating what little twist they have into one spot and they become super-twisty. It can be done, it’s just not as easy as it seems at the start.

        Good luck!

        • Ajehy / Jul 26 2015 12:33 pm

          Thank you so much for the prompt reply and the great advice!

          I took your advice (don’t seperate, just spin it back to its 9-ply self) and it’s going beautifully! I think I over-twisted a little in the beginning, but it’s going like a dream now!

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