Monday, March 28, 2011

Recycled, Upcycled Sweater

...lots of yarn for very little!

If you're like me and buy yarn as if sheep were going extinct, you know that your yarn bill adds up. Very quickly. A great way to get a lot of yarn is by going to the thrift store! While some thrift shops do sell yarn that people have donated, I'm talking about buying a sweater, taking it apart and reusing the yarn for your project! It's cheap. It's awesome. It's a load of fun! Lemme break it down.

In my case here, I knew I wanted yarn I would be able to dye with food coloring. To dye with food coloring or Kool Aid, you have to have it made out of wool of some sort. The higher the wool content the better. Cotton and man made fibers like acrylic do not take dyes very well (I should clarify- cotton does not take food dyes very well.) This sweater here I bought for $4.99 and is 50% wool, 50% acrylic.

The second thing you want to look at in a possible sweater are the seams. Go ahead and turn it inside out. What do you see? If the seams are sewn together like this, then you're golden! That means each piece was knitted then put together with a chain stitch.

However, if you find a sweater that was sewn together with a serger skip it! A serger cuts the yarn while it sews it together. That means that instead of having one long continuous piece of yarn you're unraveling, each row of knitting will be it's own separate string. You'd end up with hundreds of yard long pieces of yarn. Not very useful for knitting.

So now you have to wash your sweater. I hand wash them with some wool wash. You can wash it as it is- in one big piece before you've taken it apart. You can take the sweater apart, wash those separately or you can do what I like to do. After I've taken it apart, unraveled it and skeined it I wash it just prior to dyeing. When you dye yarn, you want the yarn wet. So washing it right before makes sense to me.

Taking the sweater apart is fun but can also be time consuming. I like using a seam ripper. If you look at the chain stitch that sewed the sweater together, you'll notice that it looks like a bunch of arrows on top of each other. If you cut the thread at the top of the arrows, you'll be able to just pull it and it'll unravel the entire seam (think of it like dog or cat food- some bags have that same sort of chain stitch closure when you first buy it.) If you can get that chain stitch undone, it'll save you lots of time!

With this sweater, I am planning on using the sleeves for a different project so I put them aside and just started unraveling the front and back pieces. You can wind it into a ball, wind it onto a niddy noddy (which I do) or wind it around anything else- back of a chair?

My four year old son wanted a blue sweater, so I knew I'd be dyeing this yarn. I had him pick out the colors. He chose Wilton's teal, royal blue and kelly green food coloring. I used the pan method and heated it in the microwave. After I skeined and tied my yarn (to prevent tangles!) I washed it and then soaked it in vinegar water. I gently squeezed out the water and layed it in my casserole dish. I dissolved each food dye into some vinegar water and poured it on top.

Left to right: royal blue, kelly green, teal.

I then microwaved it a few minutes at a time until the water was clear. I pulled out the yarn, let it cool then squeezed out the water and let it dry. I did this will all the skeins of yarn I would be using.

I found this great pattern for a top down, seamless raglan sweater. Fits anybody, any size with any yarn. You knit a swatch, plug in your numbers, do the math and now you have a sweater pattern! It worked great! After I finished knitting Bailey's sweater, I still had enough of the yarn to knit myself leg warmers. And don't forget I still have those two sleeves! All that yarn. For less than $5! Such a deal!

Name: Bailey Blue Sweater
Yarn: recycled, upcycled thrift store sweater yarn
Weight: super bulky
Pattern: The Magic Custom Fit Raglan Sweater by At My Mothers Knee


  1. I love this sweater, the color you dyed it is awesome!!!

  2. Fantastic! Awesome post Maiya. Your details are great, and will be helpful should I ever take on this type of project!
    Bailey, of course, looks adorable as always. : )