How To:: Recycling Sweaters for Yarn

Shortly after I learned how to knit I read about how one could recycle a sweater for the yarn. Sweet! Cheap yarn I thought! I went to the Salvation Army and picked out a sweater I thought would be good for recycling. Huge, an XXXL, and 100% cotton. It was all cream colored and pretty nice. I took it home and gave it my best shot. Which failed pretty miserably at first. I wasted so much yarn that first time around. I still got enough to make into a sizable bath mat. I used the pattern from Mason Dixon Knitting (what a great knitting book).

After a whole lot of trial and error over the last three years, I’ve been able to get the recycling of sweaters down pretty well.

Here is what I do:
First you need to pick out a good sweater. Larger is better as it will lead more yarn of the same type and color. I try to stay away from cardigans because it’s just more seams to take out. Anything with lots of color changes is out. My favorite is something that is a natural fiber (cotton, wool, cashmere) and has minimal synthetics in it. It is really personal preference. Look for what would be easiest to unravel and what you would like to knit.


I’m just going to assume you are going to take my advice and go with a pull over, so you will start with the collar. Find the bind off edge. Don’t use scissors. In fact, I’m going to make that really clear DO NOT USE SCISSORS. Seriously, it will make your life miserable in short and long run. As soon as you do it, you will realize that it is a huge mistake. It will give you all these little short tangled strands that will suck your soul away… so back on track. Find the bind off edge. The yarn end will look like a little lump or a little end sticking out. It should be woven into the ribbing of the collar, go ahead and unweave it and the bind off edge should come unraveled pretty easily.

From there, take out the seams in the following order:


You will then have these pieces:


The arms are pretty straight forward, same as the collar, find the bind off edge, unweave the woven in end and wind it off. The sweater front and back are a little different. You will unbind the one shoulder, then the next, then the bottom of the neck edge.

If you have a ball winder, this is a great time to use it. Just slip the yarn end in and wind your yarn right up.

Look at all this great yarn I salvaged from this one sweater:

Another great use of sweaters from the thrift store is to felt them. Diane of the Crafty Pod talks all about it here in this great post she wrote up about it.

And that’s it for today. I am going to spend the rest of the evening updating green prairie fibers so check that out tomorrow around noon and I’ll see you all tomorrow evening here!
++ Kristin Roach ++

32 thoughts on “How To:: Recycling Sweaters for Yarn

  1. What a great overview of yarn harvesting from thrifted sweaters. For those who haven’t tried it, be sure to take a really good look at the seams. Quality sweaters that are suitable for unravelling are hand or machine knit in pieces and then joined just as you would when handknitting a sweater from a pattern.

    Some of the “bargain brand” and “box store” labels use machine knit fabric and then piece things using sewing techniques with an overlock machine (aka serger). Look closely at the seams inside any non-knit mass-manufactured garment and you will see that the inside edges are sewn with what looks like a zig-zaggy stitch that goes from the seam to the edge of the fabric. When you see this on a sweater, you won’t be able to harvest useful yarn.

    I created a PDF sheet of ball bands that your readers are welcome to print and use. Since reclaimed yarn doesn’t come with all the useful info from the yarn labels. I used the direct link for the blog entry in the “website” field above rather than the more generic link to the blog.

  2. You have GOT to visit our website! I reuse yarn in lots of ways and combined with using the yarn from an old sweater is a perfect addition!Thanks!

  3. Look at that lovely pile of red cotton yarn! It’s making me want to run right to the Salvation Army to look for a sweater! Looks great!

  4. What a great idea. All I ever look for at 2nd hand shops is wool to felt, I never thought about cotton before – would be great for my washcloths. Thanks for the great idea!

  5. In college (before everyone and their brother was knitting) I would un-knit sweaters from the thrift; pear the yarn with a reworked vintage or original pattern; package in a bag with a sketch of the finished project; and sell it to the knitting shop in the bigger town need me. They couldn’t get them to the shop fast enough! I quit my job and bought a new, fancy sewing machine!

  6. Hi there, I run the Carnival of Green Crafts at the blog Crafting A Green World. Could we link to this post in our next edition? Thanks!


  7. What a wonderful recycled craft project. I’ve been trying to find a wool sweater at my local thrift store to do a project like this. Thanks for all the tips and instructions. Now if I could only find the perfect sweater to do the project…

  8. I love this recycling yarn post! I found you from Crafting a Green World, and I’m so glad I did. I live way out in the boonies, and the nearest thrift shop is, like 2 hours away…but MAN does this make me want to take a drive!

  9. This is a great post! I’m glad to find someone else who is interested in recycling cotton in addition to the other more resilient fibers.

    Your post is informative and the illustrations are very helpful. I wish you had written it before I tackled my own experiment in recycling cotton–a pair of striped, fine-gauge Liz Claiborne sweaters now destined to be oodles of socks.

  10. Hi, I am new to recycling yarn, and I just make my first “big score” at a goodwill store. It was like looting, I swear! Unbelievable, and then after I checked out the lady told us to come back on Sunday, because Sunday and Monday are half price days!! I got 4 beautiful wool sweaters to recycle. I immediately learned to favor pullovers not cardigans, the buttonholes ruin the length of the yarn. I see that you are also saying to favor pullovers.

    One sweater is a very thin lambswool yarn, like a laceweight. With the whole sweater to unravel I must have a gazillion yards. Of course I could make lace items, scarves, etc. but I am wondering about making socks with that yarn. Has anyone tried it? I suppose I will just have to try it myself and see how it works. It has a fairly tight twist, and seems pretty sturdy. I have also seen lovely patterns for making lingerie items, or I could make gloves. I could always double it for a heavier yarn, too. Do you have any suggestions for this very light yarn? Thanks for any ideas you may have.

  11. Oh yeah, I actually just scored a really great wool sweater this weekend that is a lace weight and was thinking the same thing. I think if you reinforce the heel with a nylon yarn and the toe, that will give it the extra strength it needs to hold up to wear and tear.

    I also picked up some silk/cotton lace yarn in a huuuuuge xxxl sweater and I’m going to make this pattern with it once it’s washed.

  12. This sounded easy, but once started it proved to be more difficult then it sounds. I think more pictures would be helpful, because I'm sure I'm not the only one struggling.

  13. This sounded easy, but once started it proved to be more difficult then it sounds. I think more pictures would be helpful, because I'm sure I'm not the only one struggling.

  14. I love this idea! I have a question though, in the last picture you show the yarn all wrapped up, How did you make such beautiful rolls of yarn? Did you do it by hand or do you have a tool that rolls the yarn for you?
    I have a problem with balls of yarn that I don’t have with rolls, but I don’t know how to make rolls of yarn instead of balls.
    Thanks, Sarah

Comments are closed.