Unraveling Commercial Sweaters (not a tutorial)

As I said last week, no WIPs this week.  It’s been a tough week of no knitting.  The good news is that my wrist/thumb feels much better.  The bad news is that my sanity is hanging on by a thread.  I did a little spinning and assorted non-fibery things to fill the time but I really missed knitting.  I am knitting again today, trying to ease back into it by taking lots of breaks.  In fact, I am writing this post in bits and pieces on those breaks from knitting.

So to fill the gap of not having any WIPs to show I thought I’d give a glimpse into how I unravel commercial made sweaters and ply the strands to make fatter yarn to knit.  I mostly find sweaters made with cobweb weight yarn and I prefer knitting with fingering weight or more.  These pics are for my dressing gown which is DK weight.  This is by no means a tutorial, just some pics I took while prepping more yarn for my dressing gown.

The first sweater I pulled out to unravel happened to be knit with alternating strands.  What I do with this kind of sweater (and you can’t tell if it’s single or alternating until you start unraveling) is unravel it by hand.  I pull out several rows and pile them up on my knee.  The I wind one onto my ball winder and pile the other into a bin like a long strand of spaghetti.  If you’re careful and don’t disturb the bin too much you can wind from the pile without tangles.  No matter how careful I am the yarn breaks occasionally.  I spit splice (using water from a spray bottle I keep handy).  Once I’ve unraveled the whole piece I splice the end of the pile in the bin onto the yarn on the winder and wind that onto the cake.  Then it’s ready for plying.


The next piece (from a different sweater) was single strand so I was just able to wind it straight onto the winder.  I just fold it in half, lengthwise, hold it down with one hand and wind with the other.  I don’t go too fast.  This one is cashmere and it tended to hang up at the edges a bit.  If I went too fast it would break and I’d have to splice it and that happened anyway on occasion.  Cashmere tends to be a bit on the fragile side and will break if you tug too hard.

Then I had to take a sweater apart before I could unravel it.  First I turn it inside out and remove the tags.  The the neck comes off.  I find the seam and pick and poke where it meets the sweater until I get something loose. Or I find the zipper stitch and cut a few of those until I make a hole between the collar and the main body of the sweater.  The zipper stitch shows as a series of sideways Vs.  If you clip through the Vs (and not the main stitches) and tug around on things, the collar loosens from the body.  Then you can tug and pull and find the loose strand of yarn and basically unzip the seam.  This also applies to the rest of the seams of the sweater.  There is another version that I call the locked zipper.  There is an additional stand of yarn in the zipper which basically locks the zipper and you can’t just pull a strand and unzip the seam.  The rest of the seams of this sweater were locked and I had to cut each stitch by hand with my seam ripper.  I’m fairly sure (I’ve not actually done this so I’m not positive) that the zipper stitch on the seams is very similar to the crocheting you do to stabilize the knitting before steeking.

So what I do for the dressing gown yarn is unravel a piece of a sweater (back, front, sleeves) and wind it into a cake.  The I take a cake from 8 different sweaters and ply those together on my spinning wheel.  I started with 4 grey and 4 black strands but now I’m at 6 grey and 2 black because I have more grey sweaters than black.  I can’t really tell the difference between the two once plied but I am holding the ones with only 2 black strands back to do the collar with, just in case there is a noticeable difference when knitted.  I’m hoping I have enough yarn ready to finish the body and sleeves but if not, this project will have to go on hold until I find more black sweaters.

Honestly, unraveling commercial sweater is trial and error and poking and picking until things come apart.  It’s hard to describe and there are several different ways things can be done.  First, avoid serged seams.  Usually the yarn is cut and you’ll end up with a million short strands of yarn.  If it’s not cut, serged seams are still very difficult to undo.  If the should seams are serged but the rest of the seams are not, that’s fine.  I just cut off the serged shoulder seam and you don’t lose a lot of yarn.  Take the neck off first, then open the side seams, starting at the wrists, going to the hip/waist.  Next take the sleeves off of the body.  Then the shoulder seams and then you have your pieces.

Next is getting the individual pieces unraveled.  Start at the top (the shoulder of the sleeves or the neck of the back/front).  There is usually a sort of zipper stitch along the top of the pieces that need to be undone or removed before the piece will unravel.  Then is just like frogging your knitting.  Just be careful at the edges and at the armpits (it’s most likely to be a bit felted and therefore more difficult to get apart in the armpits.)


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