Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Great Sweater Unravel

So, I've read about other people re-purposing old sweaters they find in thrift stores, but I never thought it was something I'd be able to do. This isn't because I don't have the desire to, oh I so do, but ... I live in Florida. I don't think I've seen a single hand-knit sweater in all the years I've been thrifting, probably because you just flat out don't need them here. It occurred to me that I could possibly use a non-hand-knit sweater though, so I would look inside any that I came across. 

One day, the craziest thing happened. A nice lady came in the jewelry store to find a silver shawl pin for a wrap she was knitting. She had the knitting with her and let me take a look - it was a nice drapey yarn that variegated from pink to purple to gray and it had a metallic strand running through. She happened to have the yarn label, and showed me it was Blue Heron Rayon Metallic yarn. Of course when she left the shop, I had to look this stuff up - it's just what you do as a fellow knitter - and I discovered that this yarn is $46.00 per skein! Yikes! I had that big price on the brain when I went by my favorite thrift store on my lunch break, and I came across this:
Dudes, this was so kismet. I'd never even felt a rayon yarn before that day, and here was my second experience with an almost identical fiber in my grasp. And it was only $1.50. This Lauren by Ralph Lauren sweater was a size petite small - both designations I do not fit into at all - but it was 68% Rayon/22% Polyester/10% Metallic and it seemed to be about a DK or Worsted weight. AND it was made in such a way that I could unravel it. MUAHA HA HA! (that's my evil laugh, by the way) The way you can tell if you can unravel it or not is simple - look at the seams. If the seams inside are serged together, you're out of luck; but if the seams are "seamed" together - like you would if you had knit the sweater yourself - you can take it all apart :) That picture above and on the right shows the inside of the seam has yarn sewn back and forth - that's what you want.
Since fate was completely on my side with this endeavor, I also ended up buying an unopened seam ripper for 25¢, which enabled me to start ripping this baby apart as soon as I got back to work, lol. I basically went about this in the reverse order of how it would have been knitted - starting with the sleeves, then the neck band, then the back and front. The sleeves came off so easily! I just slid the seam ripper in the seam and picked a few stitches out. Once the seam was opened a bit, I was able to just pull on the seaming yarn and it came completely undone. I did the side seams next, giving me a rather hilarious sparkly poncho to torture my nephew with. Good times. After that, I had to get back to actual work, but I was quick to work on it more on my day off.
Once in my sewing room, I was able to really make a big mess give the project more room. The yarn was being ... a bit persnickity. When I first began the unraveling, I thought that maybe it was fingering weight yarn held in double, but when I really got going on it back at home I could see that the yarn had 4 plys and they were all unraveling separate from each other. It turns out that rayon yarn is just as slick as rayon fabric - the synthetic fibers don't have any barbs to hold them to each other, thus the squiggly mess of plys. This was annoying, but not impossible to deal with. Eventually I just decided to hook it up to my yarn winder and wind it straight on. I weighed the sweater itself down and turned the crank. I kept enough tension to get the kink out of the yarn on the ball, but I had to be careful not to drop that tension - the yarn would quickly spring back off and get all kinky again. Just for the record, the "correct" way of doing this would be to wind the yarn on a swift or something else that you could make a hank with, then wash it to remove the kinks. That just wasn't going to happen with this crazy, splitty yarn, so I just went with it. I've re-wound wool before and it lost the kinks just from the tension of the winding, so I'm hoping for the best here.
Since the yarn was so crazy splitty, I did have many instances where I had to cut the yarn, remove a knot, then tie it back and keep going. Also, the neck band was so all over the place that I could never get it to unravel. When it was all over, I had 390 grams of yarn in balls. and 32 grams of crazy kinky mess that I couldn't use. I'm really not that worried about it. So, if we compare this to the Blue Heron Rayon Metallic, which comes in a 227 gram ball for $46.00, that would make this 390 grams cost $79.00 ... and I paid $1.50 for it. Sure it took about an hour to unwind it all, but Hello! Check out that price difference! Well worth an hour of my time :) I still have absolutely no idea what I will make with 3990 grams of sparkly gold metallic yarn, but it is now an option if I want it, lol.
I was so elated by my success with the gold sweater, that I dug into my stash for these babies. I bought these two 100% cashmere sweaters in the same thrift store about a year ago with the intent of taking them apart, but at the time I didn't have the equipment of the know how, so they've sat in a pile ever since. Personally, I would never wear these sweaters as-is (I would die of heat stroke for one), plus I'm just not a big fan of cream or baby blue. Since these sweaters are 100% cashmere, it would be no problem at all to die them whatever color I want :) These are also Ralph Lauren sweaters as fate would have it, and they are also seamed together so I could take them apart :) Yippee!
I started with the cream sweater, and again with the sleeves. At first, I was getting a little worried about the outcome of this project - the yarn is fingering weight, and all that tugging to unravel was causing a lot of breaks on such a soft fiber. Also, the yarn in actually was held in double - creating 2 strands that I had to pull out and not tangle with each other. On the first sleeve, I would pull it out by hand and wrap each strand around an embroidery frame I had to keep them separated. The original plan was to wind them onto the swift to get a hank for dying - but it was splitting so much and taking so long that I said bump that and I hooked it up to the yarn winder again, lol. I held the embroidery frame with my feet and wound it directly onto the yarn winder from there - I'll make it dye-able later when I'm ready. For the second sleeve, I wised up and hooked one strand straight into the yarn winder, and the other onto the swift. I would unwind it by hand to a certain length, then spin the swift and the yarn winder to wind up the yarn I had unraveled. It took forever as well, but it was better than wrapping the yarn by hand onto that frame.

Each sleeve took me about an hour to undo, so I didn't finish the rest of the sweater yet. I ended up with 108 grams in two balls of yarn afterward. I did the math on on the yarn that was wound on the swift (i.e. measure the swift circumference, multiply by how many strands are wrapped around it) and I estimated 350 yards in that one skein, so I'm confident saying I have about 700 yards so far of this yarn. I know this will be really useful for making all kinds of things in the future :) I'll have enough for a sweater for myself along with countless gifts - I mean, who doesn't love cashmere?! These sweaters cost me $3 each, and I still have the body of the cream one along with the entire blue one left to unravel. One of these days, I'll finish this up.

So, that was my first ever experience recycling yarn from a thrift store sweater :) I love that I've got some really expensive fibers now that I paid almost nothing for - sure it took a ton more work than just clicking the "checkout" button online, but I feel it's worth it since my budget would have never paid for these types of yarns otherwise. I can tell you right now, this will not be my last time unraveling sweaters. I can't wait to find more!

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