DIY: Turn a Sweater into Yarn (with bonus Ikea stool hack)

I’m all for experiments and trying new things – especially when those experiments involve getting a sweater’s worth of yarn for $5.

After some Youtubing and hemming and hawing, I decided to try recycling yarn from a used sweater. I went to the local Goodwill, found what looked to be a woolen hand-knit sweater (just my luck) in a beautiful denim shade of blue, took it home for $4.99, and began the unraveling.

As you can see, it is not a bad sweater at all. It’s got some lovely cabling, and was made by an expert hand. But, my knitting dreams need yarn. And lots of it!

Here were my sweater-recycling steps: a conglomeration of different Youtube tutorials + my own spin…

1. Dissassemble the sweater: Cutting the seams

I learned (by trial and error) that the sweater needs first to be disassembled(!). I turned the sweater inside out, and found the seams. There were seams attaching the sleeves to the body, and seams attaching the front and back of the garment. What you see below are ‘good’ seams as far as sweater recycling is concerned (they are hand sewn rather than machine-serged). As a result, it was easy to find the thread that held the pieces together, and cut it. I recommend going slowly at first to minimize casualties (i.e. like cutting into the knitting itself!).

On the ‘wrong’ side of the stockinette, the seam looks like two rows of braids. I picked out and cut the thread holding them together.
The seam appears like a ‘ladder’ strung between the sweater’s pieces.

After less than a couple of hours, the sweater was disassembled: 2 body pieces and 2 sleeves.

Front (neck line removed) and sleeves…

This takes a while. The knitter who made this sweater was fond of securing the seams with huge knots. Impatient, I cut these knots away.

2. Finding a pulling point

I’m sure there’s a better way to go about this, but I simply looked for where I thought the ‘cast off’ edge was on each piece. Since this was a seamed sweater, I assumed it was knit bottom-up and looked for the cast off edge at the necklines and tops of sleeves. With a little sleuthing, I noticed an uneven dip in the collar of the front of the sweater (left, below) which signaled where the last stitch might have been made. I worked on it with a knitting needle + scissors, and was able to prise a thread loose. I was in business for some serious frogging! Woo hoo!

I love the ramen noodle look of un-knit yarn.

3. Frogging it!

This is the fun part – you pull and pull…and pull.

I had read that it’s a time-saver not to leave the yarn in a tangled heap when unraveling, so I was looking for something to wind my yarn around as I went. I noticed that our Ikea Marius stool had a good set of prongs on it, so I recruited the stool in keeping my unraveling job neat, for lack of proper tools. I suppose necessity is the mother of… winging it with whatever you’ve got!

Here is the front of the sweater being frogged: with the sweater in my lap, I’m spinning the stool on a table, winding the strand around the 4 legs. I admit, my first section of frogging  wasn’t a perfect pull; there were quite a few joins that had to be made, places where the yarn broke because of my inexperienced seam-ripping (it pays to be precise!)

The front body of the sweater alone yielded a good amount of yarn. I tied the pieces together:

So many joins… forgive the messy background.

By the end of the whole process, I was left with some really copious blue hanks. Check out all that good stuff!

Frogged front, back, and 2 sleeves.

At this point, the yarn needs to be washed, and hung to dry. Adding a weight to the yarn as it dries will help to take out the curls (more on this process in a later post). Then, the yarn can be wound up, and will be ready for its knitting after-life.

There’s a world of beautiful fibre out there, waiting to be discovered and transformed. This experience is urging me not to dismiss Thrift stores and rummage sales as solid stash-sourcing options!

Have you ever recycled old knits? I’d love to hear about your adventures in yarn-cycling (and more!) in the comments.



33 thoughts on “DIY: Turn a Sweater into Yarn (with bonus Ikea stool hack)

  1. A great tutorial, Shirley! Wonderful photos and instructions. So cool that you found this sweater in that lovely shade of blue! What will you make? I did this once with a sweater, but have not yet found a use for the yarn 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Melissa! I’m thinking I’ll try a sweater, or a vest? Somehow, for me, using re-purposed yarn takes a bit of the pressure off of making a first ‘big’ garment in a while. How neat that you’ve done this as well – if you revisit your recycled yarn in the next while, do keep us all posted. 🙂


  2. Great tutorial, I am an expert frogger but with my own knits so far. I have seen other similar experiences, the most impressive being with a cashmere sweater. Imagine finding a old cashmere sweater for a few bucks and reclaiming the yarn. This is true recycling. I think more and more knitters are going to do so at some point: great yarn isn’t cheap, and when you realise there is such a treasure trove of yarn that only waits to be reclaimed, well ! there might be a business venture opportunity there, who knows? Looking forward to see how you wash and dry your reclaimed yarn, this is the part I never do. I just reknit and block, but with yarn coming from a thrift store, you have to wash first and remove the crimples.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Agnes. I admire your fearless frogging spirit, and have, I suppose, applied it to other people’s work. 🙂 A froggable cashmere sweater would be an amazing find! I’m learning to enjoy frogging my own pieces, too – I love the act of knitting, so undoing a few UFOs here and there is ok, and worth it if I get a better knit the 2nd time, I think. Thanks again for sharing your great frogging post! Yes, I can’t wait to get those crimples out. 🙂 Looking forward to more knitting news from you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It takes even more patience to rip out something someone else has made rather than your own. Well done! At least, with your own you have some idea if you put whacking great knots in when sewing up. I have recently undone two UFOs and they challenged me but it felt good when they were done. No plans quite what they shall be but they were never going to be completed as they were. Look forward to seeing your ‘new’ yarn knitted up !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tina. You’re absolutely right. In a way, it’s easier to rip out someone else’s work (more emotional distance, lol), but it was a struggle to undo someone else’s sewing up and figure out the ‘logic’ of the sweater. Congrats on recently reclaiming some of your own yarn! It takes courage to accept that a project will not be, and just start over. 🙂 Likewise – looking forward to more knitting and crafting news from you!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. How interesting, Madgeface. I haven’t yet done commercial sweaters. That may be the next step! I found this very satisfying, too! (and kept marveling at the amount of yarn). And yes, getting through the knots etc. took much longer than I imagined!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow! What a neat idea. I would have never thought of doing that. When I was a kid, my nan used to knit. It was so comforting. 🙂 Many blessings to you and whatever you choose to make with this blue yarn. -Debbie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Debbie. How lovely to hear your grandmother used to knit. Yes, there’s something very peaceful and comforting about the craft. I like to think of it as one (of many) practices of love. 🙂


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