Get the Kinks Out: Reusing Yarn

There Once Was a Lavender Sweater

That was so old you could almost forget 'er…

Anyway. Four years ago, I knit a sweater; a lovely lavender sweater knit out of Tahki Cotton Classic. I was thrilled with it when I first knit it, but I never wore it. I had changed the neck from a split-collar, polo-shirt type neck to a crew neck, and it just didn't work on the body. So I took it out and put on a different neck: I picked up stitches around the neck opening and used seed stitch to make a cowl neck. The hem and cuffs were seed stitch, so I thought that would look great. (You can see this process in the photo at left.)

Well, this was a very bad idea because the neck opening wasn't large enough to support a cowl neck. It looked ridiculous, and I pretty much hated everything about the sweater at that point. So I pulled out my needles, folded the sweater up, slid it into a plastic bag, and moved on to the next project.

I recently came across that sweater, and I realized I was never going to wear it and that there were at least twelve skeins of perfectly good Cotton Classic just sitting there in a bag. So I took it out of the bag, tuned in a good movie, and unraveled the entire thing. 

In the process, I relived the knitting of that sweater and realized that I'd learned three important lessons when I originally knit it:

1. If you're going to change the neckline, plan for it early in the process. This was a raglan sweater and I needed a wide neckline for the cowl I wanted, so I would have needed to cast off all four pieces—two sleeves, a front, and a back—sooner than the original pattern called for in order to leave a wider area at the neck.

2. Be mindful of yarn joins when you're using a smooth yarn. Cotton Classic has impressive stitch definition (but it also shows imperfections), so be careful when you join a new ball—this project is where I learned to start a new ball at the beginning of a row instead of in the middle. When you add a new ball at the end or beginning of a row you can hide the ends—and that loose stitch that I always seem to get—in the seam.

3. If you think a garment would hang better with some short rows added, you're probably right. See that extra fabric at the bust area on the front of the sweater? I added short rows to this pattern; another first for me. I have a dim memory of the short rows being too high on the chest the first time I tried them and having to rip down another inch before doing them again. The addition of the short rows made the sweater hang evenly in front and in back without coming up in the front, which happens to a lot of us bigger-busted gals.

(And one more to grow on: lavender isn't my color! But it is my mom's color, so I'm reworking the yarn into a summer top for her.)

How Can I Possibly Re-Use This Pile of String?

So. After I unraveled the sweater, I ended up with a pile of what looked like purple Top Ramen. What to do?

I decided to wind the yarn into skeins and go from there. When I had several skeins, I tried a couple of methods to see what would work best for relaxing this yarn. The first thing I tried was soaking a skein in a sink of lukewarm water, rolling it in a towel to get most of the water out, and letting it hang dry.

That process worked, but it was a bit labor intensive since I had so many short lengths of yarn that I needed to deal with (I don't know why I had so many bits—I don't remember cutting the yarn that much!).

Luckily for me, I just watched the very first episode of Knitting Daily TV series 400, in which host and Interweave Knits editor Eunny Jang addresses this very issue. She unraveled a swatch of yarn into a pile of "yarn ramen," wound it into a skein, and then steamed it. Eunny used a steam iron, but…

Hey—I have a steamer! Operation "Relax the Ramen, Part II" involved that steamer and a hanger. Here's the process:

Here's the yarn on the swift. I put the pile on the floor and wound it slowly onto the swift. Ready for steaming. I hung a hanger on the bottom of the skein to add some weight and to give me something to hold onto while I was steaming.

Steaming the yarn. The final product—good as new!

And now a challenge: If you've knit something that you know you won't wear, don't let all of that good yarn just sit there! Grab the garment, get out your Knitting Daily TV series 400 DVDs, settle in, and start ripping!

And while you're amassing piles of yarn ramen, think back about the process of knitting the sweater; what lessons did it teach you?



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Knitting Daily Blog, Yarn Info & Tips
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

12 thoughts on “Get the Kinks Out: Reusing Yarn

  1. How would steam affect wool that is NOT superwash? I’ve always been told to keep wool away from that kind of heat.

    Because of this, I’ve used a full spray bottle, hanging the trigger on the bottom loop of the skein and let it dry naturally under this tension.


  2. I would have washed each skein (after adding a few more ties) to remove all the oils, soil and dust the yarn had collected in the knitting, re-working and storage it had undergone. A sinkful of warm soapy water, a couple of rinses and then a spin in the washer to remove all the excess water before hanging or laying out to dry. Personally, I think this is the best way to ready yarn for re-use (or my handspun for the first use).

  3. I recently took apart a lace sweater I was almost finished with because as I looked at it I just knew I wasn’t going to wear it. A friend helped me. We used her nidding-noddy, then got it wet and hung it. The weight of the water was enough to get the kinks out. She then wound it back up for me. I’m so happy to have the yarn back–it is a natural colour of homespun that I bought in New Zealand. Now I have the pleasure of finding another pattern. I think I will go back to my original idea for the yarn, something with cables. I enjoyed knitting the sweater the first time and I’m sure I’ll enjoy knitting the second one, too! I just want to encourage people to feel free to unravel a sweater, even after hours of work. I was so happy to see the yarn again!

  4. I, too just unraveled a men’s split collar polo type sweater. I am interested in changing the neckline to a crewneck. Any ideas on how to do that or where I can find resources that would help?

  5. My first sweater is made from several skeins of lovely organic cotton. From making it I learned several things about choosing patterns which are right for my body, and how to properly measure myself and account for ease.
    I think it is only fitting that my 1st sweater project will also be my first attempt at reusing a lovely yarn. Thanks for the tip

  6. Okay Kathleen! This is very cool. I would love a little bit more info.

    How did you unravel the darn thing? I tried to unravel a hat I knit. After
    :45 of struggling, I threw it in the trash.

    I keep hearing about the virtues of unraveling . such as going to Salvation Army and buying a sweater for the yarn ..but please . teach us how to
    unravel! Then I can do the other stuff you shared here!

    Thanks a bunch,

  7. I had to laugh over your account of unraveling your sweater because it
    reminded me of a similar set of circumstances. I live on the east coast and
    we were visiting friends in Colorado. Knowing that I spin my friend and I
    went to a local fiber shop and she, unbenounced to me, purchased enough
    merino silk blend for a sweater which she then handed to me and asked if I
    would spin it for her. Naturally, I said of course. Somewhere along that
    two week visit it became apparent that I was to “knit” this sweater as well.

    Time passed and the fiber was spun and I began knitting. By the time she
    visited us, I had finished the sweater only to find out it was too big. So,
    off to the frog pond to rip it; skeined it as you did and washed it in warm
    water and hung it outside to dry. Success. Grabbed my husband and my ball
    winder and wound the various skeins into balls. I found a lovely sweater pattern with a cabled edge all around and began knitting again. During this time, there was the arrival a several grand children and a few other knitting necessities. Also, there was the big move from New England to Florida, with the partially finished sweater hanging around my neck like the proverbial albatross. My husband even took to nagging me into getting it done. So, out it came and I put it together and started the edging.

    One day a letter arrives along with a picture of the couple. OMG, this
    sweater will never fit her; she’s gained weight; a lot of weight!! Oh my, the first sweater would fit her just fine; what to do now? I ended up in the frog pond again, skeininng, washing, drying, and reballing all this yarn. I told her that there was no way she was going to get a sweater; that this yarn was going to have one more incarnation and that’s it. I ended up delivering a six foot coin & cable edged shawl to her this past October.

    So, my comment to you is this: “When it comes to knitting, you never know
    how many times you’ll be using that yarn or how many “lives” it may have;
    just enjoy the process and remember to smile sweetly!”


  8. Now I’m totally inspired to rip a Silhouette Sweater from Last Minute Knitted Gifts in orange Artfibers Kyoto. I love the year and I love the sweater. But together, that’s just a whole lot of shiny orange yarn. I’ve been thinking of doing it for ages, and now I better get busy!

  9. kathleen,

    thank you for this post that i’m just catching up on. I do have a garment that I wore one time. Why? because when i washed the garment it stretched beyond all belief! I have thought of unraveling it, but I’m worried that the yarn is truly unsalvageable. Well, I’ll never know until I just do it!

    thanks for the inspiration to dig it out and turn it into soup noodles!

    denise/deBRAT in chilly tampa bay florida

  10. great tip! I have just the same problem. The sweater was way too big (what was I thinking???) and I never wore it. I loved the color – royal blue and the style but it was just never going to work. I’m ripping away and on to another cardigan pattern. Thanks