Fiber Hunting

15 Jan

Instead of a youtube video, I’m going to post today pictures and explanations on what I look for when shopping thrift stores for sweaters to unravel.


I like to work with wool.  I have knit a few things in cotton, but it isn’t as “bouncy” as wool and gets very heavy at a larger gauge like worsted weight.  (Gauge is the next section.)  That being said, not all wool is created equal.  Merino wool is my favorite.  If it’s merino wool, it will say it on the label.  I haven’t found any pure merino wool at my Goodwill shopping trips.  But I have this one to unravel which is primarily merino wool.

The other fibers on this sweater are good fibers too – even the nylon.  That adds strength.   So this is a good combination.

Speaking of combination fibers, angora is good in moderation.  Otherwise it’s too hairy and ‘sticks together’ too much and makes the unraveling process difficult.  Also too much angora tends to make the fibers airborn when unraveling and you sneeze a lot and it makes the floor all ‘dusty’.  🙂  10-15% is a good amount of angora for me – no more.

100% wool tags:  If they aren’t going to tell you what kind of wool it is, then it’s probably itchy wool.  It has short fibers and will cause some skin irritation.  I don’t discount it automatically though.  Take this sweater for instance.

It’s 100% wool.  It’s itchy.  But the sweater is a size XL and the gauge is huge so it will make a nice cardigan that will have a turtle neck worn underneath.

Other fibers?  I like silk, cotton blended with wool, alpaca (I like alpaca a lot – just can’t find it), and obviously my current fix – cashmere.  Natural fibers from animals are my favorite.

Do the skin test.  Rub the fiber against your face or inner lower arm.  Does it itch?  It will itch when worn.


Gauge refers to the thickness of the yarn.  The finest gauge is usually found on cashmere.  The yarn looks like a single piece of thread.  That gauge is referred to as lace-weight and can be used by itself to knit lace shawls.  I don’t like to knit with that fine of yarn.  It’s too delicate and I’m not a very delicate person.  However, as you’ve seen in previous posts, I can hold two, three, or four strands together and knit at the next gauge levels up – light fingering, fingering, or sport weight.  If I unravel a small lace weight sweater and then hold three strands together, I’m not going to make another sweater.  I would only have 1/3 of the yarn that the original sweater had (if that).  An XL cashmere sweater with a turtleneck or hood would be a jackpot find! 🙂

Most sweaters that are machine knit of good quality fiber are going to be lace or light fingering weight yarn.  The sweater below is lambswool (a kinda scratchy yarn but nice to work with) and is chunky weight (the heaviest).

Weird proportions for a sweater, don’t you think?  The arms are super long and skinny!  What will I make with something like that?  I was thinking about a cowl or infinity scarf that are popular at stores like The Gap this season.


I have to be able to see the seams to unravel the sweater.  The gray sweater above that just said 100% wool?  Look how nice you can see the seams.

That little chain stitch ‘v’ is the seam.  It’s the same kind of seam that they use for dog food bags.  You cut one end and it unravels itself in one piece (ideally).  Also, the selvages aren’t bound off with thread or machine stitching of any kind.


As I mentioned above, look for any machine stitching on the sweater.  Here’s a cardigan with machine button holes.

I didn’t notice that at the time.  I will lose the majority of both fronts on that sweater.  I can still use the back and sleeves though.

I found an alpaca sweater last month that had machine embroidery paisley “things” across the whole front.  UNUSABLE.  Sigh…   I considered getting it but it had the next problem.

BLACK!  I can’t see the seams on black.  I can’t see the yarn.  Black yarn is tough to work with in my opinion.  The above sweater was also black.  Bummer…  I would have purchased it to wear except those paisley things were butt ugly.

Felted fiber.  Many people don’t know how to wash a wool sweater.  Agitation causes the sweater to felt.  The first clue is that you can’t see good stitch definition.  You can’t see those V’s – they are all melded together.  It’s probably felted which is not good for my purposes.

Holes?  I can live with holes.  Minor holes are not bad things.  Ask for $$$ off.  Maybe you can get it even cheaper!

Okay family members that are fiber-hunters/bargain shoppers.  Now you know what I look for in a sweater.  Different people have different preferences.  Right now these are my preferences in order of fiber content:  (1) cashmere (2) merino wool and/or alpaca.  I have a lot of lambswool right now and I need to use some of the mixed content fibers to see what my preferences are there.

As soon as work settles down, I do plan on producing a youtube video on how to actually take apart a sweater.  There’s plenty of fiber for everyone, but if you live in my immediate area, save the cashmere for me!  😉


3 Responses to “Fiber Hunting”

  1. Sonia January 15, 2012 at 9:54 AM #

    Awesome post! Bruce mused, “man, when Gina gets into something she gets in BIG!” I’m off to look for some Alabama fibers after church this morning. Only 1 GW in the area and it’s not open on Sunday (Bible belt, you know). Tomorrow is a holiday and an opportunity to get some bargains 🙂

  2. Diana W. January 15, 2012 at 12:54 PM #

    BTW, everyone is wishing you a Happy Birthday over at MQR. I thought you would want to know…oh, and Happy Birthday from me!

    • ginaquilts January 15, 2012 at 3:13 PM #

      Well thanks! I wonder what I had down for my birthday on that site! My birthday is in November! Lol. But any birthday wishes are good birthday wishes.

      Sent from my iPad

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: