Unraveling A Sweater – Part 1

21 Oct

Here ya go.  A very photo intense tutorial on how I go about unraveling a sweater to reuse the yarn for a better project.

Step 1: Shopping for the right sweater

For your first couple of attempts, stay away from light weight, fine cashmere.  It’s not easy to do.  Pick something bigger – sport, dk, or worsted weight.  When you are at the store, look at the label and look at the seams.

????????Baby alpaca and wool?  I’m all over that!

Notice that I didn’t say look at the color.  I hate pink but there are a lot of pink sweaters out there.  I can overdye the yarn once I get it unraveled so the color doesn’t bother me. Are there any colors I stay away from? Yes.  Black and dark gray. I can’t see the seams to unravel them. I’ve got a gorgeous dark gray cashmere to unravel and I’m having a heck of a time finding the seam. I keep ripping into the fabric of the body of the sweater which causes a lot of swearing to come tumbling out of my mouth. So I try to avoid those dark colors.

Next, check the seams.

????????Same baby alpaca sweater.  And I didn’t check the seams in the store. They are serged.  Stay away from serged seams. Why?  Most of them look like this underneath.

????????See what the manufacturer did?  They knit one big piece of fabric and CUT the pieces out. Every strand is cut and this sweater will not unravel into a continuous piece.  Now what?  I’m going to try to make it into a square pillow by cutting and sewing.  Big bummer.

So what does a good sweater look like?  Let’s look at that off white cashmere I bought last week.


Good label – good content that I like to work with.  🙂  Nice big yarn weight.  Seams?

????????See how I can see the yarn that represents the seam under the seam ripper?  Nice sized – no serged edges.  Now do you see why I was doing the happy dance in Goodwill last week?

Here is a fine cashmere sweater – again PINK!

???????? See it’s doable.  I can see the seams.  But look at how fine the yarn is compared to the picture above.  You just have to be very careful and use your cheater glasses to see what you’re doing.

Step 2: How to disassemble

Turn the sweater inside out and start at the bottom of the sleeve – not the bottom of the sweater body.  Find that chain stitch like I show in the above two pictures and snip it with your seam ripper.  The gently pull the seam apart revealing a hole.

????????Pick at either side of the hole / seam with your finger nail and you should see the yarn that they used to seam the sweater come loose as above.  Start pulling like you do with the top of the dog food bag.

????????????????????????It works the same with any weight yarn.  What do I do with that bottom cuff area that didn’t get cut initially?  You do the best you can to salvage as much as you can.  I sometimes turn the sweater to the outside and pick apart the stitches one by one if I can.

????????Sometimes you’ll have a bulk of yarn that was tucked in and you have to cut it out.


When you get to the underarm intersection there will be a mess of yarn there like above too.

????????Take your time and cut off those bulky chained parts.  Then keep going down the length of the body of the sweater. Do the same to the other side.

The sleeves need to be separated from the piece next.  Usually.  Unless they are raglan.  Then the collar comes next. I don’t have any of those to show.  Begin at the front join – where the front of the sweater and the sleeve join.  Look for the chain stitch. Cut and pull.  Same as before.  And wala!  Your sleeve should be detached!


Look at the top of the sleeve.  Most manufacturers knit from the bottom up.  So the top of the sleeves and the shoulders are where you will start to unravel.

????????I’m looking on the inside of the fabric here.  The right corner has the blob of thread so that’s where I started to cut with my seam ripper and then unravel. Sometimes I screw up and cut too deep.  I lose a bit of yarn.  Not a big deal in the general scheme of things.  Loosen, pull gently, loosen, pull… keep it up til you get the yarn going well.

????????And there you have it!  Notice that this is the fine, cob weight cashmere that I said not to start with.  That fiber is delicate and very thin.  But the other sweater didn’t have sleeves so I only had this one ready to unravel to show in photos.  Also notice how kinky the yarn is.  That will relax after a bath.  For now, start unraveling and winding.  If I’m careful, I can loop this tail on my ball winder and wind away.  I fear that this first wind will stretch the yarn so I usually re-wind a second time.

That’s all I have time for now.  Next I’ll show how to detach the neck piece and how to unravel the shoulders.  Sometimes they are stubborn and are in short segments.


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