Deconstruct and Reinvent

Deconstruct and Reinvent

By Stephanie Flynn Sokolov

It is time for spring cleaning: out with the old and in with the new. But wait, before you donate your used clothes, take a look at what might be deconstructed and reinvented. There's great yarn in there!

In the last "Yearning to ..." article, Melissa demonstrated how to deconstruct your t-shirts and reinvent them into a cushy rug. In this issue, I take a look at using an old sweater to create new yarn.

Let's start with a really nice cashmere sweater that is out of style, both in garment styling and color. (If you are reluctant to part with your old clothes, you can always pick up a bargain at your local thrift store.)

Start by cutting off the bottom ribbing of the sweater.

remove ribbing

Most store-bought sweaters are seamed up the sides and this is where I make the next cut. Just cut up a couple inches and deconstruct slowly.

cut side seam

Next, I suggest you find your reading glasses, put on some calm music, and make yourself a cup of tea. You'll need a little patience as you start the raveling process. Start at one side of the sweater and pull a strand across the bottom. You may need to do this a few times until you have a strand of yarn that ravels all the way across the bottom of the sweater (the edge should now look neat and even).

Next, ravel the yarn away from the sides of the sweater. In order to have a continuous thread, follow these steps:

  1. Begin by pulling a thread from the side a couple of inches across the bottom. This will be your starting thread.
  2. Go to the other side of the sweater, and working at the bottom edge pick at the side until the next two rows separate and tie them together in an overhand knot.
  3. Ravel the next two rows and tie them in an overhand knot as well. Continue until you have five or six knots (10-12 rows) tied together in pairs.
  4. Move to the other side of the sweater and do the same, making sure that your first knot does not include the starting thread. This is when the music picks up.

Now, you will use your spinning wheel to do the raveling work. I used my cherry Matchless. Tie the your starting thread to the leader of your spinning wheel. If the sweater is a two-ply, it is likely that it was last spun with a left, or S, twist. I have found that I like to spin it S or left twist, though I don't think the result will be much different if you spin Z, with a right twist.

Set up your wheel to spin with as little twist as possible, using a big whorl or pulley and the most draw-in you can control. You do not want your knots to pull apart or break, but you also want to just wind the yarn onto your bobbin without changing the twist.

ravel at the spinning wheel

Start raveling the sweater, changing the hooks on the flyer often to wind an even bobbin. The bobbin should be winding tightly, and since the cashmere is a fine yarn, you will want to be careful not to create a valley on the bobbin for the yarn to disappear into. (I have lost a half bobbin of fine silk this way.) If you lose the end of your yarn because the peak of yarn on the bobbin collapses over the valley of yarn containing your end, you will have to cut it off the bobbin to find the end. You can alleviate this by placing a piece of tissue paper over the bobbin periodically so if you have to cut back to find your end you only lose a few yards of yarn.

Continue using this technique to wind the yarn on the bobbin, first from the back of the sweater, then the front, then the arms. I like this way because if you find that you have enough yarn for your project out of the front and the back you can save the sleeves for later. Also, it is good to remember that the knots on the sleeves will be closer together than the knots on the front and the back.

After you have deconstructed your sweater to the end, you'll need to decide where you'd like to take your new yarn. I used what I thought was an ugly thrift store sweater (purchased for $2.25). I didn't care for the color, but the cashmere yarn seemed absolutely luscious.

After spinning, I wound the deconstructed yarn off of my bobbin onto my niddy noddy and carefully tied figure eights in four places throughout the skein. After removing the skein from my niddy noddy, I threw it into a dye pot on my stove to soak for a couple hours in some citric acid. I then added acid dye to the pot and simmered for 30 minutes. Voila! A beautiful, kettle-dyed cashmere yarn (shown in the photo above).

If you are a knitter you might want to ply the 2-ply reinvented cashmere with another stand to create a cabled yarn for knitting. If you are a weaver, you can wind the skein directly onto your weaving bobbins.

The possibilities are endless and so are the materials you can deconstruct and reinvent. Don't be scared to cut up your old clothes or discover treasures at your local thrift store. There are 1000s of pounds of clothing waiting to be deconstructed and reinvented. You have the ability to create beautiful yarn and cloth from what less inventive people throw away!

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