Recycled Cashmere Yarn

Miniature knitted teddy bear

Loryn: All of the Crafty Sisters love being thrifty, and it’s hard to beat the cost of recycled yarn. I pick up wool and cashmere sweaters at garage sales and thrift stores for a few dollars, and with a little work, I have beautiful and very inexpensive yarn. The little guy pictured above was made with recycled cashmere yarn from a fine gauge sweater. He is a miniature, knit at about 10 stitches per inch. The pattern came from The Knitted Teddy Bear, and the original is about 13″ tall. My version is about four inches tall, knit on 00 knitting pins. I hand dyed the yarn for his scarf. Cashmere takes kool-aid and food coloring dyes beautifully, and I’m working on another hand dyed, recycled cashmere project right now.

beige cashmere sweater

This is a Lands End cashmere sweater that I picked up for about $5 at Goodwill. When you’re looking for sweaters, look for high quality sweaters. Inexpensive cashmere will easily break, and very cheap sweaters will be cut rather than knit into shape (“fully fashioned”). You don’t want the ones that have been cut from a large piece of knit fabric, because you can’t unravel the pieces as one piece of yarn. It is also nice to find sweaters that are assembled with a chain stitch, which is easy to pull out. Once you have disassembled your sweater, you’re ready to start unraveling it.

Swift and ball winder

The easiest way to unravel a sweater is to use a swift. Here, you can see mine. They are not cheap, but are well worth it if you use a lot of recycled yarn, or buy a lot of yarn in skeins. When I first started out, I would unravel the yarn and wrap it around an 18″ piece of cardboard, so I could count my yards. The swift is nice because it does the unraveling for you. Just hold onto the sweater and spin the swift! Of course, you may enjoy pulling the knitting apart. Kristin sure does—she spent her childhood pulling my knitting projects apart every time I set them down!

Here you can see the yarn part way unraveled. The pink tie is there so I can count the number of turns (and thus keep track of yardage).

When you take the completed yarn off the swift, it looks like this. It’s easy to straighten back out by wetting and weighting it. But first, I plan to hand dye these two skeins.

A  lot of dyes are toxic, or use toxic mordants even if the dyes themselves are natural. These aren’t the kind of substances you want to use in your kitchen, especially around kids or pets. Luckily, you can dye protein fibers like wool and cashmere with kool-aid or food coloring. I’ve tried both with great results. Kool-aid dyes are more limited in color, and leave your yarn smelling fruity, so I prefer Wilton icing dyes. They come in a wide range of colors, and a little goes a long way. For this project, I’m using Royal Blue and Violet.

There are a lot of great tutorials on the web for dyeing with food coloring. I used both this tutorial from PieKnits (though I did not bother to use a thermometer. I just winged it and it came out great), as well as this YouTube video from Chemknits. Both were very helpful.

When my yarn was dyed, I stretched it in the tub to remove most of the kinks.

Here, you can see my highly scientific method! Just hook the yarn over shower rings and put a heavy bottle on the bottom. If you’re not hand dyeing your yarn, just skip to this step.

Once dry (and make sure it is very dry), it is ready to wind into a ball.

Here, I’m just getting started winding it onto the ballwinder. You can do this step with someone’s arms and just wind the yarn into a ball. I like the winder because it makes my thrifty recycled yarn look very expensive and fancy.

Speaking of, here is the finished product:

I love the color variation you get from hand dyeing! Here is a close up:

Cashmere yarn can be in the budget of the thriftiest knitter! I’ve even found a few worsted-weight cashmere sweaters at the thrift store, so keep an eye out! I only unraveled the sleeves, for a total of 640 yards of lace-weight yarn. Now it’s ready to knit!


6 thoughts on “Recycled Cashmere Yarn

  1. Hi, doesn’t the cashmere wool turn into felt when you heat it to such a high temperature? Thanks for the great idea.

    1. Cashmere actually doesn’t felt at all (it’s a hair, not wool, so it can’t). If a cashmere sweater does felt, it’s a sign that it’s not real cashmere. But, heat alone doesn’t make wool felt, either. As long as you don’t agitate it, you can dye wool with this method, too!

  2. Hey, correct me if I’m wrong here, but I was doing some reading up before vat-dyeing some wool clothing on the stove this summer, and I learned that agitation AND rapid temperature change are what cause felting in wool. So – so long as you don’t agitate it, and so long as you bring your dyebath up to temp gradually (with the wool in it) and allow it to cool off before plunging your wool into a cool rinse (or just rinse in hot water), that should help prevent felting!

    But I haven’t gotten into yarn dyeing seriously yet, so someone please correct me if I’m misinformed! =)

  3. Hi, great to find your post! I have been unravelling thrifted jumpers and cardigans, for a couple of years now, washing and knitting them up into throws and cushions using Arran wt or chunky recycled yarns. Its the first time I’ve seen anyone else recycle garments as I do; my method of removing the kinks in the washed yarn was to hand wind round chest of drawer handles, or bottles or using the swift to get rid of the curls in the yarn, never thought about weights – I will try that as much quicker. Also only recently realised I could use my swift to make unravelling quicker! . I’m always trying to find ways to improve / speed up the process! I agree, I avoid jumpers that are sewn at the seam- during COVID lockdown I resorted to buying second hand online – but you rarely see the seams in the pics and sometimes people are not always honest about the wool content.

    Recently I have tried unravelling cashmere jumpers but the yarn just breaks. Perhaps the jumpers were just too old, and I was thinking of felting them instead though I have never intentionally tried that! I have some newer second hand cashmere so I will try again!

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