Many moons ago, I scored an awesome hand-knit cashmere cardigan for $18 at a Buffalo Exchange. I wore the poor thing to death. It was practically my uniform the last “summer” I spent in San Francisco’s frigid Sunset district, and after a year or so the delicate side seams began to disintegrate. I held on to it over the past few years, wearing it mostly as a housecoat in an effort to protect it from regular closet purging. It’s time had long come and gone, but I was loathe to give up on its beautiful, thick, cashmere potential, so I finally unraveled it.
Many sweaters aren’t worth the time it takes to harvest their yarn, and many cashmere sweaters are machine knit from yarn far too thin to hand knit in this lifetime (re-spinning it into new multi-ply yarn is another matter entirely for the adventurous yarn athlete), but nice wool, cashmere, and silk blends of a heavier gauge are always ripe for the harvesting. There are countless video tutorials out there, so I won’t bother making another, but let me assure you that the road from old sweater to beautiful new yarn is less treacherous than it is rewarding, especially when the price of cashmere yarn is upwards of $20 an ounce.
Step 1: Unravel the side seams of each piece (an important note: yarn harvesting can only really be done with sweaters hand stitched at the seams. For obvious reasons, cut & sew knits are completely out of the question, lest you want oodles of sprinkly yarn bits). My particular sweater unraveled into 2 sleeves, 2 epaulets, 2 front sides, 2 ribbed trim panels, and 1 back piece.
Step 2: Unravel each piece. Starting at the top of each piece, you should be able to unravel with ease. A crochet hook is handy both for taking apart side seams and coaxing tricky knit edges — cashmere in particular is a delicate fiber and your yarn will break easily if it’s pulled too tightly. As you unravel, wind the yarn into skeins (I make small ones by winding around from my thumb to elbow), and secure each with two ties, top and bottom, to prevent tangling during washing.
Step 3: Give yr yarn a bath! I use Tse Cashmere Lotion and warm water in the sink. I use it because it’s what I have in the house, but you can use any gentle detergent you like. Wash the skeins one by one in a shallow pot or bowl, being careful not to undo their ties and get them tangled. Rinse, squeeze out excess water, and set aside a place for them to dry.
Optional extra step, if you roll like that: Dye yr yarn! I used Rit Dye, again, because it’s what I had at home, but I’ve heard of all sorts of dyes, from vegetable to Kool Aid. Consult the internet and be amazed. Follow the directions for your particular dye, and lay your skeins out to dry like so:
They’ll take a day or two to dry, depending upon the temperature. Once your colorful yarn noodles are dry, wind them into balls and get stitchin’. Ball winding (tee-hee!) is an art of its own, and there are countless ways to wind your balls. There are also plenty of ways to prepare your yarn for knitting (Wait, what are we talking about? Just kidding).
So, save an old sweater, save yourself some money, and make your grandmas proud!