Recycled Yarn: An Experiment

Recycling before no towel

Hi There!

I’ve been known to look at yarn on eBay. (Pause for laughter to die down.)

Sometimes you see recycled yarn for sale there, the kind of yarn where a seller has unraveled a commercial sweater. These vendors usually do not wash or otherwise straighten the yarn. They say it will work just fine to knit the yarn as is.

When I rip out my own knitting, I almost always wash it and let it hang in a pretty damp state. The weight of the water in the yarn works to straighten the yarn as it dries.

I have wondered about the claim that knitting the unstraightened yarn will work well. So, I decided to conduct an experiment.

In the picture above there are three pieces of knitting. The tan piece is a swatch that was knit a long time ago. In the middle is a lace scarf that was knit at least 5 years ago. On the right is the collar of a commercial sweater I found at a thrift store.

All three consist of wool and other animal fibers which are the most likely to return to their original state when washed. Synthetics often don’t return to the way they were before being knit. I figured these yarrns were the kind most likely to be successfully recycled.

For each, I unraveled some of the knitting and washed some of what was unraveled. That is what you see in the first picture.

Tan swatchYellow SwatchTweed Swatch

Next I knit a swatch with some of the straightened and some of the kinky yarn. I think you can see in these pictures the place where the already used yarn begins in the swatch, at least in the tan and yellow swatches. There is also a difference in the dark tweed swatch but it was hard to capture in a picture.  (I used a picture with the knitting going sideways and the kinky yarn on the left because it was the clearest.)

The most striking difference was how it felt to knit with the kinky yarn. It really bothered my fingers that the yarn wasn’t doing what they expected it to do. I kept stopping to look to see if I had made an error. And when I checked how the piece looked, I couldn’t tell whether it would look okay when blocked. My conclusion at this stage was that I would want to straighten the yarn for how it felt to work with it; especially it was a large or complex project.

Tan Swatch BlockedYellow Swatch BlockedTweed Swatch Blocked

Finally, I washed the swatches and pinned them to a blocking board. In these pictures the tan and the tweed swatches have the section knit from unstraightened yarn on the bottom.  Some of the irregularity had blocked out but not all of it.

I believe this is because the kinks in the yarn can only create one error – stitches that are too big. The needles prevent any stitches that are too small. So there can’t be any balancing out of large and small stitches. There are only correct and too large stitches.The stitches that were the right size (or close) lose any irregularity in blocking but the ones that are too large will still be too large.

My conclusion is that I will keep straightening yarn that has already been knit by me or anyone else.

Thanks for stopping by. I’m off to more Knit Knot Adventures.






One thought on “Recycled Yarn: An Experiment

  1. Re: I’ve been known to look at yarn on eBay. From personal experience, I know there is enough yarn in Jann’s home to establish a serious yarn store.


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