We recycle as much as we can don’t we? Paper, foil, plastic, glass, left-overs (this goes to the dog). The list keeps on growing day by day. But one thing that you rarely hear of nowadays is recycling yarn. During the war, and in poorer countries for many decades afterwards, recycling yarn was perfectly normal – good quality wool was not and is not cheap. The term “virgin wool” was used to indicate unrecycled yarn.
However in our modern life where nothing seems to last a lifetime anymore (OK, I’m showing my age), we just don’t hear of recycling yarn. Or rather we are sold recycled yarn rather than being encouraged to recycle our own. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying recycled yarn – especially if it helps a local community in need. But there is something a little cheeky about a large manufacturer buying up unwanted wool or cotton garments, shredding them, spinning them and selling it back to us at a usually higher than normal price. I’ve not quite worked out why that should be – after all the green credentials are probably rather weak considering the manufacturing process.
Well, I do recycle. As much as I love the feeling of new yarn and seeing a colour combination that is new for me, I recycle a lot. Perhaps it’s a project that I know that will never be finished – be honest, we all have those tucked away in secret corners. Or an item that doesn’t look quite right, has gone out of fashion, is no longer appreciated or countless other similar reasons. Recycle it. If you see a jumper in a charity shop which tickles your fancy but is just a hideous shape, think about buying it for the yarn.
Here are my tips for recycling
- You can recycle any yarn with patience but wool i.e. natural material is the best yarn type to reclaim as it is durable. It doesn’t matter if the original item has a hole or stain. The only exception to the recycling rule is anything fluffy. Just don’t go there – you are likely to spend an inordinate time trying to unpick the item and even if you manage it, your yarn will look threadbare and sad.
- Wash the item appropriately. You will be stunned how much dirt lurks in an old woollen jumper. I recall unpicking a large man’s jumper for the yarn (acquired in the charity shop) and even after washing, I was left with a handful of dirt. Not fluff. Dirt!
- Unpick anything that has been sewed on. Tailors have this amazing unpicker that has a little hook you can put under a stitch and when you pull up, it cuts the yarn for you. I have no idea what it’s called but my grandmother’s unpicker is a regularly used item and I’m rather thankful I found it all those years ago.
- Save buttons and good quality zips. There is always a need for these things sooner or later.
- Start unravelling. Be gentle, don’t tug too hard as you’ll make the knots harder to undo. Being married to a patient fisherman who is used to untangling knots is very handy at times like this. If you don’t happen to have one of those around, treat the knots as a game of patience. Or yoga. It really works.
- Cut discoloured or unusable pieces of yarn and discard.
- Wind the yarn loosely on to something long e.g. arm to elbow length. When once skein is done, tie the end of the yarn around the skein to keep it secure. Try not to have too big a ball.
- Once you’re done, you will have several balls of kinky yarn and you’ll wonder what on earth you’re going to do with your permed wool. Fear not, this is where the magic of wool comes into play again.
- In a large bowl of water, gently submerge your skeins until they’re totally wet. Gently squeeze the water out and hang up to dry. The hanging, and gravity, will pull your wool straight. Or at least straighter.
Hope this has inspired you at least a bit to try. Let me know how you get on.