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Thrift Shop Savvy: In search of knits
By host Friday, April 10, 2009 @ 6:12 AM :: 91173 Views :: guest bloggers

One question I am asked most frequently is, Where do you find all of those great second hand sweaters? The answer: at my local thrift stores. I realize not all thrift stores are created equal, but I'd like to share a few tips that might help you make the most of the shops near you.

Getting Started

Look in your phone directory or search online at or to find stores in your area. I'm partial to charitable shops such as Goodwill where your purchase will help out the less fortunate as well as divert items destined for the landfill. Visiting thrift shops frequently gives you a feel for how often the stock is updated. Some shops even have markdown days, senior days, and colored tag programs for offering deals.

Hunt and Gather

sweater stack

Grab a cart, if available, and head for the sweater aisles: men's, women's and kids. Start going through the racks, pulling out whatever strikes your fancy. Remember, quality counts, even at a 99 cent price tag! I also paw through the racks marked Blouses and Long Sleeved Shirts as sometimes sweaters are mistakenly hung there.

Unlock the Potential

Go through your sweater selection with your mind wide open to new possibilities and end uses:

  • Is the sweater made with a great yarn but the styling is outdated? Consider unraveling it to reuse the yarn by knitting or crocheting it into something new. {see Rip-it Good}
  • Is it a beautiful color but it's pilly and misshapen? Try cutting it into strips to craft with. {see Spiral Cut}
  • Is it a beautiful wool sweater that obviously went through the wash and now reminds you of a shrinky-dink? Take this opportunity to cut and sew with sweater felt. {see Felt, Cut and Sew}

Rip-it Good

To recycle yarn, look at the condition and quality of the yarn. If the sweater is heavily worn or partially felted, it won't unravel well and the yarn may have weak spots. Check the seams to see that the sweater is linked together with yarn vs. serged seams. If it was serged together with thread, the pieces were cut and sewn in manufacturing. Avoid this or you'll end up with short lengths of yarn rather than a continuous strand. With the sweater inside out, cut and remove linking yarns. Remove neck treatment and sleeves. Try to begin unraveling the sweater from the top, as most sweaters are knit bottom up. For more tips about unraveling, washing, and winding your recycled yarn, check out this tutorial at neauveau fiber arts.

Spiral Cut

If you've found a fine gauge sweater that's too tedious to unravel, try cutting it into yarn. Starting at the bottom of the sweater, cut off any ribbing or hem. From the side seam, begin cutting across the sweater, creating a strip about 2" wide. Make your strips as long as possible by spiral cutting or cutting in the round all the way up to the underarms. Start again at the bottom of each sleeve (after removing cuffs) knotting the ends of new strips together. Wind your new yarn into balls as you cut. As you might imagine, you can knit with rather large knitting needles (US #19) and projects knit up fast. Any fiber content is suitable although you might consider the end result before choosing your materials. Soft absorbent cotton would make a nice bathmat. Silk would knit up into a pretty tank top. Count on using several sweaters, depending on the size of your project.

spiral cut sweater

Felt, Cut & Sew

Hands down the most versatile (and my personal favorite) sweater recycling technique is none other than felting (or, to be technically accurate, fulling). Fiber content first! Start with a sweater that is 100% wool or close to it. Small amounts of other animal fibers, such as angora or mohair, combined with the wool are acceptable. As a guide, the more stringent the care label (ie: dry clean only) the better it will felt. Hold it up to the light to check for moth holes. They will not close up during the felting process, although you can cut around them if need be. Anything with excessive pilling, stains, or itchiness should be passed over. Wash in the washing machine on hot with detergent, dry in the dryer on low. Now that you have your felt, it can be cut without unraveling. It can be sewn with minimal seam allowances. And, the best part, is that it can be steamed into submission! Sewing felted wool is very forgiving, even of the most wobbly seams.

See for more felty inspiration!

felted blanket

Win a Free Copy of Sewing Green

If you liked Betz's post, or if yesterday's review got you intriguted, register to win a free copy of her book.  Just leave a comment with your favorite tip or technique for crafting green -- repurpose, reuse, ecofriendly -- whatever works for you.


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