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November 15, 2005

Just a little pop quiz

Die, poorly fitting pink sweater, die!!!

I’ve had this 100% wool JCrew sweater for many, many years now, and at some point or another the lack of shaping and sleeves that are too long finally annoyed me enough to put it in the “donations” bag. There it sat for at least a year as I plucked other clothes out of the bag and actually made donations… I just couldn’t part with this particular sweater, but at the same time, I couldn’t put it back into the closet either.

There are two reasons I couldn’t easily give away this sweater. First, contrary to what you may think, not all pink looks good on me (gasp!). This particular tweedy pink, which (hey, Betsy!) borders on rhubarb, I find very flattering to my bluish skin tone. So, if I was to knit something for myself out of this yarn, I know ahead of time that the color would look good on me. Second, being highly sensitive to all animal fibers, and downright allergic to some of them, I couldn’t dismiss the fact that I could wear this non-merino wool sweater over a t-shirt for many years. Let’s face it – that’s just a yarn ball band short of a miracle!

So, I decided to recycle the yarn from this sweater. Winding onto my arm, as I typically would when frogging, seemed restricting, since it would leave only one arm to manipulate the sweater. I heard of devices used for winding skeins of yarn called Niddy Noddies and June suggested to check Mind’s Eye Yarns, a new-to-me LYS, to see if they had one.

Score! I got this Ashford Niddy Noddy for a very reasonable price.

Question 1: Why did my Niddy Noddy come with a little piece of sand paper?

When checking out, the LYSO asked me if I had seen all the fiber in the other room. I answered, “yes, but I’m not a spinner.” A quizzical look followed.

Question 2: Do only spinners buy Niddy Noddies?

A properly armed woman is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

With the exception of a few wrong snips here and there (good thing I’m not a medical doctor!), frogging was painless, and the Niddy Noddy worked out great! I recovered most of the yarn, but there was a surprising number of cleverly-hidden knots that I chose to cut out. Also, there were plenty of little pieces of hay or other VM – always causes a “precious!” reaction from me, since it reminds me where the wool comes from :).

So, what’s the bottom line? I recovered 237.4 grams of yarn, which is about 1130 yards, plus another 100 yards in those little scrappy balls in the middle of the picture. The yarn is two-ply, and approximately fingering weight, I’d knit it on US 2-3 (the gauge was 6.5 spi, 11 rpi in the original sweater). What am I going to make from it? I don’t even have a sense of scale!!! Is this enough for a hat, a scarf, a vest, a baby sweater, an adult sweater? Beats me!

Question 3: For those of you who have recycled store-bought, machine-knit sweaters, and have actually hand-knit something from the recycled yarn, were you able to get a garment of the same size? Smaller? Larger?

The yarn is slightly felted and seems fragile, which is a bit disconcerting. Maybe it would be stronger doubled? Doubling certainly makes this yarn better suited for sweater knitting… or at least sweater knitting in a reasonable amount of time.

Question 4: For those of you who have recycled store-bought, machine-knit sweaters, did you end up doubling the yarn so that you could knit on reasonably-sized needles?

I await your answers before deciding what to do with all this pink goodness. And as with my real-life students, this pop quiz will be graded. HARSHLY.

Posted by Kathy on November 15, 2005 03:13 PM


neauveau.com has a great tutorial on how to recycle sweaters in case any other readers are interested in learning how to do this.

Streets and YO's made socks with a recycled sweater...

I am a sweater recycling tard. I can't do it. I had two of those JCrew sweaters just like yours. One v-neck and one crew. I destroyed both of them trying to unravel them. And thats with good online instructions.

Well, prof, I always did well at pop quizes! Um... except this one. I only know the answer to #1. When I bought my wooden swift it looked so smooth and nice. That is until actual YARN touched it. Suddenly there were several rough spots which grabbed and shredded yarn. My educated guess is that the sandpaper is to resolve that kind of issue.

Aw, c'mon, you know I know the answers!

1) Ashford doesn't finish their wood surfaces, you have little rough spots that catch yarn, zap with sandpaper, presto, smooth surface!

2) Clearly not. But who do you know more of - spinners or sweater recyclers?

3) You could definitely make something bigger if you added a lace pattern.

4) [What's unreasonable about US1-2?] You could hold 2 strands together, or you could... wait for it... use a spinning wheel to ply them into something bigger! Y'know. Like a cabled yarn. :)

If it's not superwash, you could also gently gently full the yarn a la Waterspun (but this is damn tricky to do successfully) to help strengthen it. Won't make it markedly thicker, though.

What's my score!?

PS - Your link to Mind's Eye is wonky.

Oh, and 1 more thing - machine-knit sweaters often have really oddball row gauge. (That's how you can tell when a handknitting sweater pattern was originally designed from a machine-loomed sample.) Handknit gauge is generally in the neighborhood of 2:3 (height:width). So if you're looking for a pattern or thinking of designing one, keep in mind that you're unlikely to get that gauge with 2 needles.

Check with MaryTess. She's always knitting with something wonderful that she's recycled from thrift shop sweaters. I consider her the guru on this. It doesn't hurt that she lives in and near many of the more upscale areas of West LA, so the thrift stores have higher-quality stuff.


I really like recycling the yarns, but if you're gonna double them, just make sure you wind them onto a swift or into a hank or something and wash them and hang them with weight to dry. I learned the hard way that if you knit with the ramen-noodly yarn, you can get a very icky looking finished product. That being said, if you wanted to felt it, no straightening required, since it doesn't really matter if it's not a smooth finish.


1. Maybe you are supposed to sand it?
2. Nope, I bought a niddy noddy and do not spin! But we might be in the minority here. My LYSO looked at me funny though too. I explained that I needed to wash coned yarn. It was still a strange interaction.
3. I doubled my recycled sweater yarn, because like yours, it seemed kinda felted and delicate. Then I made socks from it on size 3 needles, and totally could have gone to size 2s.
4. Yes (see answer 3)

If you don't double the yarn, you could probably get a sweater of the same size as the original, right??

1. As others have mentioned, Ashford machine cuts most of their smaller equipment (like your niddy-noddy, or handcards) using a pressure die. This leaves a lot of rough edges that could not only break or snag your yarn, but in the case of my handcards, cut you (well, me)! Not only do I highly recommend sanding your niddy-noddy, but I would also suggest varishing it, for posterity and for added ease.

2. I'd say mostly spinners buy niddy-noddies, but not all. You bought one, right?

3. I do not believe you can make the same size garment, due to knots, thin spots, seams, etc. I'd say with a small woman's garment, doubled, you could expect a scarf or other accessory.

4.I recycled a 60% wool, 40% silk sweater that was knit on a "chunky" knitting machine. This means that the yarn used was closer to fingering weight to begin with. I realized, unfortunately, that the yarn was too worn to make something nice out of it. I've saved it in hanks for a future project or experiment. That said, I've frogged other machined sweaters that were thread, basically, and I did double them to make something like fingering weight.

Finally, I must mention a few things from my personal experience. First, if you've worn that sweater a lot, the wool fibers have been bent, broken or matted over the years. This yarn is fragile and will fall apart easily. I would take June's suggestion and ply two strands together on a wheel. The tension of two opposing "singles" (in your case two strands) strengthens the wool and will add strength and durability to the finished product.

Finally, if you have no project planned for this yarn, I would store it in hank form, after thouroughly lanolizing it. Having the yarn tightly wound in balls weakens the wool fibers and it can literally fall apart in your hands as you unwind it if stored in ball form.

Good luck!

Plying the yarns is probably unnecessary, but you're going to want to hold two strands together if the yarn is fragile. With around 500 yards of yarn resulting, you could make a matching scarf and hat, but you won't be able to make a sweater.

Oh, and I have the same exact niddy-noddy. After sanding it smooth, I rubbed beeswax all over it and buffed it with a rag. It got a beautiful patina, and never snaggs yarn now.

Hmm, I have two JCrew sweaters like this as well that I'd been thinking of recycling but worried because the fabric seemed a bit felted. Did you sweater start out with a slightly felted appearance, or was it just the yarn that now seems slightly felted upon unraveling?

1) It came w/ sand paper so you can sand the wood :-) and just in case you don't have any or know where to get sand paper - thoughtful people at Ashford.

2) You aren't a spinner and you bought a niddy noddy, so did Diana - clearly the answer is "no".

3) I've never done it, but I'd think your gauge would be larger, but the finished garmet should be "similar".

4) Doubling it seems to be the way to go here, which screws up the sweater plan.

How'd I do Prof?

I have that niddy noddy as well (two of them, since one end bit got lost) and it drives me crazy because the length around one time is not a yard, but some other crazy measurement. I am having the dickens of a time finding one that will allow me to count strands to count yards without mental (or paper) multiplication. As far as what to knit with the yarn; I got nothing. Doubled it would make a great short shrug, don't you want to go there again ;^) How about a flock of felted pink elephants?

Oh my god!!! Look at your perfectly rolled balls of yarn! And this time, they all graduate in size!!!

LOVE that!

(I'm sorry, I really lost all focus when I saw the balls...ahem)

I recycle sweaters all the time, since I'm a grad student and it's the only way I can afford sweater quantities of yarn. As long as you didn't lose too much yarn in the unraveling process you can often get something almost as large as the original, but you'd really be pushing it to try and make it exactly the same. It looked like your original sweater could have afforded to lose some fabric, though, so you might get something close.

When I made the Mariah sweater, I used yarn from a men's extra large, plain stockinette Gap sweater, and translated it into a hooded cardigan with cabled sleeves in a 36" bust, and only had about ten or fifteen yards left to spare. I would say that with the hood and the cables taken into consideration, I probably got something close to as "big" (in the yardage sense) as the original. If in doubt you can always check the yardage requirements of projects similar to what you want to make that are knit at the same gauge.

One more thing: have you washed it yet? I unraveled a 100% merino sweater that was slightly felted even when I bought it, then I washed it and kool-aid dyed it. The felting totally disappeared, and the yarn is now super-soft and beautiful. Obviously you can't always count on that happening, but sometimes it will.


I have the same niddy noddy. They give you the sandpaper so you can finish it. I don't think they give nearly enough though.
I got a pack of 1000 grit and spent an hour putting a really smooth finish on mine. I sanded with the grain and only in one direction (i.e. not back and forth.) I sealed it with Minwax Wipe-On Poly; it looks like a wax finish but has the toughness polyurethane. The finish on it is so nice now I am really glad I took the time.


I bought mine so I could re-skein yarn I had dyed so I guess there are many yarn related uses for it, but I think it is meant for spinners.


The new garment will always be slightly smaller, because of the yarn lost during recycling. Also it has been my experience that even accounting for that lost yarn the new garment is just smaller. It is a mathematically improbably anomaly, which I have just come to accept.


I have actually used recycled yarn on many occasions, sometimes I doubled it and sometimes I didn't have to. In your case if the yarn is a bit weak in places I would definitely double it. Also if the yarn seems felted then the recycled garment will too. Using size 2 needles may lead you to put a lot of effort into something that you end up not liking that much.

I vote for doubling or even tripling the yarn and making a scarf.

Good luck

It is unlikely you would have enough recycled yarn for your new project. I can see a really wonderful vest made with the yarn! In fair isle. With a matching scarf! And maybe wristwarmers, too!

The sandpaper is indeed for you to use like emery boards on your nails. There will be that little harsh spot appear out of nowhere on the niddy and you will have the 'cure'. Mostly spinners buy niddies but then maybe your LYS was unfamiliar with the concept of recycling sweaters!

I'm allergic to pop quizzes. I didn't cheat and read any other answers.
1. To sand down any little rough spots.
2. Doesn't everyone use a niddy noddy?
3. The sweater I bought and recycled was XS and I made it into a tank. It's hard to say if the size would be the same because I never took gauge measurements before reknitting.
4. I did not double the yarn. If I plan on recycling sweaters, I look for sweaters that have a lager gauge.

I'd be happy with a C+.

June is so smart.

Thanks for posting about this. I have a heap of recycled yarn that I've been hoarding because I didn't know if the yardage was enough for a sweater. I ripped it from a men's XL stunning irish wool sweater, and thought about selling it. Then I thought about knitting it, so it's sitting in my stash waiting for the perfect project. Now that I've read your comments, it looks like I have enough for a fairly fitted sweater. Hooray!

As for specs, I "lost" some yarn in the recycling, so I won't be able to make a similar garment. I assume that is also true for your J Crew sweater. And as Lelah said, the neauveau tutorial is essential! Here it is:http://www.neauveau.com/recycledyarn.html

In my post-recycling excitement, I purchased several other fancy cabled wool sweaters from the SA Boutique (Salvation Army) in a size men's XL with plans for sweaters for me. If you catch the recycling bug, keep an eye out for the men's XL. Those XLs provide a huge pile of nice wool with plenty to go around.

I forgot to add: I have a niddy noddy, too. I made it out of PVC pipe because I wasn't about to pay money for something that I might not use. Well, I use it all the time and I'd really like to buy a wooden one. Anyhoo, I'm not a spinner, but I frequently dye my own yarns, so I need it for that.

I know nothing of recycling yarn but Jodi Green does it all the time.

I also recommend washing the yarn, very gently and then letting it dry in a loose hank. This will take out kinks. If you are afraid of not having enough for a sweater, why not make a shrug? If you have some left over, a matching scarf or hat. I would make a two color patterned sweater, and either hold two strands together and use a single strand of another heavier yarn, or bite the needle and use size 2 needles!

I am totally going to get an A on this. Woot!

Your niddy-noddy came with sandpaper because Ashford doesn't finish it's products as well as some more expensive manufacturers. They expect that:
A. You don't go to Home Depot and can't get your own--they're wrong, of course.
B. You will add an oil or other finish to it, which would be best done after some light sanding.
C. A change in humidity from the other side of the world where it was made to the US will lead to some sticking where the niddy noddies joins are. Since it's supposed to fold flat, they figure it will take some maintenance to keep that possible.
D. There may be some rough spots, which could catch on your fiber. That would be particularly distressing to spinners who like to use luxury fibers. The perfect Niddy Noddy has just the right amount of tooth.
This leads to question 2: Very few non-spinners have niddy-noddies. Do you harbor a secret desire to spin your own yarn>
3. You'll get a smaller garment.
4. Since you mention that the yarn is partially felted, doubling it sounds like a good idea. For both strength in the finished product and sanity for the knitter.
Extra Credit: You want to put that yarn into hanks, using your niddy-noddy, and then wash it gently in Eucalan or shampoo, put some hair conditioner in the rinse water, and then let it dry while hanging in a hank somewhere out of the sun. That will allow the yarn to relax and re-set its spin. That will allow for a much happier end-product.

If you give me a check minus, I will weep and wail like a ban-sidhe.

Ok - so this isn't in direct repsonse to your quiz (so maybe you will just ignore it) but I had a vision when I read your post. Whenever I don't have sufficient yarn for a whole sweater I immediately think stripes. Sounds like the gauge was pretty small so I would go with the "experts" and double it (which likely results in about 5 spi?) and then do wide stripes of equal width alternating the rhubarb with denim or navy blue, or olive green, or chocolate brown or...(say in Jo Sharp Silk Road or Queensland Collection dk, or Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece?)...kind of like those cute rugby sweaters that I keep seeing. Doubling it will give you half the length but a lower spi requiring less than half the length, thus enough wiggle room to make a full size sweater of similar size, but of course better fit :) than the original. Just an idea....

Call me thick, and certainly an inexperienced knitter, but doesn't it stand to reason that you can only knit something the same size as the garment you started out with? I will enjoy hearing how wrong I am. This reminds me of that commercial for cheese that I could never figure out. They say "3 ounces of milk in every slice!" and I'm thinking "each slice weighs an ounce, how can that be?" -- Lissy

Heidi: I can't speak to the yarn leftovers, but I can answer the cheese thing: when you make cheese, you separate the milk into curds & whey, and then discard the whey.

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