How to Reuse Yarn – Full Tutorial

How to Reuse Yarn |

I don’t often do tutorials, but I have recently learned SO MUCH about how to reuse yarn from a knit that I had to share it with you guys. In particular because I’ve finally decided to turn my Delineate Tank into a Manzanilla Sweater, using the Spirit Trail Fiberworks yarn that I loved so much the first time around. I had almost two full skeins leftover from the original project, so this sweater will be a mix of unused yarn AND recycled yarn, which will have its own considerations. First, let’s recycle the yarn.

Types of yarn- the ‘stickier’ a yarn is, the harder it is to rip back. if there is any mohair or angora in it, it will be cling to the stitches, and not want to be easily undone. It can still be done, but you’ll need to go more slowly.

You will need:

  • the knit
  • wool wash (my favourite is Eucalan)
  • a crochet hook or blunt tapestry needle
  • some waste yarn
  •  a sink
  • a towel

A note about the wool wash, in case you are wondering why I’m declaring Eucalan as my fave: I’ve tried other kinds, but I always come back to Eucalan because I get a lot of product for the price, which means more washes. It’s totally biodegradable and made with natural ingredients, and I also really like that the cap and top of bottle seem to magically stay clean and never get gummed up or sticky. My favourite scents are Pink Grapefruit and Jasmine Wrapture, but I’m using classic Eucalyptus scent for this tutorial.

Step 1

If you look closely at your hems and where you bound off, and pull a bit at the fabric, you will be able to see the tiny tail of where the ends were woven in. You can use a crochet hook or a blunt tapestry needle to begin pulling it loose, until you can then undo the cast off. If at any point prior to this you can’t find the end or the knot you pulled when you cast off was so tight there’s no way you’ll undo it, then you can always get some scissors and snip out the cast on edge.

How to Reuse Yarn |

Step 2

Start pulling. You may need to pause now and then, especially with flat knitting, as the sides tend to be a bit stickier.

How to Reuse Yarn |

As the yarn comes away, you will need to wrap it into a ball. If you have a yarn swift you can attach the loose end to the swift and unwind the sweater that way. But you can also just use your hand, like this:

How to Reuse Yarn |

You will need to make a new ball for each section of yarn that you have. So, as you are winding and come to the end of the skein in the knit, put that ball aside and start a new one with the new end that you find.

Step 3:

Once you have unwound and have all the balls of crinkly, ramen-noodle style yarn, you will need to get it ready for a bath. You can use a swift if you have one, but I used the backs of two chairs, one of which had the high chair on it. And it had so much crusted baby food and weird stains that I couldn’t bear to snap a photo. So, it should look like the photo in this link, where the chairs are clean. Then, using the waste yarn, loosely tie 2-3 sections of it to keep all the strand of yarn corralled together. This will be very important for keeping the yarn from becoming a snarled mess later on. It will look like this:

How to Reuse Yarn |

Step 4:

Bath time! Pour a capful of Eucalan into a sink filled with warm (not hot) water. Immerse the yarn.

How to Reuse Yarn |

You want to ensure that the yarn is fully saturated, and not floating on the surface. Push it down until it’s absorbed a fair quantity of water, and let it sit for about half an hour to help the fibers get fully relaxed. After 20 minutes, take a look at the yarn – is it still a bit crinkly? Then it needs more time. Continue soaking. If it’s relaxed, then drain the water (no need to rinse), squeeze out the excess water gently, and roll in a towel to remove more of the water. Hang to dry away from heat or light, a shower is a good place for this.

Step 5:

You can then wind your yarn into a ball, or into a hank, both are shown below. Here is a 1 min video showing how to wind your yarn into a hank (the long one that looks like a pastry), which is ideal if you aren’t going to be using it right away.

How to Reuse Yarn |

Hedgehog is just for visual interest. I was trying to get one of the cats to lay beside it, but when was the last time a cat did anything you wanted it to do?

Now, before you dive into your knit, if you have a mix of yarn you have recycled AND yarn that hasn’t been used (like me!), then you want to keep the following in mind. I would like to give a big shout out of thanks to Celeste, a previous commentor who emailed with me about this, and had wonderful tips to share.

  1. Cotton and acrylic might not change a lot in the process above, but wool, wool blends (and alpaca) can stretch a little or a lot.
  2. It could also have stretched a bit, if you hung your washed yarn up to dry, rather than laid it flat.
  3. Once a yarn is washed, it plumps up, filling in the space between fibers. Unwashed yarn won’t have done this yet. So you know that this will affect your….
  4. Gauge!! You will need to do a gauge swatch in both your washed yarn AND your unwashed yarn to compare, and see if there is any difference. There could be a very big difference, and you want to know before investing a sweater’s worth of time into a knit.

Then Celeste also suggested this brilliant step:

“Another way to do a quick check is to lay the two yarns parallel to each other. You likely won’t see a difference in thickness. If you do, then it’s a sure sign. What you’d want to look for is the twist of plies of the yarn. If you lay a ruler next to them count the times the plies curve over the yarn in 4″/10cm segment (like a swatch the larger the measurement the greater accuracy). Then do the same for the second yarn. If they match up perfectly you can choose where to go from there.”

Genius, right? So if your yarn is showing a difference, then simplest solution is to wash all of it, both the used and unused yarn. If it is treated the same way and more likely to behave the same from one skein to the next.

There you have it! How to reuse your wonderful, precious yarn. If you’ve invested all that time into creating a knitted piece, it should be something you love to wear. If it isn’t (once you have completed the 6 emotional stages of frogging a project) and you love the yarn, why not give it a new lease on life? You might knit something you can’t live without this time!

If you liked this tutorial and thought it was useful, Pin it!



  1. Beth   •  

    Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kayrine   •  

    Thanks for this briliant tutorial! I’ll stay tuned to see you manzanilla, it’s going to be awesome in this yarn (and great colour choice btw!!! – perfect for your eyes colour!)
    I might take the leap too and frog a sweater of mine that I knitted some years back – it was already tight then but now I just can’t wear it at all with my post-baby body. Sigh. SO in its next life my cabled sweater is going to be a cabled coat for my toddler!
    Well, thanks for the tips, and thanks to Celeste too!! – Now, on to undo the many MANY knots I made when I sewed my sweater 0.0

  3. Val   •  

    Great tutorial, the relaxed yarn looks brand new! This motivates me to just frog my too-small Flotaway top already.
    Lots of love for Eucalan here too. I love the lavender scented one and wish I could do all of my laundry with it just for the heavenly smell. And Manzanilla would be gorgeous knit with your purple yarn!

  4. Wanda   •  

    A really great tutorial! I started knitting less than 10 years ago, and I definitely have a few early items that I just do not like anymore – didn’t fit well, don’t like the style anymore – but I love the thrifty idea of saving the yarns that I still love. (Of course, I should probably look at my stash and use some of what is ready to knit before I add to the stash with recycled yarn!) There have been times I have seen knit sweaters in the store and did not particularly like the style but liked the yarn – this would be an option to consider for that too – thank you for the guidance!

  5. Cassy   •  

    Julie, I love this tutorial. I am halfway through this process with an old sweater I never wore enough, but couldn’t bear to part with the yarn and feel good that I was mostly doing all of this. I hadn’t fully considered the gauge issue though. Eucalan is my favorite too! I alternate between grapefruit and lavender.

  6. Elizabeth   •  

    Wow, thank you so much! It’s almost cathartic to take such care of the yarn after frogging. (Especially since frogging can be such an emotional experience.)

  7. Bethany   •  

    Psst: this also works for store bought sweaters, as long as the sweater has been knit in pieces (rather than having had the pieces cut out out of a giant piece of knit fabric). I have multiple sweaters’ worth of cashmere in my stash that I got for $5 or less per sweater!

    • Julie   •     Author

      That is such a good point- this can totally work for recycling yarn from store bought or thrifted sweaters!

  8. Renee Anne   •  

    Something else you can do if you have used and unused skeins: wash the unused ones and hang in a similar manner and they *should* react similarly.

  9. Savannagal   •  

    Why did you rip out the tank? Seemed cute to me.

  10. Katie Lynn   •  

    I do this all the time! I have little emotional attachment to sweaters that don’t make it into my regular rotation, so if I don’t love them they get frogged and repurposed into something new.

    Warning, though: don’t try to wind your yarn onto a collapsable umbrella-style swift. It will collapse while you’re reskeining and is pretty unpleasant. I use a small table-sized ironing board with a large binder clip on the rounded end to reskein and it works wonders. I used to wash the skeins like you do here, but as I mostly use superwash wool I just steam them while they’re still on the ironing board and they’re ready to go pretty much immediately. I wouldn’t suggest steaming on non-superwash yarns.

  11. Painful but valuable.

    I was recently impressed by my knitting work buddy. She decided to reuse yarn from an old sweater she never wore and turn it into matching vests for her husband and son. The sweater had been knit without seaming. She just freed up an end and knit it straight into the vests without winding and soaking it into new skeins. It was very clever and turned out great. Saved her a lot of time too. I got a good chuckle out of watching her sweater unravel straight into vests. No yarn winding!


  12. Stefanie   •  

    Good to know. How patient of you to do that!

  13. Susan   •  

    Brilliant! I have definitely done this before with projects that didn’t work out the first time.
    I love that manzanilla sweater. It’s on my knitting wish list!

  14. Pamela   •  

    Thanks for this lovely tutorial! I’ve also had good success with using a steam iron to relax the used yarn. If you hold the iron just above the skein (an inch or so away from the yarn) and let it pump steam into it, you can get a very similar effect. Bonuses: You don’t have to wait as long for the yarn to dry, and don’t have to worry about the yarn stretching out if it’s hung to dry.

  15. alicia   •  

    I like Eucalan too but only for wool yarns as Eucalan has lanolin in it. For non-wool items I prefer Soak wash.

  16. Jessica Lane   •  

    This is an incredible tutorial, full of detail! Amazing!

  17. Cheryl   •  

    Brilliant! What a useful tutorial! I’m at a “finish or frog” point in my knitting right now, so I can see a little recycling happening 😉

  18. knithughesey   •  

    Great tutorial. Really comprehensive.

    Do you know why the photos on your blog shrink and disappear off the page. It doesn’t happen with the photos of other sites, but your personal photos all seem to shrink away.

  19. Monica   •  

    A great tutorial Julie!! As painful as it may be to frog a project, if you’re not going to wear it…it’s a waste!

  20. Great tutorial Julie! I’m pinning this post. I’ve never even thought about swatching with both the used and unused yarns. I would have just knit a swatch with just one and assume it would go across the board!

  21. miss agnes   •  

    Cool! Thanks for taking the time to explain all of this in great detail. I’ve done this a few times but never washed the yarn, just started knitting after winding my new balls. I found the crinkles and wrinkles are easily smoothed by hand, and winding the yarn takes care of the rest. Or maybe I’m just lazy. 😉

  22. Tien   •  

    Lots of great information! I’ve never washed and re-skeined any of my frogged project yarn before but can tell by your pics that it would make reknitting the yarn a lot easier and more enjoyable.

    • Julie   •     Author

      I’ve tried once before to reuse yarn that wasn’t rewashed, and I feel like I could see a big different in how the knit turned out. it relaxed with the wet blocking afterwards, but I could still see a subtle difference where i had ended with the normal yarn and where I had reused the frogged yarn.

  23. Pingback: WIP: Passage and new knitting needles! | knitsnips

  24. DpD   •  

    Thanks. I don’t knit, but a favorite pure alpaca sweater of mine was recently ruined by the dry cleaners. I was going to donate it to charity, but it is ruined (won’t lay right). I think I will unravel it and give the yarn to someone I know who knits.
    Is there any trick to working with alpaca that I should know about before starting this project?

    • Julie   •     Author

      Alpaca yarn has long fibers, so it can be a little ‘sticky’ when unraveling, but will otherwise be just fine. it does take a lot of patience- good luck,and put on a good movie!



      • Daina   •  

        Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *