Acts of Knitting and Nerdery

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of unraveling old sweaters to reclaim the yarn for other projects for awhile now. And with my plans to attempt yarn dyeing in the near future, the two notions seem to dovetail nicely. What better thing than to unravel a thrift store sweater, dye it, and then make into a very cool, completely different object?

So yesterday morning I took a box of old clothes to Unique Thrift Store. Of course, it was just an excuse to go dig through the sweaters. I came away with five, four of which are dyeable with labels like Banana Republic, Express and even a super soft Ralph Lauren angora. The fifth is a soft, dark mottled acrylic that I can’t dye since it’s not an animal fiber. I just liked the yarn. Those five sweaters cost me a whopping $15. I figure that for $3 a pop, I don’t really care if my initial attempts at unraveling are complete disasters.

Of course, I couldn’t resist ripping into one of them right away. I was so excited that I forgot to take a “before” photo, but it wasn’t anything special. It was an off-white chunky 100% merino wool cardigan with a few cables on the front. What I thought was a bulky yarn turned out to be three strands of what looks to be fingering weight yarn held together, which probably was not ideal for my first attempt at unraveling a sweater, but in the end I wound up with five hanks of soft but very kinked, 3-ply super bulky merino.

Reclaimed Yarn from a Thirft Store Sweater

Here’s a closer shot of a single hank.

Merino Wool Yarn Recycled from a Thrift Store Sweater

Basically, I wound these into balls as I pulled the yarn out of the sweater, then wheeled it onto my swift, which was attached to the back of a chair so that it ran kind of like a ferris wheel. Tied it off in three places to keep it from getting tangled, twisted them all up and voila.

Later, I soaked them in a dish soap solution, then let them hang dry to get the kinks out:

Reclaimed Merino Wool Yarn

Yes, those are canned goods that I’m using for weights. (And no, I haven’t taken down my Christmas stockings yet. Shut up.) Once they’re straight and dry, they’ll be twisted back up into hanks until I’m ready to dye them.

I’m hoping I can accomplish something a bit like this yarn by tilly4u on Ravelry. It was done entirely with Kool-Aid and food coloring. Gorgeous.

Kool-Aid Dyed Yarn by tilly4u

If you’re interested in how to unravel sweaters to recycle the yarn, check out these great tutorials:
How to Unravel a Sweater to Recycle Yarn by Neauveau Fiber Art
How to Recycle Yarn from a Thrift Store Sweater by Craftstylish

When I was a kid, my friends would dye their hair with Kool-Aid, generally with semi-disastrous results and much parental teeth gnashing.

As an adult, I’m not about to dye my hair with Kool-Aid, but I was reminded of it when I started reading up on yarn dyeing methods. There’s Jacquard acid dyes, food coloring, Easter egg tablets, and Kool-Aid powder, and all of them only work on animal protein fibers. Like wool, alpaca, silk, and, oh yeah, human hair.

I’m excited to give it a try. It sounds like a summer camp kiddie craft, like the tie-dyed t-shirts that you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing once camp was over, right? Like it could never possibly result in yarn you’d actually want to use?

You’d be wrong. Look at these skeins by Leethal.

Kool-Aid Dyed Yarn by Leethal

Are they not completely awesome!? Or how about this one from Under the Desk?

Kool-Aid Yarn by Under the Desk

Apparently these can all be done in a crockpot. Kool-Aid and a crockpot! Seriously, count me in.

I’ve ordered a copy of Gail Callahan’s Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece to read up on how to get different effects, and a few skeins of Knitpicks Bare for experimentation. This should be fun!

My parents live in a place that I call “the country”. It’s a small, sweet little town a couple hours away from Chicago. If you live in their little town and you want to go shopping, you go for a drive to Freeport, the only incorporated place that passes for an actual city in the area.

By my standards, a city without a Whole Foods or Thai takeout is no city at all, no matter how many digits there are in the official population. Freeport is not a town given to niche-oriented retail ventures, let alone anything approaching exotic, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that little Freeport, Illinois has a yarn shop. A yarn shop!

Wall of Yarn is run by a very sweet couple, Dennis and Jeffrey, who are a story and a half even without the yarn shop. I made a mental note to check it out the next time I was passing through.

I finally got a chance to do just that on December 23rd. I was warmly received and treated to a thorough tour of the inventory while a group of locals happily knitted away in a space cleared at the back of the store. Dennis jumped out of his chair to show me a shawl knit with a certain hemp yarn that Jeffrey was showing me at that moment, to demonstrate the texture of the finished product. “Is that a Stephen West pattern?” I asked, excited that I recognized it since it made me sound like an experienced old pro when the truth is that I’ve only been knitting for a little over a year. Dennis positively beamed at me as he confirmed it. I seriously think that if I ever somehow wound up living in Freeport, these guys would quickly be recruited to be my new best friends.

Wall of Yarn’s stock reflects Freeport well. There are no floor-to-ceiling bins stuffed full of Malabrigo, Madelinetosh or anything else that I would consider the high end province of the yarn shops in Chicago’s trendy, gentrified urban neighborhoods. That would be far too fussy and impractical for this town. However, the selection is solid and shrewdly picked with brands like Encore, with some fun stuff thrown in for good measure  like Schoppel-Wolle Crazy Zauberball, Lorna’s Laces, and yarn made from recycled denim in exactly the shade of faded blue that you would expect yarn made from old blue jeans to be.

For me, the real score here was the locally sourced alpaca – 300 yards of it in a soft, sport weight chocolate brown – for $16.

Chocolate Brown Alpaca Yarn by Willow Bend Alpaca Farm

I pets the yarns, my preciousssss….

This stuff was a real score. Apparently Willow Bend Alpaca Farms is getting out of the yarn business and sold their stock to the shop at cost. (That’s how I understood the story anyway.) I picked up one skein, but I should have bought two or three. I keep taking it out of my stash just to grope and fondle it. In fact, I might run it on my swift tonight when I’m finished writing just so I have an excuse to pet it. I have my eye on an infinity scarf pattern.

Zombie Scarf

The Zombie Scarf

I’m Becky, and I’m in the middle of putting this damn thing together. is going to be my space for geeking out about knitting and yarn and petting the yarn and such. “Trainknitting” is meant to be a play on “Trainspotting”, but also should be taken literally – knitting on a train. I live and work in Chicago, I spend about an hour and a half on the El every day, and sometimes easy projects come along for the ride to help pass the time. I spot other knitters on the train from time to time, too.

Anyway, I’ll explain all of that later. Right now, it’s back to work with me. There’s still quite a bit to be done under the hood on this thing.