Thursday, July 21, 2011

How to Unravel Sweaters - Upcycling Wool, Cotton, Silk, etc.

Knitting with wool, cotton, and silks can be quite expensive.  Acrylic yarn is much more affordable and easy to find.  When knitting for a child, choosing acrylic yarn over specialty fibers may be the best option, because they're easy to launder.  Yet, wool and silk have that special texture and look that feels wonderful slipping through our fingers and catches our eye. How can we achieve all of our fiber wants and not break the bank?  Unraveling unwanted sweaters, blankets, or other items will allow you to use these beautiful fibers for much less. 

Here are some pictures of my very first unraveling projects.  I purchased the brown, 100% lambs wool, J.Crew sweater at a Salvation Army thrift store for $3.49.  It's not pretty, but the wool was great for what I wanted.  After taking the sweater apart, I knitted a Booga Bag.  The Booga Bag was knitted, then felted.  There was plenty of yarn left over, so I made a hat and mittens.  I still have more brown yarn.

Finding recyclable natural fibers is easier
than you may think. 
  • The first thing you should do is rummage through your own closet.   
    • You may have unwanted items waiting to be repurposed/upcycled. 
  • Make a trip to you local thrift store. 
    • Many thrift stores have half off days, which will allow you to purchase items very inexpensively. 
  • Stop at yard sales.
    • Don't be afraid to poke through the clothes table
  • Let your friends know you're looking for wool. 
    • They may have old things they no longer want.   

Strategies to use when on the hunt for natural fibers
  • Read labels
    • Know what you're looking for
    • 100% wool, or wool blends are great finds. 
    • 100% cotton, Cotton/Ramie blend (Ramie is a natural fiber, which is softer than cotton) 
    • 100% silk or silk blends
  • Search for big sweaters. Large sweaters provide the greatest amounts of yarn.
  • Have an idea of what you want to make, and be aware of the thickness of the yarn. 
    • Thinner ply yarns can be doubled, but they won't be twisted together and may not give you the look you want.
  • Look inside sweaters to see what kind of seams were used to sew the item together.
    • If all the seams are serged, don't bother with it.  The yarn will come apart in many little pieces
    • If it's a hand knit sweater, it will take a little more effort to take the seams apart, because each piece was hand sewn together with a needle.  Stitches will need to be pulled out individually.  If you love the yarn it's made from, go for it.  It will be worth the time and effort.
    • If the seams are machine sewn, the stitching will be in about 1/4 inch from the edge.  This kind of stitching can easily be pulled out without much trouble.  The edges of each piece should be visible and look like the edge of any hand knit item. 
  • Scan for stains, and decide if you can work around them and still have enough yarn left over.
  • Watch for moth holes
    • One or two holes isn't a big deal
  • When choosing wool items, make sure the wool hasn't felted.
    • If you like the color of an item that has felted some, you may want to use that item for a felted craft project.  
  • Natural colored wool, like Irish knit sweaters, can easily be dyed.  
    Sweater used for the yarn below
    • I'm a beginner, and I've had success with Kool-ade mixes, buttercup flowers and paste food coloring.  I'll be doing a Black Raspberry dying in August.  Watch for my blog. 

Yarn being dyed with Kool-ade

Green, blue and tan balls were
dyed with paste food coloring.
Buttercup dyed yarn. 
The swatch on top is
the original  color

NOTE: Before beginning to take your sweater apart, be sure to launder your item/s following instructions for the natural fiber you're working with.

How to take a machine-stitched
sweater apart

    The top of the V is on the right
    Turn the sweater inside out and find a seam
  2.  Look at the way the seam stitching is going.  The stitch should be in the shape of a V.  You will be working with the top part of the V as we move forward. 
  3.  Follow the stitching (top of V) to an end.  Example - edge of a sleeve, bottom of the waistband.
  4. Place a seam ripper, or small scissors, under a V close to the end.  
    Place the seam ripper under the V,
    and clip the thread.
     Lift the thread you just clipped back toward the bottom of the V.  You will see a small loop sticking up.
  5.  Carefully, grab the little bottom loop (it will be laying flat under the loop you pulled bach) and give it a gentle pull.  The thread should start to pull like a zipper and begin to open the seam. 
  6. Sometimes, the thread will get stuck in the fibers.  Don't pull too hard.  Move to the seam that's beginning to open and split it apart.  Then move back to the thread and pull some more. You may need to do this several times as you move along the seam. 

Push the tiny loop to the left, and
grab the piece of yarn that's laying
just beneath the loop.  Take it
out of the loop and gently pull.

If you have a hard time grabbing the loop, you may need go back to step 5 and try again.  It may take a couple of tries to get the correct piece of yarn.  It takes a little practice. 

Serged shoulders
NOTE:  Sometimes, you will find that the top of the sleeves, front and back panels are serged.  I've played with taking the serging out,  but it's not worth fighting.  Grab your scissors and clip close along the serged stitching.  Many short strands of will come off before you get to a longer continuous piece of yarn.  I save these little pieces and wind them into balls to make felted balls.  Some will be little felted balls, and other will be felted into dryer balls, which are a little bigger. If you don't know what dryer balls are, take a look at this link.  Dryer Balls 

Once you're done taking your sweater apart, look for a loose thread at the top of one piece and start unraveling.  The yarn will be rippled from the knitting.  There are ways to straighten it out,  but if you're going to be doing basic knitting, with no big yarn over loops, there's no need to do anything.  Again, knitting with this yarn will help you decide how you want to deal with the ripples. 

Here's a link for more information regarding unraveling yarn and removing the kinks from your new yarn. 

Have fun!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Circular Knitting Needle Case

Last year, I saw someone with one of these circular knitting needles cases, and I had to make one, or two, or three. I'd never seen a knitting needle case that folded up to look like a slice of pie.  I made three of them. I kept one for myself and gave the other two away.  It was a fun project.  I knew I'd be making more of them in the future.

The last week or so, I've been working on making more needle organizers.  I pread this project out over several days.  One day, I  picked fabrics from my stash.  The next time I worked on them, I cut the material.  Another day, I pinned them together and tried to remember how I sewed them when I made them the first time.  Finally, it was time to sew.  Mission accomplished.  Six organizers are complete.  I have more cut, but I'll sew them up another day. 

Yesterday, I decided to try to make a couple of photo prop nests/cocoons out of some yarn I had in stock. Here's what I came up with.  There are two sizes.  One for preemies/smaller babies, and a larger one for babies up to approximately nine pounds.  They're soft, cuddly and have many opportunities for those little fingers and/or toes to poke through the openings.  I love the basket weave look.  Now, all I need is a baby.  :-)

What would you like to see on this blog?  Do you have something you'd like to recycle, but you don't know what to do?  Is there a project you'd like to tackle, but you don't know where to begin?  Post a comment, and let us know what you're thinking.  We can work together. 

Have a great day!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wild Maine Blueberries

Last year I took a careful walk around the perimeter of our yard, looking for blueberry bushes.  Much to my surprise, I found several low bushes, a few medium-high bushes and several high bushes.  At the time, we'd lived here for about 4 1/2 years, and I didn't know they were there.  The year before, I bought 4 bushes through the mail, but they haven't done much.  With all these berry bushes so near, I made it my mission to find a way to get these wild bushes (and my purchased bushes) to produce some blueberries.

Powerful, acidic, rusty nails
 A friend at work told me she'd heard that putting rusty nails in the soil around the plants was supposed to help blueberry bushes grow better.  I knew we had a milk crate of old rusty nails kicking around. Why we have them, I don't know.  Anyway, I decided to search the Internet and see what I can find out about the nail idea.  Have you ever heard of using rusty nails in the garden?

The results of the search provided me with information regarding the importance of having acidic soil when growing blueberries.  Blueberries, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Hydrangeas are all acid loving plants.  If the PH of your soil is too high, the leaves of the plants may turn yellow.  This means that your soil needs acid.  It's recommended that a test be done to determine the PH levels in the soil in question.  I chose not to test the soil and decided to put a handful of nails in and around the soil of the plants I bought, and a couple of the medium-high plants.  I also bought some acid loving plant fertilizer, and sprinkled it around all of my bushes.  This was done in the fall and again this spring.  Then, it was time to wait. 

Tonight, I found some info about the nails, as well as other organic materials that will help with acidity levels. 

"There are a few cheap organic ways you can acidify your soil:
- add some rusty nails to to the soil around the base of the plant
-add pine needles and coffee grounds (though is quite slow)
- spaghnum peat (again acts slowly)
- if you can get them- oak leaves (probably unlikely in WA though)
- Mulch well - Leaves and other plant remains release organic acids as they decompose; wherever accumulation is faster than decomposition, an acid condition follows.
-vinegar: add a cup of vinegar to a gallon (3.8 litres) of tap water - the vinegar will release iron in the soil for the plants to use."

Some of the blueberries I picked today 

After putting the nails around the plants, and fertilized them, I've been watching our bushes very carefully.  The blueberries are growing!  Today, I took a walk around to check for ripe blueberries.  I found some!!!  I was so excited.  I picked about 30 berries.  LOL  Not enough to do anything with, but there will be more ripening in the next few weeks.  I was impressed with each and every one of the 30 little Maine berries.  :-)  There are several high bushes that are just beginning to bloom.  I can't wait to see how many berries they'll grow. 

Knowing that 30 berries wouldn't be enough to make a batch of blueberry muffins, I decided to venture out into the woods around my house.  I spent a little more than two hours picking wild Maine blueberries, from some the many low bushes that carpet a portion of the ridge.  Coming home with nearly six cups of berries was exciting.  This year, I'm going to have to continue to pick on the ridge.  The nails will stay in the ground around my bushes, and I'll continue to place additional acidic materials around the them.  Maybe we'll get more berries off our bushes, next year.

Friday 7/15/11

To Die for Blueberry Muffins
57° on this beautiful Friday morning.  A perfect temp for baking.  Two dozen muffins are baked.  If you want to try a new blueberry muffin recipe, consider "To Die for Blueberry Muffins."  You can find the recipe on  I triple the batch for 24 muffins. When making the crumble topping, I only double the recipe and still have more than enough. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rag Rug / Upcylcing

 I finally had a chance to crochet another rag rug.  I've been ripping sheets, sporadically, this past week.  I finally had what I needed to start working on my project.  This time, I wanted to try my hand at a half circle (half oval?) rug that could be used against a door or in front of the sink.  I didn't know where to start, so I practiced with some yarn and a small crochet hook, then I dove in and started the real deal.  It came out nicely.  I learned a few things as I went.  The straight edge is a little curved, but I think I know how to fix that, the next time.  I really liked the way it looked in my kitchen, and the way it felt under my feet, so I decided to keep this one for myself. 

Take a look at the new tabs at the top of the page.  There's an Upcycle/Recycle tab.  This morning I posted my first post to this page.  Eventually, I hope to have posts for each tab. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

I Made My First Zipper Flower

I did it!  I made my very first zipper flower, and it came out pretty good.  It took me about 15 or 20 minutes to make one, but I was watching the tutorial as I was working.  It's going to take some practice, but making zipper flowers is a great way to get rid of that collection of zipppers you may have kicking around. 

When I was finished with my flower, I noticed some of the pedals weren't closed up as much as I wanted them to be.  There were some gaps in the back loops where I didn't close them enough.   I decided to take a thread and needle and stitch the open part of the loop together, on the back, so the stitches wouldn't be noticed.  Next time, I'll be more careful to overlap the loops when I'm working on them.  Let me know if you decide to try to make a zipper flower.  I'd love to see yours.

The last couple of days, I worked a little on my secret projects.  Both have been completed.  Yeah!  I'm also in the process of sewing some round circular knitting needle holders.  They're pretty cool.  I'll post a picture when I get a few finished. They should be done by the middle of next week. 

This is about the size it was before it was cut
A couple of weeks ago, I found a very colorful oversized pillowcase at a yard sale.  I picked it up for all of 25¢.  I had to get it!  I loved the colors. When I bought it, I had an idea of using the material for some circular needle holders.  Unfortunately, the fabric wasn't wide enough, so I had to change my plans.  The pillow case ended up being two reusable market bags.  They're probably some of the most colorful bags anyone takes to the store.  LOL  

After I cut it in half

I added a bottom seam on one and a top hem on the other.

With handles

One finished bag.
Earlier in the week, I recovered a couple of pillows for a friend.  She'd bought a couple of great pillows at a yard sale, but wasn't crazy about the covering they had.  I took the original cover off, made new pillow covers for the stuffing (there was nothing under the old covering), and then made pillow covers with an overlapping back.  Now, the covers can be removed and laundered or changed out and replaced with something completely different.
I still have several projects I'm working on.  I have a feeling I won't get to that rag rug until next week.  Where does the time go. 
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

So much to do...

My mind has been going in many directions with craft projects.  I don't know where to start or where to end.   I've been focusing on other things, so I haven't finished ripping the sheets for my next rug.  It won't be long before I get there. 

Yesterday, I cut material to make nine circular knitting needle cases.  I also worked on a few secret projects.  I'll post some pictures of the needle holders and my secret projects soon.

Little Penpen put her flowers on her flip flops

Do you have old metal zippers kicking around?  I spotted these pictures on Little Penpen's blog.  Are these the coolest or what?  I'm sure I have some zippers around somewhere.  I put a great video on the sidebar that shows how to make a zipper flower.  I can't wait to try one.  :-)

Borrowed this picture from Little Penpen

Monday, July 4, 2011

Making Rag Rugs

As you may have read, I enjoy upcycling and recycling.  I'm always trying to use things we have kicking around the house, or find things that others have discarded or want to get rid of.  Going to yard sales and thrift shops is a favorite place to shop, when I have a cool project in mind.   

My stack of yard sale sheets

A couple of weeks ago I bought some gently used sheets, while out exploring yard sales.  Since then, I've bought curtains and/or any kind of large pieces of fabric.  I love yard sales and the prices they offer!  I've collected a variety of colors with no speicific plan in mind...other than the idea of making my first ever crocheted rag rug.  I paid anywhere from 25¢ to $1.00 for each sheet or set of sheets.   What a bargain.  At the time, I didn't know how many sheets I'd need for each rug.  There was much mystery involved in this project. 

One queen sheet ripped
into 1 1/2" strips

Once home, I laundered the sheets.  The next step was to figure out how to cut them to have one continuous strand of fabric yarn.  After searching the Internet, I decided to rip my strips 1 1/2 inches wide.  (I'll talk more abou the process of cutting another time).  I ripped the fabric, rolled the strips into balls and began crocheting.  The ripping is a bit time consuming.  Do you know an easy way to get the ripping step completed?  My first rug, when complete, ended up being approx 24" X 42."  It was soft and wonderful under my feet.  I've made two others since then, and I have enough sheets to make 3 more.  I hope to get at least one made this week. 

My first rag rug
24" X 42"

Have you ever wanted to make a rag rug?  There's a good chance you have enough old sheets in you linen closet to make one.  I used approximately 3 to 4 sheets for the 24" X 42"rug.  We can blog about the process if you would like to make one.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sweat-zy (cup / can cozy)

Not too long ago, I saw some cup cozies that were made for coffee cups.  They looked pretty cute on the cups.  They were created to keep your fingers from getting too hot when holding that hot cup o' Joe.  I really liked the idea, and I made a couple up to keep in the car.  Here's the link for a knitted cozy pattern I made for my daughter. It's posted on my Ravelry page. 

Have you ever had your water bottle sweat all over table?  What a pain! I started thinking about those cozies.  I wondered if I could use them on my water bottle to prevent the puddling that occurs when I put ice in my bottle on a hot day.  I took it to work and it worked like a charm.  My friend's water bottle sweat all over the table and my spot was dry.  Perfect!  The "Sweat-zy" (my name for the cozies I made) I used was made from acrylic yarn.  This means they're inexpensive to make.   Here's a link to a can cozy, which can be downloaded free on the Ravelry website.    This pattern will make a sweat-zy that will fit on a cup the size of a Tupperware tumbler, a small Nalgene bottle and a soda can.  By adding a few extra chains to the beginning row, you can increase the size of this cozy to fit on any water bottle. 

To fit a large Nalgene bottle, I used 38 or 40 chains to start.  The amount of tension you use when crocheting and the thickness of your worsted weight yarn will be your determining factor.  These will also fit on a 1 quart mason jar.  They could be covered and given as gifts.