Friday, July 25, 2008

Why Recycle Cotton?

Some ask why. I usually ask why not. It probably made me an annoying child. I know it makes me an annoying student.

Since cotton does not have the resilience of wool, it cannot be reconstituted with the same success. That doesn't mean that it cannot be reused--anyway, that's my theory.

In the last post you were introduced to two charming Liz Claiborne sweaters which were found grazing at the same Portland thrift store four weeks apart from each other. Each sweater was made of the same high quality cotton in a similar color-way. The gauge of the stockinette was 9 stitches and 12 rows to the inch.

The sweaters were unravelled stripe by stripe onto a yarn winder and from the yarn winder onto a swift. Each stripe's hank was tied in four places with white craft cotton. The unravelled yarn was quite curly and had a certain charm of its own, but it was nevertheless destined to become an experiment in straightening.

After all the unravelled stripes from sweater #1 were neatly tied, the hanks were transported to the kitchen where a stock pot full of boiling water awaited. I turned off the heat and gently eased all the hanks into the pot. If you try this at home, don't be tempted to stir the hanks around like so much spaghetti because that truly can make a mess. While I went off to find some other mischief to engage me, the stripes were left to sit in the pot until the water cooled to room temperature.

Here are the wet hanks enjoying a warm summer afternoon on the back deck. When taken back inside at dusk, they were perhaps 50% dry. Indoors the hanks were weighted to straighten them even more. The dried fiber ended up in a subtle wave pattern--not totally straight, but straight enough to be refashioned into something else. When straightening the hanks from sweater #2, I'll try ironing the hanks when they are still mildly wet.

So, you might wonder about the destiny of this cache of cotton. Socks, of course.

Wool socks, except for wintertime lounging around the house in the evening, just totally drive me bonkers. Probably a result of all those years working in offices or lecturing college students while wearing trouser socks or hosiery with dress shoes. Cotton socks, especially thin ones, are a favorite for afterwork foot apparel. Thick socks, not so much.

This recycled fiber doesn't have much elasticity, but the addition of a strand of nylon serger thread adds just enough stretch, even if it is a bit of a pain to knit along with the cotton.

This is the first and only sock in progress so far. It's 10 stitches and 15 rows to the inch on size on size 0 DPNs. I'm designing it on the fly and there will probably never be a matching sock because it's virtually dogma for me to avoid making two things exactly alike.

So, there will be a lot of fraternals and no identicals. The best thing about that is who cares if one goes missing on laundry day.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Deconstructing Liz

Periodically I go on a safari for treasures in thrift shops--with the hunt itself more valued than the prey. My favorite thing to stalk is sweaters--always with the thought of recycling the yarn or felting the item into a bag.

In Portland, Oregon, there are myriads of knitters, designers, recyclers, upcyclers, and entrepreneurs; there is consequently a shortage of good wool sweaters in the thrift stores. I suspect that someone is pulling 90% of donated wool sweaters at the rag mill level and so they are not making it into the thrift stores. Either that or some folks are getting up very early and hunting daily.

A sweater is a good candidate for recycling if it has a nice natural fiber with no pilling and it looks easy to unravel; however, these same sweaters are sometimes so nice that I decide to clean them up and wear them instead of recycling them. Shame to unravel them when they look so nice knitted up already.

A few years ago, while looking for some wool sweaters to recycle, and finding nothing of interest, I started eyeing all the cotton ones. Whole flocks of cotton sweaters can be found lounging around these wool-deprived places. In the herd was a Liz Claiborne pullover of lovely cotton in vibrant colors.

This sweater got me wondering if anyone was recycling cotton for re-knitting. After an Internet search yielded no information, I decided to experiment.

It's almost a meditative state that comes over me when starting the deconstruction of a sweater. I search first for just the right thread to pull to undo the chain-stitched seams, and then pull a thread across the top of the chest/back and under the neckline on the large pieces. In the ritual, the front and back always get unravelled before the sleeves. Here are the deconstructed stripes and a photo of the leftovers.

Since the sleeves were short, I didn't bother with unravelling them. Also, I found the sweater's cousin on a subsequent safari so there was plenty of fiber without the sleeves. The final photos are of the cousin before and after deconstruction.

In my next post I'll write about the process of reclaiming this yarn.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I always try to do too much at once. Now, for instance, there are a dozen knit projects in progress, a greater number of crochet and beading projects started, a new Etsy store in set-up mode, two swatches ready to be re-knit for Level 1 of TKGA handknitting masters program, a Ravelry account left virtually unused so far, and this blog that I've been meaning to start for years.

This is in addition to my day job, managing a new business, and my status as chief cook and bottle washer at home. I wasn't going to blog yet--it was always something that was planned for when I was more caught up with things. Ha!

It's as good a time as any to start this blog, I figure, because that "caught up" thing hasn't ever really happened for me.

So now that you know that this author can be a little scattered, I am hoping that you'll take a chance on reading further, even if your life is much of the same type of story and you already have too many blogs you try to read.