I have seen many awesome blog posts about recycling sweater yarns: find a sweater at a thrift store, nip the seams, and unravel the yarn. Voila! You have a treasure trove of fiber–sometimes wool, alpaca, or even cashmere. So you can imagine my delight at finding out about Second Cycle Yarn Co, the brain child of Kara Syvertsen. Kara takes the guesswork out of this whole process, producing finished skeins of beautiful, recycled yarn that she sells in her lovely Etsy shop. I absolutely love her packaging and the variety of fiber she has available. Read on for an interview full of inspiration and information. Kara will even help you disassemble your old sweaters–producing a bag full of yarn for you to build something new!
Where did the inspiration for SecondCycleYarnCo from?
I have always been interested in reusing rather than throwing something away. If I believed in reincarnation I’d be sure I was a Great Depression survivor in a former life; I hate throwing things away that may have some usefulness. While I certainly can do better in my day to day life, I really do try to reduce the amount of waste I generate. So keeping old sweaters from ending up in a landfill and allowing them to be recreated into something that will be loved and worn aligns perfectly with my passion for reducing personal waste.
Furthermore, I am primarily a weaver and I was brainstorming ways to lower my yarn costs. So I went to a thrift store, grabbed a couple of sweaters and went to work with my seam ripper. As it turns out, the sweaters I bought were cashmere (can you blame me?) and commercially knit cashmere sweaters use yarn that is not spun very tightly. The cashmere sweaters are wonderfully soft but unfortunately the yarn is not strong enough to be used on a loom. However, the yarn is still perfectly suitable to knit or crochet with! Recently I’ve been running this yarn through my spinning wheel several times to add twist and ply it with itself to create a thicker and more stable cashmere!
Additional to all this, I am not shy about having a chronic health condition that requires me to rest often. This keeps me away from my loom. But I can unravel sweaters during my resting times. So all this came together and I quickly became very excited about the idea of providing luxurious and affordable yarn to fellow fiber artists!
What is your favorite kind of crafting project?
I have been a knitter for about 15 years but my primary craft is weaving. I bought a weaving loom about 7 years ago on a whim and I’ve been obsessed ever since. But I am a Jill of all trades (master of none for sure!). In addition to knitting and weaving I spin and I can crochet, although I have not quiet gotten the hang of that. I also dabble in dyeing yarn and love using natural dyes and dye techniques. I tend to be a planner, and a bit controlling, so natural dyeing forces me to abandon my spreadsheets and calculator and be happy with whatever nature wants to give me.
Who are your biggest crafting influences/inspirations?
My grandmother knit my cabbage patch doll cloths when I was a child, so I’ve always been around fiber artists. After many years of knitting I still don’t think I can knit anything as nice as she made for Candi.
I would not be the artist I am today with my mom, for sure. She is also a knitter and a spinner but has such a different perspective than me, so it’s so wonderful to be able to bounce ideas off her and get her opinion. I send her literally everything I am working on from dye colors to weaving drafts. She has been intimately involved with me getting Second Cycle off the ground with endless amounts of encouragement and sending me near weekly shipments of sweaters that she has found for me to unravel!
Finally I am thankful for modern technology for sure. I can be a home body, but through instagram, facebook, ravelry, etc., I am connected with thousands of fellow fiber artists who constantly fill my brain with new ideas and provide support when I need help and encouragement. I am so lucky to be in a community of such giving and talented individuals.
How do you sort through sweaters to find the best yarn?
I spend a lot of time in thrift stores and yard sales . . . a lot of time! I have to look through probably a hundred sweaters before I find one that is made from wonderful yarn and is able to be unraveled. And there has been a lot of trial and error as well. I have a small pile of sweaters that need to be ‘re-donated’ because I didn’t look hard enough while shopping. There are so many factors to consider aside from what the sweater is made from including the weight of the yarn, color, condition and style. So, yeah, I just sift through racks and racks. Thankfully I am a bit of a podcast junkie, so I put in my headphones and get to work. Most of the time I can tell what the sweater is made from just by a quick feel. But there are some tricky acrylics out there that have made me stop for a second look.
Any advice for someone who wants to use your yarn for a project?
I make extra efforts to make these yarns similar to the yarn you’d pick up at your LYS. I have to remove thin strands of nylon that manufacturers will add to ribbed cuffs to help maintain the elasticity in ribbing. A nifty trick, but that nylon needs to be removed to make it usable. I also have a 3 step cleaning process, especially for wools, to remove any odors and other things remaining on the yarn from having been worn, loved, and washed as a sweater and to add softness back to the yarn that may have been striped when the sweater was dry cleaned. The yarn is then dried in the shade, but then moved to the intense Colorado sunshine for day or so to further air out.
Even after all, that the reclaimed yarn can be different from knitting yarns in several ways. Some yarns can be a bit easier to break, especially the cashmeres and wools. You would only really notice this if you are trying to use is as the warp for weaving or anything else that requires high tension on the yarn.
Also, the thicker yarns are sometimes made up of several thinner strands held together, but not plied together. This is different than what you’d typically see in LYS yarns but this is not obvious in the resulting fabric created from these yarns. It just may take a little getting used to but I think it’s well worth it to be able to use these beautiful fibers at a lower cost gram for gram.
Finally, I measure the yarn’s wraps per inch and calculate the yards per pound to to get an idea of the weight of the yarn (lace, worded, etc). But I suggest everyone do a gauge swatch to determine how the yarn will work up for them. Also, remember that thin yarn can be held double to work up as a thicker yarn and usually there is enough yardage to allow a crafter to do that. I am always willing to answer any questions about a particular yarn anyone has.
Where can folks find your shop? or find out more about you?
I am on etsy at www.secondcycleyarnco.etsy.com. I respond quickly to messages through etsy. I can be reached at email@example.com. I encourage any question and I am happy to send along more information.
My first esty shop, Garnet Fiber Studio, focuses on my hand dyed yarns and hand woven pieces. I am using those social media platforms to keep everyone updated on my recycled yarns as well. I may start new account for Second Cycle one day, but for now two etsy shops, a facebook and an instagram is enough for me to handle! Facebook and Instagram are a great way to catch a glimpse of what will hitting the shop soon.
One final thing, If anyone has a favorite sweater that has outlived it’s life, for instance, it has a hole, it’s out of style, or a sweater from a loved one that they would like the yarn recovered from I am happy to talk with them about that. As long as the seams can be taken apart and the sweater has not been shrunk/felted I most likely will be able to reclaim the yarn to be made into something new. I think its a great way to keep a sweater out of a landfill or getting eaten by moths in the back of a closet.
Thanks so much for featuring me!
Thanks so much, Kara!
I love farm visits and meeting new people (and sheep!): if you are a hand spinner, a shepherdess, a small flock owner, a dyer, a mill operator, or a wool trader, I would love to feature your work on this site. Please get in touch via email or Ravelry by clicking the “About” tab (above)