I like to recycle sweaters. Not just for the sake of being "green", but for the sake of being frugal. I can find nice big cotton sweaters for $3 at my local thrift shop, and get a whole lot of yarn from taking them apart. Recently, I've had several friends ask me about the process, so I decided to do a little tutorial about it, in case anyone else is interested.
So, first of all, a few general pointers...when choosing a sweater to recycle:
the bigger, the better
stick with solid color sweaters(stripes and other colorwork are a pain to unravel)
check the seams; if they're serged seams, skip it(I'll explain in a minute)
I usually only use cotton sweaters for this, because of wool's tendency toward felting
And now, on to the tutorial! Here's the sweater I chose: an Eddie Bauer, men's size large, 100% cotton, cream-colored ribbed sweater. I washed and dried it before beginning to take it apart.
Okay, I know this next one isn't a great picture; my camera wouldn't cooperate on such a close-up...but this is me checking the seams. If you aren't sure what the difference between a serged seam and a simple, stitched seam is, go look at a basic t-shirt. T-shirts are generally made by cutting and sewing knitted fabric. To keep the edges from fraying, they're stitched with a serger, a machine that cuts the fabric close, and stitches over and over the edge. If you attempt to take apart a sweater with serged seams, you'll end up with lots of short bits of yarn, not long enough to use for anything. Trust me, I learned this lesson the hard way.
Now then, on we go: the seams on this sweater are perfect. Most commercially-made sweaters are not seamed using mattress stitch. Which is a good thing when you want to take them apart. The seams on this sweater are done like a crochet chain. So you just need to find the end of the seam that was the finishing end, undo the knot, and pull. The sweater will magically(or it seems so) come apart at the seams!
Here are all the pieces. Except the little bit of ribbing from the neck opening; I decided that tiny bit of yarn wasn't worth the effort.
Now that the pieces are taken apart, it's time to begin unraveling. I picked a sleeve for the first bit. I didn't take a picture, but I think y'all can figure out how to undo the bindoff edge and pull the yarn. I wound mine around a chair back as I unraveled it, so that I could measure it as I went. This chair is 38 inches around the back, and the yarn from the sleeve went around it 495 times, so...495x38 divided by 36 gives me my yardage: 522.5 yards of fingering-weight cotton, from one sleeve!
After it's wound around the chair and measured, I wind it with my ball-winder. You could wind it into a traditional ball if you prefer that, but I like center-pull balls better.
And here's the finished ball of yarn! Now you just do the same with the other sections of the sweater!
I like to store my recycled yarn in ziploc bags; I can write on the outside what the fiber content is and how much yarn it is, in case I forget between winding the yarn and using it.
If anything is unclear, or you have any questions, please comment, and I'll try to answer them!