Refashioning sweaters

I’ve noticed more stories on NPR about domestic producers lately. Yesterday was this one: Mother, Son Create A New Life For That Old Sweater. Go have a listen, it’s funny and inspiring.

Gayane Avanian of Boston, who is a computer programmer by day, will take $30 and the sweater, unravel it and reknit it into something usable. Her son Haik is the company’s graphic designer.

Because Gayane is the only knitter, and after a larger-than-expected response in January, the mother-son duo decided to limit the number of projects they accept to the first 30 for February.

sustainamittens You really can’t get any more sustainable than by reusing still good supplies to order but I think their $30 price is too low. Gayane is only making $4 an hour at that rate.

As a point of comparison, I bought two pairs of mittens (right) made from old sweaters at the local farmer’s market. I paid $30 each. I thought the cost was a little high but these were very well made. The producer cut up old sweaters, painstakingly matched the stripes of each pair and sewed on waistband ribbing for cuffs. The mittens have a well constructed fuzzy cotton stretch lining with no raw edges visible inside or out. If there was a downside, it was the fabric store buttons. Can’t have everything.

I actually wanted three pairs but she only had the two. She said she was out of sweaters and that these were her last batch of the season until she could go to Wisconsin this summer and hit the thrift stores. I was dismayed to say the least. Until I went back the following weekend and saw she had six more pairs. Gentle teasing ensued but I did get my other pair.

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  1. Brian says:

    Oh those mittens are super nice. I just felted my first sweater and am now contemplating what to do with this crazy felt monstrosity. Mittens are now at the top of my list! I was talking to another shopper at the thrift shop who was saying wool sweaters have gone up in price and down in stock since this whole reuse/recycle/re-purpose phenomena hit mainstream. I’m a little ashamed to admit I paid over $5 for mine.

  2. Sue Burns has been doing this for years and has a wonderful business and great products. She producess locally and I’ve been at wholesale shows with her.

    As I recall, she has suppliers now who send her wool. She does some work in-house, some is contracted out. This is from a conversation 2 years ago, so may be outdated. The others who met me in Philly at BMAC may have seen her and her beautiful products. She’s also super nice.

    It’s a lot harder than it looks. I was inspired by her Christmas stockings a couple of years ago and bought sweaters and Goodwill and repurposed them into a stocking. It’s nice, but her finishing and bands on top are nicer!


  3. Marie-Christine says:

    I feel really ambivalent about this sort of thing. When your local thrift shops had a regular supply of nice sweaters felted beyond recognition by ignorant students who didn’t listen to their Moms about doing the laundry, it was admirable to take them and make yourself a pair of mittens. But stalking the thrift shops to snag perfectly good innocent sweaters that you can felt on purpose in order to make mittens to sell, now that I feel to be un-ecological as well as profoundly anti-historical.
    I saw this week a not-very-nice quilt made from lovely embroidered pieces from old sheets. Hated that. I’m certain that these were not unusable sheets, you can’t buy those anywhere any more. I’d be happy to sleep in those sheets, and I know their original owners felt fine about mending them carefully if they had a problem. Then again think of the fads we’ve had of bags or vests made from old quilts for instance, most of those were not made from scraps of unuseable quilts, they destroyed quits instead.
    Destroying previous people’s (usually superior) textile work in order to make crappy little fashionable crap is a crime in my book. A worse crime when it’s done to sell the crap.

  4. Andrea says:

    The process is fulling, not felting, correct? I always use the term fulling, even when I’m surrounded by people saying felting…

  5. Victoria says:

    Marie-Christine…I see your point. My grand parents immigrated from Poland and my grandmother did amazing crochet work and tatting. I have some lovely crocheted pieces that I only use occasionally and could never bring myself to cut up and fashion into something else. When the time comes (many years from now, I hope) to spread the joy of my collections to others…including many thrift stores probably across many states because they all won’t want to take so much ‘junk’…I would be tickled to think that an up and coming DE would take one of my grandmother’s pieces and make something to continue the joy.

    There is a lot of crap out there, repurposed, recycled and even new. Sometimes we have to make some crap in finding our way to the good stuff. I wish I could say that all of my creations have achieved a certain level of artistic style. Alas, I have to admit that I have created some crap using both repurposed and new materials.

    Thank you, Marie-Christine & Kathleen for your posts. I like the posts that make me think about my process. Your posts took me back down memory lane. I took a moment to think about where I’ve been, where I am and where I might go.

    Let it warm up so we can take our mittens off and put them away til next winter!!


  6. celeste says:

    I think this is a great idea, I mean most of the wool sweaters I have seen in thrift stores (if you can find them), have moth holes or have been shrunk. What else can use them for but to repurpose them into new items.

    Many cloth diaper moms use old wool sweaters to make covers, sleeves can be made for leg warmers.

  7. dosfashionistas says:

    One Christmas my whole family got hats made from felted sweaters (which I bought at the thrift store). Some of them were strictly utilitarian, but warm, but I was quite proud of the better ones. I fringed the top ends and wound thread around where I wanted the top of the hat to be, leaving 4-6″ of fringe at the top and used the waist ribs for headbands.

    I don’t feel guilty about using the sweaters for this. Many of them were worn, stretched, already shrunk or otherwise unwearable. If I had not used them, chances are they would have become scrap in a landfill.

    I do like those mittens. Maybe a hat and mitten set?????

  8. Grace says:

    @ Marie-Christine
    I agree with you. For my electronics cases, I only use already fulled or moth-eaten sweaters found at thrift stores. If it is a perfectly nice and wearable sweater, I don’t think its highest use is a laptop case.

    My sister also informed me that the correct term for shrinking knitted wool by washing in hot water with abrasion is fulling.

  9. Hilly Jacklin says:

    First, I’m a long time lurker, your site is the high point of my Sunday mornings.
    Fulling is the process of washing a woolen item in hot water then shocking it in cold just to the point that causes the yarn to bloom, the stitches swell and everything becomes interlocked a bit but the stitch definition is still there. The knit item could still be unraveled but the yarn is probably sticking together a bit. The item may have shrunk some but not much.
    Felting is more extreme, at this point the yarn is totally bonded to itself, the stitches have disappeared, the item cannot be unraveled and it has shrunk, sometimes to a considerable degree.
    The rate of shrinkage has a lot to do with the breed of sheep the wool came from, some breeds the wool shrinks very little, others by a substantial amount.

  10. Marie-Christine says:

    Sorry Hilly – felting is a process applied to unstructured fleece, fulling is the same process applied to previously woven or knitted material. The same process gives a slightly thinner and drapier result, which may still be pulled apart, when done lightly. Or a stiff and unyielding result which is welded together when done a lot/forcibly/long. No vocabulary distinction for the intensity of the process, just for what it’s applied to (just google it).
    Shocking in hot and cold water is one method to speed up the process, actually it’s abrasion and abrasion alone that does the felting/fulling.

    For the rest of you, yes I see the point of using sweaters that have previously been damaged to make individual items. Where it breaks down for me is when demand outstrips supply. Right now so many people are ‘recycling’ fashionably that no raw material (ie naturally damaged sweaters) are found in the thrift shop any longer, and people are deliberately damaging textiles to do fake-recycled products for sale. That’s a lot less cool.
    Mind you, I’d deliberately knit a laptop sleeve if I thought it’d turn out as nice as Grace’s :-), but again that’s different as I wouldn’t be pretending it came from a laundry-impaired student.

  11. Ah! From the headline I thought you were talking about recutting. I do NOT KNIT, but started taking apart my own old sweaters and recutting and Overlocking them into sweaters for my chihuahua since the store ones were horrible. She has a wardrobe of real lambswool and cashmere turtlenecks with sleeves and something to cover her belly and the stitches never come apart.

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