Several people have asked me how I de-knit sweaters. So for you folks out there, I'll try to describe the process as best I can!
Let me give you a couple tips on how to choose good de-knitting sweaters. First, you want to choose good colors and the bigger the sweater the better, because you get more yarn that way. This is up to you, but I always check the label to make sure that it is 100% cotton because it is nice and soft and a natural fiber. Bigger yarn gauges are easier to take apart too, so thicker sweaters are better for that. Zippers, buttons, and other embellishments will make the process harder so simple designs are the best. The last thing you want to check for is the seams. I've only encountered this once after de-knitting dozens of sweaters, but there are some out there that are made with large sheets of knitted "fabric" that is cut then sewed. You'll end up with lots of short pieces of yarn which is worthless. So make sure the seams look like they are edges of knitted panels. Sorry if it doesn't make sense, but you probably don't have to worry about it.
So here is the victim. Nice colors, eh? The cashier at Goodwill even commented how nice the colors were and what a great buy it was because it was Liz Claiborne. But I did have to pay a little more than usual for it (9 bucks) probably for the fancy brand. I didn't have the heart to tell the cute lady that I was buying it to destroy it so I just told her that I was getting it for the nice colors. Sorry cute Filipino lady!
Ok so, first thing you want to do is wash it and then cut any and all tags and other crap off of it. Do it carefully so that you don't cut the yarn, and try to get all of the threads out because they might catch up the unraveling.
I always start the process at the wrists. Find the seam and look through it for what I call the knot tail. It's a thick little tail formed by knots that you should find woven into the end of the sleeve. It looks like this. Now you want to cut this off at the base, where the two strings come together. Once you cut it, pull apart the seam and you'll see the thread that is holding the seam together. If you pull on it, it should pull the whole seam apart, and if you're lucky, keep going all the way down body on the same side. It might get caught at the armpit, but a few snips of more knot tails here and there should let it go. Do it to both sleeves.
Now your sweater should look like this. Next, find more little tails hidden into the seams holding the sleeves to the body. They should unravel the same way as before. Usually the collar is a separate piece also, so that will have to be separated as well. (If the sweater is a cardigan, the skinny bits where the buttons or buttonholes would be are separate pieces too.)
At this point, all of the panels (besides the shoulder seams,) should be taken apart and look like this. At this point, put the body aside and focus on the sleeves. Always start the unraveling at the top of the sleeve where it was connected to the shoulder. There is no easy way to find the beginning, just poke around, make some cuts and you'll find it eventually. Start balling that stuff up baby! (This is when it really starts getting satisfying :P)
Now the shoulders are the hardest part. These are reinforced with regular thread, and sometimes with extra fabric, which makes it virtually impossible to take apart. So you'll have to cut it as close to the seam as possible. It does make a small mess and there will be some waste of yarn, but you'll get past the mess and the piece will unravel much like the sleeves. Unravel the rest of the pieces, collar, pockets, whatever you have left and that should be it.
Now it is time to look at your final product with satisfaction. Yessssss... Doesn't it feel good to think that you paid just a fraction of what you would pay at a fancy yarn store for the same amount? Sure, it's a little bit of a time commitment, but you can do other stuff too. In this case, I watched two sweet episodes of House. Jealous?