Recycling fibres header image

Recycling Yarn Part 1: Preparing the Fibres

Recycling fibres header image

Recycling Yarn Part 1: Preparing the Fibres


10 minutes (may take longer depending on how much yarn you have).

Materials for recycling yarn
  • Scrap yarn.
    • Chunky yarns work best, but other types could be used, this could be yarn from an old garment, such as a sweater or a pair of socks or scraps from other projects
  • Pair of scissors
  • Stiff-bristle hair brush or dog brush

Get inspired by these people who are also recycling fibres!

Recycling fashion: The town turning waste into clothes (2020) by BBC News (3:52 min.).

  • Preparing yarn
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 1: Prepare the yarn 

    If you are starting with a finished knit object, you will need to carefully unpick the stitches until you have a strand of yarn.

    If you have a ball of yarn, unwind it until you have a single strand of yarn.

  • cut yarn
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 2: Cut the yarn 

    Cut the yarn into 15 cm-long pieces. It does not need to be exact.

  • Pull apart or unply the yarn
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 3:  Unply the yarn

    Pull apart or unply the yarn. Plies are the single strands of fibre that are twisted together to make yarn.

  • Did you know icon
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Did You Know? 

    Most yarns are made by plying two or three strands together. You will learn all about this in Recycling Yarn Part 2: Spinning

  • Brush the fibres as you would your hair
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 4: Brush the yarn

    Brush the yarn as you would brush your hair. 

    Don’t worry if fibres get stuck in the brush.

  • brushed fibres
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 5: Keep brushing!

    Continue brushing the fibres until it no longer looks like yarn.

    It should look like soft, brushed hair.

  • Pull fibres from brush
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 6: Pull the fibres from the brush 

    Pull the fibres out of the brush. Try to keep the fibres facing the same way.

  • lay fibres down as you brush them out
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 7: Lay fibres flat

    Lay the fibres down on a flat surface, such as your lap.

  • all fibres laid out on lap
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 8: Continue adding fibre 

    Continue to add fibres until you have several good-sizes handfuls.

    Lay out the fibres side-by-side.

  • Roll up fibres width-wise
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 9: Roll up the fibres 

    Roll up the fibres width-wise.

  • Finished rolag of fibres
    (©2021 Let’s Talk Science)

    Step 10: Finishing up 

    Once the fibre is all in a nice roll, you are done. This type of a roll of fibres is known in spinning as a rolag.

    Once you have a rolag, you can spin these fibres into yarn. To learn how to do this, go to the Recycling Yarn Part 2: Spinning activity.

Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibres. By pulling the yarn apart, you are taking the fibres back to the state they were in before they were made into yarn.

Fibres that come from plants and animals, such wool, apaca, cotton, and linen, are relatively short. They are a lot like the fibres you made. They also tend to be kinky, much like curly hair. You can see this in the closeup of the thread made of wool below. Each of the little hair-like strands is a fibre of wool.

Close up photo of wood thread
Extreme closeup of a thread made of wool (Source: Anneliese Gruenwald-Maerkl via iStockphoto)

The shape of these fibres lets them hook onto each other. This is why they are good for making yarn. 

However, most of the yarns we use are not made from natural sources. They are often made from synthetic materials such as polyester, polypropylene, and acrylic. These yarns are not made from short fibres. Instead we make these yarns by twisting together long filaments of the material. The material is first melted into a liquid. The filaments are then made by pushing this liquid through narrow tubes. These tubes are called spinnerets. When the liquid cools, it forms a thread. Synthetic threads are more durable than threads made from natural fibres. 

Did you know?

The word “spinneret” comes from the silk-spinning organ of a spider or insect.

Synthetic fibres can be made in any colour. They can also be stretchy, and can be designed to have other characteristics that people want. Most synthetic fibres are very long, which is why the yarn was cut in this activity. Other synthetic yarns are made from short fibres. This is so that they feel and act more like yarns made from natural fibres.

Partly recycled yarn by Loops & Threads
Yarn from Eco-Brights™ (Source: Kim Taylor. Used with permission.)

It is not uncommon for knit garments to get holes in them. These holes can often be repaired by someone who knows about knitting. But for those who do not, the garment will likely be thrown away. Instead of ending up in a landfill, the fibres from these garments can be recycled. Whole new garments and other things can be made from them!

Some companies are creating businesses around doing just that. For example, Loops & Threads® yarns are partly made from recycled plastic.

You can read about other companies in this article about Clothing and Textile Recycling startups

  • Unply a longer piece of yarn. Are the fibres made from long single filaments, or short filaments?
  • Make your own blend of yarn by using fibres from a variety of yarns. Swap some with a friend to make a custom blend that you can share.
  • Try brushing out different types of yarns. Which is easiest to work with?
  • Thick chunks of fibre like the ones made here can add interesting texture to weaving projects. 
  • It is also possible to donate leftover yarn. Find out which charities or organizations near you will accept yarn.

In this video (4:14 min.), see how to recycle fibres from yarn scraps into stuffing you can use for other projects.

In this video (7:44 min.) learn how to unravel a sweater so that you can use the yarn later. 

Get some inspiration for cool yarns spun from recycled scrap yarns.

This article, from How Products are Made, is about how yarns are made.