Monday, January 25, 2010

recycled cashmere

In my new book, KNITS MEN WANT, I offer all the rules women need to know before knitting for a guy. And my favorite is that NOT ALL MEN ARE WORTHY OF CASHMERE. In the book, I tell the story about a young woman who knitted a cashmere hat for her husband who thought it would make a great paper towel substitute. He drove her to tears and he never got another thing knitted with such fine fiber.

I have to say that as much as I love soft yarns, I'm just not a big cashmere wearer. It's warm and soft, yes, but it just doesn't have the weight behind it I like for a sweater. I want to feel that garment on my back, protecting me from the elements. It's the same reason I'd rather have 4 quilts on my bed in the winter than 1 thick down comforter. Sure I get the same warmth, but it's the weight, the comfort of the pressure that I look for.

Having said all that, I don't think there's a single fiber I prefer to knit with than Cashm
ere. It's lightness means my hands never get tired from holding a and turning a heavy garment while I knit. And it feels so wonderful being pulled through my fingers as I knit. But then there's the cost $12 for 45 yards - yikes! That's a $50 hat, forget about a sweater in a man's x-large.

So what's a knitter to do? Check out thrift stores and ebay.
On ebay today I found a bright red cashmere sweater in a women's medium for $5.99 and a gray cashmere hoodie for $7.25. When you get the garment home, dry clean or wash it before you start into deconstructing it - or even smell it—remember, not everyone's hygiene is as good as yours. Once the sweater is cleaned, you're ready to begin surgery. One disclaimer; you're going to lose a lot of yarn and that's okay, you've gotten it cheap and if you can get 500 yards out of it you've gotten a steal.

Start by taking apart the seams, to separate the arms, front, and back. Start this at the very top or bottom so that if you accidentally nick the garment you won't do it in the middle or a long run of working yarn. Pull the front and back away from each other and look at the seam. You should be able to see the thread that connects them. It only takes a clip at one spot to know if you got the right thread. Once you clip it, you can pull and see that the two pieces are coming apart. If see that stitches themselves are unraveling, you've cut the garment and not the seam. That's okay, it will just be a break in the yarn once you get going. Keep trying until you get it.

Once the parts are separate, look at the neck. If the neck or collar have been sewn on, just cut them off straight across, keeping your cut as close as possible to a straight line of stitches. Now, using a tapestry needle start to pick out the top row of stitches pulling out the scraps that have been cut until you can start to unravel the piece. I like to put it on my ball winder and simply watch the garment unravel as I wind. It helps to have a yarn meter so you'll know exactly how much yarn you have.

Now, most yarn that's used in cashmere sweaters is pretty thin stuff. So I like to double what ever comes out of vintage garments. That makes for 4 or eve six ply cashmere to work with. This yarn came from an old Lord & Taylor men's cashmere sweater that've had in my closet since high school. I got 500 yards of usable 2-ply cashmere and I've rewound it doubled for 250 yards of 4-ply cashmere giving my 5 stitches/inch on size 7 needles.

The hat I'm making is for a my friend John E, to thank him for a lovely weekend in the Hamptons with him and his wife Rainey last week. The pattern is the watch cap from my new book KNITS MEN WANT. And although NOT ALL MEN ARE WORTHY OF CASHMERE, when you can buy 500 yards for a mere $7, all men are worthy of a second chance.


  1. I'd like a cashmere hat. Really. I promise to wear it.

  2. This is such a clever idea! I guess my question is - is the cashmere still as strong the second time around? I always thought cashmere was so soft because the fibres were short and fragile, rather than strong and wiry. Love the notion of doubling or tripling the strands - I can't imagine knitting with 2 ply! :)

  3. Well, Celia,
    You're right, the more you knit with a yarn, the more fragile and "fuzzy" it gets. But good quality cahsmere can stand up to one rip-out and another knit-up. This blue blend was 2-ply to begin with and I doubled it for a 4-ply hat. True luxury - cheap.

  4. Hey, can I just point out that the blurb is quite sexist? "I offer all the rules women need to know before knitting for a guy".. (very big grin here, because I am just ribbing you, pun not intended...) :)

  5. It is a rather funny idea that a gay man would have all the advice a straight woman needs for her her guy, well at least when it comes to knitting for him. The advice is all given with great humor but the patterns are quite serious. And the day Mark wears any kind of a hat, I'll eat mine! He overheats so easily...

  6. What a completely fabulous notion. How many times I've drooled over the stuff and cursed the gods for my current residential climate situation. In S. Arizona.

    I couldn't help but look into the stuff anyway. Where's it come from, why is it so expensive - why are cashmere sweaters so cheap in some places, etc. It is scary what some of China has done to the environment by raising cashmere goats the way they have over the past... mmknow, decade or so enough to totally dustbowl its once lush, green landscapes. Upon further investigation, there seem to be many sustainable-type cashmere goat farms in Italy. Which would be my first choice if I were to indulge and rip.

    So wish I could come to one of your Sunday afternoons at Twisted, beam at your knitting projects and taste your food. How I long for culture.

    I'm so buying your book.


  7. if you're ever in new england, please do come by.


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