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Unconventional Yarns: 5 Recommendations for Creative Yarn Craft

In the last decade, knitting, crocheting, embroidery basically all types of needlework have seen an explosion in popularity. However, it's easy to get bored with the basics after your fiftieth matching hat and scarf set. If you're looking for a project of a more unconventional nature, the following recommendations may suit you.

Recycling: Recycling old sweaters can be one of the most economical ways to obtain large amounts of yarn. The key to picking a usable sweater is to check the seam type on the sides and sleeves. If the edges are not visible and the panels have been sealed off or cut after seaming, the yarn will be in hundreds of small pieces instead of a few very long ones. Each piece of the sweater should separate easily when the seam is cut. Another factor to be aware of is colorwork: if there is a lot of intarsia or other intricate patterning, some of the yarn may be in smaller pieces that are not suitable for a full project on their own. Because wool fibers turn to felt if agitated or not properly cared for, wool is not always an ideal choice for deconstructing and must be subject to careful examination. Thrift stores are a prime location for sweater-hunting and can contain many hidden treasures, although it isn't possible to know beforehand what will be available. Old sweaters that are no longer worn, as well as blankets and scarves, can also be unraveled and repurposed.

Remnants: Have too many yarn remnants that aren't long enough for a scrap yarn project? Deconstruct them by pulling apart any plies (getting as close to the base fibers as possible) and spin them together. Remnants tend to be delicate and finicky to work with, so a drop spindle is recommended. If they aren't holding together well on their own, they can be added into another fiber meant for spinning. The result will be a completely unique skein of yarn that also contains a story: the history of your projects. Remnants that resist both of these methods can still be used as supplemental stuffing for plush toys. Fans of rug hooking may want to try integrating remnants (at least two inches in length) into their projects or designing a new pattern from scratch.

Plastic yarn: Don't know what to do with all those plastic bags from the grocery store? Keep them out of landfills by turning them into yarn! Simply lie the bag flat and cut it into strips horizontally (the width of the strips will determine the yarn's thickness). These strips form loops that can be connected in a chain using a "loop to loop" knot . Twist can be added to the linked loops with the aid of a wheel or drop spindle in order to strengthen the yarn and prevent stretching, but this is not necessary, as the finished fabric is surprisingly durable. Plastic bag yarn is great for items that may get wet: bags for farmers' markets or the beach, mats for bar soap, or even shower scrubs. Wash by hand with just about any soap when necessary

Drop Spindle Top
Drop Spindle Top

Cotton-spinning made easier: For spinners who want easy access to cotton that can be more forgiving to work with than the raw fiber, everyday drugstore cotton balls are a surprisingly good alternative. Simply loosen them up and start spinning from the center of the ball. It will unroll from the inside out. When the ball is nearly used up, prepare the next ball in the same way, and tuck the remaining bit of the first ball into its center. Gently pinch the new ball shut over the old one and the two pieces will usually join automatically.

Hair of the dog: One of the most controversial spinning materials discussed today is pet hair. Although it may seem unusual, there is growing interest among pet-lovers, especially for the purpose of memorializing a beloved lost pet. Pet haircuts are usually the best way to get a large amount of hair at once, but brushing will also amass fibers over time. As with all spinning, long hair is easier to work with, but shorter hair is also possible to use with longer supplemental fibers. For those who like the idea but don't want the hassle of the process, there are a number of pet hair spinning services available online.

If all of these suggestions leave you looking for more unconventional challenges, just remember that almost anything long and flexible can become yarn with creative application: wires, electronic cables, cords, strips of fabric, and ropes of all sizes. Although many results of experimentation will be more art piece than functional, it can be a fun and interesting challenge to test the limits of unconventional yarn craft.

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