The art of recycling warmth

Filed in Blog, Guest Posts by on February 4, 2010 14 Comments
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Sandie Roach tells you all abour recycling your jumper for South African orphans

Sandie Roach tells you all abour recycling your jumper for South African orphans

Our guest post today is from Sandie Roach.

Sandie is a waste hating, student of life, being home educated by her kids in Perth Western Australia.

Today she shares a fabulous idea about reusing old jumpers and recycling them into blankets to help AIDS orphans in South Africa.

If your knits no longer fit,

Grab your scissors –  quietly sit.

Carefully, unpick every seam:

Watch wool, unravel like a dream…..

According to the CSIRO it takes 170,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of clean wool.

When I was a child I used to help an aunt unpick jumpers from jumble sales.  The yarn was unravelled, wound into skeins, washed to remove the crinkles, hung to dry and then re-balled, ready for knitting or crochet. This practice became unfashionable.

However, as our landfill sites begin to overflow, I would like to re-fashion this activity and some old garments too.

My choice of re-use for the wool is knitting 8 inch squares for a charity who ask that we send them to their ‘Comfort Club’ in Soweto, South Africa.  There they are sewn together and made into blankets for children who have been orphaned by aids.

It is estimated that there are 11.6 million orphans in sub-saharan Africa. 1.4 million live in South Africa (

If you would like to ‘knit-a-square’ their website gives clear instructions.

And whilst I have covered two of the Permaculture ethics: ‘Earth Care’ and ‘Fair Share’, let’s not forget ourselves and the ‘People Care’ ethic.

Knitting and other needlework is good for you:

‘I found that knitting helped me calm my thoughts and while I was knitting and putting stitches in order it was easier to put my mind in order’ –  anon (

The ‘Stitchlinks’ website explains, wonderfully the benefits to be had.

Garments to unpick can be found at car boot sales, jumble sales, charity shops and perhaps your wardrobe.

Go on….give it a go……the feeling, as the stitches unravel, is quite amazing…..


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (14)

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  1. Teresa says:

    This is a coincidence. Only last night I finished unrunning 2 jumpers I no longer wear in order to make better use of the yarn. What better use could there be than this!

  2. Layla says:

    WOW! What a great idea!!

    I was wondering about all the pullovers etc too!!
    My Grandma and even Mom remember doing similar and re-knitting stuff from old pullovers. (Or wool bought in re-use stations or such, leftovers from industrial knitting.)

    Can industrially knitted pullovers be used for this too? (I heard the yarns there are shorter, so you have lots of short pieces – wasn’t advised to knit pullovers from such, maybe little squares could still be okay?)

    The only thing I might wonder is: would this be for 100% wool only or also other mixtures, and how would those be then disposed of in Africa? At least this way, the life-cycle would be prolonged… And I hope they’d take care of the blankets and wash, not just dispose of when dirty etc.

  3. Sandie says:

    Many thanks Layla,

    Yes, many commercially produced pullovers can be un-picked (particularly the thicker ones). You have to find the ‘magic thread’ and then the seam unravels in seconds. If you try the seam and it doesn’t unravel easily have a go at the other end and it may work well for you. Otherwise, carefully un-snip one stitch at a time. Your reward will be the joy of un-ravelling the wool….. (my kids just love helping with this bit).

    Knit-a-Square ask that we label the ‘100% Wool’ squares, as they are made into blankets for children who live alone around naked flame. The acrylic wool is used for all other blankets.

    “Wool and Acrylic – The majority of items knitted are acrylic yarns. So please only separate and mark those squares that are wool or high wool blends if sending together, so that we can isolate them to use for children who may be exposed to naked flame, where this is possible.”

    With regard to disposal; these children have absolutely nothing, so they produce minute amounts of waste. Their blanket may be the only thing that is truly theirs and it will be treasured, cared for and loved.

    The website has been created in a really user-friendly fashion. Every question you may have is answered clearly. Quite wonderful work by the dedicated McDonald family.

  4. Sandie says:

    Great work Teresa! It’s great to hear that someone else is un-picking jumpers. Would you agree that once the seams are sorted, The un-ravelling is most enjoyable?

  5. Sandie says:

    I forgot to mention that FREECYCLE might be a good place to find suitable jumpers for unpicking. Find your local group at

  6. Sandie says:

    Sorry! Freecycle’s website is:

  7. Poppy says:

    That brings back memories! Sat by the fire with my arms held out infront of me as my Mum unwound a jumper onto them!! Also remember my Mum twisting a folded length of wool over and over to make a new belt for my brother’s dressing gown.

    Most of the tops in our house are now fleece types, so no unwinding to be done, but I’ll certainly keep an eye out at charity shops or jumble sales….. I feel inspired ….. I want to do some unwinding!! 🙂

  8. magdalena says:

    We were just talking about what church knitting groups could do for mission besides prayer shawls and hospital booties. This is a great recycling project. Most rummage sales end up with bales of old sweaters that go to the landfill.

    As for all that water to process wool: I raised sheep, sheared them, washed and carded and spun the wool myself. Homespun wool, even if it has gone through the mini-mill (carding system) doesn’t require that much water. And sheep are amazingly thrifty when it comes to water consumption.

  9. Linda says:

    I remember posting only a couple of weeks ago about a friend who buys hand knitted garments cheaply from charity shops and on occasions bazzars and jumble sales. She carefully unravels the garments which are sometimes “unsuitable” as they are, and re-knits them up into lovely trendy and useful jumpers, cardis, scarves, hats and gloves etc for the family. I am learning to knit at present and am giving this a go.

    It dosen’t have to be for the family – you could knit for Haiti, AIDS victims, or any charity of your choice.

  10. Jane says:

    I remember doing this as well. I only wish that I had learned to knit so well that I don’t have to look at it all the time. My mother knitted socks for my father and jumpers for us and when the jumpers got too small either cuff extensions were added or if not passed down the whole jumper was unravelled and re-knitted.

  11. Sandie says:

    Sandy McDonald from Knit-a-Square (KAScare) was really pleased to read this My Zero Waste page. See her comments here:

  12. Debbie says:

    Thanks from Melrose Park, Pennsylvania in the US. Another use for old sweaters (jumpers?) that are 100% wool is to felt them and then cut them into 8 inch squares. You can easily felt a woolen sweater or vest by machine washing it in hot water and detergent, then machine drying it. the sweater will shrink and the yarn will thicken and tighten. Then you can cut squares that will not ravel. You can send these squares to where the ladies in the Soweto comfort Club will sew them into lovely blankets for the children. Thanks, Sandie, for a great article!

  13. Sandie says:

    @ Debbie, Thank you for this helpful information, I’ve been wanting to have a go at ‘felting’ for a while.

    With the 100% wool garments this would be so much easier than un-ravelling and re-knitting.

    I have a suitable jumper that I am about to boil……..xxxxx

    Thank you!

  14. Sandie says:

    The Knit-a-Square’ website has just added a new paragraph to it’s knitting instructions mentioning unravelling old clothing, since the ‘My Zero Waste’ blog post:

    “Using scrap wool or acrylic yarn is both economical for you and a great way to recycle, especially if you unravel old clothing. Charity shops often have bags of wool or acrylic yarn at very low prices.”

    Wow…..the power of the internet for connecting people and sharing ideas.

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