2022 First Quarter Challenge – Making Samples (Textile Deconstruction and Reuse)

2022 First Quarter Challenge – Making Samples (Textile Deconstruction and Reuse)


I have a pile of old knitwear items that are nice colours but are now way too small for me.  They aren’t good enough to donate because some areas are worn and bobbly but most of the fabric is still good. Usually my first thought is to cut up and use old fabrics as embellishment in feltmaking but this time I decided to try something else first.

I’ve seen other people make scarves and jackets by patching pieces of old knitwear together so I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and make a patched sample, but also take the opportunity to conquer my avoidance of my overlocker.   I’ve only used it once or twice very briefly and not terribly successfully, and since then it has sat in the corner mocking me.  It was time to be brave!

So I cut some small pieces from the knitwear and went for it. I like the way the fabric crinkles and goes wavy on the edges if you stretch it as you sew.  Success – I had joined several pieces together.  My next issue was that the overlocker was threaded with 4 cones of white so I decided to be brave and change the colours!  Three YouTube videos, lots of eye drops and some careful administering with the tweezers later and I had 4 different coloured threads in the machine.  Hurrah!  You can see in the photo the first sample on the left is with white thread and raw edges and the second sample on the right has the coloured threads and also I cut sections from the sleeves so that there would be no raw edges to fray.

Now I have some new confidence with the overlocker and a decent sample that may well turn into an actual scarf one day if I can get in the right mood to cut about 100 more pieces!  The knit fabric works well as it is cosy and is not itchy.  I’d love to be able to wear wool, but my skin is too sensitive to it 🙁

You can see in the photo above that I got some nice scraps from doing this that I used in my next sample.  Double bonus!  I currently have some ideas in development for some artwork based around stylised trees and these scraps lent themselves to it nicely so I laid out some of the scraps on to a small base of white Merino fibres and began felting.  For my artwork I often only take the felt to somewhere between soft felt and felt, but quite often not fulled depending on what finish I want and how much I want to distort the fibres and fabrics.  I took photos when it was softly felted then carried on until it was well felted but in this case I preferred it at the halfway stage as it looked fresher somehow and not overworked.

For my next felt sample I used unravelled yarn from one of the old pieces of knitwear.  I had been fiddling around with it and decided to pull it apart.  Where it had been so tightly knitted the yarn kept a fabulous crinkle in it.

It only unravelled in short lengths, I assume that’s because of how I cut it on the seam.  I laid a few strands down, then bunched a few up then also scattered some tiny pieces on. I think this could make an interesting addition to a landscape or a picture of a bunch of flowers.

I was intrigued by the unravelled knitting so set about fiddling with the knitwear I had been dismantling for the overlocking experiment.  Cutting a ring or strip from some of the knit fabrics and then gently stretching them resulted in an interesting elongated knobbly bobbly string of fabric – not yarn, not complete fabric, but something in between.  Magic!

I haven’t felted with these yet but will do and will report back.  In the photo below the inner circle is a slice of sleeve before stretching, the outer circle is after stretching.

I also got carried away and began unpicking another piece of knitted fabric which has interesting potential, but haven’t yet had time to try felting with it:

I’ll come back to the knitted fabric experiments at a later date.

I wanted to do another thing other than my default feltmaking so I decided to try some more fabric applique on paper with free motion stitch, as I like the effect.   I rummaged in my fabric scraps and found an offcut of upholstery fabric with birds on called ‘Birds and Berries’ by Sanderson.

I cut out a bird and a few other motifs then glued and free motion stitched them to some cotton rag drawing paper (approx. 20cm / 8inch square).  Then I freehand cut some hearts from scrap paper, tea boxes, sweet wrappers and collage papers then glued some on and stitched the rest on.

I really liked the result so went on to make a card for a golden 50th wedding anniversary in the same way but much bigger, 30cm x 30cm (12″x12″).  I loved the result but I regretted the size when I was cutting and attaching 50 hearts at midnight the day before the celebration!

Most of my textiles work involves feltmaking and much of what I use to embellish the felt is repurposed e.g. pieces of fabric cut from an old item of clothing or threads frayed from some old fabric.  I enjoy making small samples to see how different fabrics and fibres will felt before making bigger projects. Samples are quick and easy to make and can’t go wrong – you just experiment and discover new things, both good and bad, what works and what doesn’t work quite how you might have expected.

I am looking forward to making many more samples – the more you make the more ideas you get! 🙂

17 thoughts on “2022 First Quarter Challenge – Making Samples (Textile Deconstruction and Reuse)

  1. Okay Annie, first of all I am putting you on a pedestal for being brave enough to try out your over locker. Mine has been sitting in a press since I thought it was a good idea to buy it ions ago. – still looks brand new, because it has never seen the light of day. Maybe using it should be a quarterly challenge some time (only joking!!).

    The knitted samples are just tremendous – I can’t pick out any favourite from among them. I do feel a certain wave of excitement with the unravelled pieces. So many possibilities, so little time.

    Your card it totally darling – what time did you finally make it to bed? I am sure all the hard work was totally appreciated by the lucky recipients. Can I ask what glue you used on the paper and sweet wrappings? They look like part of the background fabric, I would never have guessed they were paper.

    1. Hi Helene – ha ha! yes it was very brave of me wasn’t it! 🙂 I imagine “use the overlocker” would be quite an unpopular challenge?! 🙂 I’m sure it gets easier with practice but for some reason it is one of those things isn’t it. Sampling seems to be a good way to start though as you only have to worry about messing up scraps of fabric, not 3 metres of expensive dressmaking fabric!

      I agree that the knitted fabrics offer so many exciting possibilities – I’m looking forward to making more samples and unravelling more things!

      I can’t remember what time I made it to bed, but it was far too late! The glue is very good – it is Neutral pH Adhesive by Lineco. It is quite expensive but apparently it does not discolour and also dries clear. Can’t beat a bit of cutting and sticking!

  2. Love all your re-use ideas here Annie! Especially like the offcut trees but I am always partial to trees. Good for you on using your overlocker. Luckily, I never was tempted to buy one as I kept hearing how tricky they were. I look forward to seeing more of how you use the unraveled yarn. I used yarn like that and couched it down to make a tree. It makes great texture.

    1. Thank you Ruth! Yes, I do love trees as a subject too, a definite favourite! I did a painting class last year where the theme was colour in the landscape and I focussed on trees. We did a lot of work both outside and back in the studio, and I’m keen to develop it further both with paint and with textiles. So many ideas to play with, the list grows and grows! 🙂

  3. Well done on your overlocker bravery, Annie! Mine’s been in my possession for over 18 months and I still haven’t had the courage to use it. I’ve changed the thread and I’ve cleaned it, but haven’t used it yet! I need to be like you and be brave 🙂

    As for the knitting unravelling, the reason you were having a bit of trouble is that you were unravelling from the beginning and not the end. A good tip for next time: if your unravelling isn’t smooth (and the fibre isn’t grippy), then try the other side!

    1. Thanks Leonor! It seems like the overlocker is a big scary monster for lots of us! Perhaps Helene is right and we should have an overlocker quarterly challenge – ha ha! 🙂

      Thanks for the unravelling tip – I will try it out next time. I’m getting the feeling that not only are my friends scarves not safe from me wanting to steal them and felt them, neither are any of their jumpers now! I’m always eyeing up their accessories and saying “when you’ve finished with that….”

  4. I have an over lock machine too. I have only used it once. I inherited it and luckily my MIL bought one that is colour coded and numbered for threading. I don’t really sew anymore. I should.

    how long do you want a scarf? Your not Dr. Who. LOL It looks like you have a good start.

    I agree the trees look best half felted. they have more of their knit texture at that stage.

    The card turned out so nice. I am sure they appreciated all your hard work and time to cut out 50 harts.

    1. Ha ha! Yes, that was probably another midnight tired guesstimate! I just measured up and I think it would need about 30 more pieces to get to 2m which is the same length as some other narrow scarves I’ve got, 100 pieces would be very long! It might get to the top of the list one day 🙂

      The knitwear / trees need many more samples and experimentation to see what comes out, but I’m looking forward to it.

      The card was very much appreciated, so that was good! 🙂

  5. Some interesting samples there Annie, I particularly like the wavy kinks in the blue wool. Like Ann, I’m also wondering just how long you intend to go with your “Doctor” style scarf! I bought a second hand overlocker at the start of lockdown and love it, although it does vibrate in an alarming way and jumps about on my table!
    My favourite project has to be your appliqué hearts and birds, that’s such a beautiful composition.

    1. Thanks Karen, I really love the unravelled blue yarn too, it’s really held the kink from the knitting.

      Ha yes – I replied to Ann about the scarf! Possibly a slight overestimate, although a 5m scarf might be fun! 🙂

      My sewing machine does that if I really put my foot down – I have to move it to the edge of the table where it’s more sturdy!

      The birds & hearts was a really nice project to work on, cutting and sticking and sewing. I’ve just realised I forgot to include the photo of the sample I made before I made the finished piece. Oops! It was very similar but smaller and simpler.

  6. Annie, I just love your ideas! I don’t think I would’ve ever thought about, cutting up my knits, but it makes total sense. We seem to be the family depository for any handmade fiber or art pieces. I used to be honored to receive these family heirlooms. Now I feel the pressure, to keep the things, no one else wanted. Believe it or not, your willingness to cut up knits, has given me additional ideas: maybe pieces can be used instead of whole items. I can snap a photo of the original item, and create a remembrance, instead of keeping everything.


    1. Hi Capi, thank you! I’m glad you found inspiration in the post – it’s a great idea to make new things out of pieces of the old things, then you can enjoy them again, instead of just storing them! And taking a photo is a good idea for remembrance.

  7. Oh boy not only an interesting post but also reassuring comments (at least for me).

    Your samples are great – the wrinkly yarn offers so many opportunities and like you I prefer the texture of the soft Felted ‘tree’ piece.

    I have spent many an hour (in front of the tv) unravelling commercially knitted jumpers….the trick for continuous length, is to undo the side seam stitching & as Leonor said if it doesn’t work top down try bottom up (I crack it, then have completely forgotten by the next time). Once you have separate elements just start from the neck to unwind. If the first lengths are short, because they have cut the shoulders, it is usually continuous from the underarm down. It is a great way of getting interesting yarns cheaply.

    On to your golden wedding piece – totally fantastic, and worth all the matchsticks. The recipients must be delighted. Knowing how frugal you are, I’m sure you’ve put those matchsticks safely away for the next critical timed piece 🤪

    Finally thanks for talking about your overlocker – mine has been under my sewing table, unused (sshhhhh….for years 😞). Like others I thought it would be a useful purchase, then froze, never to thaw out. Reading everything here is actually reassuring that I’m not alone & strangely encouraging too. Thanks. Definitely an overlocker summit needed 🤪

    1. Hi Antje, thank you! And thank you for the unravelling tips. I think I went in a bit quick with the scissors (I’m always so impatient!) but it definitely is a great way to get some interesting yarn cheaply, in this case with the added bonus of the crinkle for interesting felt making inclusions!
      I love a bit of reusing and recycling so those matchsticks are defintely on standby for my next last-minute project! 🙂
      Maybe we do need a bonus challenge this year….hmmmm…..how about “do something that scares you / seems too hard / that you have been avoiding” (a.k.a thread and use the overlocker!) Ha ha! 😊

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