I've been keeping myself occupied recently by reading way too much stuff on Ravelry and adding to my already crippling list of hobbies. Thanks to the "Thrifty Knitters" group on Ravelry, I've been having a blast recently unraveling sweaters picked up for next to nothing at my local thrift shops. With some careful deconstruction, a sweater can be quickly reduced to 4 panels of knitted fabric awaiting the gentle tugging pressure of a 3 year old cranking the handle of my antique skein winder. In a matter of moments, the fabric is reduced to a skein of interesting yarn ready for a soak in scalding hot water and then hanging to dry while the kinks of its previous life surrender to gravity.
Right now, there are pieces of 2 sweaters folded neatly beside me. My first successful unraveling experiment is in the process of being crocheted up into a lap blanket for Sprout because she became oddly attached to the yarn during the unraveling process.
I spend a lot of time in thrift shops. I love finding cool things and giving them a renewed lease on life. Looking at sweaters as raw materials or future fiber projects has really expanded the range of yarns that I can work with. I currently have a cashmere sweater awaiting the attentions of my seam ripper, and I have almost 1/2 pound of 75% silk, 15%wool, 10% nylon fingering-weight yarn waiting to be washed and hung. What I'll do with 1300 yards of this beautiful brown yarn, I'm not sure, but the list of possibilities suggesting themselves have provided me with more entertainment than I would have thought possible from a $1.00 thrift shop find.
Once unraveled, I usually have 4-6 skeins of yarn to add to my stash. Usually, in spite of my best efforts, there's a little skein that works out to about 15-25 yards. I hate to throw it away but couldn't figure out a real use for it. Then I had a brainstorm. The small skein becomes a swatch skein, perfect for swatching the project before winding the skeins on the ball winder. I staple the original sweater label to paper wrapped around the mini skein with the information about the total yardage and weight available.
One disadvantage to all these skeins of reclaimed yarn is that they don't come with ball bands or care instructions. I think that I've found the perfect solution. (opens as PDF) I sat down and designed a ball band with blanks to fill in for the weight, yardage, fiber content, and care instructions for my "new" yarns. Basically, a generic ball band with all the information that I'd like to keep with each skein. Feel free to print and use the PDF for your own recycling efforts.