No one will be surprised to read that my love for yarn is great. I love yarn so much that I cherish every skein, every leftover, and even every scrap yarn. Environment and sustainability are also very important to me, and when I find ways to use every single strand of yarn that I have left after a project, it feels like an accomplishment. If you’re like me, wondering how to use scrap yarns and leftover yarns, this post is for you. I’ll share several ideas to turn a stash of scrap yarns into a treasure, as well as some tips to apply the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) to your yarn consumption.
How to store scrap yarn?
Before we start playing with the yarn, I recommend storing it efficiently. Leftover yarns can – and will! – get all mixed up if they aren’t carefully rolled into mini-balls with the end secured, and placed in a container. Because they are so cute, I like to store them in Mason jars, in my office, so I can admire them all day long. I like to sort them by length, having the tiniest scraps in their own jar and those of a few inches long in another one. Mini-balls and partial skeins are sorted by weight: two jars of fingering and smaller weights, two jars of sport weight and bigger. That’s my system, but any sorting system is a good one, as long as it makes sense to you.
How to use scrap yarn?
I’ll skip the first R and go directly to the second R: REUSE! That’s what we want to do, right? Here are several ideas, starting with the ones that take up the more yardage, to the ones that take the least yardage.
Here’s the list of the ideas that I’m sharing, read below or click the links for more details:
With partial skeins:
- Knit or crochet a full size project using scrap yarns
- Use a lonely skein to add a contrasting color to a project
- Use leftovers for colorwork projects
- Make small projects
With a few feet or yards:
- Make a granny square blanket
- Make a magic ball of yarn
- Make a magic ball for your cat
- Use scrap yarns as notions for your knitting
- Crewel embroidery
- Gift wrapping
With a few inches:
What can I do with lonely skeins, partial skeins or significant leftovers?
Some patterns are meant to be worked from scrap yarns and to be real stashbusters, using up all the little balls of leftover yarns that you have around. They are some of the most fun projects to work, and some of the most satisfying as well. They usually call for partial skeins or leftovers with some yardage. Here are a few suggestions that I designed, but make sure to look around for fading or stash busting patterns, there are many gems from several talented designers.
Use a lonely skein to add a contrasting color to a project
This idea is easy to do with most patterns, and will add personality and style to your projects. For almost any project with ribbing (sweaters, hats, mittens…), you can use a contrasting color to work the ribbing. You can add a pop of color by using an opposite color on the color wheel (see my blog post about picking colors combinations), or you can add depth by using a different shade of the same color. For shawls with a border worked after the body, you can decide to knit this border using a different color. For socks, use the contrasting color to work the ribbing, heel flap and toes.
Use leftovers for colorwork projects
Colorwork projects often call for very low yardage in some colors. That’s a great opportunity to stash dive and find the perfect color to go with the main color of your project! You don’t have to use the exact same yarn, as long as all of your yarns have the same weight and similar content, you’ll do just fine!
This is exactly what I did when I made my Gardinium Sweater. I fell in love with the main color and bought a few skeins. I paired them with two lonely skeins from my stash to create a lovely combo.
Make small projects
Baby knits, toys, doll clothes, headbands, jewelry, washcloths, ornaments… They are incredibly satisfying and quickly done.
What can I do with a few feet of yarn?
Make a granny square blanket
This kind of project uses a lot of leftover yarns, while creating a heirloom that can be used for generations and generations.
Make a magic ball of yarn
A magic ball of yarn is a ball made with several colors of leftover yarns. They are fun to knit from because you never know what will be coming up next. To make one, gather several scrap yarns and mini skeins of the same weight. Place them in an order that you like or pick them up randomly, and join them all together using the Russian join.
Make a magic ball for your cat
Yes, that’s pretty much the same idea. If you don’t feel like knitting from a ball of random leftovers, you can give the ball to your cat. If you don’t wnat to make Russian joins, I’m sure that your cat won’t mind if there are a few knots in her ball.
Use scrap yarns as notions for your knitting
Scarp yarns can be lifesavers for your real size knitting project!
They can be used to
- work provisional cast-ons
- act as stitch holders
- act as stitch markers
- create lifelines.
This traditional kind of embroidery uses yarn. It’s a good way to learn embroidery as the strands are bigger and easier to use. And the results can be amazingly beautiful, puffy and colorful.
Weaving projects can use small or long strands of yarns. Use your creativity and stash yarn!
Tassels don’t use a lot of yardage, and can be made by combining several colors… See my tutorial here!
This is another sustainable idea. Instead of using ribbons, use yarn to decorate gifts. You can also use yarn to attach the name tag.
What can I do with a few inches of yarn?
Scrap yarn pompoms
It’s my favorite way to use all the tiny yarn ends, it makes the best pompoms! They are easier to make using pompom makers (I use these ones), which are especially useful when working from scraps. You can use scraps as small as 1″ long, but it’s easier to use ones that are a bit longer so you can wrap them a few times around the pompom maker. You’ll get the best results if you use similar weights of scraps (it doesn’t have to be perfect at all), and it can be interesting to use only yarns ends of the same color family.
From the toilet paper roll unicorn with rainbow hair to the paper plate lion with a multicolor mane, there’s an infinity of crafts that you can make with your kids to practice their fine motor skills. Simply sticking yarn randomly on a sheet can even be a lifesaver if you’ve got dinner to cook while keeping the little ones busy (tried and true!) But if you’re looking for more thoughtful ideas, I just made a Pinterest board: Yarn Crafts for Kids to share the best tutorials that I could find.
DIY felted dryer balls
Felted dryer balls require that you use only 100% wool yarns. They can be made using long leftovers, but if you want to use small pieces of yarn to make them, you will need to tie all your yarns together to create a long long strand of yarn. No need to make fancy knots – once it’s felted, it won’t fall apart. Roll your strand of yarn into a ball, as tightly as possible. The balls should be about the size of a tennis ball. Place the ball in the leg of a pantyhose and tie the pantyhose tightly, close to the ball. If you made a few balls, place them all in the leg of the pantyhose, tied separately. Put the pantyhose in the washing machine and wash it with hot water. Then, put it in the dryer and dry it until the balls are completely dried. If they haven’t felted enough, repeat the washing-drying operation once or twice. And they are ready to use!
The third R: Recycle
The goal of the 3Rs is to avoid throwing anything in the garbage. If you don’t feel like reusing your scraps or if they are too small for any projects, there are several ways to recycle them.
Use scrap yarn as stuffing
If you’re making stuffed toys, dolls or cushions, you can use your scrap yarn as stuffing. It takes a lot of tiny bits of yarn to fill a whole cushion, but by mixing them with your regular stuffing, you’ll save a bag of stuffing over the years while doing a little something for the planet!
Give them to the kids
You can ask your local schools and daycare centers if they are looking for fun craft supplies. Your scrap yarn bag will quickly give a spark of creativity to the little minds!
Give them to the birds
Birds are using any little bits of natural materials that they can find to craft their nests. You can leave small pieces of yarn around trees or places where they live, they’ll be glad to spend the winter in your warm Corriedale yarn!
Give them to the brown bin
Instead of throwing away your yarn, you can compost all the natural fibers that you have. Synthetic fibers are not compostables, so these ones really have to go to the garbage if you can’t find a better way to use them.
Back at the first R: How can I reduce my yarn consumption?
When it comes to sustainability, the first thing to do is always to reduce your consumption, and by extension, to make the most out of what you have.
Work from your stash
The obvious way to reduce yarn consumption is to get less yarn. I know how hard it is to resist buying that gorgeous skein, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Turn to your stash and use up what you already have, I’m sure that it’s just as gorgeous! I’m always so proud of myself when I’m knitting from my stash, especially when I’m using yarns that have been sitting there for a long time. And, bonus, it makes room for breathing… or for new yarn!
Make the most out of your yardage by using adaptable patterns
With adaptable patterns, you can easily decide to alter the dimensions of your project to use up almost every yard of yarn that you have, either you have more than required, or less than required.
Classic scenario: you want to knit a sweater, you’re buying yarn for it, 100 more yards than what the pattern is asking for, just to be sure that you won’t run out of yarn. The pattern you picked is worked bottom-up, so when you’re done knitting, you’re done. Designers often adds a bit of yardage to their estimations, so you end up with 150 yards of yarn, quite a lot, but not enough for another project. You roll it into a ball and store it with 100 other balls.
Solution: use top-down sweater patterns!
Those patterns are usually adaptable. You can make them longer if you have some yarn left, or shorter if you don’t have enough. Another option is to make 3/4 sleeves, or to make the bottom ribbing longer or shorter.
The same applies to shawls. Patterns growing at every row are usually adaptable as you can make some sections shorter or longer, or just call it a day and bind off when your yarn is running out. I’d recommend using either sideways patterns worked from a corner towards the edge, or top-down shawls, for which the bind off is at the lower edge.
How do you use your leftover yarns? I’d love to hear your ideas!