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Human-powered device "unknits" old clothes to reclaim yarn


November 14, 2012

The unknitting machine in use

The unknitting machine in use

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Just last week, we told you about the Rocking-Knit chair, a student-designed device that utilizes the user’s rocking motion to knit a hat. After lots of use, needless to say, such a hat would eventually get worn out. Instead of just throwing it away, however, you could recycle it – using another student-designed contraption, the unknitting machine.

The device was created by Imogen Hedges, a Product and Furniture Design student at London’s Kingston University. The idea came to her when she discovered that staff at some charity shops spend hours unraveling old sweaters, so that the yarn can be sold and reused – her device makes that process faster and easier.

At the heart of the unknitting machine is an old bicycle frame equipped with pedals, chains and a bicycle wheel. As the seated user pedals, the wheel spins, and unravels yarn from an item such as a sweater. That yarn passes through a column of steam from a kettle, and is then wound around a series of brackets mounted around the outside of the wheel.

Once the item is completely unraveled, a hand crank is used to pull smaller quantities of yarn from the wheel and onto a plastic spindle. That yarn can then be pulled off the end of the spindle, and sold in compact bundles.

Britain’s National Centre for Craft and Design obviously liked the idea, as it selected the machine as one of 12 student projects to appear in its Celebrating the Class of 2012 exhibition.

The unknitting machine can be seen in use in the video below.

Source: Kingston University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Clever but somewhat impractical- unless the user chooses to work in an improvised steam cabin!

Still, it is good to be able to recycle old wool to make new clothes.


For those of us who hand knit and recycle knitwear, the term is "TINK" rather than "unknit".


If it's, "worn out," what's the point of frogging and reknitting it?

Belinda Contague

People are too lazy to do this much even

JoLisa Coffey

Perhaps they intend to return it to the sheep?

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