A special treat during our look at the 3Rs in the knitting industry comes up with “Recycle.” I’m thrilled to introduce you all to Lisa Chimento, the savvy indie behind Renaissance Yarns – the woman behind the Etsy shop dedicated to bringing you luxury yarns at affordable prices through recycling thrift shop luxury finds into usable yarn.
Q1. I love your “about” story on your Etsy page! (Knitters, you can check it out here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/renaissanceyarns#about) Please tell us a little bit about yourself and Renaissance Yarns.
Thanks, Lindsay! I was blessed with two Italian grandmothers who played an enormous role in my life. They were both amazing cooks and gifted craftswomen. When I was about 8 years old, they taught me the basics of knitting and crocheting and that began my love and continual learning of the crafts throughout high school and college, at a time when no one else my age was doing this. My greatest handicap, however, was not understanding the fibers in my hands. Being of modest means, my go-to for yarn was department stores and acrylic, not knowing there was anything else. Fast forward two decades: I was living in New England and dragging my family to county fairs where I encountered women spinning their own yarn. I was astonished! It began a years-long journey of discovery of natural fibers and their sources. About 10 years ago, I visited a garage sale where a woman was selling two J. Jill 100% silk knit sweaters for 75 cents each. They were too big for me, but when I examined the yarn, it was perfect. I took them home, unraveled and washed the yarn, and found I had 3,000 yards of gorgeous silk yarn for $1.50! That started a new passion for me of seeking out luxurious sweaters to reclaim and upcycle. After a while, I realized there might be others like me who would love to work with such luxurious natural yarns, but who perhaps couldn’t afford to purchase them retail. By rescuing and recycling these fibers, I could offer them at affordable prices to crafters. That’s how Renaissance Yarns was born!
Q2. What yarn were you most surprised to find on one of your shopping missions?
I once found 9 Talbot 100% Linen sweaters in 8 different colors on the same day. They were brand new and gorgeous, but they each had a manufacturing flaw, which is why they ended up in a thrift store. I could hardly believe it – but I wasn’t able to buy them that day and thought I’d never see them again. Surprise! I went back the next week, and they were all there – and all at ½ price. I swept those beauties up and danced all the way to the check-out.
My most unusual fiber was from a 100% Himalayan Yak sweater that my sister found for me. It was a men’s large, and it yielded about 3,000 yards of the most scrumptious laceweight yarn!
Q3. You state in particular that you look for natural fibers (or mostly natural fibers), why is this important? Also, why is using organic detergent important to you?
Once I discovered natural fibers, I was sold. I bought a drop spindle and later a wheel and began learning about the feel and characteristics of the different natural fibers. They are my personal preference both to work with and to wear, so they are what I shop for exclusively. And now I can invite others to share the joy!
As to the detergent, I don’t use many chemicals for my own use, but I wanted something reliable that would thoroughly clean these reclaimed fibers. The organic detergent I use is effective in cleaning the yarns well yet won’t leave chemical residue or irritating fragrance.
Q4. What type of projects work best with recycled yarn or is the sky the limit?
I do think the sky is the limit, but you’ll want to pair the right project with the right fiber as well as the appropriate weight. I’ve made shawls, shrugs, scarves, cowls, hats, and bags with my recycled yarns, including your beautiful Eastern Continental Divide Cowl, which is one of my favorite accessories. I actually am getting ready to launch a finished product in my shop soon made from 100% recycled silk.
One other thing to remember is that you can pair a recycled yarn with another yarn on hand. For instance, I made my mother a shrug using some of that J. Jill recycled silk paired with a cobweb mohair I had in my stash, and the resulting fabric was heavenly. Really, you’re limited only by your imagination!
Q5. Is there a way to tell before purchasing whether or not the yarn has been cut? What do you do when you unravel to find individual lengths of gorgeous fiber?
Yes, there is a way – the secret is in the seaming. I’ve learned to spot what’s called a “fully fashioned” garment by the way the pieces have been sewn together, so I inspect my prospects carefully before buying. But I have made a few mistakes along the way, and I try to find different uses for those garments so they don’t go to waste. For example, it wasn’t until after I began disassembling a beautiful Shetland sweater that I realized the pieces has been cut and the raw edges serged. I won’t be able to get a continuous strand out of it, so I’m going to felt it in my washing machine; that way, the felted fabric can be used for appliques, pot holders, or craft pieces. Another unfortunate purchase got put to good use as stuffing in a pillow. Remember that finished product I mentioned earlier that I plan to offer in my shop soon? It was my Plan B after discovering that several reclaimed silk sweaters I’d purchased yielded multi-stranded yarns that would be difficult to process and sell. Resourcefulness is the other side of the recycling coin!
Puddles species to species question: What role does Sophie play in Renaissance Yarns?
Sophie is my fiber inspector. When I come home from a thrifting treasure hunt, she gets first sniff of all the goodies. She likes the smell of alpaca best, I think, but her wool sweater is her garment of choice.
Find Lisa around the world wide web at the following places:
Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/renaissanceyarns