Handmade and industrially made sweaters unravel differently.
The first wave out in unpredictable patterns, telling stories of a maker's thought patterns, interruptions in their days, and irregular movements of human hands. The latter are consistent and calculable.
In the end, they look the same, though, Misti Nolan says.
"It has this curly kinky texture," she says. "I love it because it shows its past life."
Nolan hunts down natural-fiber sweaters — wool, cashmere and cotton — in thrift stores, from friends and family, and sometimes people who seek her out. Through an entirely manual process, she turns them into skeins of yarn.
"One sweater turns into about four skein," Nolan explains. "That's between 1 and 2,000 yards of yarn. You could create a few pairs of mittens and beanies with some left over."
She says the most yarn she's produced from a sweater was 3,000 yards. She reintroduces these unraveled sweaters to the world in her Etsy shop and stocks them at stores like Tiny Space in Church Hill.
"In today's fast and furious fashion, where everything is new, new, new, I think it's important to slow down," says Anna Vanneman, owner of Tiny Space. "She is reclaiming these all natural fibers. She does a good job honoring the piece. She doesn't take it back down and bleach it. She lives a little bit of the past in it."
Nolan first unraveled a sweater after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University's craft and material studies program in May 2016. She focused on fibers and weaving during her time there. She knew she had to get her hands on mass amounts of high quality materials to continue. "I started recycling sweaters as an experiment," she says.
Nolan was creating large wall hangings. She didn't expect to fall more for the process than for the art she created.
"So much that I surpassed by personal weaving needs and decided to share my yarn with others looking to create," she says. "In invigorates me to give people something they can, with their creativity, turn into something that is intentionally made by them by hand."
Nolan doesn't just create yarn. She spins a story with every sweater and invites followers and customers into her process. On Instagram, she shares before and after images of sweaters and the skeins they become. She weaves messages about sustainable living into her narrative, too.
"I feel like I'm rescuing these products from the fast fashion industry and replacing them in a slow fashion," she says. "Before the Industrial Revolution, that was the way of life. ...You would have made all of your clothes anyway. When your 1-year-old became a 2-year-old and no longer fit into his clothing, you would unwind it into a ball of yarn to make into something else."
Rupah Singh of the Love This and Ethical Style Collective, says this is a crucial component of Nolan's craft. Singh is a leader within the local ethical fashion movement. She's worked to organize marketing efforts behind Fashion Revolution Week and leads community forums to help community members learn about ethical brands, shopping second hand and how to reduce waste.
"She loves to talk about where she gets to stuff from," Singh says. "I think anytime you are creating something and you can have a voice behind why you do what you do is important."
As Nolan continues to share her process and stories behind each sweater she unravels, she invites customers and followers to think more deeply about their closets. Even more people are drawn into the conversation when they receive a gift made with the yarn Nolan sells.
"When people receive the gift of something hand-made, you're more likely to use it and less likely to toss it," Singh says. "She's encouraging people to become part of the movement in a small way."
Misti Nolan sells her yarn online at etsy.com/shop/NaturalRecycledYarn and in person at Tiny Space at 2708 E. Marshall St. and Center of the Yarniverse at 109 England St. in Ashland.