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Old sweaters get new purposes

June 24, 2011
By JOHANNA BOYLE ( , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MARQUETTE - Family and friends of Janelle Buttery regularly give her old sweaters. She also makes the rounds of the local thrift stores, hunting through the racks for the perfect knitted items.

But instead of wearing them when she gets home, Buttery unravels them, using the fiber to create everything from hats to shirts to kitchen and bath items as part of her business, Knit Witch.

"This world is becoming so disposable," Buttery said. "That drives me crazy. Don't throw it away."

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Instead of seeing those sweaters end up unwanted, she recycles them, carefully dismantling each piece until it is once again a ball of yarn. Then she knits up whatever she feels inspired to make, or what her customers request.

"I started knitting in high school. I took creative crafts. It was all knitting, sewing, cooking," Buttery said.

Then, when she was living in Austin, Texas, last year, she came upon a new idea.

"They have tons of farmers markets down there," she said. "They had skeins and skeins of yarn from recycled sweaters."

When she moved back to Marquette, Buttery brought the idea with her.

"I love the idea of reusing," she said. "I try to stick to natural fibers - cotton, linen, wool."

When selecting sweaters or other knitted items to reuse, Buttery said she ignores what the current piece looks like and instead focuses on the fiber that is used - what is it made of, is it stained or damaged.

"I'm a fiber person through and through," she said.

Once the original piece has been reduced to a ball of yarn, she starts knitting.

"Anything and everything. I try to do a lot of functional things. That's what sells," Buttery said.

Working on several pieces at once, she turns out market bags, clothing and other knitted items that she sells at the Marquette Food Co-op, several of the area's farmers markets, Village Artists Market, Zero Degrees Artist Cooperative, Mango Lane Gallery and Open Wings Gallery in Munising.

"Usually I'll make it up out of my head," Buttery said. "Sometimes I'll look at a pattern for sizing purposes.

"I try to do things you don't normally see."

Being able to reuse yarn, rather than starting each piece from new fiber, is a big deal for Buttery.

"The more we can decrease the carbon footprint the better," she said.

For more information, check out the Knit Witch Facebook page or email Buttery at

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.



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