Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sweater Refashion Tutorial

I love refashioning old sweaters. I often scour my mum's wardorbe for old and unused sweaters that are still in a perfect condition but have an unflattering shape, are boring or simply too big on me. I also often find sweaters in second-hand shops. I'll pick up anything that is made out of cashmere or wool or some other fancy material and lends itself to a refashion. Often I come away with a nicer sweater than I could have afforded for only a couple of euros and a small sewing session. 

So I thought I'd put together a little tutorial for those of you who have not yet dared to cut into your old unflattering fancy cashmeres. This tutorial is based on my most recent refashion. I picked up a nice, practically unworn black wool sweater in a second-hand shop and made it into a simple scoop-neck sweater - just the thing I'd been looking for to wear with my arsenal of skirts for which I can never find a matching top:

So here we go. First off get yourself an old unflattering sweater as pictured.


The first thing we will do is make the sweater fit your body. Turn the sweater inside out and put it on. Stand in  front of a mirror and pinch the sweater at the side seams to see how much you will want to take off. Pinch equally at both side seams with the seam at the fold. Either remember how much you pinched in (that's the way I like to do it) or stick a pin or security pin into the sweater. Then continue pinching away fabric all along the side seam and under the arms. Big, bulky sweaters usually have huge armholes and matching wide sleeves. So pinch away on the sleeve as well. 

When you are all done take your sweater off carefully and lay it flat. Iron if necessary. The sweater should lie down perfectly flat with side and sleeve seams meeting at the fold. Then start basting your sweater at both sides along the pins.

Once you have basted your sweater go over to a mirror and put it on again, inside out. Does it fit? Do you have to take in more or less? Make changes until you are happy with the fit. At this stage it is still a little difficult to see how exactly it will fit as you will have big bulky wings along your side seam from the material you have basted away. But don't worry too much about getting it perfect, you can always make it tighter later. 

Once you are happy with your fit, bring the sweater over to your sewing machine and start sewing along the basting stitches. Ideally you would use a serger for this, cutting away the excess fabric as you are sewing. I don't have a serger, so I like to use the stretch mock-overlock stich on my machine. Alternatively you can use any stretch seam or a zig-zag seam, but make sure that the seam is strong enough. The sweater will be stretched in these areas so you don't want it falling apart on you. Once you have stitched both sides, cut away the excess fabric, turn your sweater to the right side and try it on to see if you like it. Happy? 

Let's move on to the next stage: fashioning a new neckline. Measure how far down you want your neckline to go while you are still wearing the sweater and stick a pin in to mark the spot. Then take your sweater off and lay it flat right side out. Measure to see if the pin is at an equal distance between the two side seams. Then stick pins in at the shoulder seam, always meauring to make sure the left side matches the right. Stick in as many pins as you need to mark out your new neckline. 

Then baste your new neckline, making sure only to baste through one layer of fabric. Repeat the same steps for the back neckline. Once you have basted the neckline all around try on your sweater again to see if you like the result. It helps to do your basting in a contrasting color so it is easier to see you basting stitches. 


Before cutting out your new neckline it is important to secure it, so it won't unravel or stretch out of shape. Bring your sweater over to the sewing machine and sew a non-stretch straight stitch line all along the basting stitches. Then sew along the basting stitches again using a zig zag stitch. This way you can be perfectly sure that your neckline will not stretch out of shape once you cut it. When you are all done stitching, cut out your neckline about a centimeter or less awaay from the stitching line.   

Now all that is left to do is finish the neckline. There are many ways of doing this. Since I wanted my sweater to be very simple I just folded over the edges, making sure to fold the stitching to the inside and used a double stretch needle to finish off the neckline. And tada! You have a new sweater! 

Of course there are many, many other ways of refashioning a sweater and the possibilites are endless. For this sweater I added cuffs and a peter-pan collar in a contrasting fabric. For another one I added bias strips to the neckline along with a bow and shortened the sleeves and finished them with matching fabric. 

Here are a couple more links with inspiration and tutorials for sweater refashioning:
  • Embellish Knit Month at Grosgrain is full of inspiration for creative refashionings. 
  • Sarai wrote a lovely tutorial on refashioning a cardigan (with lots of pictures) over at her blog Sweet Sassafras.
  • Through burdastyle I found a video tutorial by on how to alter a sweater for a better fit. The full video tutorial has to be purchased but the first part can be viewed for free. I have only watched the free video and not tried this method yet because it seems overly tedious, but maybe some very bulky sweaters would need more elaborate recutting/resewing. The video also shows how to deal with those low, hanging shoulders a lot of bulky sweaters have. I dealt with these in a different way refashiong this sweater
I hope you liked my little tutorial. It's my first photoshopping experiment and, wow, it is difficult to photoshop illustrations. As always if you have any questions, feel free to ask away. Happy refashioning!


  1. Fab tutorial, I'll definitely be refashioning all my old sweaters now. Thank you! x

  2. Thanks for the tutorial! You are right, the second-hand and thrift shops often have large or misshapen sweaters of very fine wool. But what do you do to be sure you aren't bringing moths home with the sweaters?

    1. If there is no metal on the sweater (buttons, clasps) just pop them in the microwave. Kills moths/eggs/worms.

  3. Great tute! I love messing with sweaters. Check out my blog to see the surgery I've been doing. It's so fun AND addictive!

  4. Nice tutorial! I've been looking for unflattering sweaters or cardigans in thrift shops, but hardly find anything with good quality wool... but if I do, you and Sarai's tutorials are incredible good to start with!

  5. I love the illustrations in your tutorial, they are so cool.
    I just thought I would make you aware of the newly launched Refashion Co-op where I am the editor on duty today.
    We are looking for refashion contributors as the moment and everyone interested is welcome.
    take care,

  6. KC, yes, I'm no expert on moths myself, but check the sweater thoroughly for any suspicious holes before taking it home with you and then if you want to be extra sure that there are no more moths in your sweater, stick your sweater in the freezer for a good while, like a day or so and that should kill off any moths.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this tutorial (explanation)...I've discovered that I can't wear any of my turtlenecks anymore and I love some of these sweaters. They fit perfectly, but the neck is making me gag (weird, I know). I'm definitely going to follow your guidelines and make them wearable (for me).

    1. Great Tutorial, thank you
      My project is about remaking a turtle neck sweater
      into a v-neck sweater. I'm afraid the v-neck sweater
      in extensible knit is a bit more of a challenge. Is
      there any tutorial on this or does anyone have any
      advice how to succeed with the v-neck in extensible
      knit without getting a neckline out of shape ?

    2. Hello Ulrika,

      I don't know what you mean by extensible knit, but if the knit is very stretchy it always helps to stabilize the neckline with some seam tape or strips of fusible interfacing. I often do that even before cutting my knit necklines.

      Hope that helps. Good luck with your projects.


  8. Thanks for the simple tutorial! It was easy to find ones for complicated embellishments, but I just want to update the neckline on one that's otherwise fine. This is perfect.

    1. I'm glad I could help. Good luck with your project!

  9. Great tutorial! Can't wait to try this. :o)
    I featured this post on my blog at
    Hope that's okay!


Feel free to leave a comment! (Please do not comment anonymously. You do not need an ID, but please leave a name. Thank you!)

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails