How to Transform a Natty Cashmere Sweater into a New Designer Original

comments (4) October 10th, 2008     

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JenniferStern Jennifer Stern, contributor
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Heres a close-up of the front decorative serger detail.
Here I am in my new sweater.
The front view.
Heres a close-up of the front decorative serger detail.

Here's a close-up of the front decorative serger detail.

Photo: Jen Stern

I love fall—it's the beginning of sweater season! Let me show you how to take apart an old, tired sweater and use the fabric to create a new, exciting top. I've decided to use my new Tee Shirt pattern—it's perfect because the front and back pattern pieces are made up of at least two smaller pieces. One of the challenges that you can run into is not having en ough fabric to cut out large pieces. If your pattern is made up of smaller pieces, you have more flexibility when you are positioning them on a deconstructed sweater. Patterns with an empire waist or below-the-bust seams would also work well.

What you'll need:

  • An old sweater that you're willing to take apart
  • A pattern designed for knit fabrics
  • Sharp scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Serger threaded with decorative woolly nylon
  • All-purpose thread for constructing your sweater
  • Stay tape

Here's the lumpy sweater that I'm going to use. If you don't have any sweaters in your closet, visit your local thrift store and check out the men's sections—there's a lot more to work with!

Here's my lumpy sweater with a hole in it
Make sure you check your sweater carefully for holes so you can work around them when you lay out your pattern pieces.

Start cutting your sweater apart along a side seam.

Cut the sweater apart along the seams
Cut through the ribbing and follow along the side seam.

Then cut the ribbing off before you cut the other side seam. That way you can save the ribbing in one long piece to use later to finish the neckline, armholes, sleeves, or your new hemline.

Cut off the ribbing to use later to finish the neckline
The ribbing that I cut off was 2 inches wide. I am going to cut it in half to finish the neckline and hem of my new top.

After you have separated all the pieces of your sweater, lay the sleeves right sides together. Position the sleeve pattern piece on top. Depending on the style of your new sleeve, you might have extra room to cut something else out, too.

Cut out sleeves
I had room to cut out the side front pieces.

If you are working on a cutting mat, it's really easy to use a rotary cutter to cut out the pieces.

Use a rotary cutter to cut out your pattern pieces
A rotary cutter allows you to cut with ease.

Play with your pattern pieces to see how many you can fit on the front and back sections of the old sweater. If you can't fit them all, decide which pieces you want to cut out in one whole piece. I decided to cut out the lower front and back pieces first. That took up all the room I had left.

Cut out as many larger pieces as you can fit on the sweater pieces
Lay out your pattern pieces on the sections of the old sweater to see how they'll fit.

What I did have left was a pile of scraps that were not big enough to accommodate my two remaining pattern pieces—the upper back and center front. One way to handle this dilemma is to "make" a large enough piece of fabric to accommodate those pieces.

There are not big enough scraps left to cut out these pieces
These scraps were all I had left over to accommodate my last two pattern pieces.

To make my pile of scraps manageable, I cut them into 2-inch strips. The next step is to lay the strips next to each other in a row. That way you can arrange the strips in order to follow the shape of your pattern pieces.

Cut strips and line them up under the pattern pieces
Check to see if the strips are arranged so that the pattern pieces will fit on them once they are sewn together.

Thread your serger for a four-thread stitch. Use decorative woolly nylon in the loopers. I used black metallic woolly nylon in the loopers and regular black serger thread in my needles. Then place two strips, WRONG SIDES TOGETHER, and run them through the serger. Continue adding strips until you have made a big enough piece.

Serge strips together to make a big enough piece of fabric to cut out the pattern piece
Lay the pattern on top of the pieced fabric and cut it out.

Here are all my pattern pieces cut out and ready to sew together.

Here are all my pieces, ready to sew together
I think having the decorative serging in the top front and back pieces add interest to my Tee Pattern.

When you serge the pieces together, make sure that the decorative serged edges are all going in the same direction. I'm normally not big on pinning, but I did use pins to hold the serged edges in place.

Serge the new top together
Be careful to remove the pins before you get to them—if you don't, you could wreck your blade!

If the pattern you are working with has curved seams, you can press them without flattening them by using a ham. (The pink plaid thing is a ham; it provides a hard, curved surface to shape your curved seams as you press them. They are great for pressing bust darts, too.)

Use a ham to press curved seams
This is my mother's ham...I think it's older than I am!

When you get to the shoulder seams, use some stay tape in the seam to keep the shoulders from stretching.

Use stay tape to keep shoulder seams from stretching
Place stay tape against the wrong side of the back shoulder seam. Then press the seam toward the back to cover the tape.

After you have finished constructing your new top, check out Cal Patch's post on how to make a classic T-shirt neckband. I basically did it the same way. I used the ribbing I cut off the bottom of the sweater. The ribbing was 2 inches wide, so I cut it into two 1-inch-wide strips and used one to finish the neckline and the hem of my new sweater. To finish the sleeves, I used the rib cuffs from the original sweater.

Back view of serger detail
Here is a close-up of the strips that were serged together using decorative thread in the loopers. This decorative technique also creates a large enough piece of sweater from which to cut out the upper back pattern piece!    


posted in: upcycle, sewater

Comments (4)

Eternal_Clouds writes: thats so cool cant wait to try
Posted: 10:29 am on March 8th
JenniferStern writes: Thanks!
Posted: 9:56 pm on October 10th
ohsohappytogether writes: I love it! I'm def going to try it this winter. Thanks for sharing!
Posted: 3:09 pm on October 10th
wildenfunky writes: Hi there Jennifer,

This is truely spooky, I have a top just like this one! I've had it here in my cupboard for going on 20 years and it is full of moth holes! But here in Zambia it is just too hot, even in winter to wear this, so I am going to redesign it for one of my sisters or mother in Canada. Very very exciting!! Maybe I now have an excuse to purchase a surger/overlocker!! Not sure what you call it over there! Well done, I love your stuff!! Cheers Ad
Posted: 3:32 am on October 10th
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