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How to Upcycle a Sweater

Combine ready-to-wear knits into fresh looks
Threads Issue #212, Dec. 2020/Jan. 2021
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Something old becomes something new when you combine three preworn sweaters into one. Pattern: Jalie 2795.

There are many reasons to repurpose clothing into new designs. It saves money. It reduces waste and saves the planet. And it is a lot of fun. When you start looking at a thrift store as a fabric source, you’ll see that it is a treasure chest of colors, textures, and patterns.

I love to remake preworn sweaters, and especially to combine multiple knit garments into a single, one-of-a-kind piece. Most sweaters contain at least two textures, and often more. Plain stockinette, ribbing, and other decorative knit patterns offer a range of interesting fabrics that can be repurposed in unexpected ways. Look at the knit’s wrong side, too, to find surface patterns that coordinate with the right side.

Unless a sweater is extralarge, you are unlikely to have enough fabric to make an entire garment from it. Instead, look for other sweaters that match or coordinate to combine in the project. This is where the fun begins, although it doesn’t end here. From choosing sweaters to upcycle, to planning and executing your project, you’ll get to expand your design and sewing skills. I’ll show you two upcycling approaches. First, you’ll see how to work with a commercial pattern to create a new sweater. Then you’ll learn how I make a free-style design, with silhouette and details inspired by the sweaters and transformed through my imagination. I think you’ll enjoy trying your hand at a sweater project like one of these. You’ll exercise your creativity, contribute to fashion sustainability, and add a truly personal piece to your wardrobe.

The right sewing techniques make sweater reconstruction a breeze.
The right sewing techniques make sweater reconstruction a breeze.

Advice for handling sweaters

Sweaters offer incredible design opportunities, but they aren’t the same as fabric yardage. Some basic prep and sewing methods make the…

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  1. User avater
    curleyque | | #1

    What great ideas. Thank you for descriptions and instructions. I can't wait to recycle some of my own sweaters that no longer fit!!

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