Thursday, March 4, 2010

Re-Fashioned Knits

Sometimes it seems like I will never find sweaters that fit me properly. I am short and small boned and curvy and I guess there just aren't sweaters for this body type. Misses or Women's sweaters in size S are always huge on me and juniors sizes never seem to work right either. Sometimes a little girl's XL works, but they tend to pull across the chest, especially if there are buttons.

I found this tutorial for altering cardigans over at Casey's Elegant Musings. If you have a problem finding sweaters that fit, and have been too afraid to try and alter them yourself, go look at her page. It has changed my life! (These links are also to the right under Retro Goodness and Useful Linklandia)

I have few shell sweaters in neutral colors (beige, white, black, brown) that I bought at Dress Barn a couple of years ago. Despite being size S they are sort of baggy and don't fit quite right. I washed them a zillion times in hot water trying to shrink them, but it didn't really work all that well. Below is a picture of the beige one before altering. This is what they all looked like when I started.

You can see that the sweater body hangs straight from the under-bust to the hem without giving any real waist definition. I'm standing up really straight in this picture but when I relax, there are multiple rolls of fabric at the waist. The sleeve ends at the worst possible place, (right at the apex of my breast) and makes me look much wider and heavier than I am.

Casey's advice made it really easy to figure out where to mark and cut them, as you can see in the picture below. Please ignore the horizontal chalk lines on the shirt body. They are there to convince myself that everything is laid out flat and straight.

To narrow the body, I stitched along the curved line under the arm. To shorten the sleeve I marked just above the sleeve trim and again at the place where the new sleeve end would be. The section between the two lines was cut out and the trim re-attached at the new sleeve end.

Casey recommends a straight/zig-zag/straight stitching technique to re-attach the pieces. It works perfectly! You have to be careful, though, and pay attention or you might do something stupid like, oh I don't know, sew on the sleeve inside out and have to pick out all your stitching. Not that I would ever do that...

It's reeeeeeeely hard to pick out the stitching. It took forever and I had to pick out every single stitch, one at a time. It was frustrating, but it made me feel pretty confident that the finished sleeve isn't going to unravel any time soon.

Another thing to remember is to use way more pins than you might think are necessary. I played with a couple different sleeve lengths and tried to give them all a slightly puffy look by gathering rather than easing them in. How much puff I got seemed to depend on how much I did or didn't pin the gathers. I think its because of the amount of stretch in a knit fabric, it just naturally eases the new cuff on to the sleeve. Use LOTS of pins to get exactly the look you want.

Here are the sweaters after being altered. They have been narrowed at the waist by an average of three inches, which I think makes them so much more flattering. Small shoulder pads were added too, to give them a more vintage look.

I think I could have made the sleeves on the black sweater a great deal shorter, but over all I'm really pleased with the results.

* * *

I also used Casey's technique to refashion a knit top I got from Target. I liked the beaded yoke around the neck, but the shirt was ridiculously long. I suppose I could have simply worn it tucked in, but tucking in all that fabric just adds bulk around my hips. I really don't need any more hip bulk!

It was pretty simple to cut off the band and re-attached it higher up. I think I did pretty well. There's one droopy spot in the front that I think should have been gathered a little better, (must use more pins!) but I can live with it. (Yes, I know the tag is still on.)

Now that the shirt is shorter its actually pretty cute when its tucked in. It no longer climbs up my hips and bunches up around my waist!

I am so happy that I am not afraid of altering knits any more. I am going to try shortening a few of my cardigans next. Hopefully it will be just as fun and easy as altering these tops has been.


  1. Wow, that is awesome! I am tall, but my sweaters bag in the midsection way worse than your "before." I will definitely be trying this. Thanks!

  2. What a great idea! I've got my eye on a few grandpa and librarian sweaters I can work on.