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Sunday, March 10, 2013

DIY Sweater Recon: How to turn a large knit sweater into a smaller one

From Oversized, Thrifted Cardigan to Fitted Sweater in 30 Minutes ( and how to fix a snag on a knit top) 

I couldn't resist when I saw this beautiful, light-weight knit cardigan at the second hand store for $8.  I mean it's made out of 58% SILK and 42% cotton!!  How luxurious is that?  How would I ever be able to afford a knit silk cardi otherwise?? 

But here's the problem, this sweater was HUGE on me, and it had a big long snag on the back.  So here's how I reconn'd it in about 30 minutes to turn it into a sleek fitted cardigan.  

Thrift store shopping is a great way to save some money, as well as being eco-friendly as you bypass the pollution that goes into the production and shipping of new clothing.  But sometimes there are little hurdles to overcome, like snags and sizes that don't fit right.  

So the first hurdle was to deal with the giant snag on the back: 

Yep.  It was that huge.  It's always important when you're shopping in thrift stores to check for snags, stains, holes, etc.  From there you can decide if it's still fixable and worth buying.  Luckily, my mother taught me years ago how to fix snags in knit sweaters, so I knew I could deal with it.  

So how do you deal with a snagged knit sweater? 

Step 1: Ok, first ask for a discount before you buy!  If you can't fix it perfectly, at least you haven't paid full price.  Ask nicely, of course, this helps .  I.e. "I really like this sweater, but I noticed this big snag in the back.  Is there any way you can maybe knock a bit off the price?  I'd really appreciate it."  (Insert slightly embarrassed yet hopeful look here)   

Seriously, 9.5 out of 10 times this will get you a discount.  In this case they gave me 10% off, so I got this sweater for just over $7!

Wanna know how good of a deal I got?  Check out the tag:

Silk and cotton Chico's sweaters go for about $150, I looked it up on their website.  So I knocked off about $143 from the price tag! 

STEP #2 of snag fixing:  There are a couple of things you can do.  

a) If it's just a small snag that won't cause the rest of the knit to unravel, you can simply use a needle or something long and narrow (pen tip, chopstick end, etc) and push the thread through to the inside of the sweater.  

b) If the snag is long and the thread has pulled the fabric and caused it to bunch, as in this case, try to gently draw the fabric away from the snag, so that it will draw some of the pulled thread back into the knit and ease some of the bunching. 

Then, you'll want to sort of weave the pulled thread into the knit, and in particular, to weave it around any holes there might be to try and help keep the sweater from unraveling.  You can do this again by alternating poking the thread through the back and front of the fabric, as in the case of a small snag, or you can actually thread the yarn through a large eyed needle and use that to weave it in so it's inconspicuous.

If you're familiar with knitting or crocheting, think of it as the same as weaving in the cut ends of yarn.

Now how to go from larger to smaller sweater?


Ok, there are a couple of ways you can go about this. First: Turn your large sweater inside out and lay it out flat. 

a) Take a sweater or top that is the size you like, then lay it over top of your oversized sweater and pin to mark where you want to trim.  I used a slightly larger, bulky sweater, since I wanted my new cardi to be loose and comfy, and able to wear over other long sleeved tops. 

Make sure the top sweater is centered over the large one, so that you take off the same amount of fabric on both sides.  Match the tops of the shoulders together on the top and bottom sweater.  Measuring from the edge of the top sweater to the edge of the bottom sweater all around will help ensure you trim evenly.  Like this:

See the measuring tape on the bottom of the photo?  That's about 2.5 inches from the edge of the white sweater to the edge of the brown.  I made sure it was the same length on the opposite side to make sure my sweater was placed evenly.  

If you do it this way, you can be done measuring here and skip down to STEP 2 for sewing up the sides and trimming excess.   


b) Take a sweater that is the size you want and use it as a measuring guide.  You'll want to take 5 measurements.  On the front of the sweater you're using as a guide measure:

     i) Chest: under the arm pits from left side to right (i.e. in my sweater guide the chest was 18.5" across)

     ii) Waist: the narrowest part of your waist (in the sweater guide mine was 18")

     iii) Hips: depending on the length of your cardi you'll want to take the measurement of your upper hip where the cardi rests (mine was 19.25)

    iv) You'll want TWO arm measurements.  One on the top of the arm, near the shoulder (mine was 7")  and one near the wrist (4")

This is me measuring my sweater guide and writing the measurements on a sticky pad: 


c) IF YOU DON'T HAVE A SWEATER GUIDE: You can take your own measurements in all the same places as above, then divide by 2 (i.e. if your waist is 28" around, divide by two to get 14").
 NOTE: You'll want to add a couple of inches to your measurements if you want this to be loose fit.  For example, 1/2 my chest measurement would be 17", but to be looser, I cut it to 19" (or 38" in total). 

Once you have your measurements there's a tiny bit of math to do:

You're going to measure your big sweater in the same 5 places as above.

Then you're going to subtract the measurements of your sweater guide (or your own measurements) from the measurements of your new sweater.

Then you're going to want to divide the remainder by 2.

Here's an example of the equation using the hips:

Big sweater (25") - ideal size (19.5") = 5.5" THEN 5.5" / 2 = 2.25"

Repeat for the other 4 measurements.  

Now you're going to measure this far in from the seams of your big sweater all around.  Mark with pins as you go. 

For example, below I have measured in 2.25" in the hips on either side, 2" for the waist, 1.75" for the chest, and 2" along the length of the arms.

To be extra careful, because this was silk and lovely, I actually used ALL THREE METHODS!  You know what they say, measure twice, cut once.  I measured three times and it was worth it!  


Now you can sew up where you've pinned, using a serger or regular machine.  If you're nervous and want to test this first, baste first and try your sweater on to check if you need to adjust. 

For sergers: 
A serger is ideal for this, as it will give the inside a more professional look and will save you the work of cutting.  Serge all along your pinned edges.  I found I needed a very low tension (like #1 or 2) for my upper and lower threads.  Be careful NOT to pull your top at all, or else it will ruffle.

For regular sewing machines:
Use a regular straight stitch to sew along where you've pinned.  Then, trim the excess fabric about 1/4 - 1/2" from the seam.  Finish with a zigzag stitch to keep the knit from unraveling.

And voila!  A $150, fitted silk knit sweater for $7 and some change!

Let's recap.  I went from this: 

To this:

In 30 minutes!  (Including the time it took to thread the serger)

I love being able to do this because I rarely find great things in my size in the thrift stores, and the larger sizes often have way better selection!  

What about you?  Have you ever re-sized or upcycled a thrift find?  I'd love to hear about it, so please leave a comment or a link if you have projects to share!!

Have you checked out my gluten free pasta book  Recipes for Unusual Gluten Free Pasta: Pierogis, Dumplings, Desserts and More! ? Get yourself a copy and start making GF won tons, pierogis, dumplings, and orzo today :)

This post was shared on the following great linky parties: Waste Not Want Not WednesdayMostly Homemade Monday, Natural Living Monday, Motivation Monday, The Weekly Creative, Tasteful Tuesday, Hearth and Soul, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Inspire Me Wednesday, We Did It! Wednesday, Fabulously Frugal Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday, Farm Girl Blog Fest,  


  1. Absolutely brilliant tutorial! I have saved this page on evernote so I can come back to it - I have more than one top in my wardrobe which no longer fits well since I lost weight. And this approach means I can look on the larger size rails in thrift shops too (often they don't have much my actual size). btw, I like the way you asked for a discount - great tip!

    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Alison (and congrats on losing weight!) I always ask nicely when I'm shopping, I know that people who work in thrift stores, and retail in general, have to deal with some pretty rough and tough customers, so they usually deserve (and appreciate) some extra kindness ;)

  2. Danielle, you are awesome!!!! What a deal you got and I love how resourceful you are! I have the same problem of finding smaller sizes in thrift stores...I'll be branching out my search from now on! :)


  3. That is excellent! I really love finding things while thrifting that don't quite fit and "rescuing" them... so this is an excellent tutorial. :)

  4. So glad I found your blog! I've been dipping my toe into thrifting and will almost certainly come back to this post. I'm gluten-free on a budget, too, so this is great. :)

  5. A great tutorial...thanks for sharing this!

  6. Beautifully done! I'm inspired. Your alteration turned out so well I'm eager to get started on my little thrifted stack. Thanks for posting this. PS: Just this week, I decided to give the gluten-free thing a try...I noticed this is something you blog about. I'm also tickled to discover a fellow kombucha bottler. Lynaea @

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lynaea, I hope going GF works out for you. If you have any questions feel free to msg me :)

  7. This is great! So many times I pass by something on the consignment rack because it is too big and doesn't fit right. What I should be doing is being a bit more creative about trying it out! Great tutorial!

  8. What a great tutorial and a great find! Good job! Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, and hosting the party, Amanda :)

  9. That sweater is so beautiful; you did an amazing job. Awesome tutorial. Thanks so much for linking up to Inspire Me Wednesday!

    1. Thanks so much, Mel and thank you for hosting Inspire Me Wednesday :)

  10. Very cool! Thanks for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday!

  11. This is fantastic! I've begun knitting in the last couple of years, and I am falling in love with knits. This is a great post. If I find fab knitwear now I'll know how to resize it. If only I had, and could operate, a serger.

    1. Amanda, I got my first serger a couple of years ago (a Brother) for $200 and was able to start using it right away. It was way less intimidating than I thought it would be! I'm so glad I got one :)

  12. Great tutorial! Where did you get this cardigan? I love it lol

    1. Thanks! I found it in the thrift section of a store on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin called Ragstock :) It was a great deal for a silk and cotton brand name top!

  13. Just curious, When you cut the piece of chunky cable-knit sweater (it is not a thin piece), Is it likely the sweater's seams unravel after using a serger? Even after hand washing?

    1. It's tough to say, it really depends on the garment and how big the weave is. I would run a straight stitch down first, then serge alongside the straight stitch. That way you have a double line of defence ;)

  14. Thanks for your post! I lost a lot of weight. As I was going through my sweaters to get rid of them I realized I have some great sweaters and wanted to alter them. You gave me courage to try

    1. I hope it worked out for you! The worst that happens is that you can't use a sweater you weren't wearing anyway ;p

  15. Many options for the extra fabric use is why I buy xlarge clothes. Except at my thrift store, everything xxlarge is already gone and only the smaller too cute stuff remains.


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